Archive for the ‘Lawhacks’ Category

Taking Notes in Your Browser Is Easier Than You Think

I employ two different options to take notes in my browser window when I’m doing legal research on my laptop. (When I’m at the iMac desktop, I have a dual monitor display, so that’s a bit easier.) One is called Zotero. It’s a plug-in for Firefox that pops up a lower window within your browser window. You can organize your notes via topic, collect and mange your cites, copy and paste – it’s free and it’s awesome. I highly recommend it. (And if you’re not using Firefox, you should. ‘Nuff said.)

The other option is Google Notebooks. This is web-based app that allows you to save your notes in individual notebooks. It features a rich text WYSIWYG editor and allows for links. The main difference (besides the RTE) is that Google Notebooks is web-based; Zotero, as a plug in for your browser, is computer-based. So if you use more than one computer, and need to be able to compare your notes between the two, give Google Notebooks a try. Otherwise, Zotero is a bit more robust, I think. It isn’t that Google Notebooks lacks functionality, at all – it’s just not as richly featured, I think, as Zotero.

There are other options, too – I’ll try to sum those up for you guys in future posts!

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Productivity: Taming the Dreaded Desktop Beast

If you haven’t discovered Kinkless.com yet, you need to. The brainchild of Ethan Schoonover, the site talks about “simple tools and ideas that help us work, play and create.” Something every Inspired Solo could use! Ethan caused quite a stir with his hack for a Mac program called OmniOutliner last year – KinklessGTD, to help users implement Getting Things Done. Now, he’s back with the No Mercy Desktop Cleanup. It’s written mostly for Mac users, but I think Windows users can get a lot from it,too. Be warned, though: it’s radical stuff. You may never look at your computer desktop the same way again.

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Interested in Amicus Attorney? Now’s the Time To Buy

First time buyers of Amicus Attorney will receive 15% off their purchase (up to 10 licenses) of any Amicus product, including the front and back office product Amicus Small Firm, now through June 29th. For more information, see the order form here.

It’s interesting – the more I work on these articles and e-books about practice management for solos, the more my own practice is becoming hectic and diverse, and the more I’m seriously considering trying this CMS thing again. (I tried Time Matters originally, but it was way too much program for my needs.)  I’ve uploaded the Amicus demo, and am giving it a trial run. Either way, I’ll post a review here on Inspired Solo.

If you would like to write a product review of any CMS program you use, or are familiar with, or any other product you think solos would be interested in learning more about, please let me know either in contents or via email (sheryl at schelinlaw dot com), and I’ll hook you up as a guest reviewer!

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TechnoMarketing: Give Your Website or Blog a Checkup

Website Grader is a free tool that will analyze your blog or website for a number of relevant SEO markers for free, giving you a roadmap of improvements you can make to improve your site’s relevance, ranking in search results, and traffic. Did I mention it was free? This is Inspired Solo marketing at its finest!

Information is power in the Information Age, and that’s what Website Grader delivers. Start by entering your website URL – ex.: http://www.schelinlaw.com, or inspiredsolo.wordpress.com – and the URL for one of your competitor’s websites. Choose one that is, in fact, comparable – blog to blog, SC bankruptcy lawyer to SC bankruptcy lawyer, Georgia estate planning firm static website to Georgia estate planning firm static website. (This is optional but it’s good info to have, although I would never recommend positioning your marketing solely in response to a competitor.) Type in some relevant keywords – what do you expect your site’s visitors to type into a search engine to find your site? Use some different options; for instance, for my bankruptcy practice blog, I used “bankruptcy, SC bankruptcy lawyer, debt relief.”

Then just provide your email address and click “Generate Report” – it only takes seconds, and it will show in the browser window, as well as in your email inbox as a link.

My bankruptcy practice blog received a surprisingly low score. I was a little surprised, honestly, with over 50 inbound Google links (though it’s showing as 43), steadily increasing traffic, and a page rank of 4 (not awesome, but at the higher end for most practice blogs). But looking at the evaluation the website provided, it makes more sense: my designer didn’t put in meta keywords or page description plugins for my WordPress blog. Clearly I have some SEO work to do!

Another interesting development – this site’s report showed a pretty good score – 73 out of 100. I truly expected those two scores to be reversed, given that this is a WordPress.com hosted blog, it’s newer by several months than the other, it’s not a unique domain (yet!), and I’ve done precious little in the way of SEO work here. The main difference I see is 3 del.icio.us bookmarks for this site, none for the bankruptcy blog. I wouldn’t have thought that alone would mean such a significant difference, especially since the other blog gets about twice the traffic this one does.

