Tech

Know the Features Before You Move: Google Apps v. Office 365

ABA's tech feedFri, 08/15/2014 - 12:30

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Tech

I’m a huge fan of Google Apps for Business. It is one of the main products I recommend as a technology consultant. It has it’s quirks but I have been pretty happy with it; it syncs to all of your mobile devices, syncs to Outlook and the same folders and subfolders structure in Outlook is replicated in the Google Gmail interface.

Along came Office 365. Because of the Microsoft name, I thought that this product was a Google Apps killer. However I think both products have their merits. Consider the following for each of these products:

Access on the Go

Office 365 gives people Microsoft Office everywhere they go – even on a tablet. This is true Microsoft Office. Not the “MS Office lite” we have been used to in the past. It also gives us full compatibility with desktop versions of MS Office and allows for licenses to be installed on five devices and tablets. For the same price as Google Apps for Business, you can get email with Office 365. For an additional cost, you can download the Microsoft Office software platform, a law office standard. Google Docs (Google’s version of MS Office) is far behind MS Office. Google Apps can’t even touch it. Office 365 wins.

Mac Compatible

Office 365′s OneDrive for Business doesn’t sync with a Mac. I know that Apple and Microsoft don’t like each other but to have a flagship product that doesn’t really work on a Mac is a deal killer for some. At the beginning of 2014, the message was – “OneDrive for Business is not compatible with Mac OS X”. Someone at Microsoft must have realized that they were missing a huge share of the market and now Microsoft has recognized that they need to work on a Mac. At least now the message is: Google Apps for Business wins (for now).

Sync and Integration

Many cloud-based products are not syncing with Office 365 – yet. If you are considering a cloud-based practice management system, be sure to check the integrations to see with what product they sync. Not all products sync with both Google Apps and Office 365. This will change as Office 365 becomes a more mature product, but many more products are syncing with Google Apps right now. Check before you commit to a new product for your firm. Google Apps for Business wins (for now).

Web Interface

The new Outlook Web Access on Office 365 is really good. Microsoft beefed up their web access version so it looks a lot like the Outlook. The interface is certainly improved and is much better than it used to be. Google Apps’ interface is the Gmail interface – some like it and some hate it. The great news is that both can sync to Outlook if you prefer. Google Apps for Business and Office 365 – Tie

Admin/UI Friendly

The administrator console in Microsoft Office 365 should be easy but can be very difficult to find simple items. They have hidden a lot of tools that used to be readily accessible in server-based Exchange. Tasks like changing a primary email address or forwarding email used to be easy are now almost impossible unless you want to call for help. Google Apps for Business wins.

Customer Service

Speaking of calling for help, you have to give this one to Google. Their support is phenomenal. With the Office 365 support, you have to go through three or four levels of support in order to get someone on the phone to answer your question.  Google has changed how they provide support but I always speak to a tech that can solve my problem without being passed around. Google Apps for Business wins.

Multiple Email Addresses

Another surprising win for Google is the use of multiple email addresses. While both products offer the ability to receive email from multiple email addresses like info@yourdomain.com  or rsvp@mynichepractice.com, with Microsoft, you need a separate license to send from each of those email addresses. Consider this example: Your firm maintains multiple domains – one for each “niche” practice. With Microsoft, you would need a separate license to send and receive email from your “niche” customers. With Google, as long as that address is listed as an alias (aka forwarding address), you can send and receive on behalf of that email address. Google Apps for Business wins.

In the end, both products are really good. However, as you dig into the details, you may find one feature that will sway you towards one product or the other. Do some investigating and dig into those details before you make that leap, so you will not regret your decision in the end.

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#Barmageddon: When Technology Fails the Bar Exam

ABA's tech feedThu, 08/14/2014 - 12:30

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Tech

“Everyone always wants new things.  Everybody likes new inventions, new technology. People will never be replaced by machines.  In the end, life and business are about human connections. And computers are about trying to murder you in a lake. And to me the choice is easy.” – Michael Scott, The Office, Season 4, Episode 2

Maybe Michael Scott was onto something in light of the disaster that struck this past July for aspiring lawyers taking the bar exam on their computers. With over 40,000 test takers using ExamSoft software (which contracts with forty some states to offer laptop use during the bar exam), some paying up to $150 for its one time use, it’s no surprise the resulting outrage when many were unable complete and upload their exams on the eve of the first exam day. The company, ExamSoft, blamed a “processing issue” which apparently was resolved by Wednesday morning. This forced state bar examining entities to extend deadlines, and subjected test takers to an even greater amount of stress the night before the MBE.

Taking to social media — see hashtags #ExamSoft #Bargahzi #Barmageddon — it was immediately clear that the problem was widespread and had a significant impact test takers. In typical fashion, the most outrageous tweets on the topic could be found at Above the Law. Despite the fact that the majority of test takers were able to submit their exams by Wednesday morning, major news outlets had already blown up story, including The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, ABC News, Fox News, Business Week, and Reuters. The newest developments, which should come as no surprise, since we are dealing with future attorneys, include the filing of class actions lawsuits accusing ExamSoft of causing distress.

This event raises a number of questions:

  • How do we reconcile a disaster of this sort with the movement toward and need for technology in the profession?
  • If we can’t get it right at this initial junction – the moment when law students become attorneys, how can we expect to get it right when it really matters (that’s not to say that the bar exam doesn’t matter)?
  • Might this serve as a wakeup call to attorneys, particularly those entering the practice, that we need to pay more attention to the implementation of technology in law practice?
  • What doesn’t kill [us] makes [us] stronger,” right?

Fortunately, becoming more mainstream are events such as the recent ABA Journal’s and MIT’s legal hackathons in Boston, and institutions aimed to promote technology in the legal profession like Suffolk Law School’s Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation. But, hackathons and tech institutes are nothing new, just new to our profession.  And, while we have begun to think about how advances outside of our industry can be applied within, we still lag behind most.

As Richard Susskind argues in his book Tomorrow’s Lawyers, the traditional role of attorney as legal counsel will be few and far between in the not too distant future, with new roles created to handle inevitable technological advances in the profession. It will be incumbent upon this new generation of attorneys to think out of the box, and upon an existing generation of attorneys to embrace and adapt to the changing legal environment.

Look around you when you’re on the train, in court, or waiting for an appointment; how many people are on their smartphones (maybe the easier question is how many people are not using their smartphones)? The world has changed, and with that our profession must change as well.

Feature image: “it business man in network server room have problems” via Shutterstock.

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MailBox: Your Inbox Zero Hero? [Review]

ABA's tech feedWed, 08/13/2014 - 12:30

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Tech

We all get a deluge of email and staying ahead of the tide is a constant battle. I recommend you add MailBox to your email weapons. In the video I share who can use it and why I think it is so good.

MailBox is a free app for iOS and Android that works with Gmail, Google Apps and iCloud accounts. It was a successful startup that joined forces with DropBox so it looks like they will stick around.

One Complaint

Mailbox only supports simple formatting for your signature. In other words, your signature may not look exactly the way you want it to (especially if you use HTML formatting). Sometimes I sort my emails using MailBox and use another app when composing. I love the sorting so much that I’m willing to live with this minor inconvenience.

