Welcome

Thank you for visiting the Family Law Lawyer Tech & Practice blog. My name is John Harding. I am a family law lawyer practicing in Northern California. Long ago I realized that I could practice law more effectively and more efficiently (i.e., better and easier) by availing myself of the technological tools that are out there. I also learned that a successful law practice requires successful marketing. Hardware and software working together make me a better lawyer, and make my life easier. Marketing helps to bring in the business necessary for professional survival. By this blog I hope to share the tips, tricks, and technology that I have learned about so that others may benefit!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My MiFi's A Virgin

When I bought my iPad (which I am still loving!), I chose the wifi option. Didn't know any better, so I spent the extra $130. Now I wish I hadn't.

At the same time that I was setting my iPad up I ran across a blog post mentioning MiFi. I investigated. MiFi is the acronym for personal, mobile wifi hubs. I investigated further and found out that Virgin Mobile sells a mifi unit for $149. Then for $40 per month you have unlimited internet access anywhere, and for up to 5 devices. I plucked the money down, and started the service. It works great. The backbone is provided by Sprint, so I don't suffer with AT&T's network problems, and I get connectivity for more than one device.

But hey, why reinvent the wheel in explaining this technology. The Modern Day Pirates blog has a post all about this stuff!

Why The Virgin Mifi is a Big Deal

As our computing goes increasingly mobile, the cellular networks are struggling to keep their service afloat and not be crushed under a pile of iPhones. One space that this has been especially apparent is in the mobile hotspot arenas.

Mobile Wifi Hotspots (or Mifis to the cool kids) are devices that use the cellular data network to connect any wifi enabled device to the web. This means you can finally live the lifestyle of people in stock images, using your laptop in a park with headphones on with your friends. That’s real quality social time!

Up until this point the networks in the United States have really stunted what these hotspots could do with either bandwidth caps, prohibitive pricing, or both.

For example, the Verizon Mifi will set you back $40 monthly for $250MB of bandwidth or $60 monthly for 5GB. If you are even a normal web user who watches YouTube or listens to Pandora, you are going to burn through this pretty fast. Remember, this is a hotspot, meaning you can connect more than one device to it at a time. Sorry friends I am hanging out in the park with, I am close to my bandwidth cap.

Another option is to use tethering with your smartphone for mobile web. Both the iPhone and Android Froyo offer this functionality if the user is willing to pay $20 additional a month, but anyone who has actually done this knows that using a smartphone as a hotspot drains the battery extraordinarily fast.

Apple made an interesting play at hotspots with the iPad 3G, which gives your iPad access to 250MB for $14.99 or 2GB of data for $25. Unlike other devices, the iPad data is without contract, meaning you only pay for the data when you need it. This was a step in the right direction, but only worked on the iPad you paid for.

Enter Virgin Mobile’s new Mifi to really shake things up. The Sprint based Virgin Mobile has just announced a Mifi hotspot that will connect users to unlimited (that’s right. no limit, hence the “un”) data for $40 with no contract. For people that were on the fence about getting a MiFi, this is extremely tempting.

The lack of a contract means no recurring charge to the credit card bill and on months where you are very static, you don’t need to pay to keep the service. Most importantly, true unlimited mobile broadband means that a person can attach multiple devices without worry and not change their web habits. At $40, that is even competitive to use in the home to replace the landline internet. Mobile has virtually replaced landline phones, its only a matter of time before that moves to web too.

Even though Virgin Mobile was sold to Sprint last year and he has moved on to commercial space flight, I like the Virgin Mifi so much I am going to say that this was Richard Branson’s idea. Thanks Sir Richard!


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Friday, September 17, 2010

Documents to Go for iPad Updated

As you know, I have jumped on the iPad bandwagon. I am loving it! Still learning, but very impressed. One application area where I am sensing an iPad deficiency is word processing. More specifically function controls in iPad word processing apps, and some less than a true what you see is what you get when using the iPad to edit documents created in Word and then imported.

At his Tablet Legal blog Josh Barrett updates us on a word processing app update for iPad.


