Law Office Computing
Making the World Safe for Entrepreneurs
Let us assume that Judge Jackson is right and Microsoft has a monopoly in desktop operating systems. That is not the same as a judicial finding that Bill Gates is really Darth Vader. Putting aside for the moment the antitrust issues, there is no question that Microsoft has established a functional standard within which many small software producers can flourish. Opening up the basic Windows code would certainly allow that competitive situation to expander even faster, but the fact of the matter is that even with the current situation in place competition in the Windows applications market is thriving. That is so because no matter how comprehensive Microsoft tries to be in the development, or acquisition, of new features for its Windows and Office applications, there are always important niches that need to be filled. That is particularly so in regard to the law business. Over the years, I have developed a list of small, free or expensive applications that can be downloaded over the Internet and provide needed functions for the law office. These are mainly the products of highly creative young entrepreneurs who see a potential market to which they can write software. Here are my top five applications for the year 2000.
If you use email a lot you have undoubtedly gotten back messages saying things like "I'm sorry but Mr. Greenspan is out of the office. He will be back on Monday and will respond to your message immediately." The application that sends you Mr. Greenspan's response is called an autoresponder. In the past autoresponders have been difficult to use and often expensive. That is no longer so. MailMachine is a simple and inexpensive application that automates the way your computer is able to respond to email when you are out of the office. You can tell MailMachine to respond to all messages or only those from selected people. You can tell it to forward email from some or all of the folks who you know will be sending email to you. Mail machine may not have all of the bells and whistles that a fancy high-priced autoresponder service can provide, but the price is right and it does 95 percent of what you need to have done. You can download a sample version of MailMachine fromhttp://www.vclab.com/4oa/MailMachine. If you decide to buy it, you pay only $29.
What I find especially interesting is that MailMachine is the product of a twenty year old German developer namedJohn Vorwerk who has used the internet to create a business called 4OfficeAutomation which I suspect has no funding and very little startup cost other than the intellectual capital that its creative young CEO brings to the table. This is the great leveling quality of information technology and the Internet and, like it or not, it is made possible precisely because of the office desktop standard that Windows provides. Go to this young manís web site at www.vclab.com to see what he is doing. You may be moved to buy more of his products! Remember when you visit that the cost of building this business can be counted in the hundreds of dollars instead of hundred thousands or millions or billions. The ability to become a player in the software world has been reduced to almost nothing except for the powerful intellectual capital of software design. In other words, the Internet economy is based upon unique qualities of the human mind, not the pocketbook of somebody who has bought all the bridges between here and Hoboken. From my perspective, that public good is fundamentally a product of the standard created by the Windows monopoly. But the professor rambles. We should talk sometime but here are some more creative products of the mind.
Most law offices that have been using computer technology for five years or more have developed fairly sophisticated file management systems based upon the Windows folder/directory system. In addition, many of you have archived your important client information on floppy disks, ZIP disks or CD-ROMs and in the future, you will store that information on removable hard drives of various types. Thus you probably have hundreds or thousands of files stored away in places that are not immediately and directly accessible from your computer. Back in the last century, I printed out my DOS directories on a sheet of paper that I stored with the disk so that I could always quickly see what I had on particular floppy. Windows ended that filing system because it does not provide a method for easily printing out the contents of the particular folder or drive. FolderPrint solves the problem with a simple little application that allows you to sort and print the contents of a drive or a folder on that drive. Then you can store one copy with the disk and another in a binder that covers all of your information locations. FolderPrint is easy to use and free. You can download FolderPrint from ZDNet atwww.hotfiles.com. While you are there check out the amazing number of applications that are being created for the freeware market.
Using a computer to keep track of your time has often put you to an election between expensive and complex programs like TimeSlips or simple time clocks that only log your time in and timeout. On the high-end, these programs often contain many features that you do not need. At the low-end, the time clocks do not allow you to connect an adequate amount of client information to the time record and usually do not provide a very useful reporting capability. TraxTime takes care of both problems. It is a very simple application that allows you to punch in and punch out on tasks for a particular client or matter. You can set TraxTime to give you a periodic warning that the time clock is running so donít forget and log 200 hours for a phone call or two. You can also enter the time manually without using the time clock. Each entry is connected to a memo that allows you to record a narrative of the tasks that you undertook during the recorded time. Finally, TraxTime has a simple reporting function that collects all of the recorded tasks by client or matter and prints out a very neat summary. You can then cut and paste the report into a standard billing format or simply turn it over to your staff for the preparation of the bill. TraxTime runs very easily on a network using a single network drive as the location for all time records thus collecting them in one place and making them accessible with ease. If you have one person in your office who manages the collection of time and billing you will want to buy the managerís version of TraxTime. If each individual in your office takes care of their own time and billing, they only need buy the standard version. A trial version of TraxTime can be downloaded from the Internet atwww.traxtime.com . If you decide to buy the standard version, you order it from the same place for $19.95. The managerís version is available for $37.50.
Infothek 2000 Scan
Infothek 2000 Scan is a $49.95 scanning application that allows you to assign Bates Stamp numbers as the filename for documents that you scan in-house. Thus, if you need to add a few hundred document scans to a large document set you can do that easily. Infothek 2000 Scan is very easy to use and allows you to choose between single page and multipage Tiff files. If you are in the process of transitioning into a paperless office and you intend to use a Bates Stamp file naming convention, this is a very good place to start. There are other much more expensive systems that are available but again this one does 90 percent of what you need to have done for very low cost. In addition, because it uses a generic Bates Stamp number protocol, you are not locked into a propriety naming convention that will haunt you down the road. Infothek thus allows you to outsource your large scanning jobs and keep the smaller projects in-house. You can purchase the Infothek 2000 Scan product over the Internet atwww.informatik.com where you will find a number of useful Infothek document scanning products for reasonable prices. You can try out any of them for free.
FileQuest is a replacement for Windows Explorer. It uses a modified Explorer interface and can display up to 15 unique windows at the same time. Dragging and dropping of files across multiple drives on a network could not be easier. Unlike Windows Explorer, FileQuest is enormously flexible and allows you to do all of your file management tasks in a much more efficient way. It has a very powerful filtering and rulemaking capability that supports automation of many file management tasks. It also operates much faster than Windows Explorer does, and it has many powerful tools and utilities. It has been praised by many professionals and is in wide use. You can download a trial copy fromwww.piquest.com or buy it there for $24.95.
Moving Toward Nirvana
None of these developers is likely to become Bill Gates. However, all of them have the possibility of becoming big players in the high tech software world. Only twenty years ago Bill Gates was doing just what these young people are doing today. Moreover, today the number of 20-something millionaires is exploding because the low entry costs of this business allow them to create exciting companies from purely intellectual capital. The Internet has created an incredibly dynamic world and, in my view, the most remarkable aspect of it all is that the only real role the government has played in this is the initial funding of the predecessor to the Internet many years ago. Since then, thousands of young minds around the world have opened up the Net to the miracle of global commerce. This is an exciting time. May the best person, and software, win!