Free and low cost technology for starting a law firm

These materials outline some basic ideas for how free and low-cost technology can help you manage the day-to-day operations of your law practice.[1] The tools described here are appropriate for the technology phobic and computer-impaired.   These are tools to make your life easier and your practice more successful, not toys for geeks. The ultimate criterion for these tools is easy: do they improve your practice? If the answer is no, trash them and spend your time elsewhere.

This paper may be downloaded free of charge here

Free/low-cost technology sampler.

Here are a few tools you should check out.

  • Put a QR code on your business card (free). Quick Response (QR) codes are square bar codes that can store various sorts of information including a contact listing in the form of a comma-separated values (CSV) code.   You can use free online utilities[2] to generate a QR code with your contact information then put the image on your business card. The code is scanned with a free smart phone app[3] and your information will be imported directly to the user’s contact directory. This is a great way to help ensure your contact information is actually preserved. It’s also a nice way to brand your firm as tech-savvy. I’ve had a QR code on my card since opening my practice, and it almost always sparks a conversation when I hand out the card to other attorneys.
  • Use LastPass for your passwords (free). There’s almost no way you can effectively manage passwords without a technology solution. Most of us have innumerable secured accounts; if you keep your passwords in your head, chances are you use the same one over and over, maybe with slight permutations. Enter LastPass (https://lastpass.com/). This web-based utility stores all your passwords on an encrypted You install a terrestrial (on your computer) application that marries with your web browsers. After logging into LastPass with a master password or fingerprint swipe, just navigate to a webpage and LastPass will fill in your saved user/password info. There is also a premium version ($1/mo) but the free features are perfectly adequate for me.
  • Google shopping. Never purchase a piece of technology without checking out Google Shopping for a price comparison. Rather than use the name of the product, use the manufacturer’s model ID number. Plug this into Google Shopping and get a table comparing purchase prices (shipping included):
  • tinyurl.com (free). Never cut and paste a sprawling URL into a legal brief or academic writing. Instead, go to this website and convert the monster URL into something the reader will actually be able to type if they’re interested. (Check out the footnotes to this writing to see how it comes out).
  • Join WSBA’s Solo and Small Practice Section ($35/year). For $35/year the section’s listserv is a wellspring of timely technology advice straight from fellow practitioners. The membership fee will pay for itself many times over if you make a single smart technology investment (or avoid a bad one) based on member feedback.
  • com (~$16/mo). Use this service to print postage from your computer. Packages are weighed with a scale linked to your computer and postage automatically calculated. A huge time-saver if you are traveling to the post office for mailings. Yes it’s $16/month for the basic service, but this is a really slick, helpful time-saver.
  • Linkedin, avvo.com (free). A surprising number of attorneys have not claimed their profiles on LinkedIn (professional networking site) or avvo.com (largest attorney-rating site). Unless you have spiritual opposition to these sites, there is no reason you should not spend several hours to make sure the sites accurately and fully reflect your experience. You already have an avvo profile accessible in search results. The question is whether the profile is complete and attractive.

Task Management.

What does it need to do? When I was looking for task management software to use with my staff these are the functions and considerations I cared about:

  • Useability. To me the single most important factor is whether you and your staff will actually use and rely on the software. Do a Google video search for the software you’re considering and you can easily find a review that will give you a feel for the software from a user perspective.
  • Must be able to assign tasks to others.
  • Detailed task descriptions. Allow for detailed task descriptions (not just one-liners). My practice management software, Clio, for example, gives only a single small field for entering text. I prefer to have a description task label with the capability of adding a second detailed data field describing the project.
  • Calendar syncing. The utility should sync with your calendaring system, allowing for entry of deadlines. At the very least you should be able to setup email reminders. What you don’t want is a separate calendaring system that would have to be monitored separately from your main office calendar.
  • Heads –up display. The utility should make it easy to tell at a glance what’s next and what’s urgent.
  • Mobile app. The utility should be accessible by smartphone app, or at the very least have a mobile-friendly (“responsive”) website.

Some options. Here are some options to consider for your practice.

  • nozbe.com - $15/mo .
  • toodledo.com – (free; upgrade costs $14/yr, necessary for delegating). Despite the dumb name my firm uses this user-friendly utility. Nice heads-up display, prioritized by importance. Easily sortable by due-date and other tags. Can edit permissions of users. Can add gadget to edit tasks from Google, and allows for calendar sync.
  • Google tasks - free. This is currently pretty anemic. Doesn’t allow assigning tasks to others which will usually be a deal killer in a setting other than a true solo.
  • rememberthemilk.com - free. This utility appears to be geared for mobile devices. To me it seems not adequately robust for a law firm.
  • http://www.producteev.com - $10/month for first user. Heads up display is only okay. Cool feature: is “smart” about assigning due dates based on notes in task assignment field.
  • getflow.com - $10/month.

