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Characteristics Part 5: Technology
By Patricia Yevics
Director, Law Office Management
Maryland State Bar Association, Inc.
In previous issues we addressed a variety of topics that will help your firm and practice be more effective and efficient. Since the theme of this month's Bar Bulletin is technology, I wanted to discuss how to use technology to make you more efficient.
Technology (hardware, software and gadgets) are just tools. Unless we know the purpose of tools and how to use the tools, they will magically do what we want them to do. Just because we own a hammer does not mean we can build a house. Just because we have some technology does not mean we will be organized and efficient. Rather than simply give advice on what specific hardware/software or gadgets you should be using, I am going to give some tips on how to use the technology effectively.
HARDWARE and SOFTWARE Information
** Unless you are a tech junkie, there is no reason to continuously upgrade your hardware or software. You should keep up with what is new on the market. With all the information available on the internet that is fairly easy to do.
** You should upgrade your hardware and software for some of the following reasons:
Your equipment is not able to use more current versions of software.
Your older equipment is slowing down your ability to get work done quickly and efficiently. You spend too much time cursing the system than working on client matters.
Your software is no longer going to be maintained.
It is difficult to find employees who use the software or training is no longer available.
Clients and others have difficulty send you information.
Your spend more money paying to have something fixed than it would cost to replace it.
** Where can you easily and quickly find out what is new and what others are using? There are a number of ways to get information quickly in some cases too much information but that is the next tip. Go to reliable sources.
For legal related issues for solo and small firm practitioners, the best are:
Law Office Computing (www.lawofficecomputing.com)
Lawyer's Weekly (www.lawyersweekly.com)
Technology and Practice Guide (ABA Solo and Small Firm Practice Section Publication, http://www.abanet.org/genpractice/home.html) They also have a new e-newsletter about technology for solo and small firm practitioners.
Law Practice Management (ABA Law Practice Management Section Publication) (http://www.abanet.org/lpm/default.shtml)
Law Technology News, a free publication (www.lawtechnews.com)
Legal Tech Resource Guide which has information on what lawyers are using
For general technology information, the best place to start is www.zdnet.com and www.cnet.com. Two places for reviews of hardware are www.tomshardware.com (really!) and www.reviewbooth.com.
Another excellent source of information about what practitioners are using is (Duh!) other practitioners. The best way to get and share information is to (Double Duh!) join one of the many Email Lists either through the Maryland State Bar or other bar associations. This ability to find out what others are using can be invaluable.
** If you do purchase new hardware and want to transfer your applications from the old PC to the new, there are a number of applications that will assist you in doing just that. It relocates all of your programs and data from an old computer to a new computer, but gets all of your registry correct as if you had re-installed the software and copies over your tweaks and customization.
Go to http://www.cnet.com/software/0-806172-8-6829071-1.html?tag=st.sw.8888.bhed.8 for a review of five products.
** Make sure that if you use any of the sites listed and you find them helpful, that you bookmark them for future reference. In addition, you should create specific folders for your bookmarks. Some of the folders could be for Office Equipment, Research for specific clients, ext. To set up folders in Netscape, click on Bookmarks, Add Bookmarks. Then click on Bookmarks again, Edit Bookmarks. This screen will allow you to add new folders and move bookmarks to the appropriate folders. In Explorer, go to Favorites and click on Organize to add new folders or Add to add a new site to an already existing folder.
** It is best to either have someone in your office who can fix tech problems or a company you can rely on to assist with hardware/software problems. Most times the company or person will either handle hardware or software problems but not usually both.
Reliability is the key. Do not try to save money on maintenance. Think about how much money you lose if you can't get the work done. You know that your clients should be happy to pay for the quality of your services, the same is also true for the people who fix your technology.
For on-line assistance with tech problems there is a free site www.ask-a-tech.com that will answer a question and also has a large list of Frequently asked Questions. There is also a site that charges a reasonable fee at www.answerteam.com.
** Although I have said this many times, please create, distribute and adhere to rules for using e-mail. Some quick rules that all firms should have are:
If you have a domain name, make certain no one is forwarding any personal messages, jokes, hoaxes etc from your office. This is the same as sending it out on your stationary.