One Tip

You can swipe a group of emails by going to the bottom of your emails (where the number of emails is shown).

Question: What is your favorite tool or tip for winning the email war? What do you like (or dislike) about MailBox?

Featured image courtesy of Mailbox press kit.

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The Role iPads Play for Lawyers…Today

ABA's tech feedTue, 08/12/2014 - 12:30

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Tech

Dennis Kennedy flips the format in this episode of the Kennedy-Mighell Report: he interviews Tom Mighell. Understandable, given Mighell wrote the book on iPads for lawyers. Mighell also gives presentations on using the iPad in a law office. Questions on using for what you’d expect lawyers to use it for: checking email, editing documents, calendaring, have declined. Lawyers are asking questions about how to use it take take pictures, send text messages and other ways to get the most out of the iPad. What’s the best note-taking app for lawyers? Best trial presentation software (TrialPad gets mentioned, often)?

Mighell offers these and other insights about the iPad, recommendations for lawyers and other legal professionals, and what might be next in the world of iPads. Mighell explains why lawyers might choose different tablets such as Android, Windows Surface, or the iPad and benefits of each one. It is important that lawyers pay attention to the main issues and changes with the latest iPad hardware such as new features in iOS 7 accessibility, Notification Pane, Control Panel, AirDrop, and using Siri to improve productivity.

Kennedy and Mighell also discuss the reason they implement some “easy tips” that they read or hear about and why so many are ignored or forgotten quickly. As always, stay tuned for Parting Shots, that one tip, website, or observation that you can use the second the podcast ends.

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Using the 24 Item Clipboard Menu in PowerPoint

ABA's tech feedMon, 08/11/2014 - 12:30

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Tech

Storing multiple images or blurbs of text temporarily so you can paste them in various locations within a PowerPoint slideshow can be a huge time-saver! Most people think that the Clipboard holds just one item … the last item copied. A little-known or forgotten feature, found in all MS Office applications, is the Clipboard that holds up to 24 items.

To activate the multi-Clipboard in PowerPoint, select the launcher from the Clipboard group in the Home ribbon.

Now you are ready to copy items into the Clipboard.

As you select and copy text, images or pictures, they appear in the Clipboard. In other words, PowerPoint will display a list of all items currently available in the Clipboard. To paste an item into your slide, position the cursor in the desired location within your slide, and left-click on the desired item to paste from the Clipboard.

To clear the Clipboard, select Clear All.

To clear one item in the Clipboard, right-click on the item and select Delete.

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Branding Basics for Beginners

ABA's tech feedFri, 08/08/2014 - 12:30

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Tech

Branding is something that I have found most lawyers struggle with – either they don’t think they need it, they don’t know how to do it, or they don’t even know what it is or what it means.

In my personal experience, I created a brand without even knowing I was doing it. I had no idea that I was creating my brand recognition and paving the road for what would become Think Pink Law. I just did what I loved to do, which is write on my blog and use social media to connect with people. It’s interesting because looking back, I remember when I took intellectual property classes in law school. Trademark was by far my favorite of all of them – I loved the consumer psychology aspect of it, and how things like word associations help people form connections with products and services. This was way back before Think Pink Law was even a figment of my imagination, but now I see that I had this passion for branding all along, and I just didn’t know it. Maybe you do, too.

I have found that many attorneys think there is no place for branding in the law and everything has to be serious and stuffy and sterile. I am of the opposite opinion (clearly – my law firm is called Think Pink Law, and have you seen my website?). In today’s legal industry there is an over saturation of lawyers (especially in cities like Boston). Branding helps you stand out and helps people remember you.

Here are some things to think about if you are new to branding today. I think these are all so intertwined that dissecting each point seems somewhat redundant, but they are all equally important.

Bring your personality into your brand.

This might be hard for some lawyers to do because they might not know what that means…or some lawyers may not have a personality to bring (which is probably why this whole branding thing is lost on them…but that’s a post for another time). Consider what colors, fonts, designs, taglines, marketing structure resonates with your personality – are you serious and clean cut? Are you creative and edgy? How you brand and how you market should reflect something about you. Making your brand personal will allow you to build trusting relationships with your clients because it will give them something about you they can relate to. Put yourself on the other side, as a client, and ask yourself what kind of lawyer you would want to retain. Whatever it is, be that.

Make your brand human.

This goes hand in hand with bringing your personality into your brand. People want to connect with people. This might work better for the small to medium and solo law firms where interactions and legal services are more personal in nature.  In any business, you can’t DO business without people. People purchase your services, people spread the word about both good and bad experiences with your services. Having a human brand means having a voice, a sense of humor, creating a community, and marketing in such a way that resonates with people so that they feel comfortable and actually want to talk to you.

Be memorable.

As I have said before, standing out is so important these days. Being the first person people think of when they need a service that you offer is key. Whether it’s a logo, a tagline, your blogging, or the way you dress, do something that people will remember you for. Bringing your personality to your brand and creating a human brand will also help you be memorable.

Be patient.

Creating a brand takes time. I always stress to start things like networking and building relationships as early in your career as possible (like while in law school) because it takes time to build a community of recognition. The more people see you or read about you, the more they will remember you and associate your service with your brand. This does not happen over night. Strong branding is a process that takes patience, time, and diligence, but if you keep at it, it will happen.

What is preventing you from taking the branding leap? Is it because you don’t think you need it? Is it lack of ideas or creativity? Or are you one of those sterile, robot lawyers? Let us know in the comments….even being a robot lawyer, although not human, can be a brand in itself!

Featured image: “Businessman Brainstorming About Branding Strategy” from Shutterstock.

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5 Do’s and Don’ts to Prepare for a Legal Technology Skills Audit

ABA's tech feedThu, 08/07/2014 - 12:30

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Tech

The legal technology skills audit is coming. It is simply a question of when.

D. Casey Flaherty, corporate counsel at Kia Motors America, Inc., gave a talk at Legal Tech West last year, and revealed that most outside counsel have no idea how to produce a document. Also at Legal Tech last year Connie Brenton, Chief Legal Officer at NetApp and President of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC,) a professional organization made up of Chief Legal Officers from Fortune 500 companies, rocked the auditorium when she announced that the billable hour is dead.

The legal technology skills audit is not an inventory of what technology you are using, but a test of how well you use it to complete legal tasks. This kind of audit is becoming key as more lawyers move away from the billable hour to flat fees.

How did we get here? Before 2007, law firms regularly upgraded their technology every four or five years. In 2007, most firms ran Office 2003 on Windows XP when Microsoft launched Office 2007 on Vista. In 2007, the music stopped, and the legal industry consolidated.

Law firms didn’t start investing in technology again until 2010, when Microsoft launched Office 2010 and Windows 7. But when firms upgraded, productivity slumped, and stayed slumped. According to a NeoChange 2012 Adoption Insight Report, effective adoption rates have dipped and stalled at 52%. That means that half the lawyers in a law firm are not using the new tools. The NeoChange report calculates that law firms suffer persistent productivity losses averaging 17%. That means that lawyers are taking Fridays off.