Communication Solutions.

VOIP “Phones.”

What is VOIP? Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) refers to a family of technologies for delivering voice communications over internet protocol networks. For a list of options check out the appendix.

Google Voice (free).

My firm uses Google Voice for its primary office line, and you might want to consider this uniquely powerful tool for your practice, even in addition to your current system.

What do you get?

  • One number, multiple devices. Single phone number that rings to multiple devices and locations. A Voice number can ring directly to your desk, your office staff, your mobile phone, and a call answering service, to name just a few possibilities.
  • Call from computer or phone. Calls can also be made to and from your desktop or notebook computer. I use my Voice line from an iPhone, but I’ve placed calls from Europe on Voice using my tablet PC.

Cool features.

  • Voice mail transcription. Voice comes with an online voicemail system that also transcribes and emails your voicemails to you (if you want). Transcription quality is reasonably good and always sufficient to get the gist of a call.
  • SMS text. You can send SMS text messages from your online Voice account or from email (if you’re responding). This is very helpful for communicating with younger clients. Also, text messages are easy to preserve in your client files.
  • Low-cost international calls. International calls have a very low cost over Voice, similar to VOIP providers (India and Mexico City are both 2 ¢/minute).
  • (Buggy) smartphone app. Voice has apps that work on all major data-enabled mobile phones, making it easy to place calls from your cell using a Voice number. One clunky aspect of Voice is that, when placing outgoing calls, they ring first to your device; you answer, and then the intended caller is connected.

Marketing campaigns. The functionality and freebie-ness of Voice make it an attractive option for tracking marketing efforts, since you can setup a unique number for a given effort. A particular listing can be assigned its own number so you know how a client found you. Also, voicemail messages can be customized based on the caller’s number. Client-specific messages seem mostly creepy, but attorney colleagues – for example – could be funneled to a mercifully shortened message.

Drawbacks.

  • NOT a robust phone system. Voice is not a full-fledged phone system and would not be appropriate for anyone other than a solo practitioner. For example, there is no call queue, no toll free numbers, no ability to dial by contact name, no hold music…
  • Clunky transfers. “Transferring” calls if very clunky: you press * on a keypad and the call rings again on all enabled devices.
  • Only one number? It would be unwieldy to have more than one Voice number. You have to set up multiple, non-connected accounts.
  • Limited area codes. Phone numbers are not available in all area codes.
  • RPC/privacy concerns. Google’s terms of service raise privacy concerns for purpose of RPC 1.5. Google may harvest data from transcribed voice mails or conceivably from calls themselves.
  • Problematic call quality. I’ve found audio quality to be overall great, and this was echoed by other AILA attorneys who use the service. Quality appears most problematic when I make or receive calls using my computer

Videoconferencing.

Understand your needs. Before searching for a video conferencing provider, think about how you want to use the technology.

  • Face-to-face chatting. Attorneys are most likely to want the ability to have remote face-to-face meetings with clients and colleagues.
  • Screen-sharing. Some practitioners may find it very helpful to share real time screen content. This could be used to review a will with a client, or collaborate on an appellate brief with a colleague.
  • Multiple users. There are good no-cost options for video-conferencing with one other person – Skype is the industry leader. Users pay a premium for the ability to conference with 3 or more users, but this functionality is very helpful. For example, many of my clients are married couples living separately – three-way video conferencing gives us the ability to all three meet “in person”.
  • Seminar/lecture functionality. Some practitioners may want to think big about how video conferencing could fit into marketing strategies. Host your own CLEs, or offer webinars to groups of prospective clients.

Considerations for choosing a web-conferencing tool. More so than having a robust feature set, the most important factor for choosing between conferencing tools is ease of use for your clients.

  • Terrestrial software required? Some application will require the end-user to download and install a program on the user’s computer. That’s an extra (obnoxious) step for your client.
  • Don’t limit yourself to one technology.   Your clients may already be familiar with one of the free web-conferencing tools, probably Skype. Set up the popular web-conferencing applications and get a rudimentary understanding of their use.

 Meetings.io – my latest favorite. This web-based conferencing tool offers a great solution to the problem mentioned above – the hassle of making your clients download software or create user accounts. You can initiate a conference call simply by sharing a URL. The end-user navigates to the webpage and joins the call without needing to setup a user account. Here’s what it looks like:

The video is a bit lower quality than Skype et al, ditto with audio quality. The compromise will often be worthwhile, though, for the extreme ease of use.

