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7 posts categorized "Five by Five - Episode 5"

August 06, 2004

Five by Five - Technology Edition Wrapup

Well, that wraps up another edition of the Five by Five. For your linking pleasure, here are the all the links in one easy place:

The Whole Enchilada
Jeff Beard
Ron Friedmann
Kevin Heller
Dennis Kennedy
Jerry Lawson
And if you haven't read any of the other great Five by Five editions, you can find them here, here, here, and here. Thanks to everyone for participating. I'll have a preview of the next Five by Five before the end of next week.

Five by Five - Jerry Lawson

Here are two ideas on security and three on marketing, in no particular order:

1. Anti-Spyware Software. Most lawyers have not yet figured out that if "malware" proponents can do something like change the home page in your browser, they can also do much worse. It's not that hard for would-be snoops to things like install keystroke loggers that send everything you type to a snoop by e-mail. Even worse, snoops might surrpetitiously install a "remote access trojan" that lets an intruder do anything on your computer that you could do, a sort of malevolent version of legitimate software like PC Anywhere. Keeping such software off your computer involves a multi-layer defense of firewalls (preferably both hardware and software), frequently updated anti-virus software, frequent patches and common sense (like avoiding opening dubious attachments, clicking on dubious URLs or visiting dubious web sites) and, probably, avoiding MS Internet Explorer. Even if you do all this, your defenses may break down. A new category of software, anti-spyware programs, will help you find out if you have suffered a breakdown and correct it if so. No single anti-spyware program catches everything. Two current favorites are Spybot Search and Destroy and Spy Sweeper.

2. Encryption Software. The ABA ethics advisory opinion that using unencrypted e-mail does not amount to a waiver of the attorney client privilege put the e-mail security issue on the back burner for many lawyers. However, the issue has definitely not gone away. Attorney client privilege is an evidentiary doctrine, governing what evidence can be admitted in court. Most e-mail snoops want information that would damage you or your clients outside any courtroom. The ABA's opinion on attorney client privilege is irrelevant to them. Most attorneys will not need to encrypt most of their messages, but it is foolish to send highly sensitive information by e-mail without encrypting it. More information about this is available in some essays on e-mail security at Netlawtools.com.

3. Blogs. As I've explained in detail over the past 18 months in articles, including the Ernie the Attorney piece, the Blogs As A Disruptive Technology article and threads at Netlawblog and eLawyering.org, well-executed blogs can provide enormous benefits to certain lawyers.

4. RSS Feeds on Frequently-updated Conventional Web Sites. This makes so much sense as a way of getting your message through the clutter. It's a new form of "push" that works, and will work even more effectively as even more people begin to use news readers.

5. RSS Feeds to Supplement/Replace E-Mail Newsletters. Though I've been a proponent of e-mail newsletters for lawyer marketing from the earliest days of commercial use of the Internet, the spam deluge has lessened their usefulness. RSS feeds offer a new, more effective way of getting out your message, generating new business and earning client loyalty.

Five by Five - Kevin Heller

Matt asked me about 5 new technologies, but I decided to stray and discuss 5 aspects of a single technology that lawyers have attempted to incorporate into their practices, but have generally done a pretty bad job of it. What I'm saying is that there are attorneys like Matt and Evan Schaeffer who get it, but the majority of firms that deal with the tripartite corporate relationship do not:

The web aka the internet aka WWW.

1. Where is your law firm web site? Most law firms have them, but there are still some holdouts. Even when firms do throw one up, they are massively un-navigable. The firms generally make it very difficult to find any attorney by practice area, and even harder to find where they are located or how to contact them. All I want is to be able to copy and paste their contact information into a spreadsheet, because I may want to retain them. Why frustrate your potential customers?

2. Search Engines. If you're an attorney that wants to market yourself to new clients and your name and/or the name of your law firm is not the first result in either google or yahoo and I have to start doing "searches" and multiple searches then I become annoyed. You see, I don't use a rolodex. I use google. If I can't find you doing a simple search, then why should I send work your way if I can't even find you're phone number.

3. Email. I understand that many firms don't want their attorneys using this new technology, but letters and faxes get lost or go unread. Send me an email to update the status of the case. Send your bills via Pony Express.

