By Tom Mighell.
You may take technology for granted. Most likely, you have been working with computers throughout your entire academic life.You no doubt have a good grasp of the basics of word processing and general computer use. You also probably spend some time on social media, but more to socialize than grow your career.
Under recent amendments to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC), knowledge of technology is now an ethical requirement for a lawyer. MRPC Rule 1.1 holds a lawyer to a duty of competence. Rule 1.1 Comment 8 states that to be competent “a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” The ABA Law Practice Management Section believes that understanding technology is essential. It will help you as a student to manage your time and prepare you for practice. Here, some of the section’s resident technology experts present their best tips for law students.
Allison Shields is the president of Legal Ease Consulting, Inc. based in New York. She may be reached at email@example.com.
Note Taking Tech, Part 1—Whether you take notes by hand or type them directly into a laptop or tablet, use Evernote (www.evernote.com). Synchronize your notes across all of your devices, including laptops, desktops, tablets, and smartphones, for anytime access. Scan your handwritten notes into Evernote, and the text will be searchable. Special paper notebooks are available from Evernote to make this process even easier.
Build Your Online Reputation—Take positive steps to build a professional reputation online. Google yourself to see what employers might find if they research your background. If you like to write, consider blogging or posting substantive content on social media sites. If that’s not your thing, become a reliable source of information by posting links to resources and articles. Follow lawyers and industry leaders with whom you want to work. Social media is both a learning and a networking opportunity.
Join Your Law School Alumni Group on LinkedIn—Most law school alumni groups on LinkedIn allow access to current law students. Get to know alumni through these groups. Contribute to discussions where you can. Volunteer to help at alumni events and promote them both before and after the event. Make connections with alumni who can help guide you in your job search.
Organize Your Job Search—In addition to using Evernote for note taking, it’s a great way to organize information related to your job search. Create a job search notebook. Include a job search checklist, keep track of firms you’ve applied to, save pages from firm websites (including bios of the attorneys you have interviewed with), organize job postings, and make notes on the go as soon as you leave an interview so you don’t forget names and other details you might want to follow up on or include in your post-interview thank you notes.
Note Taking Tech, Part 2—Use your smartphone’s or tablet’s dictation capabilities to record lectures as they happen, or record study sessions if you learn better and faster that way. Apps like SoundNote ($4.99) and Notability ($.99) for iPad allow you to record the audio of a lecture or class while typing or writing notes; you can play back a portion of the lecture if you need clarification on something you wrote.
Marc Matheny is an attorney with Marc Matheny Law Offices in Indianapolis. He may be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take Advantage of Student Editions of Software—Law students can purchase student editions of software such as Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat, QuickBooks Pro, and other software at heavily discounted prices. Use the savings now to learn and experiment with the software that you will use in practice. Most companies offer these savings through their websites and services like www.JourneyEd.com provide discounts on different companies’ products.
Take Law Practice Management Courses in School—Increasingly, law schools recognize that their students need to know the “business” of the practice of law, which includes law office technology. Take advantage of law practice management courses, if your school offers them. Many law schools also offer the opportunity to attend legal conferences, which often offer legal technology seminars.
Prepare for Paperless Lawyering—One of a new lawyer’s first jobs in a firm may be to review discovery documents in a pending case and write a synopsis or prepare for a deposition of a lead witness. Almost all discovery is now in electronic format (eDiscovery), in .pdf format files. As a student, you should become proficient in Adobe Acrobat or one of the other well-known programs which convert files to the .pdf format, and then use optical character recognition (OCR) software to search the .pdf document.
Brett Burney is the principal of Burney Consultants, LLC in Beachwood, Ohio. He may be reached at burney@burney consultants.com.
Use Your iPad as a “Digital File Folder”—Instead of hauling paper around, use an iPad to keep your documents accessible. Convert the files you need to PDF, and use apps like GoodReader ($4.99) and PDF Expert ($9.99) to keep them organized. If you create the PDF properly, the apps can search its text or use bookmarks to navigate a table of contents. You can also highlight text and scribble notes, thus eliminating that little bag of highlighters and pens in your backpack.
Learn How to Effectively Use E-mail, Calendars, and Task Lists—While most lawyers know the basics of using e-mail, it’s surprising how many don’t take advantage of filters, flags, and other useful features found in e-mail software. Calendar and task management are also important skills to learn. You need them to keep control of your busy life. Developing efficient email, calendar, and task management habits now will absolutely help you succeed.
Natalie R. Kelly
Natalie R. Kelly is the director of the State Bar of Georgia’s Law Practice Management Program in Atlanta. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Outline and Mind Map Online—There are great online outlining services that can help keep those ever-important rules and hypos at your fingertips. Mind mapping is a diagram that visually outlines information. Typically, the core concept is centered with subparts and related ideas positioned around as they relate to the core concept. Use WorkFlowy (www.workflowy.com) to develop outlines for each course, or take advantage of mind-mapping tools like MindMeister (www.mindmiester.com) or Mindjet MindManager (www.mindjet.com) to break out complex legal concepts for better understanding.
Acquaint Yourself with Practice Management Software—While it’s important to master mainstream productivity tools like Microsoft Office, the rubber meets the road for attorneys when they recognize the need for a system that can manage files, contacts, events, tasks, phone calls, e-mails, messages, research, and documents on a file-by-file basis, all in one place. Practice management software offers this functionality, and you should be learning about it now. Seek opportunities to learn these systems through school (e.g., clinical courses). There are many software programs to choose from, including Abacus Law and Clio. The ABA Legal Technology Resource Center published this helpful guide comparing different products.