 Let the world know. You’ve taken the trouble to make sure you’re easily accessible by web-conferencing – this is a nice benefit to your clients. On your website and at initial consultations let your client know that you’re available this way. Some of my favorite clients I’ve never met in person – when they contacted my firm they were surprised to hear I could meet with them by video conference, even though this seems like a basic technology tool to some. Availability of the tool is an extra value to your clients and they should know about it.

Document collaboration (bonus).

When working with clients and colleagues you’ll often be involved in drafting the same document. Maybe you’ve drafted a declaration, the client gives input, you revise; maybe you’re collaborating on an appellate brief with another attorney. This can be a maddening process once a blizzard of drafts starts circulating. Here are a few ideas to lessen the misery.

Google Drive. Google offers what could be the most helpful tool in the collaborative writing universe. Multiple users may edit a single document in real time (you can actually see the other person type as you are working), with user text showing in different colors to show what’s been done. Unfortunately the application is virtually worthless. I’ve tried twice on large research projects to use this tool and finally quit. There is too little control over formatting and a persistent bug makes the cursor not line up with text. Tempting though it may be, find another tool.

Microsoft SkyDrive. Microsoft has rolled out a Google Drive-like tool providing cloud-based storage and document drafting. There are two ways to use Sky Drive (free up to 7 GB).

First, you can edit using an online application.  Upload your document to SkyDrive; share it with permission to edit (the person you share it with must have a microsoft ID to be able to do anything besides view). You can then open the document in your SkyDrive account and edit it with the web app. The web app has limited editing features and does not include any reference functionality.  Footnotes and table of contents show up looking funny for editing; viewing works just fine. Ultimately this feature has the same limitations as Google Drive.

Second – much better – you can open a SkyDrive document and edit it in Word as you would any normal document.[4] All co-authors who have Word 2010 or later can do the same.  Then you can all continue editing and when you save, it updates the file on SkyDrive. You have to save your changes before the other editors can see what you've done; when you save, it updates with other users changes as well.  It gives you notifications if another author is working on a certain section, to avoid making changes on a paragraph another person is already working on. For example, my assistant was correcting my horrendous typos on this document at the same time I was writing new sections.

Edits done by other collaborators show up in green:

Word. In addition to the “track changes” feature, Word allows you to compare two documents side-by-side to highlight differences. In essence this lets you track changes after the fact:

Faxing.

Fax machines are for dinosaurs. There is absolutely no reason you should have a fax machine in your office – if you do you are wasting money and patience. Instead you should use one of the many low-cost services that allow you to send faxes over the internet. Just scan the document and “fax” if from your email program as you would a normal attachment.

Internet faxing – what is it? Many low-cost services allow you to send and receive faxes from your computer. You will be assigned a telephone number (toll-free is available), and when a person receives a fax from your office it will look like a traditional fax from your assigned number. Likewise, someone can fax to your assigned number just as they would to a traditional fax line.

How does it work? Most providers give you two ways to send faxes: (1) directly from your email and (2) from a custom application (usually cloud/web-based). Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like to send a “fax” from my Google Apps email. The recipient’s phone number is entered into the “to” address fiend, and the to-be-faxed document uploaded as an attachment. I find that I never use RingCentral’s web-based application for sending faxes, it’s simply more natural to use email since we’re familiar with emailing attachments.

Benefits.

  • Integration with paperless file management. Internet faxing is an excellent tool for paperless offices. Faxes are received electronically and can be easily filed. When I receive a fax in a client, matter the document arrives in my email inbox. I save it directly to the file in my DropbBox server and link the document in my practice management software. The process takes about one minute.
  • Centralized tracking. By sending/receiving faxes from your email account it is easier to track communications. Faxes can be tracked just like your other email correspondences on a matter. And faxes can be preserved in client files using whatever tool you have set up to preserve email correspondences (you do have such a tool set up, don’t you?).
  • Easy for multiple users. With internet faxing, all staff can send/receive from their own work station. No need to stand in line for the fax machine.
  • Most offices can get away with an internet fax plan costing about $10/month. You eliminate the need for a dedicated phone line and also eliminate a large, obnoxious piece of equipment.
  • Ease of use. Fax machines are slow and generally a pain; emailing attachments is easy.

Lots of comparable options. The field is crowded with many services that are largely comparable in price, quality and features. My office uses RingCentral at a cost of about $10/month – others are listed below with their single-user pricing. Service providers price plans based on number of transmitted pages, but most small/solo law offices can probably get by with a minimum plan (e.g., 300 pages). Free options are also available, but the provider will include their ad on your transmission (e.g., www.faxfree.com, www.freepopfax.com). Unless you are extremely strapped for cash, your professional image is probably worth the cost of paying to eliminate the cover page ad.