4. Knowledge Management & Distribution (via email or your corporate web site). Lunch and after hour drinks work on many corporate clients, but I'm much more interested in the accumulation of knowledge. Sending me (along with the rest of your clients) a quarterly email or when an important decision affecting our business is handed down. Post some knowledge (or at least use a hypertext link) about recent decisions or articles you've written to your attorney bio page is key to your acquisition of new business.

5. Associate Blogs. There are a couple examples of attorneys using content management systems for the distribution of knowledge about legal issues (see above). But outside of the anonymous blogs, there aren't too many (any?) examples of associates at law firms posting their thoughts to the web. I think as long as they avoid discussing client sensitive topics this can only be a benefit to your firm's marketing strategy. Unless your firm sucks to work at, that is.

Bonus: New technology not to adopt: Stop using flash. Text works fine.

Five by Five - Dennis Kennedy

There is a certain sense of resignation in the question that, as the eternal technology optimist, I’m unwilling to accept. On the other hand, lawyers are notoriously late adopters of technology. I put together my first document assembly application for drafting wills in 1990 and document assembly is still treated as a new development by many lawyers.

Technology implementation should be considered in terms of portfolio management, just as you would do with your financial investments. Diversification should be your bedrock principle, mixing together low, medium and high risks and low, medium and high returns across your “technology portfolio.” Lawyers, conservative by nature, tend to stick solely to the low risk, low return approach, which will be as devastating over the long run as will a solely low risk, low return investment policy be as it gets hammered by cycles of inflation.

“Safe” and “prudent” approaches require that you direct some of your investment, in technology or otherwise, in higher risk, innovative approaches that may pay off extraordinarily well or may cost you your shirt, but make sense in terms of a diversified portfolio. The one approach that I believe all lawyers and law firms should incorporate into their practices, but probably won’t, is the application of modern portfolio theory to technology.

I’ve provided two sets of answers, a detailed set for individual lawyers and a quick list for law firms, because many times the interests of firms and lawyers are quite different. What the two should have in common today, however, is that technology should be implemented on an “lawyers first” priority, meaning that the needs of the lawyers in their practices should be given the highest consideration, rather than the traditional “secretaries and staff first” approach or today’s common “IT Department first” approach. My opinion on this point has proven to be more controversial than I ever expected.


Five For Individual Lawyers

I have a simple three-step approach for technology decision-making for individual lawyers. First, honestly and courageously identify your existing system that will be affected by the technology you are considering and clearly spell it out in writing – no matter how wacky it may be (e.g., “certain pieces of paper are stacked on my desk, others are on a chair, others are on a credenza and others are on the floor, but I (or my secretary) usually know where everything is”). Second, ask yourself whether the technology you are considering either (1) replaces the existing system with something better or (2) improves or enhances the existing system. If the answer is “no” in both cases, either forget about the technology or admit to yourself that you will buy it only because you “want” it. Finally, if your answer is “yes,” make your decision about how the costs and benefits balance out for you.

1. Technology to Help You Manage Your Time and Priorities. How many balls do you have in the air? There is nothing that would help any lawyer more, yet gets considered less, than something that will truly help manage time and priorities. The big problem is that every one is different, so there is no single answer. In a firm setting, you will get a one-size-fits-all-that-actually-works-well-for-nobody approach. The fact is that many lawyers have their own “DayTimer” or other system. They then create (or are forced to create) a parallel system on their computer. The result: the worst of all possible worlds – multiple calendars and to do lists and ensuing chaos.

You must find a technological solution that takes the place of the paper system to have any chance of success. There are solutions that may work well for you – The MasterList, Outlook with David Allen’s Getting Things Done add-in, case management programs, mind mapping programs. This is so important that, in a firm setting, you should be willing to spend your own money to get a solution that works for you. That’s how important this issue is.

2. Technology to Help You Find Things That You Need When You Need Them. Lawyers spend a stunning proportion of their time trying to find things that are hidden in piles, files and even in the ceiling tiles. The reasons relate to the problems I mentioned in category #1, the steady stream of interruptions and crises in the average lawyer’s day, and to their own failings at personal organization. “A place for everything and everything in its place” makes perfect sense, but the notion gets blown away when people drop off files, your mail arrives and you get fifty emails all while you are on a telephone call with a crisis that has interrupted what you were in the middle of working on.

