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Think Strategically About Your Resolutions

(Originally published on January 13, 2014 on Law Technology Today. Read original post here.)

Think Strategic About Your Resolutions

Happy New Year! The beginning of the year is a time for your firm to resolve to make some changes and stick with them throughout this year – unlike that gym membership. Consider the following five firm resolutions for the New Year:

  1.  Change your passwords: Recent data security compromises at stores like Target and other security breaches involving simple passwords should compel you to update your debit card PIN numbers and change your usernames and passwords from your old standbys. Many of the security breaches will try to take advantage of those folks that use the same username with the same password over and over again. Consider using email aliases for your account name so for your Amazon account, your username (and corresponding email address) would be amazon@yourlawfirm.com. Keep track of all of these accounts and passwords with a password saving program and not a sticky on your desk or under your keyboard (you know who I’m talking about).
  2. Go paperless: A paperless office can be a steep goal if you are surrounded by paper as you read this, but now is the time to start. Start scanning everything on your desk and utilize a great desktop scanner like the ScanSnap Xi500 (about $410 on Amazon) and the job will not be as hard as you think. From there, for every open and active physical case that you touch (save closed and inactive files for a later date), see what documents can be scanned and converted into an electronic case file. If you produce more paper, come up with a plan to make that paper go away (check out #3 below). By creating a paperless workflow, the paper will decrease in your electronic files will increase.
  3. Create and document workflows: Going hand in hand with your paperless office resolution is a way to organize your electronic files so your firm (and you) can find everything. Utilize practice management and document management systems to help you too. From snail mail to electronic mail, create and document the workflow for all of the documents coming into your firm and include where are they stored, how are they scanned, who they are distributed to and where the documents should end up. When new employees start and they are properly trained in your standard document procedures, the firm benefits by increasing efficiency of even new employees. Engage your staff in helping produce this documentation since they touch so many of these documents. By creating and documenting workflows for your firm, it will help you stick with your paperless resolution and ensure success for two resolutions at the same time.
  4. Update your website: If your clients do not recognize you from your website pictures, it is time to update your website. Your website is the first point of contact with potential clients. Put your best foot forward this year and make sure that your content and pictures are updated, accurate and best represent your firm. Look at your website from the clients’ point of view and engage others to look at it critically to see what can be improved and updated. Not all the work has to be done at once, but an updated look and feel to a site is essential for new clients looking at your site for the first time. Plan to include videos in your website to increase your rankings on Google. They can be produced with a video camera that you have in house or even from many cell phones. Don’t wait and think you need a video production studio to produce your videos. Get them out there!
  5. Update your hardware: The expiration for Windows XP is fast approaching. There is even a Windows XP Death Clock out there – windowsxpdeathclock.com – to help you count down the days until Windows XP will no longer be supported by Microsoft. (It is April 18, 2014.) Update your old Windows XP machines, before this date, to at least Windows 7 Professional. You can still order Windows 7 from the major hardware carriers like Dell and Lenovo. Don’t wait until April to get rid of you Windows XP machines; it will be a target for hackers the day after the support ends.

By thinking strategically and resolving to look at each of these areas within your firm, your firm will benefit throughout the year and beyond. Wishing you all the best in 2014.


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What is Office 365?

With the concept of cloud-based computing becoming more acceptable, consumers, including attorneys, have started to embrace the cloud. In February of this year, Microsoft launched a subscription-based version of their most famous (or infamous) product, Microsoft Office. Their product is called Microsoft Office 365.

This product is a direct competitor to Google Apps for Business which has been embraced by many firms as a low-cost alternative to an expensive on-site Exchange email server.  Office 365 is a monthly subscription to the most up-to-date Microsoft Office products as well as Hosted Exchange email. But, Microsoft didn’t just stop at email. They included additional options for web and desktop access to their most popular Microsoft Office products. This is very appealing to firms with out of date software as well as start-ups who do not want to make a big investment in software.

Subscribers to Office 365 do not have to pay the one-time fee of $300-$400 for a license of Microsoft Office.  Instead, Microsoft has tried to meet everyone’s needs from the solo and small firm all the way up to the large enterprise firm, and has several different subscription options to entice them all. The picture below shows all of Microsoft’s offerings (click for more information):

Office 365

On the lower end, with the subscription of $5/user/month, you have access to a hosted email system using your own domain name like pturner@legalcloudtechnology.com rather than pturner@outlook.com. You also have the ability to host a website as well as use their web conferencing and document sharing features.

At the $12.50/month level , you have access to the latest and greatest Microsoft Office 2013 wherever you go online, and you can also install the software on five external devices. This includes laptops, desktops, and any other device that you wish to have a local copy of the software. If your firm needs integration with a local Windows server, just move to the $15/user/month level for up to 300 users.

On the higher end, the $20/user/month subscription has an interesting advantage. It gives your firm the ability to have archiving, legal hold capabilities, as well as tools for e-discovery. It will depend on how important this type of information is for your firm whether or not it would be worth the extra $5/user/month. Did I mention the ability to potentially replace your phone system at the highest level of $22/user/ month? Pretty cool.

