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Posts published in March 2016

E-mail Overload: Tips on how to gain control of your Inbox

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Is your inbox on e-mail overload? It turns out attorneys and their staff are not alone! It seems that many individuals find themselves in the same boat. So much so, that several sessions were dedicated to it at ABA TECHSHOW 2016!

Nonetheless, take heart, friend, there is hope!

Here are a few favorite takeaways from three sessions I attended: "Time Task Email & Distraction Management - Tame the Digital Chaos" with Paul Unger; "Supercharge Microsoft Office with Add-Ins and Apps" with Catherine Sanders Reach and Bob Ambrogi; and "Outlook Tips" with Debbie Foster. Some of these takeaways include great strategies as well!

Strategies to Help Control E-mail Inbox Overload

  • Limit multi-tasking activities
  • Stop operating from your e-mail
    • Don't leave your e-mail up all day
      • Turn off notifications
        • Have an exception for a particular person? Create a rule
        • Go to your inbox settings and fix annoyances
      • Set a schedule as to when you will check e-mail
        • Establish a policy with your office to call you for emergencies rather than use e-mail
          • Limit "Do not disturb" hours
            • Do rounds with your staff at a particular time every day so a schedule helps to cut down interruptions
            • Avoid micromanaging
  • Operate from a task list or calendar
      • Every task should be an appointment on your calendar. Block off the amount of time it will take approximately to complete that task
      • Want your task list to show up separate from e-mail? Tech Tip: In Microsoft Outlook, right click on the word Calendar or Tasks and click on Open New Window for these modules to show up separately when you want to avoid seeing your inbox
  • Operate from a clean desk
    • Work on a single task at a time
      • Go buy a tomato timer to help you work on one single task at a time for 25 minutes (based on a book called "The Pomodoro Technique")
      • Listen to music for white background noise to help you focus
    • Put cell phone away
  • Batch Process E-mail
    • READING E-MAIL --Ask yourself: "What do I have to do to touch this e-mail once?"
      • Follow the 4 D's to touch once
        • Delete
        • Do
        • Delegate
        • Delay
    • REPLYING TO E-MAIL: Use autotext or "Quick Parts" for repeat responses
      • If you are unable to respond immediately or your response requires some thought, schedule the e-mail as a task on your task list or appointment on your calendar and file or flag the e-mail to follow up on

Software Tools to Help with E-mail Inbox Overload

Looking for more tips, tricks, and tutorials to manage your e-mail overflow? Here are the top 50 most popular tips, tricks and tutorials for Outlook and Gmail from About Tech. Check out these other great tips from Mind Tools to help save your e-mail sanity and if you are looking to brush up on your e-mail management skills or more, check out GCF Learn Free's website.

DISCLAIMER: Product information is passed along without any warranties by the South Carolina Bar.  Products have not been tested by the Bar or the author and are offered for your information only.

Guest Article: Replacing Technology Excerpted from “How to Buy, Implement and Replace Technology in Your Law Practice”, ABA TECHSHOW 2015 By Sharon D. Nelson & Bjorn Christianson, ABA TECHSHOW Faculty 2015

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Can lawyers actually manage their technology (instead of it managing them)? Buying, implementing, and replacing technology are huge challenges – especially when you have billable work to do. And yet, technology is the most important part of a law firm today – at least after the carbon-based units!

We believe lawyers can manage their technology and do so successfully. If you want to be one of those lawyers, start with some basics:

  1. Figure out who and where you are.

Are you just starting out – a true solo with no money? You cannot blow the budget on 61/2 times more technology than you can afford.1 Your first step is to write a business plan. What is the minimum technology you can begin with, how much is it going to cost, and where does the money come from for it and all your other operating expenses?

Are you looking for an exit strategy? You still need technology that is appropriate to your practice but it will not have any resale value. Make sure what you have is adequate to your needs but don't think buying something bright and shiny will make your practice more attractive to a potential purchaser or successor.2

Are you a techno-geek, desperately seeking the unit with the fastest processor, with the most RAM, the biggest hard drive, and the most connectivity with as many different devices as Future Shop will sell you? Well, if you think you want to buy that much technology and still want to practice law, you might have to rein yourself in. For you, the key word is KISS, or at least as “Simple” as you can keep it and still have fun.

Are you enjoying your Halcyon Days? A busy practice, great clients, lots of potential? Good on you! Your risk is that of complacency. In this century, a successful law practice, by definition, has good technology that has been well implemented and meets your current needs. If you start taking your technology for granted though, the good days will peter out fast.

In short, your first step is to analyze your current needs, your goals, and your personality. Only then can you adopt the technology that will work best for you.

  1. Bear in mind that “buying, implementing and replacing” technology are separate words but not separate processes.

To write this paper, we have to have headings like “Buying Technology”. Otherwise it just wouldn't look right, eh? But remember that you shouldn't buy technology until you know how you are going to implement it (and what it is going to cost you to implement it). You should document your reasons for buying this hardware or software because, when it comes time to replace those things, you have to know what need it was to serve, whether it did it successfully, etc. You will NOT remember your reasons; it has to be in writing.