Computers where supposed to help with this, but papers and voicemail still don’t make it into our digital systems and our computer world consists of separate and unconnected “silos” of information – documents, email, bookmarks, RSS feeds, and the list goes on and on. Our document management system does not do the trick. It doesn’t cover everything and we never bothered to fill in the field that would have helped us.

Interestingly, solos and small firm lawyers may be in the best position in this area. They can use a simpler document management program like Worldox, which includes a great local search capability, or get great results from a general case management tool. Both local search engine tools and the “enterprise search” category of tools also show some promise.

3. Technology to Help You “Remember” What You Already Know When You Need to Know It. This category is different from category #2. It’s what you can focus on only after you get a handle on the “finding things” problem. Because of your experience, there are many things that you “know.” There are also many things you (or someone in your firm) have researched, found an answer for, done before, found the appropriate resource person or created something that can be reused. It might be a document. It might be a note about a client’s birthday, a recommended expert, a recent case, a good article, an important URL or some handwritten notes. Unfortunately, there’s no personal search engine for your brain yet.

We need to capture, store, be able to retrieve, and, ideally, to incorporate into our existing forms and processes all of this knowledge and know-how. The phrase to remember is “personal knowledge management.” Unfortunately, the key word is “personal.” Again, this something we all do differently and there’s no single solution.

However, we need to work on finding a tool or set of tool. I advocate a “do-it-yourself knowledge management” approach. Start finding all of the tools you already have that you can use. You can use more features of some of the tools I mention in category #2 as a start. If you have document assembly applications, you can begin to incorporate experience, expertise and knowledge into your forms on a routine basis. In the litigation context, CaseMap is a perfect tool for getting results in this area. Another example Outlook 2003 users might consider is the suite of tools included in the “Business Contact Manager” component of Outlook.

4. Technology to Help Your Clients in Ways They Will Appreciate. One of my pet topics is “client-driven technology.” Lawyers and law firms are notorious for not using (and, in some cases, refusing to use) software that is compatible with what their clients use. I’ve talked with many people who have complained vocally about their lawyers sending them documents in WordPerfect or in a format they can’t use. In one case that I remember especially well, the complaint ended with this: “They are working for us and they should give us the documents in the format we use.” It’s hard to argue with that point.

Other stories abound about lawyers unable to use email, create PDF files or pronounce the word “Pentium” correctly. To make the situation worse, your business clients already assume that you have state of the art technology. When they say that they think you can create their agreements with a push of the button, they really mean that. I’ve seen lawyers who will say “yes, we can do that” to clients on legal issues they have never heard of tell clients that there is “no way” they can adopt a technology that would help the client. I’ve seen that even when the client has offered to pay for the new technology.

This category is the easiest category to make positive changes and see positive benefits. The first step is preposterously easy. Ask your clients about what they use and their preferred ways of working with you. Legal tech consultant Adriana Linares has a simple technology survey that can be made part of the engagement letter or the client intake process. The second step is to evaluate your current technology and any contemplated changes in light of its “friendliness” to clients. The third step is to do a little research into all of the “low hanging fruit” projects you can do right now. Take the lead on providing your clients with metadata scrubbing guidelines and tools or ways to address security issues. Use extranets, deal rooms and electronic workspaces where you can clearly save your clients money. How many clients today tell their friends, “My lawyer just came up with a great new way for me to save money”? Consider electronic billing, electronic closing binders in PDF, and the new ReportBooks in CaseMap 5. It’s all part of showing clients that you care about their businesses and not just yours.

5. Technology to Help You Practice Law in the Way You’ve Always Envisioned. If you talked the best students at the best law schools who want to work for the best litigation firms, you probably would not find a single one whose vision of the practice of law includes finding themselves in a rodent-infested warehouse full of cardboard boxes of old files stamping numbers on pieces of paper for twelve hours a day for months at a time. Yet, that’s where they might find themselves. I think the vision would be more that they are using sophisticated search and visualization tools on a laptop computer to locate the fact no one else could have found that wins the case and instant partnership for them.

