April 17, 2013

13 Tech Tips for 2013

Law Practice Magazine | March/April 2013 | The ABA TECHSHOW IssueAdvice About Ways to Make Technology Work For You.

Each of us loves to learn a tip or two about how to do something better. It could be useful advice about how to use software in a way that we hadn’t thought about, or it could be a tip about which product, such as a scanner or smartphone, might fit our needs better. Regardless, tips are fun because they’re helpful.

In this article celebrating ABA TECHSHOW 2013, we bring you 13 tips from a variety of technology experts—many of whom will be speaking at ABA TECHSHOW!  

Ben Schorr, Roland Schorr & Tower

Ever been working on a long Microsoft Word document and decided to call it a day? Then, the next day, you reopen your document and have to page down, page down, page down…to try and find the spot you were at when you stopped editing? If so, page down no more.

Next time you open that document, just press Shift+F5, and Word will take you right back to the last spot you were editing.

Three things you need to know about this feature:

  1. It also works within a document you’re working on. In case you accidentally (or intentionally) jump to another part of the document and want to go back to where you just were, press Shift+F5. Press it again to go to the place you were editing before that. Press it again to go to the place you were editing before that. Press it again, and it’ll take you back to where you started; this feature only saves the last three editing points.
  2. It doesn’t always work in versions of Word prior to Word 2010. The feature was there, but it was somewhat cranky. Word 2010 fixes that.
  3. Word 2013 brings the feature to the forefront. When you open a previously edited document in Word 2013, it’ll ask you if you want to go back to where you left off.

Give it a spin next time you’re getting back to work.

David Bilinsky, Law Society of British Columbia

The hardest part of going paperless (other than actually making the decision to do so) is getting everyone on board. As one partner in a firm once famously said, “Change everything in here, but don’t change the way that I work.” What’s a hardworking lawyer to do?

Fortunately, a number of tried and true techniques can move your firm into the paperless realm.

Here’s a selection of them:

  • Scan all paper immediately. Send originals to the client for safekeeping. Keep only those documents required for court or by law. Shred everything else. Consider acquiring a Fujitsu ScanSnap personal scanner.
  • Adopt document management such as Worldox or NetDocuments. Now you have the electronic equivalent of the steel filing cabinet that will keep all documents (emails, images, pleadings, correspondence, research, etc.) organized by client and file.
  • Send e-bills and use email for correspondence. Send documents in PDF format. Pay bills electronically. Accept e-payments (such as Square or PayPal).
  • Use SignMyPad for signatures. It’s a PDF signature tool, available on iTunes.
  • Use shared workspaces such as PBworks, Dropbox or SugarSync to collaborate with clients.
  • Use fillable PDF forms rather than paper forms, both internally and with clients. Have an iPad at the reception desk for clients to use to complete intake forms.
  • Receive magazines and notices digitally rather than in print.
  • Move to cloud-based applications such as MindMeister to brainstorm with clients.
  • Lead by example. Eliminate paper from your practice first. Others will follow.

Reid Trautz, American Immigration Lawyers Association

At legal conferences or CLE events, I count the number of MacBook laptop computers being used by the audience. Recently, Macs outnumbered the Windows laptops. Are you thinking of jumping on the Mac train but not sure how to get on board?

Macs are more expensive to buy, but they are a joy to own. No lengthy boot-up time, far fewer security updates, and a better weight-to-functionality ratio than Windows-based competitors. Both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptops are worthy of a look.

Plus, you can still use Microsoft Word and Excel on a Mac. Microsoft makes a version of Office for Macs that is compatible with the Windows version of Office. You won’t miss a step.

If you have other Windows-based software (such as your time and billing program) that are not OS X-compatible, you need not worry. Just install Parallels and Windows 7 or 8 to run any Windows-based software on your Mac. You can then use both Mac and Windows applications at the same time. Alternatively, turn to cloud-based software that will run no matter what operating system is on your computer—from email to case management applications, from document creation and editing to time and billing programs. You can work on your Mac and be productive anywhere you have an Internet connection.