Thanks to Deb Ng from About Web Logs for the tip.

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Is Case Management Software Necessary for the Inspired Solo? Depends.

Whether you need case management software (CMS) depends on a few factors:

  • Your practice area
  • Your average number of open cases
  • Your current software

OK, you’re probably saying right about now, “I get the first two. But what does the last have to do with anything?”

In a nutshell: you might be able to fulfill the functions delivered by CMS using only the software you currently run, and/or web-based products.  The advantage is obvious for anyone who’s done some comparison shopping for CMS – the price of standalone products like TimeMatters and Amicus are enough to make a bootstrapping solo take a moment’s pause (or several).

But there are some disadvantages, too. First, such solutions are crafted and cobbled; as such, they may have gaps in coverage that dedicated CMS would not. And while much of those kinds of gaps can be predetermined with careful planning and a thorough understanding of how you need CMS to operate in your practice, some of it is going to be inevitably discovered through trial and error. Second, as a crafted solution, using current software “off-label” as it were can be less stable than CMS.  Finally, any solution that depends on more than one product might create some degree of extra effort that CMS would save you.

Is it worth it to you, as a cost-conscious solo to adopt one of these solutions, or create one for yourself? Only you can  say for sure. But I’ll be uploading some e-books over the next few weeks at The Inspired Solo Bookstore, and I will post a short summary and excerpt here as I do. Each e-book will focus on a different program and how it can be used in the solo practice to serve the CMS function.

Gmail As Your Nerve Center? Could Work…

This post from MicroPersuasion details Steve Rubel’s methods of using Gmail plus Google tools to create a web-based super-nerve center, providing such assets as a personal database, real-time news updates, storing bookmarks, managing calendar and to-do lists, and even blogging all from Gmail as the base.

I applaud this kind of out of the box thinking. Cooking up inventive solutions is what being an Inspired Solo is all about. But I have a cautionary note to sound and it’s best summed up thus by Lifehacker, the uber-site when it comes to all things technologically combined:

Rubel’s methods are certainly inventive, and though they lack the speed of similar offline tools, they are spot-on if you do a lot of work from different computers. Though it’s hard to imagine doing all of this from Gmail (sometimes it’s best not to try to make an apple out of an orange), it can make life easier to integrate tools when you can, and Rubel offers several interesting ways to squeeze more functionality out of Gmail.

This is essentially my watershed test when it comes to any new tech solution: is it actually going to save me time? Or does it just feel like it? Be careful to ensure you’re really creating juicier oranges – not trying to turn an apple into an orange, as Lifehacker puts it – when you explore new “hacks” that promise to make your practice easier.

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Helpful Resource: Confessions of an Internet Researcher

Take a look at this Squidoo lens on Internet researching. Written by the publisher of the Research Owl website, the lens features recent commentary and news on search engines, tips for formatting your search request, a list of books to help you learn internet researching, and much more.

This gets me thinking about the costs of legal research engines. I spent a lot of time wrestling with a choice between Westlaw, Lexis, Fastcase, nothing … I had a hard time making up my mind. I eventually went with Lexis. But I think I could have done just as well with the “nothing” choice – I get free Casemaker access through my bar association (though it’s nowhere near as robust as Westlaw or Lexis, it does provide national case law and statutory access for all states and federal), and with a resource like this lens, I could potentially have made it work. However, I elected to go with Lexis simply because as a solo, time is money, and time is short. I have so many roles to fill as a solo that I need to simplify and “cut to the chase” as much as possible. A focused legal research database like the big players is part of that solution for me.

But for someone else, it might not be necessary. I’d love to hear from solos who provide for their legal research needs using this type of “home grown” approach. How do you make it work? Are there any gaps in what you can do? Or has it worked out perfectly for you and your clients?

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Free CRM? Yes. For Lawyer? Maybe.

Etelos has debuted its CRM solution for Google – announcement here, features overview here. How does it work? Simple – as a series of add-ons to your Google personalized homepage. (If you haven’t taken advantage of the Google Homepage feature, you really need to explore it. It’s incredibly scalable and capable of extreme degrees of personalization. You add in the features you want to see – both from Google and from other providers, and there are hundreds, and the result is a personalized home page with function.)

Etelos’s CRMforGoogle (anyone want to place a bet on how long it will take Google’s lawyers to respond to that one?) works by inserting your choice of a series of add-ons to the Google homepage:

  • Contact Management: entries for each contact, plus management capabilities for all types of contacts (messages, tasks, sales, calls, appointments)
  • Notes
  • Marketing Toolkit: create and manage standard messages, drip message campaigns (timed release, so you don’t overwhelm potential clients with too much information all at once), articles, custom email styles (templates and designs to use for different message campaigns)
  • Tasks Management: includes call logs and much more
  • Sales Prospects Management: however you define “sales”
  • And more.