That’s one thing. What’s worse, though, is seeing the lawyers who have reached the holy grail of partnership only to find that they work harder and longer hours, have more pressures, and find that they have little, if any, enjoyment about what they do. Tom Davenport, a knowledge management expert, has written that we may now spend 40% of our work day fighting against the tools that were implemented to help us be more productive. In any law firm, there will be a lot of hardware, software and systems that are far more burden than benefit. Almost everyone learns to live with that, to their detriment.

A far better approach is to focus your technological change on ways to reduce your pain and increase both your ability and your time to do the work you love. There are endless ways to do this. For me, the answer might be a blog that allows me to talk about a subject I like and attract others interested in the same thing. For you, it might be a way to automate a time-consuming and tedious process so that you can spend more time talking with your clients and helping them do what they want rather than trying to talk them into taking approaches that better fit your existing forms. For someone else, it might be to get the Tablet PC that you know would really help you out. For others, it might be finding a way to automate the routine work you are doing for a great client and free up the time to do much higher-level work.

There’s never been a time where we have had more tools and capabilities available to us that could enable us to spend more time doing the things that brought us to the practice of law and the things we love the most. I don’t want to be one of those people who said I could have done that, but I didn’t. As the quote goes, “some ask why, but I ask why not?” I’m one the “why not” people.


A Quick Five for Law Firms.

1. Client-retaining Technologies. Compatible software and systems; extranets; electronic billing; document assembly applications; online education; creative file management; allowing clients to track their projects.

2. Client-pleasing Technologies. Technology that reduces cost or streamlines process and allows you to try alternative billing methods; telling clients about solutions that have worked for you that might work for them; collaborative projects where you adapt to their technologies; automated delivery of relevant news and developments; automating processes requiring them to pay for the same number of hours over and over again; coming to clients with HIPAA, Sarbanes Oxley and other solutions rather than waiting for clients to ask for them.

3. Client-focused Technologies. Technologies that make it easy for clients to work with you; extranets or other applications designed with clients in mind; facilitating access to your IT staff to resolve problems; fixing technology and communications issues; taking the initiative in technology projects with clients; handling document filing and management issue or tracking cases; IP filings or other matters; getting bills to clients in a way that fits their accounting systems.

4. Client-producing Technologies. Websites, blogs and feeds; creative uses of extranets for training and other purposes; business intelligence and customer relationship management tools; innovative billing arrangements enabled by technology; winning a high-profile case using state-of-the-art presentation and other litigation technologies; not sending your lawyers out to clients with aging technology.

5. Keeping Your Best People Technologies. Willingness to take individual approaches; generous replacement and acquisition policies for new technology; willingness to allow test projects; listening to young lawyers; rewarding creativity and results more than raw numbers of hours; helping people learn to use software better; resisting the urge to say “no” to every request for new technology; getting technology into the hands of the people who are most likely to use it best; give your people the tools they need, the respect they need and a little room so that they can fly.



The Product List.

I got to thinking that Matt might have meant products. Here are five that should be on every lawyer’s list in today’s legal world.

1. CaseMap 5 (if you are a litigator).
2. Microsoft Office 2003.
3. Adobe Acrobat 6.
4. Tablet PC (or notebook) with WiFi and OneNote.
5. FeedDemon or news aggregator of choice.

Five by Five - Ron Friedmann

Choosing specific technologies is less important than how you think about using technology:

1.  Learn more about what you already have. Most lawyers have more software than they already know how to use effectively. And I am not talking about esoteric stuff either. Some examples:

Spreadsheets: Learn at least enough about spreadsheets to know when, if you can’t use one on your own, you should get someone to use one for you.

Presentations: PowerPoint is how many business people communicate. Learn how to use presentation software effectively and at least be aware of some of the more advanced features (e.g., how to use “animation” so that bullets appear one at a time).

Task Management: Figure out how to use the features of your personal information software (e.g., Outlook) to manage and track your many tasks.

2.  Consciously develop best practices and figure out where technology fits. It’s one thing to know your substantive area of law, another to know how to practice effectively. Good doctors read medical journals to learn the latest treatments. The law has no equivalent of clinical trials to establish what “works best.” The burden is therefore on you to consider your own “processes,” everything from when, where, and why you save documents and information to how you deal with clients to how you keep time and bill. Examine how you work and compare it to other practitioners and incorporate technology as appropriate. For example, if you are a litigator, be sure you understand the legal and technology issues of digital discovery and various approaches to managing it.

