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By on December 28, 2010 11:34 pm Leave your thoughts

I was pleased to get an e-mail from a colleague who had read my article on creating a tech savvy legal office. He had used Microsoft Word and Excel to organize and retrieve his legal research materials. He shared a set of instructions, and a functional file. He asked about new software that might give him greater capabilities. I will add his name here if he gives me permission.

This is my response:

Dear Gerald;

With your permission, I will circulate your question/comment below, and your attached files above, in a Dear Colleague letter, and perhaps as a blog post. Just advise me if I can use the question and your name.

First, if your system works for you, that is a big plus. For twenty years, I indexed every WV Supreme Court Case. I indexed cited statutes and head note key terms. When Casemaker came out, and our subscription to the SE Reporter expired, I stopped making my index cards and have “been in the dark” ever since! It probably would have been better to keep my old system! The legendary Charlie Hughes kept every reported WV insurance case in bound 3 ring notebooks and issued his revised table of contents and index at the C.L.E. Insurance Seminar each year. It was worth the price of the seminar. I kept my own insurance case law notebooks for many years. They are still somewhere, gathering dust.

I am currently struggling with the very question you ask below:

“I have recently come up with a better way to organize and find my notes, forms, research and other information that I wish to keep for future reference. However, it is quite likely that there is an existing program or strategy that accomplishes what I’m trying to do more effectively.I wonder if you would take a look at my strategy and let me know what you think.”

The limitation to my system of course, was that the cards had only the key words. I had to go get the SE Reporter Paperbacks to read the cases. Of course the cases are now on line. It appears that your system will eventually result in a huge file, although you can maintain that file “in the cloud” and keep it synchronized with any device you use, laptop, desktop, I Pad, I Pod, or Blackberry.

As I have mentioned in various articles, I think the key to the future is that indexing can now find virtually any document instantly, full text searchable. One of my favorite books is Scrolling Forward by David M. Levy. It is the history of the document and a good reminder that “documents” have changed drastically. Now, they can be text, e-mail, Word documents, graphics, photos, video, HTML links, and PDF files, searchable and not searchable. Your system no doubt works well with text, but with the right software and hardware and training, you can accomplish a great deal more.

Of course, I an not sure where you are in your practice right now. I assume you are still in great demand for real estate title work and the myriad issues that arise therefrom. If you have a broader range of needs, including personal writing, memoir, family history, genealogy, appellate work, etc., then you definitely are going to want to store, organize, index, and be able to locate every kind of “document”.

Assuming you want to benefit from current technology, you need, as a minimum, a good laptop, capable of handling multiple tasks. If you have staff, you will want a network capability so that you are both/all accessing the same file server. If you have high speed internet, you may want your server to be off premises. Cloud based products such as DropBox, WorldDocs, Google Docs, or Evernote, an others may suit you already. My problem is I live in a rural area with a commercial Hughesnet satellite service that is less that half as fast as my office service. If you have high speed service for a home office, you should be in great shape.

If you are ready for a new laptop, I strongly suggest you contact Brian Cluxton of HMU/Affinity Consulting in Columbus Ohio to build a Dell Laptop for you. Because of my rather robust needs, mine is going to cost $2500, plus $400-$800 to install my programs and configure it remotely, from Columbus. I expect this machine to be the workhorse of the office for the next 4-5 years. Baron Henley of HMU strongly recommends a second monitor, at least a portable size, so you can work from one screen to the other. The second monitor should be vertical so you can have a full Word document page to cut and paste to.

He also recommended, and I now have for every member of my office a Fujitsu 1500 series, $425, desktop scanner. Fujitsu has a “Twain” version, for @$600. They allow you to scan any document and save as a “searchable PDF”. It is not a flatbed scanner, but it will scan 20 double sided sheets per minute. It has its own Scansnap software, Adobe Acrobat Standard, separate cost $200, and ABBY O.C.R. software. With Windows desktop search feature, or Copernic Desktop Search Pro, you can do a near instant search of any word in the document. We have been scanning everything into the client’s folder. We are not keeping the paper file. We return it to the client, and if she/he does not want it, we shred it. I just wish I had that capability 5000 files ago!

As for what the best program is to help you organize your paperwork, you may want to start with your Microsoft Office Suite. I suspect that Microsoft Office OneNote is similar to Evernote, which was recently strongly recommended to me.

The excerpt below was “Snagged” from the Office Help page using Snagit 10.0. Snagit will capture virtually anything you can see on your computer. You can save as a PDF file, jpeg, text, etc. You can take a video of a series of actions on your computer, and you can add arrows, balloons, text boxes and other items in case you are trying to teach something to someone else. This is Microsoft’s description of what OneNote does. My OneNote came with the current Microsoft Office Professional.

Dropbox has been acting up for me, but my son John assures me it works, and works simply. Just set up a Dropbox account. Put anything you want in your public folder that you don’t mind others viewing.
Set up rules whether they can modify, add to, etc. (My Dad’s cousin, Lark Hunter, has set up with Hunter Family Tree in such a folder, and he is encouraging family members to make corrects, additions, upload photos, etc. )

You can also send links for semi-private folders, in Dropbox, so that you and I could work on a project together, say an appeal to the WV Supreme Court of Appeals on a boundary line dispute or will contest.

I know a law student who swears by Evernote. The initial version is free, but once you need its more sophisticated capabilities, you have to purchase the product. Evernote let’s you save HTML links, and all the rest. You can access the Evernote file, and the Dropbox via your I Phone, I Pad, Blackberry, Laptop, and Desktop computer. Of course, if you put your large Word Document/Excel index into the Cloud, you may be able to stay with what you are doing now, but access it from any tool.

As I mentioned Copernic Desktop Search Professional indexes every document and word on your hard drive, and, supposedly, remote hard drives (that’s where I am having my problems.), and you can bring up those documents whenever you need them.

Of course, I am also most interested in getting my colleagues on board exchanging the best available forms/templates for “document assembly” and feel the Program Pathagoras is the easiest to use for me, and the one with the best potential. So far, the response from my colleagues is minimal, but I am trying to give away my forms as quickly as I complete them, so they/you can purchase Pathagoras and have a valuable library from the beginning. I was headed in the right direction, but failed to realize my staff was collectively ignoring my instructions to use Pathagoras for every document. I was stunned to realize that it was not happening because they were comfortable doing what they always had done.

I wish you good luck in checking out these various products, evaluating them, and adapting them to your needs. Remember that the Casesoft products, although much more expensive than they used to be have an outliner, a litigating mapping module , deposition indexing module, and a timeline mapping module. They now try to get you to pay a subscription fee of @ $1000 year, so I am a bit disenchanted. Anything associated with Lexis/Nexis seems to have this problem.

Buy the Fujitsu Scansnap, just one, right away. You will never regret it. Open DropBox and Evernote and Copernic accounts. They are free! View their tutorials and videos.

Go to the Microsoft website for information about OneNote. If you have Office Pro, you already own the software.

I will always be happy to share ideas and information.



This post was written by Burton Hunter

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