For those of you that have been working in Google Apps for Business realm over the past several years, this is serious competition. The price point for Office 365 is good, and you get the added bonus of a license for Microsoft Office. This product is somewhat less beneficial if you have already made the investment into a license of Microsoft Office on your desktop or laptop. However, for new startups and for firms that have not been able to update their software, they get an updated version of Microsoft Office, with the added benefit of a Hosted Exchange email system at the same time.

Office 365 is up and running and proving to be a worthy adversary in the battle between Microsoft and Google. Google better step up their game, or Google Apps for Business will soon be considered “the other” option for a hosted email solution.

Dropbox


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Using Dropbox for Your Client Documents? Encrypt it!

I use Dropbox every day, and I love it! It’s a great way to store documents and have them accessible in multiple locations on multiple computers. However, while this convenience is great, security needs to be considered when using Dropbox for client documents. Dropbox files are not encrypted, so the security of your clients’ documents is in your hands. Encrypt your Dropbox!

When I talk about encryption, I don’t want to lose all the non-techies. Basically, when a document is not encrypted the documents and sensitive client information is stored without anything other than a password. If it falls into the wrong hands, they can read it. Encrypted data is stored as ones and zeros so if your data is compromised, it can’t be read. You hold the only encryption key, and your data can only be unlocked and read by you.

There are a number of Dropbox encryption tools on the market including True Crypt (www.truecrypt.org – one of the few options for the Windows XP users (Yikes!) out there, but that is another post), Box Cryptor (www.boxcryptor.com) and Viivo (www.viivo.com). Some are easier than others to install and use.

My personal choice for Dropbox encryption is Viivo.

Viivo encryption

I like Viivo because it’s easy to install, easy to use and free. When you install the software, you follow the step-by-step directions, including setting an encryption password. As part of the process, Viivo will ask you to relocate your Dropbox to the encrypted Viivo folder.

Your documents will now live inside the encrypted Viivo folder and will look the same as they did when they were in your Dropbox folder, but they will have an extra layer of protection. Rather than going to the Dropbox folder for your documents, you go to the Viivo folder. Viivo even installs it right where you are used to going to your Dropbox:

viivo location

By adding the additional step of encrypting Dropbox, you will be improving your firm’s security and protect your client data and confidential files. You will know that if there’s ever a breach in security at Dropbox, your data is protected. Dropbox is a powerful tool that can provide quick storage and improve the mobility of your practice, but take the extra step that will help protect you and your clients’ data. Encrypt!


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Two-Factor Authentication – What Is It And Do I Need It?

In the age of technology, stolen identities, compromised credit cards and all things online, technology companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others are trying to help us. These companies have come to recognize that they cannot force their users to use strong passwords and change them frequently. We also ask a lot of these companies, requiring them to keep our information safe while we are accessing their site from a tablet, a mobile phone, the in-law’s virus ridden computer and the firm’s VPN connection.

Whew!

Welcome to two-factor authentication.

Some of you have probably heard about the concept, but aren’t quite sure what it is and if you need it. In short, you need it – wherever you can get it. Two-factor authentication will (as Google describes it) “Help keep the bad guys out of your account by using both your password and your phone.” The process forces you to identify yourself by not only a username and password, but also something that is in your physical possession, like a cell phone (that is the two-factor part).

To test the two factor authentication, I enabled it on my Google Apps for Business email. The initial setup for Google Apps for Business was not difficult. The first time I accessed my email on the web after I set it up, I logged in as normal, but a second window came up that was asking me for a Google Verification Code. A text was sent to my phone and I needed to enter in the verification code to continue to my email. Every 30-days, I am asked for a new code when I access my email on the web or from a new device. I have to say, it can sometimes be a pain, but if I can keep the “bad guys” out of my email account it is worth it.

You will see more companies offering two-factor authentication coming down the pike, with Twitter already working on it and more companies getting ready to offer this option. The ability to verify your identity with a username and password, as well as something that you physically have in your possession is here to stay. Considering the possible consequences of a “hacked” account login or stolen credit card numbers, I propose that you enable two-factor authentication whenever possible and let the tech companies help you protect yourself.


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Setting up a Blog – Taking the First Step

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a “Legal Geeks” meeting hosted by our local Bar Association, and our topic was blogging. While we drank beer and talked technology, I was surprised at how few attorneys are blogging. Many folks were not sure where to start and I wanted to provide a quick guideline.

After personally setting up a blog, as well as helping clients with their efforts, I would recommend the book Blogging in One Hour for Lawyers by Ernie Svenson for anyone that wants to know more (available through the ABA and iTunes). Ernie makes the process very straightforward and is a great reference when setting up a blog. Unlike Ernie’s example, which uses TypePad.com, I used WordPress.com for my blog as well as the blogs of my clients. It is the most popular platform for blogs and for one main reason – WordPress is easy.