3.  Adopt a new personal productivity tool. Once you do examine how you work, you will undoubtedly see ways to improve your own productivity. My two current favorite personal productivity tools are full-text search software for my hard drive and Microsoft OneNote. Even if you are highly organized, for example, putting all e-mail messages and documents in hierarchically nested folders, you will have trouble finding your own work by browsing folders only. You need to use a search tool; a product called X1 has received many good reviews. For lawyers in large firms, lobby your firm to buy a robust, enterprise-wide search engine. Separately, OneNote makes outlining very easy and it’s a great place to store information – client, administrative, and personal – that otherwise tends not to be stored or gets lost across multiple locations. See my blog post on OneNote for more details.

 

4.  Use technology to connect to your clients. You are in a service business. Technology can help you connect with and serve your clients; your choices are many, from blogs to extranets to expert systems. I think that one of the least discussed but perhaps most useful choice is a Web-based, desktop and application sharing tool. Provide a higher level of service by working with clients interactively, sharing files using tools such as Webex or LiveMeeting. Large firms can license these products for the enterprise. Smaller firms can “pay as you go” with ASPs (see, for example, Comminique). Consider using this software to offer Webinars to your clients – it’s a great way to market yourself.

 

5.  Be curious and open-minded. Technology changes. Business changes. Your own needs change. Read the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, or New York Times technology coverage to learn what’s new. Talk to techie friends and ask for suggestions. Periodically, check out something you read or hear about and see if it will work for you. Invest some time occasionally to learn new software.

Five by Five - Jeff Beard

 When you get me started on a topic like this, I can’t just stop at five, since there is much more available that lawyers should investigate for their clients’ needs as well as their own:

1.  Using RSS Readers (News Aggregators)

On a daily or weekly basis, how would you like to stay up to date on a hundred or more different web sites and blogs in under an hour, all without having to surf individual sites until your mouse pad wears out?

I’m not exaggerating. Many mainstream news sites and blogs offer RSS feeds (Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary). Much has been said about this topic, so I won’t go into the technical details. Suffice it to say, it allows people to read more content in less time and with less effort than manually visiting each site on their daily or weekly mental list. It's a convenience and time management approach to keeping abreast of online content, both internally within an organization as well as on the Internet. Many RSS Readers have a search feature so you can search for specific topics across your selected sites.

Adding RSS feeds to you own site gives you additional reach to many more people who would not otherwise have given your site the time of day. This translates into more visitors, increased hits on your site, and potentially more business and referrals. And if more web site and blog operators end up linking to your site, you may just get higher Google rankings too.

With all due respect to legal publishers, if you've ever watched the movie, "Men in Black", I consider blawgs (legal blogs) to be the "Hot Sheets" of the legal world. To adapt Tommy Lee Jones' line: "Best damn legal practice commentary on the planet. But hey, go ahead, read the New York Times if you want. They get lucky sometimes." RSS readers enable us to increase our overall awareness in a more efficient manner.

You’ll note that I’m consciously excluding blogs from my list, in the context of my not recommending that all lawyers publish blogs. Why? Because the question posed relates to all (or at least most) lawyers. While using an RSS reader to consume information is something everyone can do, even the technophobes, blogging itself is a bit different.

So although I could write volumes extolling the many benefits of blogging, I agree with fellow blawger Jerry Lawson when he stated that:

"Blogs have enormous potential, but it’s important to keep the phenomenon in perspective. I think we're going to see another instance of the ‘80/20 Rule.’ It will probably shake out something like this: About 80% of all lawyer web logs will fail. The remaining 20% will have greater or lesser degrees of success, mostly modest. One per cent or so, maybe less, will be extremely successful. However, some of that 1% will be so successful that they will make their owners very, very glad they got into the blogging game.”

Thus I believe blogging (both in front and behind the firewall) has many benefits relating to personal KM, collaboration, best practices, marketing, and many more. But unless the people doing the blogging truly “get it” and invest the appropriate time commitment and mindset, I’m with Jerry. I believe they will be disappointed from what has been hyped on the subject.

There are also a slew of collaborative web tools available. Some lawyers will “get it” and use them with other attorneys and clients, some won’t get it at all, and probably many more will keep wishing for it, but not implement anything due to cost vs. ROI concerns.

