practice tips, by Dave Bilinsky, Practice Management Advisor

Top 10 tech tips

musical note Save some time to dream
Save some time for yourself
Don’t let your time slip away
Or be stolen by somebody else...

Lyrics, music and recorded by Jon Mellencamp

I would like to share the top technology tips that I believe will improve your efficiency and effectiveness:

1.  Adobe Acrobat

Adobe Acrobat has become one of those applications that have become essential to how I work. Not only does it allow me to send documents without hidden metadata, but it has become the “go to” application for government filings and exchanging documents with clients and other lawyers. What’s more, you can insert hyperlinks. That means you can create a brief, for example, that contains your argument and evidence, as well as the law on which you are relying, all linked and contained in one file.

For the paperless office, Adobe offers an ISO standard format that is unlikely to become obsolete. The “dual layer” nature of a searchable PDF (namely, a text layer combined with the graphic layer) allows you to easily search documents in a folder, a hard drive or even a network. 

All versions of Adobe Acrobat, except the free Reader, have the ability to convert a scanned document into a searchable PDF, using optical character recognition (OCR).

headset and keyboardThe full version of Acrobat 8 (and higher) has many other features. One that I really like is the ability to create a single PDF portfolio that is composed of multiple files and formats. In particular, you can convert select emails or a whole folder, or nested groups of folders, right from the menu bar in Outlook. This is a great way to organize and archive emails, which is particularly useful when a file is closed.

2.  Dual monitors

Once you have crossed the Rubicon and started to use dual monitors, you will find there is no going back. The ability to refer to a document on one monitor while working on another (for example, research on one and a draft contract on another) is a huge time-saver. 

Virtually all laptops and most netbooks have a VGA connection that can be used to drive a second monitor. Desktops may need an additional video card installed, but they’re not expensive. If you really decide to go whole hog, you can obtain a box that will allow you to connect and drive three monitors!

Once enabled through the operating system, you can drag and drop or copy and paste from one screen to another. The efficiencies gained from working in a dual-monitor setup quickly offset the expense of a monitor and video card.

3.  GoToMeeting (or Adobe Connect)

GoToMeeting (www.gotomeeting.com) (or a competing product, Adobe Connect) is a great way to hold a meeting without having to go thru the expense and hassles of air travel. GoToMeeting allows you to hold one-on-one or group meetings of up to 15 people easily and cheaply. You can also present a webinar with their associated software, GoToWebinar.

GoToMeeting works with a Mac or PC. You can show a document or your whole screen. Attendees can get keyboard control — great for training or showing someone something. You can use a computer microphone or the telephone for the audio portion, and you can record the presentation. There is also an online chat component.

4.  “Paste Special”

Lawyers are forever cutting and pasting text from one document to another. You probably have experienced the frustration that results from pasting a block of text only to find that the formatting of your document has been disrupted and “gone crazy.” The reason is that “Paste” brings the formatting of the original document into the target document, which may not be the desired result.

There is a way to copy and paste text that will not disrupt the style of your new document. Use “Paste Special” instead and select “Unformatted Text.” This will import the text without the associated formatting and make life much easier.

5.  EzDetach and SimplyFile

EzDetach add-in application for MS Outlook is an intelligent filing assistant for email attachments. It “guesses” which folder an attachment belongs in, and with one mouse click you can save it into that folder. It learns where attachments belong, thereby improving its accuracy. Along with its companion product SimplyFile (which guesses which folder an email should be stored), it can make your life a whole lot easier. Find them at www.techhit.com.

6.  ActiveWords

If you have ever used Quick Correct or a similar function in a word processing program, you can relate to ActiveWords (www.activewords.com). This application is like Quick Correct on steroids. You can type “Word” into the ActiveWord toolbar and it will launch MS Word. Type in “Photos” to open the pictures folder on your PC. If you use the same phrase or text all the time, you can set up an ActiveWords shortcut for use in ANY application you wish — not just your word processor. I use it in conjunction with Amicus Attorney to quickly substitute text that I use all the time. You can also use it to send emails. ActiveWords has become so central to how I work that I look for it on my Mac — but unfortunately, it is only for the PC. Rats!

7.  Voice recognition

Voice recognition software translates speech to text on the computer. The productivity gains that can be realized are wonderful. If you have not tried it recently, the recognition rates have skyrocketed as the software has improved and the training periods minimized.

The products that are available:

Okay, I know that voice recognition isn’t for everyone. I have talked to lawyers who have achieved a 98 per cent recognition ratio and others who were unable to get through one sentence without an error. I think voice recognition falls under the Alexander Keith beer motto: “Those who like it, like it a lot.” 

I personally think it is magic and I have achieved a fairly high recognition rate — high enough that I can dictate faster than I can type. I use Dragon’s Professional version 10, a Senneiser switchbox and stereo headset, which allows me to use the same headset to answer telephone calls as well as dictate to the computer. The sound is clear and the switchbox has a volume control. My only negative comment is that the earpads get a bit warm after a while.

The Sennheiser USB microphone works well with my Lenovo and Dragon. I reduce the background noise by closing my door, as this seems to affect recognition rates. I have a grounded, three-prong power supply; I found the two-pronged one created static. Lastly, the most recent releases of Dragon analyze your existing documents and determine how you write. This seems to have a big impact on recognition rates.

8.  Xobni

Xobni.com (“inbox” spelled backwards) is another Outlook plugin. It searches the web for information on your contacts and brings it all back into Outlook — so you can see the picture of the person who sent you an email, see your threaded conversations, find attachments from them, and much more. But the real power of Xobni is its ability to search your Outlook folders with lightning speed.

9.  ioSafe

ioSafe is an external hard drive that is practically bombproof! It is USB 2.0 enabled, fireproof (it can withstand 1550° F for 30 minutes), waterproof (it can be submerged up to 10 feet deep in fresh or salt water for three days) and can be physically locked or bolted to the floor. It works with both PCs and Macs. It comes in large capacities (1, 1.5 and 2 terabytes) and has data recovery and insurance as well. It is also whisper quiet! This is a wonderful hard drive for a law office for backup purposes.

10.  YouSendIt

Need to send a big file but the email box for the recipient is too small … how do you get it to them? Go to www.yousendit.com. You can upload the file and create an email with a link to the file. The recipient clicks on the link and downloads the file. Quick, easy and free. Worried about confidentiality? Encrypt the file before uploading. (For information on encryption, see Practice Tips in the March 2008 Benchers’ Bulletin.)

I hope that at least one or more of these tips can help you save some time for yourself …