That serene screen-saver isn’t fooling anyone. Just one swipe reveals the clutter and chaos that lurks beneath: a winter’s worth of past projects, lists, sticky notes and alerts. Maybe you’re due for a little spring makeover? For this Friday Five+ installment, we asked our practice management dream team for their best tips on tidying up.
It doesn’t always require a software overhaul or a shiny new device to freshen your outlook. Small, simple measures can make a big difference in clearing up irritants that slow you down and stress you out.
For more tech tips from the pros, click here.
Reid Trautz: Stress-Reducing Adjustments
It’s spring, so give your office a stress-reducing makeover with these kinds of changes:
- Poor lighting, especially fluorescent ceiling fixtures, can cause eyestrain and contribute to fatigue. Add warm task lighting to desks and reduce the glare on your computer monitors from those ceiling lights.
- Another source of stress is tension and pain caused by bad chairs with poor back support. Invest in properly fitted chairs.
- An improperly positioned monitor and keyboard can strain neck, eyes and hands, so look for office ergonomic articles online and make the recommended furniture adjustments.
- Noisy offices can inhibit concentration and add to stress and frustration. What furniture configurations or office policies can you make to reduce distractions?
- Finally, consider adding a water-cooler in the office to promote increased water consumption and better health.
Making any or all of these changes can result in a happier, healthier and more productive staff.
Reid F. Trautz (@RTrautz) is Director of the Practice & Professionalism Center of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and a blogger on the issues of business process improvement, technology, legal ethics and effective practice management. Reid is co-author of the ABA’s “The Busy Lawyer’s Guide to Success: Essential Tips to Power Your Practice” and a past ABA TECHSHOW chair.
Nora Regis: A Wunderlist Way to Manage Email
Often, when I want to write some email, I am not in a place where I can sit and give it proper attention. I’ll be on my morning commute and suddenly think of an email I need to send, for example. Wunderlist, the to-do list manager, helps me catch these fleeting thoughts. And now I’ve created a whole email management system around it.
First, I created a to-do list called “Email.” If a thought strikes me, I enter the recipient’s name and the subject as an item in this list. Then I set aside a half-hour during the day to run through the list and fire off all the emails at once.
Wunderlist also has an add-on with Outlook that allows me to create a to-do based on any email. If I receive an email I can’t respond to that minute (and isn’t urgent), I click the “To-Do from Email” button in the Wunderlist Group on my Home tab in Outlook. The tool then automatically generates an item on my Email to-do list, and I can recall I need to respond to said message during my allotted email time.
Now I’m in control of my email, instead of it controlling me!
Nora Regis (@NoraRegisCBA) is Trainer & Coordinator, Law Practice Management & Technology, for the Chicago Bar Association. Nora is a former paralegal, specializing in litigation and bankruptcy. Prior to working in legal, she was a technology help desk agent at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Heidi Alexander: Don’t Type It More Than Once
Here in New England, springtime means it’s finally time to get outdoors and enjoy some much-needed sun. Of course, to do so, you’ll need to create more time. No, you won’t need Stephen Hawking for this. Indeed, you can probably make this happen with software that you already own.
Every time you type a phrase or clause more than once, save it. Then, drop it into a program such as Microsoft Quick Parts (Word and Outlook) (see this handy video), and each time you need to use that phrase or clause, just click a button and Microsoft drops it in wherever you select. If you want to get a little fancier, try out a simple product like TextExpander (for Mac); Windows companion products include PhraseExpress, Breevy and ActiveWords, which allows you to create keyboard shortcuts for frequently used text and images. For example, you could use the program to create a shortcut for your firm’s address, pleading caption, response to a potential client, contract language, and even labeling files in a consistent manner. Here’s how attorney David Sparks does it with TextExpander.
If you’re not sure, try out TextExpander and use its “Statistics” to find out just how much time you have saved as a result of using the product!
Heidi S. Alexander (@heidialexander) is a law practice management advisor at the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program (MassLOMAP), where she advises lawyers on practice management matters and in implementing new technologies. She is author of the new ABA book “Evernote as a Practice Tool.”
Sharon Nelson: Dump Unsupported Software!
NOT dumping unsupported software is one of the greatest cybersecurity risks your law office can have. Once software is unsupported, it is no longer receiving security updates. This was one of the many factors in the recent Panama Papers law firm breach. Many states have adopted the American Bar Association’s new language (or some variant) for Model Rules 1.1 (Competence) and 1.6 (Confidentiality). Even those that have not will tell you that competence with technology is implicit in Rule 1.1.
Yet lawyers continue to use programs that have gone out of support, notoriously Windows XP. Other out-of-support software includes Server 2003, Office 2003, Internet Explorer versions 10 and below and Apple’s QuickTime for Windows. Office 2007 will go out of support in October 2017 — you should probably plan to move to Office 2016/Office 365. The point is — you should make a list of all software you use and verify that it is still being supported. If it is not, upgrade. “But it still works …” or “I’m afraid of the learning curve of new software” are not acceptable excuses.
Your ethical duties include keeping your data confidential. You must take “reasonable” steps to protect that data — and this sure as heck is one those steps. Use of unsupported software is an engraved invitation to hackers and a per se ethics violation.
Sharon D. Nelson (@SharonNelsonEsq) is President of Sensei Enterprises, Inc., a digital forensics, legal technology and information security firm. She has written or co-authored a number of books, including “The 2008-2015 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guides” and “Encryption Made Simple for Lawyers.” She blogs at Ride the Lightning and co-produces the podcast The Digital Edge: Lawyers and Technology.
Deborah Savadra: Declutter Your Inbox via Outlook
A big part of email inbox management is keeping it decluttered. Easier said that done, I know, but here’s a thought: does that email that landed in your inbox need to stay an email? If someone’s asking you for something, turn it into a task. If it’s a deadline or other date you need to remember, move it to your calendar. Only leave things in your inbox that still need initial attention.
In Microsoft Outlook, this is a one-click operation. Simply drag the email over to your Tasks or Calendar area. In version 2010, it’ll be listed in a stack in the lower left-hand quadrant of your screen; in versions 2013 and above, look along the bottom of the screen for either icons or the folder labels “Tasks” or “Calendar.” Either way, you’ll get a pop-up menu that will let you either embed the text of the email into a new Task or Calendar item or attach the email to it (handy for emails with attachments). Once you’ve transformed that email, you can pull the original out of your inbox, knowing the information it contained is safely stored in a more appropriate form elsewhere.
Deborah Savadra (@Legal Office Guru, which specializes in helping legal professionals learn Microsoft Office features like Flagging Outlook Emails for follow-up and Using Outlook Rules & Alerts. Follow her on Twitter @legalofficeguru.) is editor and chief blogger at
Dustin Cole: Don’t Spend More Money to Gain a Tech Advantage
Start with whatever software you have — whether that’s Clio, MyCase, Firm Central, Time Matters, or even Microsoft Outlook and Office — and learn to use it better. Most people use 25 percent or less of their software’s capabilities. So go online and learn what more you can do with it. Need to clean up your marketing contacts and referral sources? Outlook can be a decent contact manager. Need to handle initial inquiry calls better? Customize your Clio contact screen to facilitate call handling. Have trouble staying organized? Learn to use the task list capabilities of Outlook or your case management software.
Better tech doesn’t always need to be the latest software gadget. It can be as close as your old familiar programs.
Dustin Cole is a business and marketing advisor for law firms with nearly 25 years of practical experience helping lawyers build better, more profitable and more satisfying businesses. He has presented practice management, marketing and risk management CLE programs for more than 70 bar associations, as well as hundreds of firms.