Lawyers are flocking to Macs because they are reliable and easy to use, and compatibility is no longer an issue. Macs are not perfect machines, but they are delivering immense value to more and more lawyers every day.

Jared Correia, Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program

Time was, you could cross-post with abandon between social media services, using Twitter as the fulcrum. Over time, however, that functionality has slowly eroded. Twitter’s shot across the bow of the Internet, with respect to this trend, was the decision to pull cross-posting functionality from Twitter to LinkedIn. This was the most prominent step so far in Twitter’s continuing effort to wall its garden, and, while that may not be a paywall, Twitter’s intention is clear.

Social media services don’t charge. So they have to make money somewhere else: from advertisers, generally. Social media services can offer a more appealing ad platform when they can show buyers a higher on-site usership and better information respecting the habits of users. To acquire the appropriate percentages and user data that increase the salability of ad space, social media services are looking to shepherd users to their primary websites. If they could wring from users exclusive on-site engagement, that’s the holy grail of ad revenue. But can they?

In a word, yes, which is precisely why we’re likely to see continued disenfranchisement of third-party applications by the major social media carriers. All those using third-party applications, such as HootSuite, to manage their accounts, should be wary of those conveniences fading away. Whether or not social media services offer more-robust platforms, you should ask yourself how you would tweet if you could only use Twitter.com, because it may come to that, to a future near you.

Nerino Petro, State Bar of Wisconsin

One thing that tablets and other portable devices have in common is the fact that they will run out of power when it’s least convenient. Because you will most likely be using your tablet at home, work and on the road, make your life easier and buy an additional power adapter. Leave one at home and take one to work so you are able to charge at either location. Also purchase an additional charging/sync cable, preferably a retractable one that is easy to carry and store. Leave it with the second charger. If you also travel a great deal, like me, then it makes sense to make sure you can charge on the road.

There is nothing worse than needing to use your tablet, finding its battery low or drained and realizing you don’t have a charger. You can buy a third adapter or, because you can never get enough power, add a rechargeable battery to your carry bag that will charge your tablet as well as your other smart devices.

I currently carry an Anker Astro3 10000mAh battery that has two USB charging ports and can charge other devices that don’t use a USB connection. The battery works with 5- , 9- or 12-volt devices and includes a USB cable with multiple tips, as well as tips for other portable devices. You can currently buy this battery for less than $60 on Amazon.com.

Brett Burney, Burney Consultants LLC

Would you rather watch your favorite television show or just read the screenplay? You still get the story from the screenplay, but you miss out on actors’ facial expressions, body language and personal interactions. The same goes for depositions; reading the text of a transcript is nowhere near as compelling as watching the recorded video of a witness. As evidence of this, see the clip of Lil Wayne that has gone viral (you can find it by searching the news section of abajournal.com).

I recommend hiring a professional videographer to record depositions, although this is typically an additional cost over the court reporter. To easily create video clips to use at trial, you must specify how the video is delivered. A regular DVD can be played on a DVD player, but you should insist on the MPEG-1 video format, which may be delivered on a data DVD or an external USB hard drive.

The next step is to sync the video with the text of the transcript, which can be done by the videographer or an outside company. Those files are then imported into trial presentation software such as TrialDirector or LexisNexis Sanction, where you can search for words or phrases and highlight the text for a clip.

A lawyer could also import the .txt file of the transcript into the TranscriptPad app on the iPad, where they can designate sections for video clips. Those designations can be emailed from the iPad by selecting the Export for TrialDirector/Sanction option, which generates the list of page and line numbers that can be imported into TrialDirector or Sanction.