The way it works: you sign up for an account. Etelos gets back to you within a few days (interesting choice – it took them less than 24 hours to send my notice but it went straight to spam). You download the modules you want to see on your home page. Once they’re installed on your Google homepage, you can reorder and arrange them anyway you like (as you can with any Google homepage add-on). You interact with each of the modules directly from that page.

I’m not even 24 hours into tinkering with this set of tools but already I see vast potential for Inspired Solos. First of all, the basic personal subscription is free. This is a must for bootstrapping solos  (CRM and case management tools on the market specifically designed for lawyers run upwards of $400 – some up to $1000.) Second, if you can get past the sales-model language, you’ll find that the underlying infrastructure is common to most if not all businesses, and can be adapted to law firms. “Sales” is easy – that’s signing up clients. Contacts can be PCs, opposing counsel, competitors, expert witnesses, outsource vendors, etc. You can upgrade your membership for a price and gain the ability to share tasks, contacts, etc. among employees – so when you start adding staff and associates down the road, you won’t have to reinvent the wheel. You just upgrade, and add those accounts to your own setup. (Seems you can also tell the system which notes, for example, to share and which to keep private, so you don’t lose that all-important confidentiality and control.)

So, is it ready for primetime? I’m not sure yet. The “sales” concept, while at its essence similar to what lawyers do to sign clients, does distract. In the days ahead, I’m going to work on creating an approach for lawyers to use with CRMforGoogle, for my own use. If it’s as robust as it appears to be, and truly does offer all that solos need in a CRM solution, I’m more than willing to put up with the “sales” language.  I’ll test it out and report back here on Inspired Solo in upcoming posts.

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What’s Keeping You From Being Inspired?

It’s crucial to know your foe.

Before you can effectively improve a situation – any situation, in any context – you have to know what obstacles have prevented you from making a decent change up until that point, right? If I want to lose weight, I need to know, for instance, that my biggest temptation is the Dunkin’ Donuts exactly halfway between my house and my daughter’s school … mmmm…. donuts …

Oops. Sorry.

ANYWAY. Yes, I need to know that, so I can find another route. Likewise, if I want to be more productive and more inspired as a solo, I need to know what’s keeping me from being productive and inspired right now.

Dr. Judi Craig writes here for The Complete Lawyer that one excellent way to do a little detective work in this area is to create and keep an interruptions log.   Dr. Craig suggests doing this for several days – I’d say at least a week – in order to get a fuller picture of who and what is causing those little time-killing, soul-sucking interruptions in your days.

Now, a seven-minute phone call here or two minutes to read an email there might not seem so very significant to you. But think of it this way: those minutes add up! In fact, as Dr. Craig points out, given an average interruption time of 10 minutes, an average of 10 interruptions a day (which might seem on the low side to some of us!), and a $200 hourly rate, you’re losing $100,000 a year.   That’s worth recovering, don’t you think?

Of course, as an Inspired Solo, I don’t want to focus on those billable hours. Do you? No, I’d rather put my attention and focus on delivering quality work to my clients, offering flat rates wherever possible, and freeing up all the doubt and suspicion that the billable hour model creates – turning that energy into a reserve that I can use for creative purposes. Say, for instance, a new marketing project. Or developing a new niche area. Or just taking some time to engage in a little strategic brainstorming for the next stage in my practice’s evolution.

Inspired Tech: Google as Your Solo Nerve Center

Blogger Steve Rubel of Micro Persuasion offers up a phenomenal look at how to turn Google and its robust suite of free offerings into your very own communications powerhouse – a nerve center for all your tech-based communication needs. The highlights:

  • How to turn Gmail into a massive personal database (Gmail + the Google Toolbar)
  • How to get real-time news updates in Gmail (Gmail+ Google Talk + Twitter)
  • How to automatically store your bookmarks in Gmail (Gmail + del.icio.us + Yahoo Alerts)
  • How to manage Calendar and To-Dos in Gmail (Gmail + Backpack + GCal +  GTalk + iMified)
  • How to blog from Gmail (Gmail + WordPress/TypePad/Blogger + IMified)

Part of being an Inspired Solo is using old tools (or already existing tools, in this case – can’t call some of these apps “old”) in new ways. “Thinking outside the box” might be a tired cliche by this point but the concept that it captures will never become tired. It’s too valuable, especially to cash-strapped solos who need to stretch those dollars farther than their big-firm counterparts.

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