Data Storage and Back-Up.

Going PaperLESS.

My office retains no piece of paper unless there is a specific reason that original paper must be used. Every other document entering the office is digitalized (see protocol below) and the document is then shredded or returned to the client. A how-to for the digital office is far beyond this seminar, but an important point is that being paperless is itself a low-cost practice tool. The number one tool is improved productivity. It takes just under 30 seconds for me to access any specific document in any client file (and it takes the same time to do this if I’m on a train heading to Canada – see below regarding cloud computing).

Assorted low-cost tools and ideas.

  • Buy two screens, not a single monster. With digital client files you’re going to want two or more documents open at one time on your screen. A large amount of screen real estate is much cheaper in the form of two smaller monitors compared to a single super-sized one. I have two Dell IN2030M 20-Inch Screen LED-lit Monitors. Also, one or both of the monitors can be rotatable (so the monitor is in portrait rather than landscape orientation) so you can view a whole document at once.
  • .pdf-printing utilities. There are many free applications available that let you save as a .pdf document anything you could print on your printer. Once the application installs you just go the print menu in your web browser, for example, and select the .pdf utility. I’ve always used CutePDF (free - cutepdf.com). (When you install, make sure to de-select the “Ask Toolbar” option or you’ll get an obnoxious toolbar at the top of your web-browser). Also, Word 2010 has the built-in option to save a file as a .pdf. You can create a .pdf of a webpage by navigating to http://www.web2pdfconvert.com/ and entering the webpage URL. Google Chrome also has “save as PDF” as a printer option as long as you have Adobe Reader (free) installed.
  • [5]Even if you don’t use this for primary file storage or backup (see below), DropBox (free - www.dropbox.com/) allows you to securely share files with other DropBox users. You’ll need an account, as will the recipient, and will have to download a small program to your computer. After that you can save files into the DropBox folder just as though it were on your main hard-drive. The service is free only up to 18 GB, but I found this to be plenty until I moved my “server” to DropBox.
  • Microsoft Word. If you’re not an Apple user you probably own a license to Microsoft Word. Learn how to use it.
  • WSBA Computer Clinic (free). WSBA’s Law Office Management Program (LOMAP) offers a free crash course on how to make better use of your computer.[6]

Sample protocol. See the Appendix for protocols from my office manual for digital filing and document-naming conventions. I nearly abandoned the extra step of uploading it to my could-based practice management tool, Clio, since Clio already “talks to” my DropBox folders. But taking the extra step of uploading the document to Clio was an important procedural safeguard because it helps ensure the document is going in the right place (it’s harder to put the document into the wrong file twice).

Common Methods of Storage.

  • Issues to consider.
    • The purpose of backups is to guard against systems failures. Make sure you’re thinking about all the systems that might fail. Most obviously you’re planning for a technology failure, principally a hard drive crash. All the storage devices described below are technology solutions to technology crashes. But your office procedural systems can fail too. What safeguards are you taking to mitigate the risk of human error? If your backup procedure requires action by you or a staff, have a second backup system that doesn’t require action.
    • Security/Privacy. The WSBA RPC Advisory Committee has advised that attorneys have a duty to perform due diligence investigation on the storage tools they use. For more see below regarding cloud storage.
    • Think about how you’ll want to be able to retrieve your backup data. If your only backup is in a safety deposit box at a bank, what will you do if it’s 9:30 on the night before a deadline? Cloud-based backup is accessible anywhere with an internet connection through website portals… but what if you lose internet access?
    • Retrieval Speed. This is the main drawback for cloud-based backup. I have a young practice with few client files by comparison with most firms. When I set up Carbonite it took the program days to back-up all my data; it would take just as long to recover it. For this reason you should not rely exclusively on cloud-based backup. Have a redundant local backup. You data can be restored in a matter of hours rather than days.
    • This is a very important consideration. It is fine to merely backup files as you’re familiar with doing when you save a Word document to an external drive, for example. Using the storage methods discussed below, you can backup your files in any number of ways that will ensure your access to those files. But in the event of a computer crash you will want to restore your entire system so it’s working the way it used to. For this reason you will want to create a mirror image copy of your entire hard drive. This will preserve not just the files, like Word documents, that you’re used to accessing; it will also save the “systems files” and program files that make your computer run the way you’re used to. With a mirror image copy of your drive you can fully restore your system to the status quo ante.
    • Cost. On-site data storage is ridiculously cheap (see below regarding external drives). You will pay a premium to use off-site, cloud-based storage options which “rent” you space on their servers. But even these are very reasonably priced, even for a small firm on a tight budget (see below for more on cloud-based storage). Cost is absolutely not an excuse for failing to have a backup system, and the marginal differences between the options discussed here will probably be only a tie-breaker.
    • On-Site (Hard Copy, External Harddrive(s)).