Dennis Kennedy, MasterCard Worldwide

Rather than starting with a list of possible collaboration tools and technologies you might purchase, begin by creating a simple map of the ways you collaborate now. Take a sheet of paper and note all of the ways you currently collaborate with others: dropping by a colleague’s office, sticky notes, email, voice mail. If you like visual approaches, you might even draw a map on a whiteboard to see what your collaboration streams look like.

Next, make a few notes about what works well and what doesn’t, such as going through extended rounds of phone tag, or endless meeting scheduling and rescheduling. Focus on the methods that don’t work well or could be improved, and determine what you really want to accomplish. Doing so will help you identify the type of collaboration tool you need to accomplish your goals. Using this simple version of the job-to-be-done approach made popular by Clayton Christensen, you can now start to evaluate collaboration tools.

Forget the idea of full-fledged collaboration platforms at the beginning, and just look for simple victories that also help the people you work with and make it easy for them to collaborate with you. For example, it’s surprising how effectively instant messaging or texting can help with getting quick answers to simple questions instead of unproductively dropping by the office of someone who is always busy. From these small steps, big things one day will come.

Carole Levitt, Internet for Lawyers

Many public libraries provide free remote access to useful and current databases that would be very costly if you had to pay to use them. Most of these databases are full text and updated regularly, some as often as daily. The database topics range from business, news, financial and science to medical. These databases can be used for due diligence and background research about clients, the opposition, a company, a product or a topic about which you need to get up to speed.

Every library offers a different group of databases, ranging from the Wall Street Journal (full text), regional and international newspapers, encyclopedias and dictionaries to various business directories such as Ward’s Business Directory, which includes background information about companies, broker reports and more. Another favorite database is ReferenceUSA, which provides addresses and phone numbers for millions of people and businesses and also provides a background report on businesses, even private businesses.

The only trick to accessing these databases is that you must have a library card. To locate your library’s website, simply Google its name.

Many libraries also provide access to additional databases, but only to patrons who actually visit a library branch. One of the most common of these is Ancestry.com’s Library Edition, which gives users access to its death index. We use this to learn if someone we are searching for is dead, so we won’t waste time looking for them. The death index can also be used to find a dead person’s Social Security number if they’ve been dead for more than 10 years.

John Simek, Sensei Enterprises Inc.

Passwords are not a very sexy topic, but they are a major item in securing our data and access to systems. Only a few years ago we thought eight-character passwords were really strong. Those days are decidedly over. The Georgia Institute of Technology, using commodity video cards, was able to crack an eight-character password in less than two hours. Using the same technology, it could take thousands of years to crack a strong 12-character password.

How do you know if your password is strong? Use letters, numbers, symbols and mixed case to maximize the password strength. Don’t use any dictionary words. You can test how difficult it would be to crack your password by going to grc.com/haystack.htm. As you will see, the longer the password, the more difficult it is to crack. Now the part you will really hate: Don’t use the same password for all of your access. You should have a different one for each website or logon requirement. You’ll need some help in keeping all of your (now complex) passwords organized. LastPass is an excellent application to help organize your passwords by storing them in an encrypted “vault.” Twelve characters is the recommendation for today, but ask me again next year.

Jennifer Ellis, Jennifer Ellis, J.D.

Every law firm should have a website to serve as its online marketing base. Add in a well-written blog and you have the best method for creating your online reputation, along with a good start to your search engine optimization.

Unfortunately, many small firms and individual attorneys don’t have websites or blogs because they believe it is too expensive or difficult to set them up. Nothing could be further from the truth. All you need to create a website are four things: a domain, a host, software (I recommend WordPress) and content.

Choose a domain name and register it with a host. Use a host that has one-click WordPress installation, such as Bluehost, DreamHost or HostGator. Once you install WordPress, you need only go through some basic setup options and choose a free theme. The theme controls the look of your site. Next, create your static pages; these are what make up your website. Start with the pages like Welcome, About, Practice Areas, Blog and Contact. Now add your content. Don’t forget to include the proper disclaimers on your Contact page and on each page of your site. Blog is where your blog posts will show when you post them. You will need to set up this blog option when you first set up your new site. It is in the Reading section of the Settings menu.