Nice update from DataViz on both The standard (iTunes link) and Premium (iTunes link) versions. The headline changes include:

  • improved and simplified interface for managing and editing documents
  • Retina display support for iPhone
  • Now a universal app for both iPad and iPhone
  • Speed improvements
  • Full keyboard support on external keyboards (arrow keys)
  • Freeze panes in spreadsheet app
  • Sort data in spreadsheet app
  • More paragraph styles for Word docs
  • Strikethrough formatting in Word docs
  • More bullet format options for Word docs

All in all, a nice little update. I haven’t given it a full run through yet, but the interface improvements are welcome and may tip the scales for me to replace QuickOffice (iTunes link) as my Office compatible app on the iPad. Sadly, even though strike through formatting is now supported, I still am not seeing support for Tracked Changes. The first Office compatibility app that provides Track Changes support will have a legion of fans among lawyers.

Any new features in the update that are particularly welcome in your workflow? Any features you are looking forward to in e next update? Let us know in the comments.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Free Report for Legal Marketers

Law Firm Email Marketing Benchmarks and Best Practices

Law_firm_email_marketing_report Law firms are heavy users of email marketing.

But until now, legal marketers had no industry benchmarks to consult to measure how their email marketing campaigns were performing against their peers.

Indeed, clients regularly ask us, "What's a good open rate for a law firm email newsletter?" "A good clickthrough rate?" "A bad bounce rate?"

To address those kinds of questions, today eLawMarketing is releasing a new free report - The State of Law Firm Email Marketing: Benchmarks, Trends, and Best Practices - documenting benchmarks for five key performance metrics generated by campaigns aggregating 6,896,610 emails distributed by law firms of all sizes during four consecutive 6-month periods running from July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2010.

Law_Firm_Report_Open_Rates_Screen Legal marketers can use the report to:

  • Gauge and improve the performance of their firms' email marketing campaigns
  • Discover how their campaigns are performing relative to the campaigns of their peers
  • Learn more about “best practices” in the creation and distribution of law firm email marketing campaigns

Click here to download a free copy of the report.

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Ink Jet Printers Revisited

Does anyone remember dot matrix printers? The rat-ta-tat-tat of the print head as it banged the ink into the paper? That technology evolved into the ink jet printer, that sprayed the ink on to the page. Ink jets also grew to print in color! From there printing evolved to the laser printer, which combined heat and pressure to work the ink into the paper, with crisp clean edges and lines much like professional stationery. Magnificent! With time laser printers even had color. Dot matrix printers faded into the mist. Ink jets were relegated to home use.

We recently did a system upgrade, including a switch over to Window 7. Unfortunately we learned that several of our laser printers were not supported on the 7 platform, and had to be retired. A techie friend asked if I had considered replacing the lasers with ink jets? What? Ink jets? Of course not! We are a law firm. We need laser quality. I don't want to deal with expensive ink. Ink jets are too slow!

To the contrary my friend did assert. He claimed ink jets have evolved to the point that they have the same dots per inch (i.e., sharp edges and lines, etc.) as lasers, including when printing in color. They have print speeds only slightly slower than lasers. They are network compatible. And the cost per page is comparable to laser.

This cannot be! Preposterous I responded. "Listen" he said. "Try one. It will cost you 80 bucks, rather than several hundred dollars. If you don't like it, where's the harm?" So I did try one. Guess what? He was right! One of our network printers is now an HP Officejet Pro 8000. It has exceeded expectations. The black and white and color print quality matches any other printer we have in the office. Speed is not a problem. The ink supply is holding its own. And yes, the ink use and price point seem to be matching laser toner and cartridge costs. When you throw in the $80 price point, it is a definite win!

Sure, sure, sure, an argument can be made that the finest law firms only use engraved stationery; or they only go laser. The finest law firms are also laying off hundreds of lawyers, or closing their doors. Our printing looks fine, and it is savings us money. More importantly, our worth as a law firm is proven by the words on the page, not how those words are printed. I like our new ink jet printer. We are going to install more. We are going to save money, and feel good about it.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

New Review on Clio Practice Management Software

Loyal readers know I am intrigued by cloud computing. Not sold on it, but intrigued. The main reason I am not sold is the cost. Legal software vendors seem to be sticking to the same high price point as traditional vendors. Also, because you have to get online to use it, there is the question of downtime. Finally, because the technology is in its infancy, there is still room for improvement.