Productivity losses translate into lower profits for law firms. Firms bill their clients for time spent. Under alternative fee arrangements, however, clients don’t pay for the amount of time attorneys spend to produce documents; but rather for the documents themselves. This means that efficiency can increase a law firm’s profit margin: the less time attorneys spend to produce documents, the more they get paid for their time.

Law firms can achieve efficiency through the use of technology, and either you need to perform a technology skills audit, or someone wanting to hire you will. To prepare, here are some do’s and dont’s for a technology skills audit:

1. Research. Research. Research.

Do your research. Find out what processes are critical to business goals and invest in technology that can add value for the client.

Don’t create technology budgets in a vacuum.

Example: Ask fee earners, rain makers, heavy hitters and others what should be in IT’s budget next year. Uncover bottlenecks in the business process and spend to fix them.

2. High Adoption Rate.

Do spend on technology that has high adoption rates, including the next shiny, new thing if people are using it.

Don’t spend on the next shiny, new thing just because.

Example: At our firm, about one-third of attorneys use an iPad. We will roll out Office for Mobile on the iPad by mid 3Q14. Customize technology to best serve the business goals of the people who use it most.

3. Improves Client Value.

Do spend on technology that improves value for the client.

Don’t spend on technology that doesn’t improve value for the client.

Example: Knowledge Management (KM) thinks it’s a good idea for attorneys to organize files by client-matter number. The document management system (DMS) does that in the “Save” profile; however, KM asks IT to upgrade the DMS to accommodate folders that do the same thing. Client value here? (Enough acronyms here?)

4. Training Based on Feedback.

Do focus training content on feedback from super-users.

Don’t focus training content on what squeaky wheels call the Help Desk.

Example: Looking for training content in Help Desk tickets is like cross-examining the other side’s expert witness: The information you uncover is likely to insult your best witnesses. Don’t train people on features they don’t want to keep in their heads; that’s why they call the Help Desk in the first place. Train processes that your best people do well in the context of their business.

5. Do the work.

Do train people who do the work.

Don’t train people who don’t do the work, or who you think should do the work.

Example: Stop training legal assistants (aka secretaries). They are no longer producing documents. Associates are producing documents…and not very efficiently. Train/certify associates on tech skills. Efficiency provides more value for the client; and more money for the firm.

Something to think about. Scientists say that we use only a small part of our brain’s potential to think. It comes as no surprise that we use only a small part of the technology we have available to do our daily work. A technology skills audit reveals how small (or large) a part.

“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all…” and lest we “…lose the name of action” (Hamlet, Act 3, Sc. 1) let’s do something about it. A technology skills audit will show us what to do, focus IT training and spending on higher adoption rates. What better way to increase profitability? A technology skills audit makes money for the firm. Simple as that.

So, impending technology skills audit? Bring it on.

Featured image: “Be Prepared Concept” from ShutterStock.

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77% of Lawyers Can’t Be Trusted With Confidential Client Data

ABA's tech feedWed, 08/06/2014 - 12:30

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Tech

Surprised? Here’s the thing: all lawyers have an ethical obligation to employ security measures when sharing information and data with their clients. Yet LexisNexis recently learned from a survey it conducted on what tools lawyers and legal professionals are using to protect their clients’ privileged information that  77% of the lawyers did not have adequate security for their confidential client data.

How important is encryption and what can lawyers do to change the way they share data?

On this episode of Digital DetectivesSharon Nelson and John Simek interview Bob Ambrogi, a lawyer and journalist who recently wrote about the LexisNexis survey. Ambrogi explains that an overall lack of information, ignored ethics rulings, lack of time, and assumed difficulty are the reasons lawyers often refuse to learn how to safely share data. He encourages lawyers, especially the ones in small or solo firms, to seek out a consultant to learn about the relatively easy encryption tools and techniques. After all, no lawyer wants to be a part of the 77%.

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Technology and Your Practice: The Double-Edged Sword

ABA's tech feedTue, 08/05/2014 - 12:30

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Tech

Many attorneys are integrating at least some new technology into their practice. If they are doing it the right way, this can be a great tool. There are, however, a lot of pitfalls you need to look out for when integrating technology.

TL;DR

To sum it all up, if you are going to use technology in your practice, know what you’re doing. Ask the questions that need to be asked and ensure you actually understand the answers. Discuss your use of technology with your clients to ensure they are comfortable with how you are handling their confidential information. Discuss requirements with your state ethics bar. If used properly, technology can help our practices and, more importantly, our clients.

Confidentiality and the Cloud

We, as attorneys, are not the most technologically savvy people on earth. In large part because of that, it’s easy to tune out the details on the technology your using. On the other hand, in the eyes of the Bar, we are responsible for ensuring that our technology still maintains confidentiality for our clients. This means we are forced to do some investigation:

  • Where exactly is our cloud server backing up to?
  • Is it a reputable company that maintains confidentiality?
  • Do they have the requisite requirements in place to prevent viruses or hackers from obtaining that information?

In other words, we typically have questions for our “cloud” server companies that most people aren’t asking. I’ve personally received some push back from some cloud servers for asking such detailed questions. The fact of the matter is that we have a duty to our clients to maintain their confidential information and if a company is not willing to answer the questions to ensure that, it probably is not a company for attorneys to be using.

Email

Email is often used by a lot of attorneys and again, can be a great tool for our practices. In most cases, however, it should not be replacing other forms of contact.

Constant communication is important for a clear relationship between the attorney and client. Phone calls should still be answered; in-person meetings should still be attended. In my experience, the best practice is to ask the client how they would prefer I communicate with them. Based on that answer, I will use that communication method most often but impress the importance of multiple forms of communication. For example, when I’m in court all day, I may not be able to return a phone call right away. Instead, I might send that client a quick email letting them know I received their message and when they can expect to hear back from me.

Email can certainly help your practice but you may want to think twice before you send out that email and make sure it is not something that should be discussed in person and over the phone. On a side note, confidentiality may not be maintained through email communications. There are some free e-mail servers that many of our clients use that do not ensure confidentiality and will release a client’s emails if subpoenaed. This is a conversation you should have with each client to determine if email can be used as a safe method of communication.

Websites and Blogs

Websites and blogs can be a great tool for us to disseminate information to our current and prospective clients. Again, we need to be doing this the proper way.

If you are blogging about the law, you should ensure you have the required disclaimers associated with your blog.  Make it clear an attorney-client relationship is not formed. Ensure that each reader understands that you are not giving legal advice. Remember, your posts can be accessed by people all over the world at any time in the future. Because of this, you may want to include a disclaimer that your posts are not necessarily the current law in any state.

If you have endorsements, reviews or testimonials anywhere on your website or blog, you need to ensure you have the required disclaimers associated with them. For example, if you are announcing recent verdicts you have won you may need to include a disclaimer that past results do not guarantee future results in any case. If you’re not sure what disclaimers you need, check with your local ethics hotline for some guidance.

Featured image: “Magic Technology with social network structur” from Shutterstock.

