A new world at your fingertips, in the palm of your hand
Practice management advice
David J. (Dave) Bilinsky is the Law Society's Practice Management Advisor. His focus is to develop educational programs and materials on practice management issues, with a special emphasis on technology, to increase lawyers' efficiency, effectiveness and personal satisfaction in the practice of law. His preferred way to be reached is by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
(no telephone tag). Alternatively, you can call him at (604) 605-5331 (toll-free in B.C. 1-800-903-5300).
In the January ComputerWorld Canada is an article on how physicians, as compared with any other professional group, have become the biggest adopters of the personal digital assistant, or PDA. A PDA is, quite simply, a handheld computer. The best known is undoubtedly the Palm Pilot (so much so that "Palm" is frequently used as a generic name for the device), but other examples are the Handspring Visor and Compaq iPAC.
Our medical colleagues have realized the advantages that these little wonders bring to their practice, principally in three areas: accessing reference materials, updating patient files and scheduling / billing. Accordingly, this column is devoted to offering as many "tips" as space allows for lawyers to achieve similar improvements in their own practice as professionals.
Get a Palm Pilot!
Thomas Edison always had a notebook and pencil close at hand for when he came up with an idea. Keep a Palm Pilot or other PDA close at hand and you can always jot yourself a note about a file - in addition you will have all of your clients' contact information and your calendar with you at all times. They are great for looking up a telephone number quickly, checking or making an appointment, looking at your To-Do's or even for keeping track of your billable time and expenses when out of the office.
Get a case management program that synchs with your Palm Pilot
One of the advantages of MS Outlook, Amicus Attorney, Time Matters and other programs is that they quickly "download" your client contact list, To-Do list and appointments onto your PDA. Any changes made, either on your case management program or on your PDA, are "synched" and updated once you return to the office, place your PDA on its cradle and hit the button. This dynamic update feature means that you will never carry a paper diary again - for the PDA brings value-added functionality to your fingertips.
Furthermore, if you acquire any of the thousands of software applications written for these devices, you can keep track of time, billing and expense data, jot down notes and read reference materials on the go.
Let your electronic calendar manage your time
Now that you have Outlook, Amicus Attorney, Time Matters or other software, use the alarms in their electronic calendars to manage your time. When you are meeting with a client, schedule another appointment to start when you wish the prior appointment to end. Set an audible alarm for 10 minutes before the start of the second appointment and turn up the volume on your computer. When the alarm goes off (which your client can't help but hear) announce that you have an upcoming appointment.
These appointments can be downloaded to your Palm, allowing it to produce alarms for you while on the road, even if it is turned off. Moreover, there are applications such as TimeBill that has a "stopwatch" logging feature that lets you log time worked on a task by selecting this task and clicking a button. TimeBill automatically tracks the time logged on the active task to the exact second. It keeps track of elapsed time even when the Palm is turned off or you are working with other applications, until you tap the stop button or move on to another task. You can also manually create and edit log records.
Use your contact manager to market your practice
All case management software can maintain lists of clients. Set yours up so that you can sort your clients by areas of interest - wills & estates, construction law, small business law, personal injury. When a case or a bit of news of interest comes up in a particular area, sort the list of clients corresponding to the area of interest and have your assistant send the newsworthy bit off to those people with a little note: "I thought this may be of interest to you - Regards, Joseph or Josephine Lawyer." Great way to keep in touch with your clients and reinforce that you are thinking of their interests even if you don't have an active file on the go.
If you see something of interest when out of the office, you can write yourself a note in the Palm and take action on it when back in the office.
Make appointments with yourself
At the start of each day, take a moment and plan your day - not by making lists but by making appointments with yourself. Take your To-Do's and your electronic calendar and schedule appointments with yourself to:
- work on the To-Do's
- keep in shape
- go out with your significant other
- do things with your children
- read about current developments in your field.
As lawyers we tend to set aside our own priorities in favor of those of our clients. Furthermore, we allow the "here and now" to take over - the crisis of the moment. By making specific appointments with yourself in your calendar, you will think twice about taking on new responsibilities before you have cleared your calendar of the existing duties - and you will carry these appointments around with you on your PDA to avoid over-committing when out of the office.
Use your "repeat appointment" feature to advantage
All electronic calendars can quickly schedule repeat appointments. By scheduling a day each week or month - say Thursday afternoons or the third Wednesday in each month - to go through your completed files for the specific purpose of producing bills, your staff and partners will realize that this is your "billing time" and will leave you alone. Moreover, since you have set this time aside to attend to this task, soon it will become automatic for you to do your billing on a regular schedule.
Have your "task manager" manage your deadlines
All of us can overlook a deadline when we are caught in the hustle-bustle of a busy day or week. Enter all important deadlines into your task manager in your electronic calendar with the corresponding deadlines. Make it a rule of thumb not to take on a new task unless and until you have reviewed your current list of deadlines to avoid becoming overbooked. The reminder and alarm features will remind you of the upcoming deadlines. This is particularly good for limitation reminders as you will also be carrying them around with you on your PDA calendar (and presumably in your To-Do's as well).
Have your PDA check for conflicts
Your electronic case manager is capable of identifying all parties associated with a file - clients, opposing parties, other lawyers, witnesses, physicians and expert witnesses. Your PDA carries this complete contact list - allowing you to check for a conflict if approached by a potential client outside of the office. Your Palm can also quickly check for a potential conflict when you are back in the office when first answering a telephone call.
Use your PDA to keep up to date
Software for PDAs - such as the Palm support web-clipping - allows you to download information off the web for reading out of the office. You can, for example, download the "stay current" news from CLE (www.cle.bc.ca), cases from the B.C. superior courts home page (www.courts.gov.bc.ca), cases from the Supreme Court of Canada (www.scc-csc.gc.ca) and other information to review on the train or in Chambers while waiting to be called.
Work while out of the office without carrying a laptop
You can now put Word, Excel and PowerPoint files and eBooks (even video clips) on a 16MB SD and plug it into an expandable Palm or Handspring Visor and work wherever you are - without a computer. I have seen full-colour PowerPoint presentations done from a Palm - great for client presentations on the go (and a great way to show to a client that you are up to date). iSilo - a document viewer for the Palm platform - allows you to use your Palm as a knowledge manager. You can carry around case law, memos, notes, agendas, reports and news to read on the road. It also includes an outliner to jot and organize new notes and ideas.
Watch for what's ahead
In the U.S., a lawyer went to court with his Palm VII, equipped with a wireless Westlaw connection enabled by Palm.net, a dedicated wireless service. During the proceedings, the opposing lawyer cited the case of Smith v. Jones. The lawyer pulled out his Palm, connected to Westlaw using Palm.net and looked up the citation history of Smith v. Jones. When it was time for the opposing submission, our lawyer handed up his Palm to the judge and stated that the Smith v. Jones case his friend was relying on was no longer good law. Needless to say, the wireless lawyer won his case.
It will only be a short time before legal databases and resource materials will be accessible to us in a wireless format directly by a Palm device similar to the Palm.net service in the U.S. Provided you have internet access through your cell provider, you can do this indirectly now by attaching a modem to your Palm and connecting it to your cell phone. For the Palm to access the information directly will be (yet another) big step ahead.
The software applications written for the Palm number over 10,000 and can be found at www.palm.com. A PDA goes wherever you go - allowing you to keep your practice in the palm of your hand.
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Has the PDA made a difference to your practice? If you have tips, suggestions or insights to share with others in the profession, send them to Dave Bilinksy at email@example.com.