2.  Using Smarter E-Mail Tools

E-mail used to be a great tool, wasn’t it? It beat faxing for speed without long distance charges, and you ended up with an electronic document that was actually readable and could be reprinted if you lost the hardcopy. We got to stay in touch with friends, colleagues, clients, and could access it from a variety of methods. Sounds great, right?

Then came e-mail newsletters, listservs, a flood of internal “Does anyone know where the Smith file is?” queries, and worst of all, spam.

Thus e-mail has quickly devolved into a free-for-all of information glut, requiring spam filters, e-mail filter rules, and zillions of folders to sort, spindle, and archive all those seemingly important pieces of information. There was a lack of good tools included in the major e-mail packages to actually have a way to manage and find things without spending a lot of time trying to manually create organizational tools (e.g., folders and mail filter rules) and concocting creative search strings, hoping that you recalled the exact phrasing of the e-mail just right.

Worst of all, due to spam filters, we now have to worry that our message was actually seen by the recipient, thus forcing some to have to call the recipient to make sure it made it past her spam filters.

Is e-mail broken? You bet. However, it’s still an effective tool if you can get it under control. That’s exactly what new services or programs are trying to accomplish:

Gmail is Google’s new webmail service, with 1GB of storage, but without the need for using e-mail folders due to the ability to do a Google search within your e-mail.

Bloomba is an e-mail client with very fast search speeds and a PIM (Personal Information Manager), so you can instantly search all e-mail, attachments, calendar and contacts, and schedule appointments with colleagues remotely over the web. Bloomba is smart enough to know they can’t take on Outlook directly, so they are going after the smaller business and SOHO markets.

Nelson E-mail Organizer, or NEO, is a search or indexer add-on for Outlook, which offers a slew of additional e-mail management tools, including fast searching, categorizing, saved searches, search on conversation, etc.

New technologies in this category are on the horizon, as others are exploring the concept of meta-mail, the term for the extension of e-mail into a broader set of tools that can manage processes and the user’s attention, instead of just information and content.

While there’s a lot of hype in this space, it bears watching.

3.  Spreadsheets – Financial, Trend, and Fact Analysis

Okay, so perhaps this isn’t a “new” technology, but there are numerous uses for spreadsheets that most lawyers just don’t realize. Besides number crunching, they’re great for creating charts, parsing data between different programs, spotting issues, and analyzing trends. I’ve found many attorneys tend to be “math adverse” (but ironically not “math challenged”, as they certainly dive into every detail of their yearly compensation and bonus plans). So what’s holding them back from using spreadsheets? In a nutshell, ease of use. Spreadsheets can be daunting at first glance. However, many overlook some of the wizards and pre-created templates that are included with various spreadsheet programs like Excel. Other programs exist to create spreadsheet-like “what if” comparisons, especially for tax and financial planning.

Savvy litigators are already using spreadsheets in a brand new way – analyzing facts and issues. CaseMap is a perfect example of an innovative use of a spreadsheet interface. In any case, but in particularly complex ones, mastery of the facts is a great advantage. Tie it together with a good timeline chart generator such as TimeMap, and you’ve got a powerful set of tools that doesn’t take an MIT grad to understand them.

Surprisingly, despite the above, I still see that many attorneys are not using these tools, which is why I think it’s a technology that many should incorporate into their practices, but probably won't.

4.  Alternative Billing Practices and Processes

This isn’t a technology per se, but savvy technology implementation sure helps in a number of ways to make this happen. Used properly, things like document assembly and matter management allow one to generate repetitive work in far less time than without it. And that provides the time flexibility to consider non-hourly billing options, including value-based, task-based, and flat rate billing options.

Clients like choices, and particularly, the ability to know exactly what a legal matter is going to cost them. The billable hour alone falls short in meeting this expectation. Over the years, I’ve had a number of business people and governmental attorneys tell me that they need the ability to set a monthly or yearly budget for legal fees, and many of them have sought out attorneys and firms who were willing to provide this level of predictability combined with competent representation.

5.  Wi-Fi Access and Laptops

There’s a certain freedom and creativity that wireless connections provide. I wrote this post on my laptop at home on my Wi-Fi network while doing a number of other things that relaxed me and got the creative juices flowing: Sitting out on the deck, having a beer, later watching a movie, or listening to Internet radio stations playing exactly the kind of music I liked (with no commercials I might add), being accessible to my wife and kids, and so forth. In other words, I wasn’t chained to my desk and PC, and I had a fast Internet connection should I need to run a Google search on a whim.