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Courtroom Technology: 23 Years Ago, and Today

ABA's tech feedMon, 08/04/2014 - 12:30

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Tech

Technology in the courtroom is always changing. It is how we adapt to and utilize these changes and advances in technology that can make the difference between winning and losing a case at trial.

I began trying cases 23 years ago. For quite some time, I used an easel with large white paper that you could write on and then flip over and write on the next page. I found it quite effective to use during trial. In fact, I outlined my entire opening statement on those flipcharts. I can still remember spending numerous hours with various colors of Magic Markers creating just the right message on the flip chart. Sometimes my flipchart would be 25 pages long for an opening statement. In the middle, I might change my mind but had already written out the flipchart. I simply would tear that page way bring it forward or move it backwards in the opening statement outline and tape it to another page.

That’s how much technology I used 23 years ago.

PowerPoint

As I became more comfortable using PowerPoint, a 25 page flipchart turned into beautifully designed PowerPoint presentation. I have found that PowerPoint is a must for opening statements and closing arguments, and sometimes voir dire. However, I have found it even more effective to combine PowerPoint presentations during opening statements and closing arguments with a visual presenter, commonly referred to as an Elmo.

For opening statement, I will create an effective outline on PowerPoint. I will include all the bells and whistles. I will use different colors just like the flip boards of past. I use different font sizes and styles. I create stopping points throughout my PowerPoint outline. It is at these stopping points that I will flip a switch and activate the Elmo.

The Elmo

The Elmo is more flexible than PowerPoint and will allow me to zoom in and zoom out of certain portions of important documents or photos that I think are crucial. It also allows me to pick up the document or photo, hold it high above my head or as close to the jurors in the box as I can, for a more dramatic affect. The Elmo also allows me to immediately incorporate, in my presentation, newly found evidence or, more likely in my case, evidence I have known about for some time but just figured out was important. I strongly encourage trial lawyers to combine both in their trials.

I recently was confronted with courtroom technology of which I was unfamiliar. Luckily for my client, such new technology did not detrimentally affect the outcome of the trial.

Cameras & Mics instead of Court Reporters

I was called upon to try a wrongful death case for the widow of a truck driver who perished, I argued, due to a hazardous highway construction zone. I primarily practice law in Oklahoma City, a city of 1 million people in the metropolitan area. However, I was trying this case in a small town in Kentucky. The population of the entire county was around 15,000. I assumed the technology in such a small town courthouse would be similar to the technology I routinely find in rural Oklahoma counties.

I was wrong.

In preparing to stand up to perform voir dire, I noticed there was no court reporter present. Previously, I had noticed cameras in the corners of the courtroom perched high above. I assumed they were for security purposes, as my trial judge acted as a judge for both criminal and civil cases. Upon my inquiry as to the absence of the court reporter, I was advised that there would not be a court reporter, that everything occurring in the courtroom was being videotaped and recorded by the cameras I had earlier noticed.

That explained the numerous microphones of various shapes and sizes stationed throughout the court room.

It was explained to me that the video cameras would activate, one at a time, depending on which microphone in the courtroom picked up the loudest sounds, presumably lawyers and witnesses talking. So, if I was conducting my opening statement, beginning at the lectern, one camera would videotape me talking because the microphone at the lecture picked up my voice. If I then meandered to the jury box, because there were microphones stationed along the jury rail, a different camera would zero in on me as I spoke from that position. It was a thing to behold.

I was told that a transcript could be accurately completed upon request, by the court reporter simply viewing the videotape which, of course, contained all of the audio. After the successful conclusion of the trial, I was given DVD’s of all 10 days of trial.

Always on the Record

It was about the third or fourth day into the trial when our trial judge asked the lawyers to come back to chambers. For the first time, I noticed that there was a monitor on one of the judge’s clerk’s desks that showed exactly what was going on in the courtroom. To my utter horror, I also could hear everything said in the courtroom even though court was not in session. The video and audio was continuously open and being fed to the judge’s chamber.

Therefore, during trial recesses, no matter if they be brief or lengthy, the microphones at my counsel table would pick up conversations between my co-counsel and me, even if we whispered, and such conversations could be heard in the judge’s chambers.

I was mortified. Sometimes, my humor can be somewhat dry and biting. I can only imagine what the judge’s clerk, or more horrifically, the judge, herself, may have overheard me say to my co-counsel after one of the judge’s rulings negatively impacted my case.

Suffice it to say, there were no more discussions held at counsel table unless I was certain the microphones were covered.

Featured image: “witness stand” from Shutterstock.

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How Lawyer-Entrepreneur Terence McEnally Launched BernieSez, Connecting Ticketed Drivers to Lawyers

ABA's tech feedFri, 08/01/2014 - 12:30

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Tech

When Terence McEnally ventured into the ancient world of law, he never imagined he would become an entrepreneur of the Internet age. He had imagined the practice of law was based on reasoned thought and discussion, much like philosophy that he majored in as an undergraduate. As many newly minted law school graduates learn, the practice of law does not always meet the ideal.

McEnally has been practicing law comfortably for 20 years, having learned some hard lessons. Marketing, for example, is half the battle of getting new clients. That involves many avenues, including networking and establishing relationships in a community of people who can help, or hinder, your work. He became an expert in traffic law, and his fluency in Spanish helped carve out a niche of assisting the new generation of Latinos immigrating to the States, and North Carolina.

Even from the comfort of an established law practice, McEnally understood the fierce competition among lawyers for clients pulled over for speeding or driving without a license. In North Carolina, lawyers pay for lists of drivers cited for traffic infractions, and within days of being pulled over by police, those unlucky drivers have their mailboxes filled with solicitations from lawyers offering to fix the ticket, for a price.

Reasoned thought, he believed, suggested there was a better, more effective way of connecting ticketed drivers with lawyers. Reasoned thought soon gave way to a new venture, BernieSez.

An Entrepreneur’s Spirit

It was August 2012. He had been using an online shipping website called uShip. It works like this: If you have something you need to ship that’s too heavy for UPS, or too unwieldy for a box, you go on uShip and find shippers willing to bid on the chance to ship your product.

It made McEnally think: Why didn’t traffic attorneys have something like that?

Finding a cheap and quick way to reach clients where they are — their computers, smart phones and tablets — wouldn’t just be advantageous to consumers, but for lawyers as well.

McEnally knew from his early years of practice that it’s hard for a freshly-minted attorney to get started unless he’s been accepted into a firm or has capital. McEnally sees his app as an equalizer.

“What we have here is the makings of a turnkey law practice, because attorneys can at least, in theory, having gotten out of school yesterday and passed the bar, they don’t need an office, they don’t need brick and mortar, they don‘t need furniture. They need an iPad or a laptop,” he said.

But launching the venture hasn’t been a smooth road for McEnally, and along the way, he’s learned a lot about starting a new business and the complicated intersection between consumer needs and attorneys’ habit.

The Struggles of a Startup

Though he considered himself fairly tech savvy, McEnally soon realized that while he owned an iPad and an iPhone, his technical fluency was limited to email and surfing the Web. He didn’t have the coding knowledge to build BernieSez himself.

