By now, there are hopefully few, if any, practitioners without at least a computer and printer in their office. The advent of office technology has been a blessing and a curse. Time cycles for preparing documents and responding to clients has rapidly decreased first with faxes and now with email, texting and instant messaging. This has allowed for increased efficiencies but reduced an attorney’s ability to think over a problem before the client (or opposing counsel) demands a response.
So, if we are stuck with constant communication and rapid response demands, how can all of these technological marvels improve your profitability (but not your sanity)? While there are a myriad of technologies available for an office, even simple things can help out. Among the easiest ways to save money for litigators is to use CRC Rule 2.251 allowing electronic service in cases. A simple communication with all counsel in the case to convince everyone to serve notices under Rule 2.251(a)(2)(A) and all documents in the case can then be served via email. This can save a significant amount on postage. Plus, since almost every document is already created on the computer, it saves paper and toner, as there is no need to print out the document and put it in an envelope. Electronic service can greatly decrease an office’s postage costs and, due to the postal services continuing money issues, postage costs are only going to increase.
Next, and related to the first suggestion, if you are faxing a document, there really is no need to also mail it unless required by the Code of Civil Procedure. Save the paper and postage by not mailing a document you have already faxed. However, if you are a belt and suspenders type of person, have at it.
While there is lots of software available both specifically for the law office and for office work in general, this article is not going to recommend specific software for a law office with one exception. Instead, look at the programs that you most use in your office and think about whether there are ways to use them better and more efficiently.
The dominant word processor is Microsoft Word. An excellent resource for using Word in a law office can be found at the Payne Group website. Payne Group has great publications on using Word (and Excel) in a law office. The books are a great investment and all one needs to do is simply look at the table of contents to see how to optimize Word in a law office. The books contain a significant amount of tips and how-to’s that can save time in document creation.
Similarly, every office should already have Adobe Acrobat not only for scanning documents for serving via email (and electronic filing) but for form creation. Adobe knows that Acrobat has become indispensable to the law office and has created a blog for attorneys to learn how to make better use of the program in a law office. The blog can be found at http://blogs.adobe.com/acrolaw/
The one piece of software I will recommend for every office is a program that lets you type a short series of characters that then is expanded into a whole sentence or paragraph. On the Mac side, one such program is called TypeIt4Me . On Windows, look for Breevy . These programs work with any program on your computer (and Ettore Software even has a version for the iPad/iPhone). One simply types in the text and a shortcut into the text expander program and the next time that the shortcut is typed out in a word processor, billing program, or calendaring program, the text expander pastes in the full text. This can greatly speed up processes including adding boilerplate into a document or entering billing codes if your billing program doesn’t allow the use of shortcuts.
Apps for your Smart Phone and Tablet
Assuming that you already have a smart phone and maybe even a tablet, look into whether your calendaring program and billing program have apps for your smart phone/tablet. This can allow you to enter time and calendar items while on the run as it is easy to forget about that phone call or email sent out of the office. Having the ability to enter time on the phone that syncs back to your computer billing system can help capture those missed billing opportunities. If your programs do not have an app yet, contact the developer to ask when one will be available. Apple already has well over 350,000 applications available in its on-line store so if your developer is not already there, they need to get moving. While Android and Blackberry are well behind in app count, they will continue to expand. In prior issues, the Contra Costa Lawyer has published reviews of apps useful to the law office (download the article from the May 2010 issue).
Filing & Naming Conventions
An easy way to save time (and thus money) is to adopt standardized naming and filing conventions for electronic files. Hopefully, if you are still using paper files, you have them organized – usually correspondence in one section (by date), pleadings in another, discovery in a third, etc. There is no reason not to duplicate your paper filing method on your computer. For each case, you will have an identifier for the case/client that matches the identifier used for that case/client in your billing and calendaring systems. Within each client directory would be sub-directories for correspondence, costs, pleadings, etc. Then within each sub-directory, if necessary, you can break things down further. Once you reach the actual files, your office should adopt a standard naming convention for each document so that they are easy to identify. Now that DOS 8.3 (eight characters followed by a three character extension) names are history, there is no reason to limit the number of characters in a name. For example, when I prepare a letter I name it something like “11-03-15 Ltr to Jones re Discovery”. Using the date of the letter up front in year, month, day format causes all letter to be sorted by date with the name telling me who it was sent to (or received from) and the general topic. Also, if you are hunting for a document, don’t forget that both OS X and Windows 7 can index all documents on your hard drive and let you run simple searches on the name or content.
Tablets and the Cloud
Now that you have trimmed around the edges with paper, toner and postage, there are potentially significant savings next time you need to purchase a new laptop. Unless your laptop is your primary (or only) computer, look at how you actually use the laptop and consider whether you really need a laptop. In all likelihood, a tablet (like the iPad or Xoom) will suffice for most trips. Attorneys are already using iPads in trial instead of laptops. The interface is simpler and if it crashes, it can be restarted in seconds. With cloud storage like SugarSync and Dropbox, anywhere one can obtain Wi-Fi or a cell signal, all of an attorney’s electronic files are available. In addition to potentially saving a large amount over the cost of a top of the line laptop (since no attorney wants to be caught using anything less than the best), your back and shoulders will thank you as tablets weigh much less than even the lightest laptop.
At the end of the day, technology is a tool. The better you understand what the tool can and cannot do, the better you can select which tool to use for which problem.
David Pearson, a Walnut Creek solo practitioner, is the current President of the Robert G. McGrath American Inn of Court. Since striking out on his own in 1996, he has concentrated his practice in the representation of closely held businesses and their owners. David can be reached at email@example.com.
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