Clio is a cloud program for law practice management that I have written about in the past. on his Does It Compute? blog John Heckman takes a new look at Clio. Here is what he has to write:
I recently signed up to be a consultant for Clio, the on-line, SaaS practice management program. In going through consultant training, I was impressed not so much by what is missing or insufficient (billing, documents, very poor email integration, no document assembly at all), but by how far the program has come since I first looked at it nearly two years ago. The features that do exist are fairly robust: basic calendaring, client files, basic billing, a link to Quickbooks (still somewhat a work in progress).

I think this is typical of the new breed of SaaS practice management programs (including Rocket Matter, Houdini Esq. and Advologix). Being built from the ground up, they don’t have the baggage of older programs (old conceptions, backward compatibility requirements, etc.). Therefore they can add features and roll them out at a rapid pace.

SaaS programs offer the advantage of immediate rollout (no server, no installation) and low startup costs. As with anything else that you rent, it will probably cost you more in the long run than an in-house system. While the market for these programs is in flux, it seems that some form of SaaS programs will be the future. The missing features will be filled in, functionality will expand.

The main weakness of all these programs is the lack of the type of integration that exists (after years of development) with server-based programs. They typically integrate more or less seamlessly with Outlook, document management programs, etc. There is currently no button in Clio that says “show me my gmail account” or “show me my Outlook inbox.” And what integration does exist tends to be a two-step upload/download process rather than seamless. In the next year or two this is one of the main areas these programs need to address.

Many people originally expressed security concerns: “is my data safe?” “what happens if the company goes out of business?”. This is a red herring. The SaaS programs offer substantially better security, anti-virus protection etc. that the vast majority of small firms can provide on-site. Further, many of them (including Clio) escrow your data so it will always be available, even if the company goes under. When you first log in to Clio, you see the security verification from leading companies, including a daily virus scan and extensive privacy protection.

Clio is designed for small firms and the way it works reflects that. For example, while you can import documents into the system, there is currently no ability to batch import any significant number of documents. There is no form of document assembly or the ability to merge form files with information from the program. But many small firms don’t use this sort of feature in other existing programs anyway.

Clio opens to your Agenda, showing your tasks and appointments. Tabs across the top let you quickly access Contacts, Tasks, Matters, Billing information and so on. The most basic information is quickly at your fingertips

One of the slickest features of Clio is called “Clio Connect” which enables a user to share files with specified other individuals. You invite them to have a limited logon that lets them access the specified files and nothing else in the program. Again, this will be extremely useful for a small number of files, but unwieldy for a large number of files.

Clio Express is a downloadable module that can be used for time entry when you are not connected to the Internet. A mobile version of Clio allows you to access the a version of the program tailored for display on iPhone, Blackberry, Droid, etc. So if you have a smartphone you always have access to Clio.

Help resources are excellent. Every time I had a question, I could fairly easily find the answer in the help files.

Several people have asked me, “why choose Clio?” I felt that it was time to get involved in some kind of SaaS program. On the one hand, Clio offers me a starting point for small clients, yet on the other will not require the kind of investment of time that mastering a more complex program with lots of customization, programming, etc. involved. Probably nobody will like the analogy, but Clio is the Amicus Attorney of SaaS programs (and it is surely no accident that they offer a conversion from Amicus). It is simple and straightforward to use for people who probably would not use extensive customization anyway.
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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tips On Branding

Branding is an important element of practice marketing. Below is an article from Dan Schawbel with great branding tips from himself, and a batch of well known celebrities.

Career and Personal Branding Advice From Male Celebrities

You’re fed up with the job market right now or you’re feeling stuck in your career, with nowhere to go, and you’re out of people to complain to. If so, then you’re probably watching your favorite show on TV, or browsing Hulu.com because you’re too cheap to purchase cable. Either way, you watch, listen, and hear about celebrities all the time. Most of the time, you probably don’t care what they have to say, but there are a lot of career and branding lessons that you can learn from them. Aside from reality TV stars, people aren’t just famous because they’re famous. They achieve success because they have goals, and figure out the best way to reach them, throughout the course of their lives. Here are five branding and career lessons that you can learn from celebrities that you’ve heard of one way or another.