Frustrated over the poor proposals he had received after reaching out to the technology community on his own, McEnally approached an attorney friend who worked with entrepreneurs. A series of connections led him to his future partner: Jim Young.

McEnally was immediately impressed by Young. A geologist by training, Young runs what was originally an environmental consulting business called Terraine Inc. But in 2003, Young became adept with a piece of data collection software called Adesso. Eventually, his business purchased Adesso, and he began using it to create applications for paying clients like Duke Energy, American Electric Power and even the New Mexico Livestock Board.

The software is versatile and can be customized for the client. For instance, with the Livestock Board, Young used Adesso to craft a tool that could help the Board manage its cattle branding program.

Young also eventually used Adesso to run a portion of the BernieSez website.

And BernieSez isn’t his first foray into the app world. His app Envirochain is available on Google Play and in the iTunes App store. It’s used to help environmental workers maintain chain of custody. For example, if a geologist is collecting water samples out in the field, he or she must fill out a form with details about the sample before sending it to the lab. Typically, that form is just a piece of paper and is sent in the cooler along with the sample. Upon arrival, the lab technician has to take the form and put all that information into the computer. Envirochain cuts out the middle man by allowing the worker in the field to fill out the form using an iPhone. When the worker is done, he or she can just hit submit and the form scoots along the information superhighway to the lab.

With these successful tech ventures under his belt, Young has been phasing out the environmental aspects of his business, and since 2010 has focused almost exclusively on tech.

When McEnally told Young his idea, Young was interested in the potential challenge of creating BernieSez. Young helped McEnally understand the difficulties he faced, one of which was the fact that the product essentially had to be built twice: once for clients, and once for attorneys since both parties needed to be able to log in separately, register and get up and running quickly.

McEnally’s role was to explain to Young the human requirements of the product, while Young provided the technical answers. The process was grueling. Both men juggled a full load of other clients. McEnally’s wife Lisette was expecting a child, yet the two met often for caffeine-infused brainstorming sessions at Young’s office. Young would create mockups and the two would go over the details and figure out what worked and what didn’t. When they grew tired of being cooped up, they took their discussions to the streets of downtown Raleigh, walking and talking about the potential of the infant business. Sometimes, the creative muse visited at odd hours, and the two engaged in late-night e-mail battles over the direction of BernieSez.

BernieSez

A year and five months later, McEnally and Young launched BernieSez.

Using the app is simple. Attorneys who handle traffic cases register on the site. Clients log on, register and upload their tickets. Then the registered attorneys place bids to handle the clients’ cases.

Ray Beird of the Carolina Insurance Group was one of its first clients. He is McEnally’s insurance agent, and when he got a ticket driving too fast down a mountain in Rutherford County, McEnally suggested he give BernieSez a shot. He logged on, quickly got some bids and picked an attorney who successfully helped him with his case.

“I got my ticket reduced down to 9 over, and just paid the court costs and attorney fees and was done,” he said.

The resolution spared him points on his driving record and the risk of having his car insurance go up. Mostly though, using BernieSez saved him the hassle of combing through the snail-mail letters that attorneys send to solicit clients.

“I mean in the past, you get 50 letters in the mail from attorneys,” he said. “Normally, I don’t even use the attorney letters because I have some friends.”

His friend this time was BernieSez, and he described the process as smooth and easy.

For attorneys, BernieSez is a cheaper and more efficient way of getting clients. Cary attorney Wiley Nickel said he was sick of wasting money sending out mail to people who got traffic tickets.

“In Wake County, you have lawyers offering $235 a ticket to handle someone’s case and they’re making $20 or $30 bucks,” Nickel said. “And if you’re mailing everyone in the county… the math just didn’t work for me.”

Raleigh attorney Lawrence Kissling also uses BernieSez to get clients. He said it’s a great way of connecting consumers with attorneys. He said nobody should be worried that it’s all done on the Internet, especially considering how accustomed consumers have become to connectivity.

“People buy goods and service sight unseen on the Internet five or six times a day, and they don’t blink an eye,” he said. “There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be getting their legal services the same way.”

Needs of Clients v. Comfort Level of Attorneys

Now that the website is live, McEnally is learning some hard facts about reconciling the needs of clients with the comfort level of attorneys. He says attorneys can be slow to adopt new technologies, especially when there is a learning curve involved. Still, he thinks that lawyers will come along as they realize their business is moving online.

BernieSez is still in its infancy, and McEnally said it has room and time to grow. Right now, he’s focused on North Carolina, but he imagines the product could work well in other markets and hopes to eventually expand. Regardless of its reach, McEnally’s hope is for transformation rather than profit. He wants to even the playing field for clients and lawyers.

His philosophic sensibilities are still deeply rooted. McEnally believes customers will see the logic behind what he’s offering and jump on board. The lawyers won’t be far behind.

The post How Lawyer-Entrepreneur Terence McEnally Launched BernieSez, Connecting Ticketed Drivers to Lawyers appeared first on Law Technology Today.

Video: Increasing Productivity Through Billing

ABA's tech feedThu, 07/31/2014 - 19:47

Categories:

Tech

What if you could get your client bills out sooner and get paid faster? There are ways to generate bills that will improve your bottom line and increase productivity. In this webinar hosted by the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center, discover how to take advantage of the many opportunities for more efficient billing practices.

Thank you to our Sponsor

Featured image: “High angle view of an young brunette working at her office desk with documents and laptop. Businesswoman working on paperwork.” from Shutterstock.

The post Video: Increasing Productivity Through Billing appeared first on Law Technology Today.

What SOC 2 Type II Certification Means

ABA's tech feedThu, 07/31/2014 - 12:30

Categories:

Tech

Earlier this month, Brittany Farb emailed me to let me know that Keeper Security, a password manager I reviewed from Techweek Chicago, received SOC 2 Type II Certification. To achieve that certification, the following areas of Keeper’s policies and practices were reviewed:

  • Infrastructure: The physical and hardware components of a system.
  • Software: The programs and operating software of a system.
  • People: The personnel involved in the operation and use of a system.
  • Procedures: The automated and manual procedures involved in the operation of a system.
  • Data: The information used and supported by a system.

For the security minded, that is a big deal. For the rest of us, it sounds like a big deal. I asked for more information. Keeper Security provided a nice breakdown of what SOC 2 Type II Certification means, and why it’s important.

What is it?

The Service Organization Control (SOC) 2 Type II examination demonstrates that an independent accounting and auditing firm has reviewed and examined an organization’s control objectives and activities, and tested those controls to ensure that they are operating effectively.

SOC 2 is based on Policies, Communications, Procedures and Monitoring. The specific Trust Service Principles explained below must be met in order to successfully achieve certification.

  • Security: The system has controls in place to protect against unauthorized access (both physical and logical).
  • Availability: The system is available for operation and use as committed or agreed.
  • Processing Integrity: System processing is complete, accurate, timely and authorized.
  • Confidentiality: Information that is designated as “confidential” by a user is protected.
  • Privacy: Personal information is collected, used, retained and disclosed in accordance with the operation’s privacy notice and principles set by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA).