Between hosting and domain name registration, your website will cost you between $150 and $300 per year. Consider choosing hosting that includes malware protection and site backup. It is worth the extra money for the peace of mind.

Catherine Sanders Reach, Chicago Bar Association

Whether you simply need to access email or your firm has embraced the cloud for practice management, reliable Web access is a must-have for most lawyers. Those who travel know that the promise of ubiquitous free Wi-Fi is not a reality. In fact, some hotels charge for each device connected to their Wi-Fi network. Unsecured public Wi-Fi can also be a security risk if you inadvertently select an evil twin network or your data is intercepted via a man-in-the-middle attack. Accessing the Web via a tethered iPhone/iPad or Android works, with some limitations. Tethering will often reduce the battery life of the device much faster than normal, so have a charger and outlet handy. Most carriers charge more for allowing you to tether, and you will reach your data limits (if you have them) much sooner. If you are tethering, make sure to build in a password so that your cloud cannot be intercepted.

Another option?

Purchase a mobile hotspot, otherwise known as Mi-Fi. Mobile hotspots are usually smaller than a pack of playing cards and can support anywhere from five to 10 devices via a 4G LTE, 4G or 3G network, depending on location. There are many choices for devices and service through your existing mobile data carrier, another mobile data provider or prepaid options. Plans vary on data limits and cost anywhere from $25 to $45 per month. International plans are also readily available. These devices offer three to four hours of continuous use, and some devices now come with extra batteries. A mobile hotspot can be shared in a small law office if someone is traveling, or used for backup if the Internet is down.

Laura Calloway, Alabama State Bar

Many attorneys include in their engagement agreements the right to charge interest on past-due invoices but then, at least initially, they fail to do so. Typically, an attorney will wait until an invoice is seriously past due and, in exasperation and desperate need to improve cash flow, will send an invoice that includes retroactive interest. This usually has no effect on the delinquent client but can sometimes make the attorney feel better—at least briefly!

If you really want to make sure your clients pay promptly (and provided the rules of professional conduct in your jurisdiction allow it), at the time the client signs the fee agreement, you should notify him or her that you intend to collect your fees when they are due by including an appropriate—and conspicuous—interest provision. Point it out to the client when going over the agreement, and then set your time and billing program to automatically apply interest charges as soon as the invoice is past due. Then regularly review the accounts aging report that your time and billing or practice management program provides (this feature alone will justify the cost of a system) and follow up immediately to disengage from clients who can’t—or won’t—pay on time.

Dan Pinnington, Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company

Disasters don’t make appointments. Are you prepared for the unexpected?

When big disasters happen they make the news. Think Sandy, 9/11, the Northeast blackout of 2003. Smaller disasters don’t always make the news, but they can be equally devastating to people and law firms.

Accidents or disasters that have the potential to interrupt or destroy a law practice come in many forms. They can be natural, technology-related, health-related or man-made (both intentional and accidental). They may affect just a single person, everyone at a firm, or even a whole city or region.

Big and small disasters all have one thing in common: They will happen unexpectedly. Foresight, planning and preparation are critical to minimizing the impact of any accident or disaster, large or small. Being prepared and having a plan may even help prevent a relatively minor event from becoming a major one that ends your practice because people responded inappropriately due to the stress, panic or emotions of the moment.

Do you have a disaster or business continuity plan?

If your answer is no, a good starting point is Surviving a Disaster: A Lawyer’s Guide to Disaster Planning, prepared by the ABA Committee on Disaster Response and Preparedness. All practitioners will find helpful information in this guide. Adapt the suggestions to fit your office and resources. Build a disaster response plan that is right for you. It could save your practice in the event a disaster shows up for an unexpected appointment with you one day.