External hard drives. Storage devices that hook up directly to your computer (e.g., by USB cord) are generically known as Direct-Attached Storage (DAS). It is now dirt cheap to buy obscene amounts of storage space on an external drive. One terabyte (TB)[7] of storage can be had for about $70. That’s enough space to store around 85 million pages of Microsoft Word documents. Here’s a 1 TB Toshiba drive (Canvio; $69.95 on Amazon Prime) that’s the size of your wallet:

Thumb drives. This San Disk thumb drive stores 128 GB and could hang on your key chain – that could be enough to back up all your client docs. It costs less than $100.

Procedure. Use Drive Image XML (free; http://tinyurl.com/29oy48q) to create a mirror image copy of your computer hard drive.[8] The utility can run while you’re using your computer. It’s important to calendar this backup as a regularly-scheduled component of your SOP. For an example of my office protocol for data backup see the Appendix. Here’s what the Drive Image XML user interface looks like – it’s extremely easy to use:

  • Network Attached Storage (NAS).

Traditional servers are plain-old computers (monitors, an operating system, etc.) hooked up to the rest of your terminals via a network (cable or wireless). Network Attached Storage (NAS) is like a headless server: only the storage function is available. A NAS device can be networked to one or more computers in your office so that all computers in the office can share the data on the NAS.

Pros.

  • Consolidation. Multiple devices can easily store data on the same NAS.
  • Easy to manage. Little technical expertise is needed to set up many NAS models and they’re easy to maintain once in place. Most models require just a power source and network connection to deploy.
  • Easy to scale. When you need additional storage space you can network another NAS device and manage storage with the same management application used with the first device.

Cons.  

  • A NAS system will cost more than a comparably-sized external hard drive. Recommended systems[9] start around $600.
  • Network bandwidth. Your office network could theoretically be over-taxed by the traffic to the NAS… but this is unlikely a problem in a small office with an Ethernet network.
  • No off-site data. As with any non-cloud storage device, you are putting all your eggs in one basket by storing all your data in one physical location.
  • Limited number of users.   Different devices will have different limits, but this will almost certainly not be a limiting factor for the small firm environment.
  • Linux. The file systems of the NAS are usually Linux. If the drive on the NAS fails it will be complicated to recover the data (more so than if it were non-Linux), probably needing professional help.

Cloud-based storage.

Two distinct uses. Your office might want to store information on the cloud either (1) as an “enterprise” solution for where you store your data files, and/or (2) as a way to backup your files. As an enterprise solution for file storage, a cloud-based service would give you the primary hard disk space you use to store files. As a backup utility, files are saved on your firm’s local drives or on the cloud, but are backed up to a remote server.

Where’s the cloud? Most importantly, it’s somewhere. When information is stored “in the cloud” this only means it is saved on a hard drive that is not it your office – but it is on a hard drive somewhere.[10] This is important, since to understand how secure your data is you must understand where and how it is being stored. Just as disaster can strike at your geographic location, it can strike at the location of your remote data-storing facility. For this reason, you should rely on off-site storage only if it is “geo-redundant” (as all top providers are), meaning your data will be mirror-imaged at facilities in two or more locations.

Benefits.

  • VeryMost cloud-based storage options are ridiculously easy to use. They will probably require you to download a small terrestrial (on your computer) program that talks to the cloud server. Then you’ll have to tell the program what files you want backed up. Then you’re done. Sure, this can be fine-tuned, but the point is you can have a robust storage system set up by the time you finish your coffee.
  • Predictable cost. Cloud-based storage is priced incrementally by how much space you’ll need. You’ll know what you’re paying each month, and the cost is distributed this way rather than a massive upfront investment in a server.
  1. As an enterprise solution for storage.

Benefits.

Serves as a network. If your office uses cloud-based storage, this serves the same file-sharing needs as the traditional server. My Client folders are contained in a DropBox account that I share with my assistant.

Accessible “anywhere.” The number one reason my firm relies on a cloud-based drive is that it can be accessed anywhere with an internet connection (hence the scare quotes). In my practice I can work on a file just as easily from home as I can in my brick-and-motor office. I was on a train to Canada recently, received a call from my client (Google Voice forwarded to my cell), accessed her file (via WiFi) and answered a quick question.

As file-backup.

What are the benefits?

