Many productivity products are designed specifically for, or at least marketed directly at, lawyers. On the hardware side, for example, there are scanners, phone systems, voice recorders, servers, and network-attached storage units. And, when it comes to software and services, there are products directed at lawyers to help with tasks such as dictation, off-site reception, note-taking, and case management and billing applications.
Indeed, there are many good products aimed at legal professionals, and chances are good that Practice411™ has a few recommendations for most of the above categories, so feel free to write in.
In the July/August issue I wrote about great computer input devices that, presumably because of important “reasons,” are primarily marketed at video producers and gamers but not other professionals. This month, however, let’s venture away from hardware tools to learn more about software – specifically, software that you might not have considered for use in your law practice but is worth knowing about anyway.
You may already know about tools such as Evernote (for idea organization), Trello (project organization), Feedly (news organization), LastPass (password organization), and Pocket (an organized dumping ground for all the things you want to read later) – but how exactly are you, as a busy professional, supposed to find the time to use all this stuff? And monitor your email and other messages? And “do the work?” It’s not easy, but perhaps RescueTime can help.
Tison Rhine is the former advisor to the State Bar of Wisconsin Law Office Management Assistance Program (Practice411™).
RescueTime. RescueTime is an application that runs (securely) in the background on your computer (and Android devices), tracking and categorizing your usage of other applications and websites. RescueTime then provides this data, as well as detailed reports on your overall activity, to help you answer that all-too-common question: “Where has my day gone?” Using parameters you set, as well as its own algorithm, RescueTime also helps you limit time-wasting activities by gently providing alerts that let you know it’s time to take a break or move on to a more productive activity.
RescueTime is available for free for PC, Mac, Android, and Linux, but the paid premium version (available for $9 per month or $72 per year) adds the ability to add and track time away from the computer (meetings, phone calls, and so on), as well as the ability to block distracting websites (temporarily, of course). Either way, RescueTime is an application that might not get much discussion among legal professionals, but it should.
Shortcut Training Software
Click. Click. Click, click, click. How many times have you thought to yourself, “I know there is a shortcut for this. I should look it up … sometime.” Well, maybe you don’t need to look it up. Maybe you can learn while you do, with something called KeyRocket.
KeyRocket. KeyRocket is an application that teaches you shortcuts in Microsoft Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Word, by suggesting them while you are actually working in those programs. It focuses on being nonintrusive by intelligently suggesting only the shortcuts that are relevant to what you are currently trying to do. In addition to shortcuts that are built in to Microsoft Office programs, KeyRocket adds more than 40 of its own that are not included in Word and PowerPoint natively. It also allows you to create your own shortcuts and even makes suggestions for shortcuts you may want to add based on your actual usage.
At $135 per user, KeyRocket is not cheap, but by reducing the time and effort to perform common, constantly repeated tasks, it makes clear its value. Still not convinced? There is a free evaluation period to see if it works for you.
How exactly are you,
as a busy professional,
supposed to find the time
to use all this stuff? And
monitor your email and
other messages? And “do
Writing Improvement Software
Lawyers write … a lot. But, many lawyers don’t have anyone to ask to edit their work, or even if they do, they often work in a closed feedback loop of other lawyers and staff (who might or might not feel comfortable with red pens and text). Over time, these situations can lead to some bad writing habits (for example, too much legalese, overly complex sentence structures, too much word repetition, or just plain bad grammar), and these habits can harm the primary purpose of the writing – communication. Fortunately, there are cheap and easy software tools that can help.
Grammarly. With Grammarly, you can check your documents for proper grammar and spelling, either within Microsoft Office or a web browser (with extensions) or by uploading text directly to grammarly.com. These grammar and spell checks are powerful and contextual (more so than those built into Word) and are available for free. Upgrading to Grammarly Premium adds the really good stuff, though – vocabulary enhancement suggestions, style checks (specific to more than 30 document types), and even more punctuation, grammar, context, and sentence structure checks. Billed annually, it is $11.66 per month ($29.95 if billed monthly).
Hemingway Editor. Hemingway Editor, another editing tool that can help you improve the clarity of your writing, is focused on reducing unnecessary wordiness. It does this by highlighting adverbs in blue, passive voice in green, “dull” (overly long or complicated) words in purple, and wordy sentences in yellow. If a sentence is egregiously wordy, it will be highlighted in red. I should probably use this more often myself – I am a sucker for dashes. At any rate, you can find a free web app version of Hemingway Editor at hemingwayapp.com, or you can purchase the desktop version for Mac or Windows for $19.99.
If you need to schedule a meeting with a group of busy people who aren’t all on the same scheduling system, you could send an email to the group requesting availability. But really, you’re too busy to deal with the chain reaction of criss-crossing responses that would lead to. Instead, you should use an online meeting scheduler such as Doodle.
Doodle. Doodle is an easy (and free) way to decide where, when, and how to meet. Simply go to doodle.com or download the mobile app, then select potential dates, places, or other preferences that work for you. You can then invite participants to vote on those options by entering in their email address. They will receive a link that will allow them to choose the options that work for them. Once you have enough information to make a decision, just choose your option and everyone will be notified. No one, including the person setting up the meeting, even needs a Doodle account.
As with most online services these days, there are paid options as well as the free version, should you want to do things such as send automatic reminders or create a custom design and subdomain for your law practice. The free version, however, works extremely well on its own and is much easier than merely using email.
The above software options, and the input devices discussed in the July/August issue of Wisconsin Lawyer, are just a taste of the productivity tools that might not be law specific but can nevertheless be used to improve law practices. Hopefully, you will find some of them useful. As important, perhaps learning about these tools will encourage you to evaluate your current practices and procedures with a new perspective and look for your own ways to improve both your efficiency and your quality of life.