Since you have no idea what happens to e-mail once it arrives at its destination, do not send anything you would be embarrassed to see on the company bulletin board.
Require that employees respond to e-mails within 24 hours. It is the same as a phone call.
Inform the employees that there should be no expectation of privacy related to e-mails.
If you would like more detailed information on rules for e-mail, please send a message to Pat Yevics at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please give your fax number or mailing address as not all of the information is in electronic format.
** Use signatures on all e-mails coming from your office. You would send out a letter without a signature why would you send an e-mail message. If there are others in the who send e-mail messages, please make certain, signatures are consistent. To set up signatures in Outlook, click on Tools, AutoSignature. A box will then pop up and ask you what information you would like included. Keep it simple and short. No long philosophical quotations. At a minimum, include your name, firm name, address, phone and website if available.
** Get a domain name. This is a permanent e-mail address. E-mail is here to stay so now is the time to pay to have a permanent address. For more details, go to http://www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/techstuff/domainname.htm and http://www.msba.org/departments/loma/techtalk/2001/1201.htm
** If you are going to be out of the office for more than a day and you use e-mail, please use the Out of Office Assistant to let people know you are not seeing your e-mail. In Outlook, click on Tools, Out of Office Assistant. A box will pop up that allows to type in a message that anyone who sends you a message will receive. You can also have the messages forwarded to your laptop or other address IF you wanted to get your e-mail. When you get ready to leave, simply, check "I am currently out of office" and you are set to go. When you return and log in, Outlook reminds you that the Out of Office Assistant is still on and you then click on "I am currently in the office."
** Be careful of accepting attachments. Never open an attachment with exe. This will surely have a virus attached. If you get a file with an attachment (It will have a paper clip) from someone you know but were not expecting anything, call the person and ask if he/she sent a file. This could save you from downloading a file that was unintentially sent from someone you know.
** To minimize junk mail, give out an e-mail from one of the free services such as yahoo or juno when you purchase anything or are required to give an e-mail for information or services.
CASE MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE
This is clearly a package that many solo and small firm practitioners will benefit from using. It will allow to manage all your client information, your calendar, your time, due dates, notes, phone messages, legal research, dockets. Most of the case management software will link with time and billing packages. Most will also be able to upload information to your Palm Pilot or transfer the information to your laptop. Do not worry about whether or not you need all of the features that the product offers. You may not but what you will use will help you be more efficient.
The important thing to remember is to make certain that even if you purchase your product on-line, you should use a local representative for some initial training. It will be money and time well spent.
The most popular products (in alphabetical order) for solos and small firm practitioners are Abacus, www.abacus.com, Amicus Attorney, www.amicusattorney.com, CaseMaster, www.sti.com and TimeMatters, http://www.timematters.com.
Determine what your needs and your habits are and compare them with what is offered by the products. If you would like information on how to choose case management software and some reviews of the products, please send an e-mail to email@example.com and give your postal mailing address.
Make certain that you track all changes to hardware and software. Information should include installation information for hardware and software, information about upgrades and patches, purchase dates and prices. You should also have registration numbers for all hardware and software. The information should be kept on the computer as a Read-Only file. A hard copy should also be kept in a binder and one copy should be kept off site. Make copies of all programs that come on all new computers. You should also have written procedures that everyone understands and can follow for restoring files.
MANAGING YOUR DOCUMENTS
Make certain that you have a system for naming and saving documents that would allow someone to find a document easily even if he/she was not sure where it was saved. Create folders and sub-folders if necessary to manage all your documents for easy retrieval.
Make certain that you periodically clean out your files and "delete" those that are unnecessary. Keep in mind though that even though you "delete" a file, it is still on your computer. You may not be able to find it but it can easily be retrieved.
Some software products that will assist in getting rid of data on your hard drive are:
Win Clean www.wincleaner.com
Evidence-Eliminator (What a great name) www.evidence-eliminator.com
These are just some ways to have technology help you be more efficient but there are many other ways. It is important to understand how technology can help you and use it to your advantage.