  • Very easy. Once your cloud-based backup is running you can largely forget about it. Carbonite, for example, is constantly backing up my hard drive – I don’t even need to click on the application to make it run at a particular time. By contrast, most on-site backups will require you to take some sort of action, which can be forgotten or ignored.
  • Low cost. Though more expensive than buying comparable space on an external drive, cloud-based storage space is very reasonably priced. You can buy a lot of security and peace of mind for $20/month.

What are the risks?

  • Very, very slow. I have a young practice with few client files by comparison with most firms. When I setup Carbonite it took the program days to back-up all the data; it would take just as long to recover it. If you have court the next morning x days is x days too long.
  • Data security. A breach (or threatened breach) to your data security could violate your duties to maintain client confidences under RPC 1.6. It could also waive attorney/client evidentiary privilege.
  • System downtime. Downtime is a minimum concern since most major providers have uptime rates over 99%. But it is theoretically possible your data could be unavailable at a crucial moment.

Providers. Here are some of the industry leaders. I use Carbonite because it has an exceptionally friendly user interface and backs up continuously throughout the day. An informal straw poll of practitioners suggested it was viewed as the industry leader in quality.

There are two main ethics issues with cloud storage: confidentiality and safeguarding client property.[11] WSBA Advisory Opinion 2215 (2012)[12] follows a national trend by placing the onus on attorneys to exercise “reasonable” diligence in selecting a service provider. The Opinion advises that attorneys must evaluate a prospective vendor using at least the following considerations:

  1. Familiarization with the potential risks of online data storage and review of available general audience literature and literature directed at the legal profession, on cloud computing industry standards and desirable features.Evaluation of the provider’s practices, reputation and history.3. Comparison of provisions in service provider agreements to the extent that the service provider recognizes the lawyer’s duty of confidentiality and agrees to handle the information accordingly. 4. Comparison of provisions in service provider agreements to the extent that the agreement gives the lawyer methods for retrieving the data if the agreement is terminated or the service provider goes out of business.5. Confirming provisions in the agreement that will give the lawyer prompt notice of any nonauthorized access to the lawyer’s stored data.6. Ensure secure and tightly controlled access to the storage system maintained by the service provider.7. Ensure reasonable measures for secure backup of the data that is maintained by the service provider.

One bottom line consideration you should give is the following: cloud-based storage can only be considered problematic compared to its alternatives. Having an onsite backup puts all your eggs in one geographic basket – destroyed office and all is lost. You can walk a backup to your bank safety deposit box, but how often will you do this? I planned to go weekly when I opened my practice, but it never happened. Instead I have Carbonite running backup every moment I’m at the computer (and client files are also backed up to DropBox and to Clio, my cloud-based practice management software). It’s hard to see why this isn’t the best option for safeguarding my client’s information. How much effort did you spend assessing the physical security of your office? Why should due diligence require you to spend ten times that effort to assess remote security?

Appendix

VOIP providers

Provider

Cost

Comments

Skype Business

http://www.skype.com/en/business/

Requires a subscription for an on-line number at an approximate cost of $18/3 mo.

Customizable subscriptions for unlimited minutes to one or more countries range from $2.99/mo. $13.99/mo.

  • Skype credit is available for outgoing calls at per call rate based on country of call. Incoming calls to your Skype number (must be purchased) are not charged from the credit. Call forwarding uses credit.
  • Multiple business accounts can be created and allocated credit with Skype Manager
  • DOES NOT SUPPORT CALL TRANSFERS AT THIS TIME

Google Voice

Free

  • Free
  • Call switching must be enabled in settings.

Ring Central

http://www.ringcentral.com

$25 per month unlimited calls to US & Canada per device for up to 19 devices; or limited minute plans based on # of min. & # of extensions ranging from $10 (300 min./2 extensions) to $25 (2000 min. 10 extensions); additional extensions on limited plans cost $3; 3.9¢-4.9¢ for minute overages

  • Month to month with discounts for annual subscriptions
  • Includes faxing
  • 3-way calling
  • Conference bridge for up to 1000 participants with unlimited plan

Jive

http://www.getjive.com/

$30 per month per user (device) for up to 4 users; price goes down the more devices you have.

  • Month to month contract.
  • Includes faxing
  • Conference bridge for up to 11 participants

Phone.com

http://www.phone.com/

$25 per unlimited user; or use a limited minute plan starting at $15/mo for 300 min. Adding an extension costs $5 a month if not a user.