But Wi-Fi isn’t just about you, even though it’s incredibly useful while traveling. It’s also a great resource to provide to visiting guests and clients, especially when tied to your office’s broadband connection. While you certainly don’t want to let them into your regular office network for security reasons, a Wi-Fi network can be crafted to allow guest Internet access in a DMZ (DeMilitarized Zone) or another area of your network that is separate from your sensitive areas. Which brings me to the next topic…

6.  Wireless Security

It’s shocking and downright negligent that the vast majority of private wireless networks are left completely insecure. Many people just take the wireless routers and access points out of the box, plug in their Internet connection and PC’s and start surfing. Newer Wi-Fi devices include much more secure technologies such as WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) encryption, TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol, which provides a method for automatically rotating the security keys of your wireless network – very cool), and AES (Advanced Encryption Standard, a much more robust type of encryption). It’s definitely an area ripe with acronyms, jargon and technical alphabet soup, but it’s careless to ignore them completely.

When enabled, and especially when used in conjunction with other security measures such as MAC address filtering (i.e., limiting network connections to specific network cards), these newer technologies help make wireless networks more secure. Let’s face it, if a wardriver or hacker is not targeting you or your company specifically, then an appropriately encrypted, reasonably protected Wi-Fi network is going to require them to take much more time to hack than does your neighbors’ wide-open network. Unless they’re looking for a challenge, they’re going to move on to easier pickings.

Even though many wireless routers have easy-to-use browser based configuration screens, and it’s fairly easy to conclude that most people don’t have the necessary understanding of networking and wireless security to secure them properly. Luckily, a number of wireless manufacturers’ web sites include tips for securing their network, and folks like me have written things like “Wireless Networking Best Practices”. So you don’t have to be a networking guru to harden your Wi-Fi network. However, if it’s still Greek, I’ve found that some of the wireless manufacturers’ tech support people to be quite helpful in this regard for the how-to’s. And if all fails, you’re better off hiring someone knowledgeable to do this for you. Don’t just leave it wide open for convenience.

Lastly, don’t forget about installing personal firewalls, antivirus, and anti-spyware programs for essential protection.

7.  Metadata Cleaners

More and more lawyers tend to know at least a little something about metadata. Yet only some are using metadata cleaners or using alternative measures for minimizing the risk of having embedded metadata being used against them. In this era of electronic discovery, that’s just an accident waiting to happen. Common metadata in MS Word documents show who authored it, how many minutes it’s been open in editing mode, the drive letter and directory path where it’s stored, and potentially the prior revisions and changes, among other things.

Thus I feel it’s a best practice to implement a method for removing the metadata from one’s documents, especially before sending them to the outside world, or even to another internal department. Generally, the cost per person for a good metadata cleaner is far, far, far less than the time, effort, embarrassment, and other costs and risks associated with leaving metadata unchecked in your electronic files.

8.  Flash Drives

Call them thumb drives, key drives, flash drives, USB drives, or whatever, these tiny storage devices are easy to use and therefore a hot technology. In newer versions of Windows, you just plug them in and they’re instantly mounted as a new drive letter, just like a hard drive. Some come with encryption features for added privacy, and new features and faster read/write speeds are popping up all the time.

Regardless of whether you’re a mobile or office worker, and whether or not you have a floppy drive, these devices are much smaller than floppies and are perfect for transferring files between home and work, between laptops at meetings, and so on. Prices have plummeted so much that the smaller capacities can be had for as little as $10-$20. Some manufacturers and web sites have even provided tools and drivers to make them bootable as part of one’s emergency recovery tools.

The latest trend in flash drives is to provide the mobile user with a portable replica of their office PC’s data, look, and feel when working on a completely different PC in a different location. For instance, I’ve come across two emerging products that claim to do this: M-System's Xkey 2.0, and Powerhouse Technologies Group’s Migo. Obviously, it bears watching to see if either truly delivers on all the promises. One concern it that when working from an untrusted PC (e.g., public kiosk, hotel business center PC, etc.), these solutions need to incorporate a method for scanning and ascertaining if that PC is free from malware including keyloggers, spyware, etc., before typing in anything confidential. Otherwise, one can unwittingly provide the perpetrators with sensitive information that could lead to many kinds of problems.