There are two types of SOC 2 reports: Type I and Type II.

The Type II report is issued to organizations that have audited controls in place and the effectiveness of the controls have been audited over a specified period of time. The Type I report is preliminary to the Type II report and is based on the ability to test and report on design. Type I reports are issued to organizations that have audited controls in place, but have not yet audited the effectiveness of the controls over a period of time.

Why is it important and why does it matter?

Type II Certification consists of a thorough examination by a third party firm of an organization’s internal control policies and practices over a specified period of time. The period of time is typically six months to one year. This independent review ensures that the organization meets the stringent requirements set forth by the AICPA and CICA. When trusting an application with highly sensitive and confidential information, such as passwords, documents and secure images, obtaining high level certification is imperative.

How does it impact applications?

Applications and software developed by a SOC 2 certified organization must be developed following audited processes and controls. This helps ensure that applications and code are developed, reviewed, tested, and released following the the AICPA Trust Services Principles. The result is an application that has been developed under an audited processes and controls to help ensure the highest level of trust and security.

How does it impact users?

When a company works with a third party who has been granted access to any type of system that the customer owns, this creates some level of internal control risk. The type of access granted to a third party vendor and the type of systems they have access to ultimately determines the level of risk for the organization. Even the smallest of data breaches can become a substantial issue for a large company if it has inadequate internal control policies and systems.

By working with a SOC 2 certified vendor like Keeper, users ensure that data is kept secure through the implementation of standardized controls as defined in the AICPA Trust Service Principles framework (as mentioned above).

Keeper encrypts user data on the end-user device and can only be decrypted by the user’s master password. The master password is never sent from the user device, and any data backed-up in Keeper’s cloud is encrypted and cannot be decrypted by Keeper (or anyone else, without the master password). Because Keeper is a SOC 2 certified organization, with audited controls and processes in place, users can be sure that the application performs and operates as described. Applications developed by organizations that are not SOC 2 certified do not have the same level of assurance.

Featured image: “Networking concept: pixelated Cloud Network icon on digital background” from Shutterstock.

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Sustaining a Successful Knowledge Management System

ABA's tech feedWed, 07/30/2014 - 12:30

Categories:

Tech

In this episode of The Kennedy-Mighell Report, Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell discuss curation and personal knowledge management including tools and techniques, ways to improve success, common difficulties, and their own personal experiences.

They describe the three important aspects involved in sustaining a successful knowledge management system: collecting the information in one place, organizing it for later access, and using the collected information for legal clients or marketing when it might apply. While Kennedy and Mighell prefer Evernote as an organizational tool, there are many other options including Excel Spreadsheets, bookmarks, Instapaper, Pocket, Readability, or using PDF files. Their suggestions for curation and long-term knowledge management involve finding the right tool, designing systems around personal habits, and mentally focusing on long-term success.

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Interested In The Future Of Legal Tech? So Are These Law Schools

ABA's tech feedTue, 07/29/2014 - 12:30

Categories:

Tech

Topping the field of law schools approaching legal technology are Michigan State University and Suffolk University. Both of these programs are introducing legal technology, actively working to change the practice of law, and influencing the shape legal technology will take in the future.

Michigan State University College of Law: ReInvent Laboratory

The ReInvent Law Laboratory was created by MSU Law professors Daniel Martin Katz and Renee Newman Knake in early 2012 with a goal of incorporating the innovation of law, technology, design, and delivery into the legal services industry. ReInvent Law has been so successful that they have hosted conferences around the world to discuss their work and share ideas. Given ReInvent Law’s meteoric rise in just two years, it’s easy to see there is an enormous void where legal technology needs to be.

ReInvent Law is special because it is a disruptor. And a disruptor in an industry that badly needs disrupting. Technology has revolutionized other industries by making information more accessible and delivering it to consumers in simple, smartphone-compatible formats. Other industries have also started to focus on “big data,” a concept that the legal industry seems to have missed thus far. ReInvent Law is attempting to bring big data to the law.

ReInvent Law is innovative and influential. We should all keep an eye out for what they bring to the legal technology conversation in the months and years to come.

Suffolk University School of Law: Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation

A first of its kind. The Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation and, in tandem, the Legal Technology and Innovation Concentration for students were launched in early 2013. Both have already garnered a lot of attention and praise. Professor Andrew Perlman runs the Institute, and has become a “Google Glass Explorer” and uses Google Glass in the classroom.

Suffolk has put a lot of effort into developing a rigorous curriculum and various internship opportunities to prepare law students to practice in a changing legal landscape. In the hopes of fostering unique and innovative thought about legal technology, Suffolk also hosts “hackathons,” events where large numbers of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming. Since Suffolk understands that many minds are better than one, they will be hosting the ABA/Suffolk Hackathon next week.

Suffolk’s student-centered approach will be sure to produce some legal innovators in the next few years and will contribute to an acceleration in the adoption of technology in the legal field.

There are a variety of other schools that have begun to offer coursework or internships focused exclusively on legal technology. Hopefully, this trend will only continue to gain momentum as we train our future lawyers to be innovative disruptors, and early-adopters of legal technology.

Featured image: “Button vision pointing the future with blur effect plus blue and grey tones” from Shutterstock.

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What’s a Video Game Lawyer? (And How Can I Become One?)

ABA's tech feedFri, 07/25/2014 - 12:30

Categories:

Tech

Why hello there, Internet. I am Ryan Morrison, and I am a video game lawyer. (I’ll wait for you to stop laughing.) Okay, now that you have composed yourself, let me assure you that video game law is, in fact, a thing. When people hear I do video game law, they usually are left looking confused, or quickly ask if they can join me, so I thought this article would be a good way of explaining my basic day-to-day, and what the mysterious video game lawyer title really entails.

How Did I Get Here?

I’ve been a gamer since I can remember, and I jumped at the chance to become part of the industry when I could. I worked at Large Animal Games in New York City, and really learned a lot under the excellent game designers who worked and ran that company. I decided to switch from an ultimate goal of litigating criminal law (I honestly can’t remember why I wanted to do that) to working in the game industry from the legal side. I saw firsthand the atrocities being committed by larger companies, and I knew I could make a living and make a difference by pursuing video game law.

What the Heck is Video Game Law?

It’s the age old saying, “you wouldn’t go to a foot doctor for heart surgery,” that rings true here: “You shouldn’t go to a movie attorney for video games.” To the uninitiated, games are games. However, to the creators and players, there are a near limitless array of genres, distribution platforms, and audiences. The trick, as an attorney, is using the archaic laws that surround the industry to protect the new and innovative ideas coming out each and every day from exciting startups.

Now, of course, video game law is really a lot of different areas of law, all within the context of video games. Still, that context is very important and can be crucial when choosing contract language or arguing an office action from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Who Are Your Clients?

Each year it becomes cheaper and easier to create a game or an app, and each year more and more companies are popping up all over the country. Because of that, there is a growing client base that has been for the most part unrepresented. Larger firms charge rates that are not attainable to these smaller studios, and attorneys who started the niche area of game law, like Tom Buscaglia, can’t do everything themselves.