  • Extensions do not have to be users, but calls transferred to an extension that is not an unlimited user pull from a 300/mo. pool of shared account minutes.
  • Month to month.
  • Includes faxing
  • Conference bridge for up to 99 participants with unlimited plan
  • Can only have 3 calls on a line at a time (per user), e.g. on the phone, on hold, leaving a message, 4th call is charged at pay as you go rate 4.9c/min
  • Some international calls included in unlimited

1-Voip

http://www.1-voip.com/voip/

$50 a month + $10 per extension

  • Unlimited minutes
  • Faxing
  • Conferencing is $15 extra/month

Vocalocity

http://www.vocalocity.com

~$25 per unlimited extension

·         More detailed pricing and feature listing unavailable without quote request

Ring by Name

http://www.ringbyname.com

Quote required

  • Flat rate for unlimited calls, unclear whether this is by device

8x8

http://www.8x8.com

$30 for 1

st

line, $25 for each additional extension up to 4 lines

  • Unlimited calling (including some international dialing)
  • Does not include conferencing or faxing unless you go with the $50 per extension plan

Velocity Networks

http://www.vel.net/

Flat rate plans at $30 or $40/mo. depending on features. Specifics unavailable without a quote.

  • Is unclear whether this is by device

Nextiva

http://www.nextiva.com

$35 per line for up to 4 lines

  • Extension (as opposed to lines) $5/mo. [probably similar to phone.com where extensions have limited minutes]
  • Faxing included
  • Conference calling an extra $20/mo.

Phone Power

http://www.phonepower.com

$23-$25 per extension, unlimited inbound minutes & 5000 outbound minute limit per line billed at 2¢/min for excess

  • 1 or 2 year contracts or month to month
  • Unclear whether faxing is included or is extra

Asterik

http://www.asterisk.org

Free

  • Yes it’s free… but as an open source program, you have to know how to program to create your communication system: “… you will need a working knowledge of Linux, script programming, networking and telephony.” Not for the faint of heart.

Web-conferencing providers.

Provider

Price

Screen Sharing

Comments

Skype

www.skype.com

Free up to 25 Skype users on a group call.

Skype premium required (by group initiator) for video calls with 3-9 people. $4.99/month

No

See

Yugma with Skype integration below for screen sharing and collaboration.

Google Chat /

Google+ Hangout

Free video chat with up to 10 people

No… But you may try real-time collaborative editing on Google Drive. Can glitch unless you coordinate taking turns with the cursor.

Yes, the other users need a Google account, but this takes less than 3 minutes to set up and the other video conferencing providers will require this too.

ooVoo

www.oovoo.com

Free video chat with up to 12 people.

$0.10 per minute per additional participant

No.

Cross Loop

www.crossloop.com

Free 2 person screen sharing software.

Yes.

No video or audio conferencing. Free software download required.

Join Me

www.joinme.com

Free version for up to 10 participants available.

JoinMe Pro

Up to 250 participants with extra features

Monthly: $19

Annual $149

Yes.

Includes audio, chat, and screen sharing, but no video functions. Mobile access capabilities available.

Vyew

www.vyew.com

Free up to 10 participants

10 participants with extra features

Monthly: $9.95

Prepay: $6.95/mo

15 participants with extra featurs

Monthly: $19.95

Prepay: $13.95/mo

Yes.

Webcam capacity for up to 5 people only.

Yugma

www.yugma.com

Free up to 2 participants.

20 participants

Monthly: $9.95

Annual: $99.50

More subscriptions available up to 500 participants

Yes.

Integrates with Skype.

Desktop sharing enabled with free version, but collaboration tools limited without paid version.

Mikogo

www.mikogo.com

Up to 3 participants

Monthly: $13

Annual: $156

Up to 25 participants

Monthly: $19

Annual: $228

Other plans available

Yes

Audio conferencing is available through a dial in phone service. Newest version has VOIP.

Adobe Connect

www.adobe.com

Up to 25 participants

Monthly: $55

Annually: $540

Pay per Use: $0.32/min/user

Free trial available

Yes.

Other extensive interactive features included (perhaps overkill for a small business with simple web-conferencing needs). Mobile access available.

GoToMeeting

www.gotomeeting.com

Up to 25 participants

Monthly: $49

Annual: $468

Yes.

Includes video and recording capabilities.

Sample filing protocol for paperless office.

  • Stamp. Stamp the back of the last page of the document (or the envelope if there is one) with the Puget Sound Legal date received stamp. Before stamping the document, make sure the date is properly set on the stamp.
  • Scan. For documents that can be page-fed, use the ScanSnap on your desktop; the scanned document will appear automatically in Adobe Acrobat. For items needing the flatbed scanner, use the large multi-function machine. The document will be emailed to your Gmail account.
  • Acrobat. Open the document in Adobe Acrobat.

Received

Document has arrived at our office and has been filed.

Approved

Document has been finalized for mailing

and

will be mailed that same day. This is our equivalent to stamping “sent.”

