I prepared this material for a presentation this week at the Northwest Regional Conference for…
Thanks to the folks at the Kittitas County Bar Association for having me out to speak today. We’ll be covering a potpourri of topics relating to the use of technology in law firms. Below it a list of nine unrelated tech things that I’ve found helpful for lawyer life. Theses are simple, 101-level items.
1 – Google Shopping (www.google.com/shopping)
Any lawyer who makes technology purchases for her firm should definitely check out Google Shopping. Here’s the beauty of Google Shopping when it comes to office technology.
First, find the product you want on Amazon.com or wherever you normally go. Next, you want to find the “Model Item Number.”
This step is really critical. When it comes to technology items, there’s a big difference between the name you might be familiar with, and the Model Item Number. For the ever-popular ScanSnap, there are many different versions, bundled in different ways. The Model Item Number ensures you’re comparing apples to apples for what we’ll do next.
Now, go to Google Shopping and just paste the Model Item Number in the search.
Google Shopping now returns a list of all the vendors selling that specific product. This list is sortable by a number of fields. The most helpful field is “total price” which is the “base price” of the item plus fees and shipping charged by the vendor. This way you don’t get sucked in by an artificially low product price that masks hidden fees. In my experience, Google does a good job of ferreting out those fees.
Also, note that Google returns a Seller Rating. Pretty much anyone can manage to become a vendor who’s results will be listed here, so you need to be careful about who the vendor is. Most credible vendors will have hundreds or thousands of positive ratings. I would recommend scrolling down until you find the first low price asscociated with a credible vendor.
As they say, results vary. Sometimes Google Shopping won’t save you much money, but the whole search takes mere seconds so it doesn’t hurt to look.
2 – LastPass (www.lastpass.com)
The single biggest problem with password security is this: we tend to use only a couple of passwords across many website and applications. So if someone steals your password to Facebook, she may also have your banking password. Enter LastPass. This brilliant tool allows you to securely save a limitless number of site-specific passwords. LastPass lives on the “cloud,” but talks to your web browser, and smartphone and tablet if you want. You tell LastPass the unique password for a particular site, then with two-factor authentication it calls up that password when you want to access the site. LastPass also helps you securely generate impossibly complex passwords – such as zLWflRgiNVzGWRiBu4gLx5C6zLcvRiNmZpRmUgWAAuClG – rather than BobTheDog’82. It something like $2/month this is a killer deal for the security it buys you.
3 – Jing (www.techsmith.com/jing)
This is my favorite (free) tool for screen captures. You may think you don’t need to capture images of what’s on your screen, but once you start using this you’ll find it’s often helpful. The yellow Jing bubble sits quietly on the side of your screen. If you need to capture an image you just hit Jing, select the area you want to capture, and save the image to your PC or copy/paste it in an application.
4 – Bitly (www.bitly.com)
Do you hate it when you’re reading an article or court opinion, then you see a footnote to a web citation. The citation is 150 characters long, with lots of numbers, “%”s and other muck. You have to be pretty motivated to carefully copy that long string into your email browser. Hence, Bitly exists.
Bitly (and other freebies like TinyURL) shrink those long, unwieldy URLs. All you do is cut/paste your long URL, and bitly spits out a shorter version. That shorter version can be used by anyone, and works the same as the original URL.
I’ve used Bitly-shortened URLs in plenty of journals and never received any push-back from editors. Likewise, judges have not complained about Bitly URLs in citations in briefs.
5 – Doodle (www.doodle.com)
Nothing makes me cringe like the following email line: “why don’t you suggest some times that would work for the conference call?” The scenario could be a panel discussion for a conference, a litigation-related meeting, or just a colleague or client who needs to talk to you. The problem is that it is a terrible, terrible, terrible use of time to email back and forth about scheduling issues. Why? Because the whole thing can be done automatically, without wasting time responding to endless emails. If I list three times I’m available, there’s a good chance the other lawyer will come back with a reply that none of the times work, then we’re just back at the start.
Basically all professionals should know about Doodle, but the truth is many do not. It allows users for free to circulate calendar polls for meetings. You list the times you are available, then other attendees indicate whether they are available for particular times. There’s no need for back-and-forth. You just list your available times, then sit back until everyone responds.
6 – Schedule Once (www.scheduleonce.com)
Now if you want to take this to the next level, use a self-scheduling tool for all your appointments. At our law firm we use Schedule Once. Colleagues or prospective clients can access any attorney’s calendar and select a time for a meeting or consultation. The booking screen looks like this:
The user simply selects the service s/he wants, then chooses a time that works best:
Starting with its latest update, Schedule Once now integrates payments via PayPal. That means prospective clients can be required to pay their consult fee at the time they schedule, to avoid the time cost of following up with them before their appointment.
I like to include a link to my Schedule Once page in my email signature line. That way if I’m having an email discussion, and someone wants to set a meeting, I just direct them to the link in my signature block:
Although not free, Schedule Once rates start at only $5/mo (running to $50/mo for full features).
7 – Boomerang (www.boomeranggmail.com)
Boomerang is a Gmail plugin that does two simple things. If you’ve never used it, these may sound like no big deal. But after trying it you’ll wonder how you did without. Here’s what it looks like at the bottom of a Gmail composition screen:
- “Boomerang” function. The key feature of Boomerang is that it allows you to return a conversation to your inbox after X period of time. Say you’re talking to a prospective client, who says, “I’m too busy now, but follow up with me in November.” Rather than opening your calendar, or bothering your assistant, Boomerang let’s you send the email chain back to yourself. You just click a button at the bottom of your email and select when you want the email to return to your inbox. I use this function all the time for colleagues who say, “hey, we should plan to have coffee in December.” I’ll never remember that conversation three months later, but with Boomerang I can send a reminder to myself, and it takes only 2-3 seconds to do so.
- Send later. This feature fights one of the worst problems with email – the email “conversation.” What I mean here is a rapid-fire set of back-and-forth emails. With attorneys, these can get to be 20 emails long easily. At the end of all of it, you might just as well have had a phone call. Now part of the problem here is speed. If you respond quickly to two emails in a row, the other person will expect a quick response to the third. With the “send later” feature you can set the expectation that you are not instantly available for email chat. Just click “send later” and select when you want the email to go out. This way you can respond to the email when it’s convenient to be working on your inbox, but without encouraging others to expect that you are always available.
8 – LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com)
Almost everyone has heard of LinkedIn, but a surprising number of lawyers lack profiles. LinkedIn is basically the largest social networking site for professionals. But you don’t have to care about “networking” online for it to be helpful. Many professionals use LinkedIn as their professional Rolodex. It’s also a way to remind yourself about the background of someone you met at the bar meeting a year ago. Or if a new attorney makes contact with you, LinkedIn gives you a much better picture of the attorney than the bar directory.
Frankly, if an attorney doesn’t have a LinkedIn profile it’s one strike against their professional credibility. It’s one thing if the attorney has been practicing for 35 years. But if it’s any early or mid-career attorney, lacking a LinkedIn profile shows they aren’t interested in being transparent about their professional identity.
9 – Stamps.com
Despite it’s horribly ugly, 1990s-throwback user interface, this application is the modern version of the Pitney Bowes stamp machine. At something line $16/month, it allows you to print any form of US postage that you care to, right from your standard office (or personal) printer. You can access the utility through its website or via its ugly desktop application. Ugly or not, if for any reason you’re using an old-school postage machine or actual stamps, this would be a huge improvement.