It’s hard to believe that it’s already 2016, isn’t it? Another year has passed and it’s time for a fresh start.
The beginning of a new year is always a good time take a step back and to assess what you’re doing right–and what you can do better. Out with the old and in with the new–whether it’s technology, law firm processes, or apps to streamline your practice and reduce daily stress. Sometimes all it takes to improve your day-to-day life in your law firm is adding a few tools to your technology arsenal. The trick is being selective and knowing which ones will be most impactful.
To help you get started with assessing your law firm’s procedures, here are some tips and technology recommendations. Kick off the new year on the right track. Whether it’s email management, legal research tools, or mobile app suggestions, we’ve got you covered!
1) Legal research – The Google Scholar browser extension
Legal research used to be a costly annual expense, in large part because there were no other reliable alternatives. That was then, this is now. In 2016 you have lots of legal research options, one of which is completely free: Google Scholar.
I recently wrote a 2-part blog post on the ins and outs of using Google Scholar to conduct legal research. In it I provide step-by-step instructions on using Google Scholar for to research and cite check caselaw. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
And now, there’s a browser extension available! Google recently released the Google Scholar Button (available for Chrome and Firefox), a browser add-on that makes it even easier to seamlessly conduct Google Scholar legal research without having to open a new browser window. You can learn more about using the Google Scholar Button for legal research here.
And for even more great information on how to choose the right legal research tools for your law practice, make sure to download this chapter (written by freelance attorney Lisa Solomon) from our latest ebook.
2) Streamline your email inbox
We all get bogged down in email–it’s part of 21st century life. Email is an imperfect tool and while there are many different communications tools available (like MyCase’s secure online communication portal), email remains a necessary evil, since so many people still use it. That’s why it’s so important to find and use tools that streamline your email inbox, making you more efficient and less harried.
One of my favorite Gmail extensions is Streak. While it’s billed as a CRM (customer relationship management) tool, that’s not how I use it. Instead, I only use it for two of its features: it’s built-in email tracking tool and it’s “snooze” email feature.
With Streak’s email tracking, you can determine if and when the recipient has opened it. Yes, it’s a bit Big Brother-esque, but it’s very useful, since knowing whether an email has been opened helps you to assess whether you need to send a follow up email.
The “snooze email” feature lets you temporarily remove an email from your inbox, but before doing so you can set the parameters for when it reappears in your inbox at a later date. This handy feature minimizes inbox clutter while making it easy for you to follow up on emails at a later date.
Another Gmail extension I recently discovered is Sortd. It’s a skin that overlays your inbox and allows you to revise the subject line of emails and turn them into “to-dos” or add them to a “follow up” column. You drag and drop the new tasks into Sortd and they are then stored in a separate “skin” that overlays your inbox, but can be reduced at any time so that you can always view your regular Gmail inbox.
There are similar tools available for those of you who use Outlook. This Hytech Lawyer blog post has lots of great suggestions.
3) Use Scrivener for legal writing
Another great tool for lawyers–especially for appellate lawyers and others who often draft lengthy legal documents–is Scrivener, ($35-70 depending on which version you purchase). I used Scrivener in 2010 to write the first draft of my book “Cloud Computing for Lawyers” and began recommending it to lawyers at that time.
Scrivener is a word processor and project management tool that makes all of the documentation and information that you will be using to create a document available in one application. It’s an incredibly versatile, powerful tool that helps lawyers organize and create complex documents. You can learn more about how four different lawyers have used Scrivener in their practices by reading my 2-part series at Above the Law on Scrivener.
4) Use mobile apps to keep your contact list updated
In today’s fast-paced world, contact information often changes faster than you can keep up with it. People change addresses, phone numbers, and employers more than ever, making it difficult to keep your contact information up to date.
Fortunately, there are two free apps that help solve this problem: CircleBack and Brewster. CircleBack (iOS and Android) collects all of your contacts and then searches through all of the app’s collective, anonymized data–gleaned from all users–to provide you with the most current information for your contacts. This is a really useful tool, but the tradeoff to keep in mind is that you’re providing your contacts’ information (some of which may be confidential) to this service in exchange for the benefit of receiving updated information about your contacts.
Another app I find very useful is Brewster (iOS and Android). This app syncs with your contacts on your mobile devices and collects all of your social media contacts into a fully searchable database. That way you can easily search for contacts living in a certain area.
The app also automatically categorizes your contacts and allows you to create custom categories as well, such as “law school alumnus” or “criminal defense lawyers.” The app also supplements contact information on your smartphone and adds photos and other contact information when you receive a phone call that matches one of your contact’s data or suggests email addresses based on your contact data in Brewster.
These are just a few ideas for the new year to help you increase your law firm’s efficiency and reduce frustrations and redundancies. So dive right in, download a few new tools, and start saving time today!