Here are five gadgets, software, or services that can make your practice, and your life, easier.
#1 – Palm-based PDA: My favorite technology tool for lawyers is a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) running the Palm operating system. The Palm operating system is simple, intuitive, and just plain easier to use that Microsoft’s Pocket PC (aka Windows Mobile).
All Palm PDA’s do the basics well. Beyond the basics, some of the new models have built-in wireless networking that will allow you to check and respond to your email at any Starbucks or airport (and soon every McDonald’s). A few even include a cell phone so you can make and receive calls, use email, and surf the internet from anywhere. Most now include software enabling you to create or edit Word and WordPerfect documents and Excel spreadsheets and then automatically synchronized that edited document back to your desktop or laptop computer ready to print and present to the court or a client.
Recommendations? The best basic device is the PalmOne Tungsten E for less than $200. For wireless networking and a built-in “thumb” keyboard, the PalmOne Tungsten C is the one to buy for less then $400. My favorite in the “do everything” category is the Treo 600 from PalmOne. It has a cell phone, thumb keyboard, and a digital camera. A new model without the camera is being released and it may the best choice for lawyers who travel to courthouses that restrict cameras. Anything beyond a ball-point pen is too high-tech to take into the federal courthouse.
#2 – GoToMyPC: Have you ever left your office after a long day and forgotten to bring home the one document you really needed to work on before tomorrow morning’s important meeting? Don’t get back into the car. Log into your office computer from home and read or print out that document in a matter of seconds. Remote access is not just for big firms with full-time IT departments. It is simple and cheap enough for the solo practitioner. It truly is just like being there.
What makes this magic possible is a service called GoToMyPC. Set up an account (it takes less than 5 minutes and you don’t need any technical knowledge) and like magic you can work on your office computer from any other computer in the world that has internet access. A broadband (cable or DSL) connection is better, but even a dial-up connection works in a pinch. At just $20 per month or $180 annually, this is the tech bargain of the year. To sign-up, click on the GoToMyPC link on the InTouch Business Consultants (the company I work for) web page at http://www.intouchbc.com.
#3 – USB Flash Memory: The floppy disk is dead, and I am not sorry to see it go. These failure-prone storage devices are the most dangerous way to store your files. If you keep or transport important files on a floppy disk, stop now!
Go to any electronics, computer, or office supply superstore (or your favorite web merchant) and buy a USB flash memory drive. You’ll spend less than $50 for a drive with nearly 100 times the capacity of a floppy disk. This tiny device fits in your pocket or hangs on your keychain and holds 32 MB’s or more (often much more) of digital data.
A USB flash drive is a great way to transport files from work to home and back, or to take important files with you on trips if you know there will be a computer you can use at your destination, allowing you to leave your laptop behind.
#4 – Telephone Headset: The best way to take notes of a telephone conversation is to type them during the call itself. But that requires both hands, and if one hand is holding the phone? Well, it just doesn’t work very well. Even if you are not typing, we lawyers talk for a living, so why not do it comfortably? Nearly any telephone (including cell and cordless phones) can be easily adapted to hands-free use with a headset.
There are some great headset choices at www.hellodirect.com. But even a simple and inexpensive headset from your local office supply superstore can work wonders for your sore neck, and make you more efficient. Look for products from Plantronics or Fellowes.
#5 – Spam Filtering Software: Email is critical to our practices. But unwanted spam causes us to waste minutes or hours every day sorting through and disposing of this junk.
I use and strongly recommend SpamNet from Cloudmark, http://www.cloudmark.com. It works with Outlook or Outlook Express. It finds nearly all of the spam and routes it to a special spam folder for later review and disposal. It rarely intercepts a legitimate message. Try it free for 30 days. After that it is just $3.99 per month or $39.95 per year.