Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Monday, March 26, 2007

Every Day Software That Makes It Work

For about 6 weeks now, through a combination of weird circumstances, I have been transitioning from an old laptop to a new one. There were some intermediate issues to say the least — at one time I had 3 laptops in my office all of which I was using, but none of which was fully functional. I am now down to two (actually there are two more still in my office, but only until I make sure all data that I need has been copied) and getting closer to returning to normal — one computer that truly is set up to make my work life — work.

It would be nice to blame my recent lack of posting on this extended computer hell, but not entirely accurate. More importantly, what the past six weeks have taught me (other than to say thanks daily for the patience of our IT department!) is that there are certain pieces of special use software that I have picked up over the years that I have become almost totally dependent on. In fact addicted would not be too strong a word. These are all products that at least with the initial version I purchased myself, not even through the firm, so when I speak about them, it's a personal thing.

Many, although maybe not all, were recommendations by Tom Mighell, a fellow Texas lawyer and an early and great legal blogger, whose Internet Legal Research Weekly is such a fount of information that I can not imagine there is anyone in the legal field who would not benefit from getting it delivered to their mailbox every Saturday.

Among the programs that are part of my "software jones" in no particular order (except for the first) are:
  • ActiveWords - Part of what drew me to the program was the fact that the founder, Buzz Bruggemann was a practicing lawyer and is an inspiration to any who dream of life beyond the billable hour. Plus how many CEO's call when you first register for their product and will drop by your office when they are in town to give you a personal hands on session?

    But the program itself is what works the magic — from anywhere on the computer screen, with a few quick keystrokes it can work wonders. Among the things it will do :

    1. it substitutes text. I type "bq" for example, I get an html phrase starting a block quote, and at the end "/bq" closes the quote, an action that comes in handy when posting to a blog;

    2. it navigates to internet locations, "ada" takes me immediately to the text of the Americans with Disabilities Act;

    3. it launches programs, "of" opens OnFolio, my newsreader of choice;

    4. it opens folders, type "Lucero" and a folder with all the key documents I have stored about that case opens immediately;

    and those just begin to scratch the surface.

    Just go check it out and play with it for a few days — you will be hooked. My only gripe — I almost cannot work on a computer without my customized ActiveWordson it. When they get a mobile version I can carry with me, life will be complete!

  • Netcentrics GTD add-in - If you don't know what GTD is, then this won't mean much; but if you like the GTD approach to managing your practice and your life, AND like most of us in big firms are an Outlook user, then this program automates your process. With a newly minted version 2.5, even if you have tried it before, it might be time to look at it again.

  • Speedfiler by Claritude Software - Lawyers get a ton of email - a written letter that is not a copy of something I received three days ago by email is like a visitor from the past. But what to do with all of it?

    Folders based around cases and other substantive topics is the solution for me. Getting them from the inbox to the right folder — that's where Speedfiler comes in. And it works not only for emails you receive but those that you are sending. It may not sound like much, but when in relatively quick order it informs you on opening that it has helped you file more than 10,000 items to date, you know you are on to something.

  • Casemap and Notemap - Casesoft (now owned by Lexis) has a suite of products. These 2 are the ones I use most often, although I also use TimeMap and Textmap. Like with ActiveWords, I am almost afraid to describe CaseMap for fear it will seem far less amazing and powerful than it is.

    At one time I think Casesoft described Casemap as a spread sheet for facts which at least gives a clue. For me, I have always believed that knowing the facts is the key to handling a case well, which usually meant a chronology. With Casemap I now have a way to easily create a chronology that travels with me. With the use of pdf copies of produced documents, it means I can not only review my chronology, but also with a click of the mouse see the actual document that led to the original entry. Imagine doing your final deposition (or trial) preparation in the hotel room and having quick and easy access to every produced document in a click. And there is so much more.

    Notemap is an outlining program. If you ever used the wonderful but now gone, Grandview, this is the only thing I have found that comes close.

    TimeMap is a wonderful tool for creating visual timelines and TextMap is their deposition management program. It works, but still doesn't quite mirror the way I want to work with depositions to make it as valuable to me as the others.

  • Roboform - Manages all those on line user names and passwords that I seem to have to navigate a hundred times a day.

And the scary thing is, like with all the big main stream products I use (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Adobe), I know I am only scratching the surface with what these products can do.

There are some things that I would like that I still have not quite found the ones that are just right for me and the way I practice — the perfect off-line blogging program (knowing I am pretty much wed to the Blogger format), an easy to use wiki and a desktop search program. Feel free to make suggestions for these or other helpful tools.

Still I am thankful for what I have, and while I am sure I am leaving out a program or two that I use regularly, my heartfelt thanks to Buzz Bruggeman (Active Words), Itzy Sabo (Speedfiler), Greg Krehel and Bob Wiss (Casesoft), David Allen and whoever at Netcentrics took his theory and Outlook and made them work together, and the folks at Siber Systems (Roboform). Not having your products at my beck and call over the last 6 weeks, brought it starkly home how big a part of my work life you have become.

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