The biggest hurdle as an attorney focused in the tech and game field is that most startups don’t even consider needing a lawyer. It’s not that they are against the idea, it’s that the thought has literally never crossed their mind. It unfortunately leads to a lot of investors taking advantage of the “little guys” with good ideas, or it leads to the end of friendships and the start of long and expensive legal battles down the road.

I’ve spent near countless hours over at Reddit.com trying to educate the community on their legal rights and what they should be doing to operate their businesses confidently and legally. I have been astounded at just how loud and clear that message has been heard. I would have been happy for them to just know the difference between a trademark and a copyright, but now half of the reader base is asking complex questions most lawyers would have to spend a few hours researching. It’s beautiful!

Now, of course, the difference between these companies knowing the law and being able to utilize the law are very different things. The fear of legal fees is just too much for these tech startups with a few thousand dollars and a dream. To combat that, we are starting to see a lot of flat fee rates being offered, as well as severely reduced (or free) rates for communication. As the tech field grows, the legal field is starting to become more approachable. Lawyers are notoriously against change, but we can’t sit with our arms crossed as the rest of the world flies by. (I mean, come on, are you still having clients use a pen to sign a retainer?)

What Are the Main Legal Concerns For Game Companies?

My usual list for most companies is to:

  1. Incorporate;
  2. Form independent contractor agreements (as most startups hire a lot of freelancers);
  3. Trademark your game/app and company name;
  4. Have a terms of service and privacy policy drafted.

The last one, a privacy policy, is beyond important when tracking user data, and is a major reason why I would never recommend going to a generic entertainment lawyer if you are making an online game or application. The law is too dangerous to play fast and loose when it comes to user data.

The age of patent trolls is still here, however trademark trolls are starting to become much more of an issue for startups. My favorite example to use is the fiasco surrounding King, makers of Candy Crush Saga, and their overreaching trademarks that border on the ridiculous. The term “saga” has existed in nerd culture as long as the term trekkies, and it encompasses a feeling of an epic or long story where a small band of heroes struggles against an impossible foe. Or, according to the USPTO and King, “saga” means a simple mobile phone game that is just a re-skinned clone of every “match 3″ game before it.  Exciting…

Regardless, the issue here was that, to a trademark examiner (and our law), there is no difference between a huge story-driven game that is playable only on your computer, and a beyond simple phone app. It would be like comparing the Titanic movie to a home movie of your toddler splashing in a pool. To prevent these problems, it’s important to not only trademark your own titles, but to stand up to these million dollar companies when they start waving their bank account around to knock you out of the marketplace.

Another issue facing the game world is the fact that freelancers retain ownership of all intellectual property they create, absent an agreement. Since formal contracts and legal advice have been so long removed from the game world, it has led to a lot of big problems about who exactly owns what. That’s why one of the first things these companies need is a proper IC Agreement. I’ve been very happy to see it start to become the “norm.”

How Can I Join the Video Game Law World?

I get asked this a lot, and I don’t really have a good answer for it. I don’t have any secrets to break into the industry because I just opened my own firm, branded myself a video game lawyer, and went to battle for some bullied startups that couldn’t afford legal help. It wasn’t a marketing strategy, but it turned into the best advertising I could have ever done. I now have clients writing me theme songs and drawing pictures of me as a super hero, and I wouldn’t trade careers with anyone in the world. If you are a gamer and you are passionate about helping the industry, come on board and let’s fix what’s been done wrong. If you are looking to make a quick buck off a few startups, pick another field. You aren’t welcome here.

Featured image: “Silver Game Controller Isolated on White Background” from Shutterstock.

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Air Boss: THE Road Warrior Worthy Bag

ABA's tech feedThu, 07/24/2014 - 13:29

Categories:

Tech

A couple of years ago a co-worker and I were discussing travel. I said, “I have to check baggage; I’ve got too much stuff to carry.” She said, “Look, if I can get away without checking baggage, so can you. I’m a girl.” She recommended the website: onebag.com. Since then my tune has changed to “it’s against my religion to check baggage.” One of the key components to my strategy is the best business travel bag: Air Boss from Red Oxx.

What makes it so great?

It fits in even the smallest overhead bins. Yes, it can be a tight squeeze but I’ve stuffed it into the smallest of overhead bins. Case in point: the small planes that US Airways uses that only have 3 seats on a row (ERJ-145). This is a great comfort to because one time I lost a bag that was “gate checked.”

It holds a ton. Because of its design, the Air Boss wastes no space. You’ve got three large zippered compartments to work with.

It’s lightweight. It weighs less than 3 ½ pounds.

It’s durable. The company offers a lifetime guarantee, and you can tell that they have over engineered the bag. I’ve been using mine more than two years and haven’t noticed any wear on the zippers or snaps.

Why don’t you see more of them?

No wheels. That’s it. And…some of you just quit reading. Admittedly the Air Boss is not for everyone because you will be carrying your bag. Packed for a week-long trip it will likely weigh over 20 pounds. On the flip side, whatever bag you choose, you will have to carry it at some point. This is especially true if you encounter lots of rain or snow.

Why doesn’t it have wheels?

Wheels take up space and add weight. So, here’s the deal: if you have wheels you have to have the frame and other hardware to support the wheels. This adds a significant amount of weight and reduces the amount of useable space.

How do you pack using the Air Boss?

Use the Bundle Wrapping Method. Oh course you can pack the Air Boss however you want but the bundle wrapping method works really well. It helps reduce wrinkles and unwanted creases. The idea is wrapping your clothes around a core object. For my core, I use a Pack-It Cube (specifically the Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Half Packing Cube) and put two pairs of underwear, two undershirts, and my pajamas in it. Then I wrap two shirts, two pairs of pants, and two undershirts around the core. For more on this see Packing Clothes [Post] or Packing Travel Gear by Bundle Wrapping [Video]. I put the “bundle” in one of the outside pockets along with a pair of shoes. This all the clothes I take for a typical, 6-day business trip. I wear one set of clothes on the plane, use the underwear that is made to wash in the sink, and wear everything twice.

Use Cubes and Accessories to Maximize Space. In the other outside pocket I pack miscellaneous stuff using three of the Pack-It cubes mentioned above. They are roughly the right size to cover the whole pocket.

In the middle pocket, I use two Nomad Shave Kits (one for toiletries and one for electronics). In addition, I pack The Grid Foam Roller (great for working out the kinks) and of course, the one quart bag for liquids.

What tips do you have?

Replace the metal hooks on the shoulder strap. The shoulder strap that comes with the bag is great but the metal hooks are heavy. Save a few ounces (4.2 to be exact) by replacing the metal hooks with strong nylon versions. I got mine from Duraflex and had the local shoe repair place put them in for me.

Measure your progress. One of the things I heard in business school was “measure what matters.” When traveling, weight is what matters. So I bought a luggage scale to help motivate me to travel as light as possible.

Is this bag for you?