9.  ActiveWords

How much time do you waste doing repetitive task in Windows? Think of repetitive typing of common information, clicking on Start, Programs, Whatever, ad nauseum. ActiveWords is an interesting type of Windows macro program that allows you to automate a variety of tasks and assign a word to it. Typing the word nearly anywhere within Windows or a running program launches the macro to do your work for you.

Much of what we do everyday is repetitive in some fashion, so when looking for personal productivity boosts, macro programs are often a nice solution if you can make them work for you. The problem with creating macros the old-fashioned way is that one needed to be proficient in a macro programming language, such as VBA (Virtual Basic for Applications). I like to look for things that are simpler, yet deliver.

10.  Tablet PCs with Microsoft OneNote or Similar Application

Tablet PCs have been available for a couple of years, but there’s two particular combinations I find compelling with an application such as Microsoft’s OneNote: The first is a “convertible” – a tablet PC which can be switched between a typical laptop screen/keyboard layout to a slate-like tablet. This way it can do double-duty between serving as a regular PC for applications requiring mousing and keyboard entry. However, for note-taking, something that attorneys do a lot, the conversion to a digital pad of paper is useful and compelling.

Programs like OneNote add some great features that allow you to take notes more in your own free form style, rather than have to conform to more rigid tools such as Word and outliners. A key feature is the ability to take your handwritten notes and convert them into actual text – this makes it a lot easier to search and pass them along in e-mail.

The other format I’d like, but have yet to see, is a “slate” (keyboardless) tablet PC that’s closer in size to a thin softbound book. It’s smaller than a normal 8 ½ x 11” pad of paper, yet larger than a paperback. Notice my reference to good ol’ paper – it’s critical because most people still work with paper and this human factor needs to be embraced for it to succeed. The idea is to have something small, thin, and lightweight to be your digital notepad of paper that never forgets. Smaller size makes it easier to carry around so you’ll actually use it more. For instance, if I took notes at a meeting 6 months ago, I want to be able to search for and pull it up in real-time at a critical meeting. Likewise, if I have a brainstorm at an odd time or in transit, I want to be able to write it down for further refinement later, without having to carry around a 20+ lb. bulging laptop bag. I consider this second category to be the ultimate genetic splicing between PDA, paper, and laptop – if it happens.

Now add Wi-Fi to these tablets, and you have an indispensable personal productivity tool to recall everything you’ve written coupled with the ability to get to the Internet and an organization’s network for accessing, saving, or disseminating additional information on the fly without having the need for anyone to type up your handwritten notes. The main thing I keep hearing from organizations is that the perceived cost premium and lack of compelling tablet applications is holding back wider adoption in the legal market. Truth be told, the price gap is narrowing. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see more attorneys interested if someone who understands their needs would just present them with the right hardware/software combination. Thus OneNote has possibilities.

 

Five by Five - Technology Edition

The next edition of the Five by Five debuts today. Five all-star panelists answer the following question:

What five new technologies should all lawyers incorpoate into their practices, but probably won't?
This edition's experts are:
Jeff Beard - Attorney and Legal Services IT Manager with Caterpillar, Inc. Jeff blogs at LawTech Guru, and is a frequent national author and presenter on legal technology and practice management topics.

Ron Friedmann - Lawyer and legal technology expert. He is the founder of Prism Legal Consulting, Inc. and blogs about "Strategic Legal Technology" here.

Kevin Heller - Attorney and author of the Tech Law Advisor and Kevin Esq. weblogs. Kevin also is a contributor to the The Blawg Channel.

Jerry Lawson - Author of The Complete Internet Handbook for Lawyers and blogger extraordinaire, authoring or contributing to eLawyer Blog, IECJournal.org, Fedlawyerguy.org, Chesslinks Worldwide, and the Netlawblog and Netlawtools sites.

Dennis Kennedy - Attorney and legal technologist. Dennis is a prolific writer and speaker. Dennis blogs at the self-titled Dennis Kennedy Blog, and is one of the founding members of The Blawg Channel.

This should be fun, so here we go.