Richard Ferguson is a partner at Lynass, Ferguson & Shoctor in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Use Voice Recognition and Digital Dictation to Work More Efficiently—Although you’ve likely been typing your whole life, investigate the nearly mystical abilities of digital dictation programs like Dragon Dictate (www.Nuance.com). With practice, voice recognition software is great for creating drafts, outlines, letters, and briefs. You can use a microphone or headset to dictate, but current versions of the software can take dictation from smartphones and tablets. While typing may be more familiar, dictating can save lots of time.
Preserve Your Work and Prevent Disaster with Cloud-Based Storage and Backup Services—A power surge, computer failure, or light-fingered thief can take away all your digital information—in an instant. Services like Dropbox, Box, SugarSync, and others provide commercial-grade online storage accessible from anywhere, so your files are still safe in the event of catastrophic loss. In practice, using such services may trigger an ethical obligation. Privileged or confidential client information stored with cloud providers should be protected through encryption. Viivo, BoxCryptor, and TrueCrypt are good encryption options.
Form Your Own Technology User Group—Create a once-a-month discussion group of law students to share lessons learned in using technology. If each participant in a 10-member group share one tip, everyone benefits by learning nine new tips; a great return on investment. Reach out to local bar associations for guest speakers who might be willing to share their legal technology expertise with you.
Nerino J. Petro, Jr.
Nerino J. Petro, Jr. is the practice management advisor for Practice411™—The State Bar of Wisconsin Law Office Management Assistance Program. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Get a Scanner and Use It—You need to understand technology and make the most of it. Having online storage accounts, tablets, and e-mail is only part of the equation. You also need to put your information into digital format so you can access your documents available on the go. Find a good scanner (the Fujitsu ScanSnap is a great option) and get started on converting your paper life to digital.
Master Encryption Tools—Securing confidential and other protected information is critical whether using online services, storing information on your personal computers, or even portable storage devices like Flashdrives. Learn about the tools that are available such as Truecrypt, BitLocker, BoxCryptor, IronKey, etc. to secure your data. Then get in the habit of encrypting this information now. Under most laws, if your device is lost or stolen and you have the data encrypted, you will find that you are covered by a “safe harbor” provision.
Tom Mighell is a senior consultant for Contoural, Inc. in Los Altos, California. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get Smart About Passwords—How many passwords do you use? How easy are they to guess? Studies show hackers can crack an eight-digit password in less than 20 minutes. Experts recommend a complex 12-digit password, with different passwords for each site. To keep track of all these passwords, use a password manager like LastPass (www.lastpass.com) or 1Password (https://agilebits.com/onepassword). Some computers keep passwords for you, like Keychain from Apple. If you insist on using your own password, visit How Secure is My Password? (https://howsecureismypassword.net) to see how long it would take to crack.
Automate Your Online Activities—Law School is a busy time, and it’s just going to get busier once you enter the workplace. To automate some of the things you do online, use If This, Then That (www.ifttt.com). IFTTT allows users to set up automatic triggers in certain programs that then cause a follow-up action. For example, a received Gmail attachment can automatically be saved to Google Drive. IFTTT can automate these routine tasks, which gives you free time and guarantees that they get done.
Learn About eDiscovery—If you plan to become a litigator, you should learn the basics of electronic discovery now. Understanding the different phases of eDiscovery (Identification, Preservation, Collection, Processing, Review, and Production) will help you to later deal with your client’s data issues as they arise. Check out the Electronic Discovery Reference Model (www.edrm.net) or The Sedona Conference (www.thesedonaconference.org) for great resources that can get you up to speed, fast.
Practice E-mail Triage—A full Inbox is a hassle—handle it like medics deal with patients. Soon you’ll get closer to Inbox Zero. These steps will help you triage your Inbox. 1) Visit your Inbox two to three times a day. 2) Delete all the email that you don’t need to keep. 3) If you can read it and file it now, do so. 4) If you can respond to an e-mail in two minutes, do it now. 5) For all others, move them to another folder (e.g., “Follow-Up” for addressing later) where it wait until you are ready to deal with it.
Conduct Online Meetings on the Cheap—Services like GoToMeeting and WebEx are great, but costly. Join.me (http://join.me) offers a free screen-sharing tool for up to 250 users. Get more features like a custom URL and scheduling tools for $250/year. Share documents, give presentations, and more—all at a fraction of the cost of regular online meeting services.
Steve Best is a partner at Affinity Consulting in Atlanta. He may be reached email@example.com.
Master Microsoft Office—Many firms expect lawyers to draft their own documents, but do not provide training in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or Outlook. Knowing how to apply styles in Word is critical when formatting a pleading, brief, or memorandum. Clients and juries expect lawyers to know how to use programs like PowerPoint to give effective, persuasive presentations. To master Microsoft Office, take a class or search Amazon.com for a highly rated book.
Adriana Linares is the president at LawTech Partners, Inc. in Winter Park, Florida. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Become a PDF Expert—Being able to create, edit, and manipulate PDF files is incredibly important for lawyers. From sharing documents with clients to filing them in court, PDFs are the norm for document exchange in practice. Adobe Acrobat has long been the gold standard for PDF manipulation—and the price reflects it. For a tool with Acrobat’s features, but at a fraction of the cost, consider purchasing Nuance’s PDF Pro.
Find and Engage with Leading Legal Technology Groups, Publications, and Resources—There are many resources available to help lawyers learn about using legal technology in their practice, including the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center. The LTRC is a leader in providing high-quality technology resources for lawyers. Others include:
- ABA Law Practice Management Section
- Young Lawyer Resources
- Law Technology News
- International Legal Technology Association
- Legal technology blogs in the ABA Journal Blawg Directory
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Tom Mighell is a senior consultant for Contoural, Inc. in Los Altos, California. He may be reached at email@example.com.