Ryan Seacrest – work your tail off

Love him or hate him, Ryan Seacrest is one of the hardest working guys in the entertainment business. When he’s not spending hours putting on hair gel, and flossing his teeth, he’s either hosting E! News TV, American Idol, or one of his syndicated radio show’s interviewing Kim Kardashion, Justin Bieber or one of the Twilight stars. After watching the Oprah segment on his work schedule, you can see the stress, sweat and determination Ryan has for following his dreams.

When it comes to your career, you need to be ambitious, bold, and work extremely hard to get what you want. My college roommate used to always tell me “you get out what you put in.” He was referred to the results that you get from hard work. If you leave the office at 3:00 pm every day, then you’re cheating both yourself and your employer. By putting in those additional hours, even if you have to work on a weekend, you will be able to achieve more and have a brighter future.

Donald Trump – put your name on everything

When he’s not telling you to think like a champion or that he has a new property in New York City, Donald Trump is leading a massive empire across the world. He reminds you of his personal brand through his NBC reality TV show “The Apprentice,” as well as his hotels, casinos, skating rinks, golf courses, books, and even his Trump branded steaks.

Trump puts his name everywhere, and therefore more people know about him, his family, and his connection with luxury products. You need to make sure your name gets out there in the same regard. Whether it’s your Twitter profile, your Facebook page, your business cards, your resume, or a presentation you working on at work, your name should be everywhere. This creates a consistency that will remind people of who you are, and what value you can contribute.

Johnny Depp – dress for success

If you haven’t heard the name Johnny Depp then you must not have watched his blockbuster movies, including the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and his recent Alice in Wonderland remake. Depp doesn’t just get attention from the ladies and press because of his acting skills though. He’s one of the most stylish guys on the planet, or at least that’s what GQ says. He wears grungy clothes, wears a variety of accessories, has long hair, and he switches his attire based on if he’s going to an award show, posing for a magazine, or is just casually walking around LA.

We can all take a lesson on how Depp dresses for success. You should have your own unique style, which means don’t copy everyone else. Dressing the part is important too. Before going on a job interview or starting your first day of work, make sure you dress appropriately based on the corporate culture. For instance, if it’s a small marketing firm or startup company, everyone might be wearing jeans. On the other hand, if you’re applying for a sales position at a Fortune 500 conglomerate, you better wear a suit. Dressing the part is about choosing the career that best suits what you want to wear.

Michael Jordan – be the best at what you do

If you asked ten people who the best basketball player of all time was, many would say Michael Jordan. At least the NBA acknowledges him of it! “Air” Jordan won five MVP awards, ten All-NBA First Team designations, and holds the record for the highest career regular-seasons scoring average of 30.12 points per game. I bet one of your friends is walking around his one of Jordan’s signature shoes, shirts, or even a basketball.

Jordan was the best at basketball, and you can be the best at what you do too. Decide what industry you want to go into, and in what field you can be the top expert in. Then learn, practice, and acquire new skills, so that you become more in-demand, have a higher salary, and can achieve a greater level of success. Michael Jordan didn’t become the king of the court overnight. He had the desire to be a champion, the commitment to lead his team, and the persistence to stay up all night shooting, dribbling, and honing his skills.

Simon Cowell – authenticity rules

“If your lifeguard duties were as good as your singing, a lot of people would be drowning,” states Simon Cowell to one of the contestants on American Idol. Every time Simon Cowell makes fun of a contestant on American Idol, we get angry, but in the back of our minds we agree with him. Simon is a music executive, television producer, successful entrepreneur, known from the UK to the US and back. He’s been the judge on a variety of hit shows, including Britain’s Got Talent and Idol.

Simon reminds all of us to be authentic and use our first amendment right to free speech. I see a lot of people who are lost in their careers, and aren’t true to their inner talents. You should let the world know what makes you special! Speak your mind and don’t be a phony because people connect with genuine and honest people, instead of “yes men.”

In review

To be successful, take Seacrest’s work ethic, Trump’s branding, Johnny Depp’s stylish wardrobe, Jordan’s authority, and Cowell’s honesty and mix them together. Of course, you aren’t a celebrity, at least not one that commands as much attention as these industry titans. You can’t afraid to be yourself and you certainly can’t be lazy if you want to have a successful career. And who knows, someday you might get your own TV show!

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