How I Work. I Know, Presumptuous, But…
How I work! I know, presumptuous. Why would anybody care how I work? But, please read on. Recently, I have become interested in how people work, how they physically do their everyday work – how their desks/offices are set up, what devices/apps/software they use and why, how they communicate with clients/customers, what they don’t use and why, how they utilize tech to market, how they create content, etc., There are multitudes of devices, platforms, apps and software applications available for us to do our daily work in various settings. More and more pop up everyday. I want to be as efficient as possible in my work, and to utilize the newest devices and technologies to the extent they are cost-effective and match my skill set. Plus, I like machines, gadgets and apps! Sometimes old-school, tried and tested, stuff is best; most of the time, it isn’t, and we need to continually look at new ways to get our work done. So, I’m interested in how other lawyers work, how you work, and why. As a starting point, as a prompt to perhaps get a conversation started, this is how I work.
First, as background and for context, I have a solo business litigation/trial practice. On average, I try a couple of cases a year. Try them myself with necessary audio/video assistance. I usually have 12-15 open matters at any given time. Hourly work, with a few hourly/contingent blends and an occasional full contingency matter. I share office space with two prominent federal criminal defense lawyers and a smattering of other young criminal defense lawyers – truly, a suite of trial lawyers! I like my office mates very much – fine lawyers, good people. Large space, conference room for depositions and meetings. Shared receptionist who answers the phones. Large printer/scanner if needed. Location – downtown San Diego – two blocks from Superior Court and U.S. District Court. In the past, a flex-time legal assistant, now a full-time paralegal. I work with a fine contract attorney on a project basis. And, occasionally, a research project law clerk from USD. I think, a lean, efficient, and professional setting to work up and try cases. I like it.
Dell desktops and laptops (one for work, one for trial), fast processors and lots of RAM, each with a standard desktop printer and a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 scanner. The scanners are pricey ($500) but well worth. Great machines, efficient feeds, quick, work flawlessly. Large 36″ monitors.
All my cases files are digital. We scan everything and maintain virtually no paper files. It took me some time to get to a true paperless office. The biggest jump was not creating and using electronic files, but, rather, getting rid of the corresponding paper. But, it doesn’t make much sense to go paperless, and still keep the paper. So, something paper comes in, we scan it, put the electronic version in its proper digital case file, and shred the paper. Small jobs we scan in-house. Large jobs, out to a vendor. This is getting to be less and less of an issue with electronic filing and service in almost every case. Physical client documents are likewise scanned and maintained electronically. To the extent we hold physical client documents, we, you guessed it, put them in bankers boxes in a secure location in the office.
My data is stored on Synology encrypted network-attached storage (NAS) devices. The NASs are in a secure location in my office and networked with the office computers. They contain multiple hard-drives which in turn maintain duplicate copies of all stored data. So, if a NAS hard-drive fails, we would just replace it, all data would be safe and duplicated again on the replaced hard-drive. All hard-drives on a NAS would have to fail at the same time to lose data. Additionally, each NAS is backed-up nightly to an encrypted external hard-drive. The NASs are easily expandable to much large capacities (up to 20TB) – just add larger and/or more hard drives.
My case and office files are located on one NAS. It’s all folder-based. Each case has a folder with sub folders for Pleadings, Discovery, etc., each containing the corresponding stuff, in .pdf format, maintained in chronological order. It’s just the digital equivalent of old-school paper case files with expanding folders and tabbed clips. Remember that?
Data/document productions from opponents and client data/documents are on a separate, much larger, NAS. This NAS is part of a recent eDiscovery upgrade to my office meant to ensure we can handle the eDiscovery data/document storage and production requirements of most any case.
For extra protection, all data on both NASs is backed up continuously on-line with Carbonite ($112/year). And, the back-up freak I am, I cycle a backup of all my data on an encrypted external hard drive to and from home on a weekly basis. I use Retrospect software to quickly duplicate and the update the data to the hard-drive. Needless to say, some very serious shit would have to happen for me to lose my data. And, with the exception of the cloud-based Carbonite backup, everything is in-house, encrypted, and password protected.
The NASs holding my case and firm data are accessible offsite through encrypted, multiple password-protected, VPNs incorporated into the Synology NAS software. They work great. I can work directly off my case files from my home desktop or anywhere with my laptop. Just need Wi-Fi, or cellular with the Personal Hotspot function on my iPhone. Except in instances of lousy Wi-Fi or cellular, there is little, if any, keystroke delay working through the VPN. This actually useable offsite file access is something that just a few years ago would have been cost-prohibitive for all but the largest of firms. Now, amazingly inexpensive.
iPhone, iPad, Dell laptop.
I try to keep my iPhone relatively free of apps. Keep the distractions to a minimum. Two iPhone apps that I do like are Bear, a simple note-keeping app, and Adobe Scan, which allows me to scan and capture documents in .pdf format using the camera. And the audio-recording app described above. Spotify for music. Audible and Kindle for on-line reading material. (I do confess that in these fast-moving, interesting, often disturbing, times we live in, I have loaded and deleted Twitter from my phone dozens of times – what’s happening now (load) to too time-consuming (delete) to what’s happening now (load) to too time-consuming (delete) to…….. I think I have a problem in that regard). Honestly, I don’t use my iPad too much for work – some email and texting. I usually have my phone and laptop with me if I need to work. I do have the iPad Trial Director app, but haven’t used it yet.