Probably. If you travel regularly for business and you are able and willing to carry your luggage. In 2012, I was on the road over 190 nights and that is when I really saw the value of it. I truly love not having to check luggage, and when I see people at the baggage claim sometimes I have to fight the urge to yell “Freedom!”

Probably not. If you travel infrequently or if you have any health issues that would prevent you from being able to carry your luggage, this is likely not the bag for you.

Featured image: “Air Boss ” from Red Oxx.

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Increasing Productivity Through Billing

ABA's tech feedWed, 07/23/2014 - 16:19

Categories:

Tech

What if you could get your client bills out sooner and get paid faster? There are ways to generate bills that will improve your bottom line and increase productivity. In this free, 30-minute webinar, discover how to take advantage of the many opportunities for more efficient billing practices.

Join us on Wednesday, July 30th at 2pm ET for Increasing Productivity Through Billing.

About the Webinar:
Increasing Productivity Through Billing
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
2:00pm – 2:30pm ET
Free Registration

Learn how to:

  • Get your client bills out sooner (and get paid faster)
  • Generate bills that will improve your bottom line
  • Save time on billing

This webinar is sponsored by:

 

Please note: This is a NON-CLE program. 

Featured image: “High angle view of an young brunette working at her office desk with documents and laptop. Businesswoman working on paperwork.” from Shutterstock.

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Chicago’s Self-Help Web Center Celebrates 10 Years of Service, Access to Justice

ABA's tech feedWed, 07/23/2014 - 12:30

Categories:

Tech

Each day for the past 10 years, law student volunteers from IIT Chicago-Kent have staffed the Self-Help Web Center (SHWC) on the sixth floor of Chicago’s Richard J. Daley Center, helping to provide guidance and assistance to thousands of pro se litigants as they navigate their way through the Cook County court system.

The idea for the SHWC grew out of a study of low-income and self-represented litigants conducted across five different court systems in the United States between 1999 and 2001 by the Center for Access to Justice and Technology.

That study, “Meeting the Needs of Self-Represented Litigants,” led by CAJT director Ron Staudt, showed that for many people, merely filling out the forms required in today’s courts presented a daunting hurdle which was difficult to overcome on their own. Given the completion of the study around the same time the Internet was coming into widespread use, it seemed the logical next step was to put legal information online in order to make it more accessible to the public.

“We know that technology to improve access to justice is much more effective if human beings assist others to use it to solve their problems. The Chicago-Kent student guides at the Self-Help Web Center are a critical part of the new tool kit to reduce barriers to justice for low income people,” said Staudt.

The SHWC was the first court-based web center in Illinois and the only help desk which combined online forms and information with volunteer law student guides. Operating as a starting point for any pro se litigant needing assistance, the SHWC helps visitors locate legal information online via ILAO’s site, directs them to other desks and legal aid organizations at the Daley Center, and assists them with filling out various online civil law forms. The SHWC has seen tremendous growth since its founding, helping approximately 1,600 users in 2005; 3,400 users in 2010; and 5,195 users in 2013.

Originally offering one customized form, a basic online version of Illinois’ dissolution of marriage form, the success of the SHWC amplified the huge need for automated, online forms for low income litigants, and helped spur the creation of the Access to Justice (A2J) Author® software platform.

“The original idea was just to use design principles to see if we could solve the problems of self-represented litigants in courts. One of the solutions presented was to build some sort of software solution, which was the dissolution of marriage form, and after that we decided to build a tool that would let us build more of these tools. That tool was A2J Author®,” said Staudt.

Chicago-Kent’s CAJT and the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI) began development on A2J Author® in 2004, and the first version of the program was launched in 2005. Three subsequent updates to the software have been released in an ongoing process of improvement of the program for use by low income litigants and legal aid organizations across the United States and abroad.

Building on this intellectual groundwork, in 2010 the Center for Access to Justice and Technology launched the Access to Justice Practicum course at Chicago-Kent around the A2J Author® software. Given the Center’s unique position in the legal aid community, and recognizing the ever-increasing impact of all forms of technology on the legal profession, Staudt and his team identified a vacuum in legal education and set out to remedy it.

Students in the Practicum course research a current access to justice issue, engage with self-represented litigants at the SHWC, and create guided interviews in A2J Author®. The practicum course has quickly become recognized as an innovative leader in legal education, winning plaudits and awards and sending many of its alumni into new, innovative legal positions both in and outside of the legal aid community.

In 2004, Dorothy Brown, Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County; Timothy Evans, Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County; Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO); and Chicago-Kent’s Center for Access to Justice and Technology (CAJT), collaborated in to launch SHWC.

“The SHWC makes it possible for the Clerk’s Office to make available a service that helps court patrons feel more comfortable navigating the court and handling certain legal concerns on their own without having to hire an attorney. This is access to justice personified. The education and guidance provided by the SHWC helps alleviate some of the apprehension self-represented litigants experience in the court environment that many people find intimidating,” said Brown.

A new program modeled on the CAJT’s practicum, the “Access to Justice Clinical Course Project,” was launched in 2013 at six law schools across the country. Greatly successful in its first iteration, the CAJT is exploring ways to expand the program in coming years.

Today, the law student volunteers at the SHWC assist visitors with more than 50 different online Illinois civil law forms. All new forms currently are created by ILAO (many more customized forms are created by other state-based legal aid groups) on an ongoing, as-need basis and then posted to the ILAO website.

Looking ahead, Ms. Brown’s vision for the future is for the SHWC “to assist court patrons to understand and utilize the many technology based services we offer as the Clerk’s Office progresses towards the future of a “green” and paperless court system.”

She sees the SHWC assisting patrons with better understanding all of the E-Court initiatives taking place now, and ones planned, and believes the center could expand its instructions to customers as the Clerk’s Office’s enhances its website with available internet customer service programs, such as the Online Traffic Ticket System, SmartForms (online preparation of Order of Protection forms), Mortgage Foreclosure Surplus Search, and Unclaimed Child Support Check Search.

The SHWC continues to be staffed by Chicago-Kent students, and is open year round. For more information, or with any questions, the CAJT can be contacted at cajt@kentlaw.iit.edu.

Featured image: “Golden number ten with red fluttering fabric ” from Shutterstock.

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Breaking Up: The Digital Edge on Ethical Responsibilities when Breaking Up a Law Firm

ABA's tech feedTue, 07/22/2014 - 12:30

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Is this edition of The Digital Edge, Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway interview commercial litigator at McGuireWoods Tom Spahn, often known as “Mr. Ethics” in Virginia. He has served on the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professionalism, and has spoken over 1,200 times on ethics and other topics in the United States and abroad.

He explains that lawyers and their firms should remain civil and open to negotiation before the lawyer has left. Firms have run into trouble while trying to penalize leaving employees on an individual basis. He discusses the ethically proper way to deal with unfinished business doctrines, document retention programs, and fiduciary duties to clients. Due to technology, there are new issues to consider including digital files or property ownership of domain names. Overall, however, Spahn emphasizes that every partner has a continuing duty to make sure every client is adequately served.

The post Breaking Up: The Digital Edge on Ethical Responsibilities when Breaking Up a Law Firm appeared first on Law Technology Today.

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