The blog setup is similar to the WordPress.com content management systems (CMS) that many websites use. Those of you who have a little experience modifying websites will be comfortable with the setup. Those of you who are new to WordPress.com, I have provided a few steps below to get you started in the right direction:

  1. Register your domain name. This is the name of your blog – www.nameofyourbloghere.com. You can set up a new domain name for your blog through WordPress.com or if you are already familiar with another registrar (like GoDaddy or Network Solutions), register your new domain there. Here are a couple of hints regarding your new blog:
    1. Separate your blog from your website. You can link to it, but it should be separate from your law firm website.
    2. Use a name that is relevant to your practice or catchy. You can also back into a name by using Google’s keyword search tool and see what related words and phrases rank well in Google.
    3. Use domain forwarding within WordPress.com to forward your domain from WordPress.com to your existing domain if you register your domain at your existing registrar.
  2. Pick a Theme – The themes allow you to select the structure for your blog page.
    1. Choose a theme that can be customized to use your own colors, logo and pictures.
    2. Pick a theme in which you like the location of pictures and text of the blog because they (typically) cannot be changed.
    3. Purchase a theme or use a free theme on WordPress.com. If none of the existing themes work, run a Google search for WordPress themes and you will have many options to choose.
    4. Change themes if you do not like it. Themes can be changed easily and applied to your existing text and pictures.
  3. Start Writing – or Posting (as WordPress calls it)
    1. Use a great title for the blog – Many readers will decide to read your posting based on the title and the title is what shows up in RSS Feeds.
    2. Write on topics interesting to you – If they were interesting to you, they will be interesting to others as well.
    3. Write often – WordPress.com allows readers to subscribe to your blog. Give them something to read at least once a week – more if you can.
  4. Promote your Blog
    1. Link it to your social media sites either automatically (through WordPress.com) or manually.  WordPress.com has links to automatically promote your blog through LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc.
    2. Read other people’s blogs – Twitter is a great source for blog ideas and other experts in your practice area.



Blogs are a great tool to show your expertise in an area, keep in touch with existing clients, and market to future clients. It will help you distinguish yourself from your competitors, and increase your visibility online through quality social media content and improved Google rankings.  The positives definitely outweigh the negatives here, so take the time, set up a blog and write, write, write.
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Should I stay or should I go? Legal Technology Conferences

As an attorney, if you have never attended the ABA TechShow in Chicago, it is worth the trip. With more than 50 educational sessions (many for CLE credit) and more than 100 vendors attending, it is a big bang for your buck to get up to speed on technology fast. Whether you would like to know more about hardware (from scanners big and small to the latest in off-cloud storage solutions), software (from legal-specific iPad apps to practice management systems, e-discovery, document assembly, and every type of cloud-based software), or advanced technology tips and tricks (from apps to sites to time saving tools), the ABA TechShow has something for everyone.

Any attorney would benefit from a technology conference and exhibit. Besides earning most of your yearly CLE credit in one shot, you can develop a technology plan that can last for years.

Of course, the ABA TechShow is not the only show out there. A few upcoming legal technology shows include:

  • Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) – April 14-17, 2013 – National Harbor, Maryland
    For more information – http://www.alanet.org/conf/2013/default.html
  • International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) – August 18-22, 2013 – Las Vegas, Nevada
    For more information – http://conference.iltanet.org/
  • NC TechShow on November 1, 2013 – Cary, NC – Law Practice Management Section of the North Carolina Bar Association (NCBA) – More details to come soon.

If your schedule is too packed right now, plan on attending next year and put one on your calendar now so you can schedule around it. The ABA TechShow next year is March 27-29, 2014 in Chicago. Mark your calendars now!

Attend a legal technology conference and exhibit and get excited about technology that will save you and your firm time and money. You will find it is worth the trip.


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ScanSnap: Still the Right Tool for Going Paperless

As a legal technology consultant and small business owner, I run into the same issues as attorneys – too much paper.  I hate paper as much as the next person but it seems to be a necessary evil.  From receipts, to bills, to tax forms, paper still surrounds us, so how can we ever hope to reach the dream of a “paperless office?”

I have been recommending Fujitsu ScanSnap desktop scanners for many years in the quest to eliminate paper and clutter. It is an essential tool for start-up law firms, as well as larger firms who want to begin the process of reducing their paper.  The amount of billable time saved from walking to the large multifunctional printer/copier alone is worth the purchase price.

I use the ScanSnap model S1500 and the solidly built, duplex, color desktop scanner is a workhorse upon installation. Not only is the hardware superior, but the license of Adobe Acrobat Standard that comes as part of the package makes this scanner hard to beat.

I recently had the opportunity to look at the ScanSnap iX500, the latest version of the wireless scanner released from Fujitsu.  While they tout wireless access for the device, it’s not what you think.  My vision was that I could eliminate another wire from my computer to the scanner, but that is not the case.  Instead, it allows you to scan documents directly from your ScanSnap to your mobile device – iPhone,  iPad and Kindle or whatever your chosen flavor would be.  A great option for on-the-go types, but I’ll have to wait for a future release for a shareable ScanSnap.  In the meantime, this new model is one step closer.

I will continue to recommend the ScanSnap scanner in any make or model.  I still haven’t gotten rid of my paper; however, I am working towards the elusive “paperless office” and ScanSnap is still my device of choice.