  1. The business of law is not an annoying sideline.

Everyone who has ever tried to provide advice to lawyers on managing their practices has heard “I just want to practice law! I have no time for this stuff!”. If you don't sharpen your ax, how much wood can you cut? Technology is one of your axes. By registering for ABA TECHSHOW®, you have established your credentials as a lawyer who knows the importance of the business of law. Just make sure you are devoting time to it regularly and routinely, not just once a year when you come to Chicago for an annual dose of technology education.

How to Replace Technology

Technology has a life span. For most computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc., that tends to be about three years. That does NOT mean that the devices will cease to work. It just means that we tend to replace them that often because performance will deteriorate as we ask more of our devices (specifically when software asks more) and because we tend to want/need new features in our technology. You may be able to stretch the lifespan of some equipment – servers, printers, multi-function machines, etc. - to five years.

If you plan to push your technology past its Best Before date, you had best have yet another plan, called a Disaster Plan. The old joke, with too much bitter truth in it, defined your computer as obsolete if you own it. Consider this as an alternative definition of obsolete: If it is no longer effective at doing the task you bought it for, or it cannot be reliably and quickly repaired, or if it’s past the industry standard life cycle, it is obsolete. Replace obsolete technology forthwith. You do not want to suddenly find your server is dead like lead and you are out of your files for the next week.

Lawyers are terrible about budgeting. Make yourself a list of all the equipment you own, when it was placed in service and who has the devices (this will need updating each year). For the most part, experts recommend that you plan on refreshing your technology, with the exceptions mentioned above, every three years. That means you need to budget for replacing 1/3 of your technology each year. At the outside, budget for replacing ¼ of your technology each year. The ultimate and often seen nightmare is a “big bang” purchase of almost all the technology because everything is so out-of-date. This is a major hit to the law firm wallet. It is far less painful to do this over time.

Having said that, some lawyers like the Fork Lift approach to equipment purchases. They want to keep everyone with the same equipment, the same software versions, the same issues and solutions. If that is your approach, just remember you still have to budget every year so the money is there when the Fork Lift is needed. And bear in mind that a Fork Lift upgrade means the whole office is disrupted at once; that can be avoided if you are replacing a third of the equipment each year.

Now guess what is the first step in successfully replacing your technology? You need a plan. As noted above, when you bought the technology you should have documented what you wanted it to do and why you chose that vendor as opposed to another vendor. You bought that all-in-one copier/printer/scanner from Ricoh five years ago because (a) you thought paperless was a problem in the washroom and (b) your brother-in-law was a Ricoh salesman. Admit it. Now the Ricoh is past its industry standard lifetime. Reading your notes from 5 years ago will prove to you that the device was suited to a process (paper-intensive) that you no longer wish to follow and that Ricoh may or may not necessarily have been the best vendor – meaning you have a clean slate in making the choice of vendor (especially since your sister finally dumped the creep).

Ideally, you will review your reasons for the initial purchase and the plan for replacement annually, even if you expect it to be good for 5 years. Whether or not the equipment still works, if it no longer does what your current circumstances require, you may be replacing it sooner rather than later. We mentioned Christianson's labor intensive process for compressing and archiving data to get it off a 4GB server – when the server was purchased, 4GB servers for Mac cost an arm and a leg. A few years later, 4TB could be had for less than $400. So why compress and remove data when it can be simply moved into a Closed folder, just like a Closed file is put on a different shelf? Waiting for the 4GB server to be obsolete would have cost much more than $400 in time and aggravation.

To summarize: Like all successful steps in the practice of law, buying, implementing and replacing technology is simple – so long as you Plan, Review, Revise, Repeat.

This article is but a taste of what awaits you at the ABA TECHSHOW 2016, March 16-19 at the Hilton Chicago. As a member of the South Carolina Bar, we want you to know that you can get a discount on the ABA TECHSHOW 2016. This discount only applies to registrants that qualify for the Standard registration. You can register online and include this unique discount code:  EP1604 to receive a discount.

Reprinted with Permission. 2015© by the American Bar Association.  All rights reserved.  This information or any or portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.

Special thanks to Sharon D. Nelson and Bjorn Christianson for their contributions to this article.

Smartphone Storage

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Smartphones and mobile devices are a must-have tech tool for attorneys and staff. Not only are they an app powerhouse at your fingertips, but they are also a valuable bank of data, all packed into one handheld device. It is very easy to underestimate or run out of smartphone storage space. Here are a few best practice tips from Techlicious to help free-up space and keep that storage space free on your smartphone. Have questions about this PMAP Tech Tip or a law practice management related question? Contact pmap@scbar.org.

[caption id="attachment_1523" align="aligncenter" width="440"]Source: freestock.org Source: freestock.org[/caption]

Do You Have a Succession Plan?

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[caption id="attachment_1520" align="aligncenter" width="440"]Source: kaboompics.com Source: kaboompics.com[/caption]

There’s no time like the present for solos to think about their contingency plan. Sometimes, it’s hard to write a succession plan because you don’t like to think about being dead or disabled. At a minimum, start with a letter to your secretary or someone else who would mind your office. Write the letter as if you were going on a long vacation, letting them know what they need to know if you were outside of cell phone reach. If you’re ready for a real form to designate a successor, go here and print the Preparation Checklist for Planning Attorney. You can also model a Succession Agreement by using this one as an example. Go ahead, there’s no better time than now. PMAP is free help for lawyers. E-mail pmap@scbar.org.