Software not discussed or mentioned elsewhere in this piece. Adobe Acrobat DC ($30/mth). Sharefile ($20/mth) to move/share large files to/from/with clients and attorneys – works great. One of my office mates suggested dtSearch software ($100, I think). I am a big fan. It allows us to search, very rapidly, all my data in any networked location (like my NASs) using just words or phrases. Super fast and very effective.
Office landline, iPhone, Outlook enterprise email across all devices, iPhone texts – all like most everybody else. And, yes, my clients have my cell number and are encouraged to call outside of office hours if need be. No worries on my end.
I also use MyCase software ($40/month) as a means to allow clients anytime access to case documents and calendars. The client gets a password-protected, encrypted, portal to whatever case documents we upload and a calendar of upcoming case events. Clients can access their portal anytime they wish. We plan to post pleadings, motions, court notices and orders, some discovery, and other assorted items to the client portals. Just rolling this out now to clients with a pretty favorable response. It’s take some staff time to upload stuff, but, the software is quite easy and I think giving clients anytime access to case materials and information is well worth the staff time. It’s interesting, I tried this software a number of years ago and, while it worked well, clients just didn’t use it. But, the world has changed rather dramatically since then and I think clients will now use and benefit from this online service. We will see!
Word-processing – WordPerfect. I know, ridiculously old-school! But, I am very comfortable with WP. Word-processing is the simplest of functions and WP is simple software. I think it’s easier and much better-suited for legal work than Word. And the reveal code function is perfect. Plus, I have well-honed templates I have developed over the years in WordPerfect and I use them all the time. Most all content sent to clients is in .pdf format to maintain version control over working drafts. So, it doesn’t matter to them. At times, I will use Word, like when I am working on a stipulation or an order with opposing counsel. But, otherwise, its WP. I know, but there it is.
Perhaps the biggest change to my practice over the last decade is my increasing reliance on dictation software. I now dictate most everything – emails, memos, motions, orders, pleadings, letters (in those rare instances where I actually send a letter in the mail) – directly into the computer using Dragon Naturally-Speaking software. I use templates and dictate the substance and content into the template. I will edit, and clean things up, using a combination of keys and dictation. But, the more I type the less efficient I become. For me, speaking content is much faster than typing content. And, the recent versions of the Dragon software are simply extraordinary. Fast, remarkably accurate, and the more you use the software the better it gets. In some ways, for me, it is the perfect combination of old-school skills and new-school tech. I cut my teeth as a lawyer dictating most everything onto micro-cassettes for typing by staff. Yes, I am that “seasoned” an attorney. That dictation cadence I learned as a young lawyer works perfect with Dragon.
For a long period of time, I used a small Bluetooth headset, but begrudgingly. I just didn’t like wearing that thing. Now, I use a high-end desktop microphone – a Yeti USB microphone by Blue – sitting on my desk next to my monitor. It works great. I can literally walk around my office and dictate in a normal voice, the mic picks it up perfectly and my computer transcribes my content with remarkable accuracy. With a few verbal Dragon commands, I create, spell check, and send emails verbally, with few if any keystrokes.
On my laptop, a Dell XPS, I have found the resident microphone works remarkably well with Dragon and I have ditched the Bluetooth headset all together. I can simply speak at my laptop and, using Dragon, it creates my dictated content with great accuracy. In fact, large chunks of this piece were dictated by me sitting on the couch, the laptop on the coffee table, using Dragon and the mic resident on the laptop.
With my iPhone, I record stuff using a simple audio recording app and then email the recording to myself. Once back at the office, we can use Dragon to transcribe the audio recording. (I tried the Dragon Anywhere iPhone app and found it clunky and slow; my view, an audio recording for later computer transcription works much better.)
So, it all kind of circles back around, but with new tech and less overhead. In 1988, coming from a hearing, I would dictate an order or a notice of ruling into a micro-cassette and, back at the office, hand the cassette to my legal secretary to type up. In 2018, coming from a hearing, I will dictate an order or a notice of ruling into my phone and then email the audio to my office for my computer to transcribe. Amazing.
Westlaw with California and San Diego County forms packets.
As part of a recent eDiscovery upgrade to my office, we use or, more precisely, are learning to use Eclipse software with all data residing on a stand-alone NAS. So far, so good!
For time-keeping and billing, I use TimeSlips, have for years. Bill monthly, invoices by email. I try to dictate my time entries directly into the program as I do the work, using Dragon. Pretty effective if I use the online eCenter software ($20/mth) component for time entry. The Timeslips program resident on my computers just doesn’t work well with Dragon making verbal time entry cumbersome. The online TimeSlips eCenter alternative works fine with the online time entries later synched to the computer TimeSlips database for billing. It’s ok, but, frankly, a bit cumbersome with a few required extra steps.
For that reason, I am considering moving my time-keeping and billing functions to MyCase which also hosts the client portals described above (all for $40/mth). It’s cloud-based and appears easy, quick, and intuitive. Plus, easy mobile time and cost entry on an MyCase iPhone app is a significant plus. There are some quirks in the billing component – for example, it can’t keep track of multiple case-specific trust fund deposits from a single client. Still assessing.
Finances – Quicken – 3 accounts – checking, trust, tax.
I have accepted credit card payments for years through my bank’s merchant services. But, it has gotten cost-prohibitive in light of newer attorney-specific payment services. I recently moved to LawPay. Works fine, simple. So far, so good.
How do you work?
That’s about it! How I work. I am always looking for new devices, software and apps, and new ways to do my work, in an ongoing effort to stay efficient and competitive in our fast-paced business.
So, how do you work?