GPSOLO December 2009
Techno Tips and Tricks 2009: Being Solo Strikes Back
So, have you gotten tired of technology yet? Well, even if you have, you should read this column because I cover solutions that will make your life easier, making it less likely that you’ll do the dance. You know which dance I mean. The battery runs out, the hard drive crashes, or your phone service evaporates on that fancy new cell phone of yours just when you are about to close a deal. That’s when you do the dance—the one where you jump up and down cursing the gadget that you once thought was so “cool.”
Before I get to this issue’s tips and tricks (at least one of which will make a significant change to your law practice), I want to answer a concern of my readers regarding my June 2009 Being Solo column ( www.abanet.org/genpractice/magazine/2009/jun/beingsolo.html), where I recommend the Securities and Exchange Commission website ( www.sec.gov) as a good source of well-drafted legal documents from public company filings for use in your law practice. I had a few readers write in saying that the SEC site was too difficult to use, and even I, with my securities law experience, do find it challenging.
There are services that essentially provide a user-friendly interface for the SEC site, so I suggest that you look into using one of them. These sites require payment but do typically have a free trial period so that you can at least try them out before putting down your hard-earned dollars. One such service is Morningstar Document Research (formerly http://10kwizard.com, and it can still be found at that site), which offers a free 30-day review and is much easier to use than the SEC site. To those who were put off by the difficulty of the SEC site, I think that you’ll be pleased with this service.
About That Tip That Will Make a Significant Change in Your Law Practice
Your office web browser probably has your most complete set of bookmarks that you use in your law practice. But what happens when you go home? Unless you use a laptop at the office and bring it home every night, you don’t have access to these bookmarks on your home computer.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a program for your web browser that automatically synced your office browser bookmarks with your home browser? Well there is. Xmarks.com is a free program that installs on the web browsers that you use (Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Safari for the Mac OS), whether located at work, home, or on traveling laptop, and it automatically syncs all of the browsers (even between Windows and Mac OS browsers) so that they all have the same set of bookmarks. You never have to be without your office bookmarks again.
But wait, there’s more! If you order now, we’ll include the vegetable slicer/dicer. Seriously, for the same price (free), you get:
• icons appearing besides the three top websites returned in every Google search you do, based on how many people have bookmarked them, letting you know that a lot of people valued those websites;
• the ability to access your bookmarks on the Xmarks website, so that you don’t even have to be sitting in front of one of your synced web browsers to access your bookmarks;
• the ability to share folders or your entire set of bookmarks with others; and
• the ability to review and restore current and prior versions of your bookmarks displayed in a tree format on the Xmarks website (this allows you to bring back bookmarks that you deleted by mistake and also serves as a backup of your current bookmarks in the event your hard drive crashes).
This last feature is great for cleaning up your current set of bookmarks because you can click on a link in the Xmarks tree format display, and a small window will open previewing the web page, allowing you to easily view and prune away dead links and revise others that may have been categorized incorrectly.
Now does that count as a significant change to your law practice? Considering that you probably use bookmarks everyday, I think that it does.
Evernote.com is a remarkable free program that promises to organize all your information in whatever form it exists while giving you access to it everywhere. The software installs on your computer (Windows or Mac OS X) and your smart phone (BlackBerry, iPhone, or Palm Pre).
Your smart phone application displays the choice of recording information in four ways: text note, photo, audio note, or uploaded file. In addition to these, your desktop can clip a web page with a click on the Evernote icon installed on your web browser. All information is saved and is accessible on the Evernote website.
Everything captured is automatically indexed and made searchable. If you like, you can add tags or organize notes into different notebooks. Evernote also makes printed and handwritten text inside images searchable, too (I found that to be pretty cool).
So how is this useful to a solo attorney? Well, suppose you come across an interesting article on the Internet, but you don’t have time to read it in your office. You can save it to Evernote and then read it later on your smart phone (sitting around in court waiting for your case to be called just got a lot more productive).
Ever have a brilliant idea about a client’s case while walking on the street, only to forget it by the time you return to your office? (No? Then you’re too young. Wait 20 years and you’ll know what I’m talking about.) With Evernote you simply take out your smart phone, press the “Audio Note” icon on the Evernote application, and record your brilliant idea. It gets saved by Evernote, and then once back in your office you can access it on your desktop computer (you could also access it on your smart phone even without Evernote, but a desktop computer is a more powerful and easier way to get the audio file, and you can access it later at home on a computer or wherever you have Internet access).
You can take a photo of a business card and the text will be indexed in the Evernote database. The same is true if you photograph a whiteboard from a conference. You can also create a “to do” list that you will be able to access from your smart phone or desktop.
Of course, Evernote can be used for purposes that are not strictly related to the practice of law. At a restaurant and want to remember the fine wine you are drinking? Take a photo of the label and upload it to Evernote, perhaps to the wine notebook that you have created for just that purpose. Take a photo of the number of your hotel room door, so you don’t forget it (room numbers aren’t printed on your plastic access card); you can also do the same thing for rental cars by taking a photo of the car’s license plate. Use your smart phone to start a draft of a column you have to write on the run when the deadline is near and you are finding it hard to get to it (ahem, of course that never happens to me), and pull it down from the Evernote website to finish it on your office or home computer.
A Great Online Backup Service
I recommended the Mozy.com online backup service back in my December 2007 column, but I want to return to it again because of how useful it has been to me, and also because ABA members now get a special discount ( http://mozy.com/aba ).
With the Mozy service you set it up once and it quietly backs up the data on your hard drive to an off-site location, which takes care of two things. One, there is nothing for you to do—which is the way to ensure that your data actually gets backed up on a regular basis. Two, because the backup is off-site, it’s still there even if your entire office gets wiped out.
The pricing is very low and well worth the service. The free version allows you to store up to 2 GB, but I recommend you get one of the unlimited plans, which start at $4.95 per month without adjusting for the ABA discount. That way, you don’t have any unpleasant surprises when you suddenly hit the 2 GB limit. I think that it is worth the peace of mind.
I’ve already restored one computer with Mozy without a problem, including the entire collection of music for an iTunes account. That really made me feel like I was getting this service cheap.
Dancing Through Life
So, there you have it. Go forth and try at least one of these suggestions and let me know how you do. And here’s wishing that when you dance, you will only be dancing for joy, and not out of frustration.
David Leffler is a member of the New York City law firm Leffler Marcus & McCaffrey LLC, which represents clients in business matters and litigation. Prior to that he was a solo attorney for more than a dozen years. In his spare time he blogs at http://staringatstrangers.typepad.com . You may write to him at email@example.com .