Reviewed

Greg uses this sometimes to designate that he has reviewed a draft document.

  • Text-recognition. Use the text recognition function in Acrobat to render the .pdf into a text-recognized format so that the text can be searched and copied. See illustration below.
  • For outgoing documents and those without physical time stamp - Adobe stamp. If for some reason there is no physical stamp on the document or if it is an outgoing document you must use Adobe dynamic stamping. Each document needs to be (a) time stamped, and (b) given a designation of what action was taken. This is done by “stamping” the document in Acrobat. Under the Comment bar on the right of the screen, navigate to the stamp icon and select “Dynamic” (see screen shot below). Use the following key to determine which stamp to use.
  • Save to Dropbox server. Save the document to the appropriate client file in the “Clio” directory of our Dropbox folder (C:\Dropbox\Clio). See Naming Conventions (below) for how to name the document file.

NOTE: if you do not see a client file in the Clio folder you are either (a) not in the synced folder or (b) there is not a matter yet. Check Clio for a matter. Do not create a new client folder in the Dropbox as Clio does it for you.

  • Link document to client Matter. In Clio, navigate to the Document tab of the Client’s Matter. Upload the document to Clio: Click the Add button; drag and drop your file or files; click the Start Upload.

Sample file-naming protocol for paperless office.

Every file is named based on the date it was generated or received, followed by a description of the document. Here is the format: yyyy.mm.dd_the_descrip_here. Note that a period separates the date numbers and an underscore separates the deception words. The client’s name does not need to be included in the file name.

We do not have strict conventions for the content description – it should be a simple, intuitive description of the document. Here are a couple exceptions:

  • Our pre-consultation letter to a prospective client is labeled pre-consult. For example: 2012.11.2_pre-consult.
  • Greg’s follow-up letter after a consultation is labeled consult_follow-up. For example: 2013.01.19_consult_follow-up.
  • If the document is an immigration or other form with a number designation please include that in the description.       For example: 2012.12.8_I-864_filed.
  • If the document has been filed, please include that in the description. For example: 2013.02.03_DACA_packet_filed.
  • If the document is mailed via cover letter to our client, designate that. For example: 2013.03.16_DACA_approval_cover.

Here are some more examples.

  • 2013.01.11_record_request_aberdeen
  • 2012.01.02_letter_re_criminal_record
  • 2013.05.29_AR-11_filed
  • 2013.09.08_I-485_I-130_packet_filed

[1] For a nice roundup of technology tools see Stephanie L Kimbro & Tom Mighell, Popular Cloud Computing Services for Lawyers: Practice Management Online, Vol. 37 No. 5 Law Practice Magazine (Sept./Oct. 2011), http://tinyurl.com/3oq3e2v

[2] Any of these freebies work fine: http://qrcode.kaywa.com, http://www.qrstuff.com, http://www.the-qrcode-generator.com.

[3] I use QRReader on my iPhone.

[4] There is a nice tutorial here: http://tinyurl.com/kk6c3fk.

[5] For a criticism of DropBox’s security see: http://tinyurl.com/lgkqbao. For some ideas about increasing DropBox security see: http://tinyurl.com/jvvbrbu.

[6] Visit http://tinyurl.com/a5dew6f.

[7] 1 TB = 1,000 GB; 1 GB = 1,000 MB.

[8] See above for the difference between backing up files and creating a mirror image copy of a drive.

[9] Start with these reviews at cnet.com: http://reviews.cnet.com/best-network-attached-storage/. For some tips on selecting a device: http://tinyurl.com/kd99vmo.

[10] Wonks refer to cloud-based data storage as “Cloud Infrastructure as a Service” (IaaS), since you are buying or renting your tech infrastructure (data storage) from a third party. You could also have cloud-based “Software as a Service” (Saas) where you remotely use applications running on a third-party server, or cloud-based “Platform as a Service” (Paas) were the user’s application is run off the third-party’s server.

[11] For an excellent article on these ethics issues so Greg Boos, Techno-Ethics: Rapid and Vast Technology Advances Drive Modest Changes to Ethics Rules, 18 Bender’s Imm. Bull. 133 (Feb. 1, 2013).   I’m happy to distribute a copy to anyone who requests it by email (greg@pugetsoundlegal.net; the author is a colleague and approves).

[12]Available at http://tinyurl.com/cytesnk. Further suggestions for evaluating service providers is available from the Law Office Management Assistance Program. Available athttp://tinyurl.com/d5h2k33; see also Richard Acello, Get Your Head in the Cloud, ABA Journal (Apr. 1, 2010), available at http://tinyurl.com/yhxrf47.