SmartAdvocate New Case Management System on the Block

Sample_case_screenI am very interested in SmartAdvocate. It’s a new case management system that’s coming out on the market.

It’s specifically geared towards, plaintiff’s personal injury work.

It is an off-shoot of the in-house program that Parker & Waichman has been using.

I heard about this system a few years ago and it looks great.

A few of the features that I like, when a case is set up, it sets up an extra-net or ‘mini-website’ for each client and case that allows them to see the accident reports, medical records or other information as it comes in.

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New Laptop Toshiba Portege R500

FolderComparisonI finally broke down and got a new laptop. For those who are long time readers, they know I’ve been searching for a laptop for awhile.

I dearly loved my Japanese Panasonic Y2 but after three and a half years, it was time for an upgrade. After the third system failure in nine months, it really was time to get a new one. About 6 months ago, when the laptop went down, I was going to get a new laptop, but they got the Panasonic up and running and I put the new laptop purchase off. A month ago, the Panasonic’s hard drive completely and totally went out again and it was time to upgrade. Here’s what I have on the Toshiba Portege R500:

  • Ultra-light – 1.72 pounds
  • Ultra-thin – .77 inches thick
  • Solid State Hard Drive – 64 gigabyte solid state drive
  • Windows XP – Some non-Vista operating system love.
  • Full size keyboard – I will have to double check, I think, there is a silght reduction in the size of keyboard (1mm – 2mm reduction), but it is a very nice full size keyboard that doesn’t take time to re-train your fingers to deal with.
  • 12.1” Wide screen monitor – I’m nearly 44 years old and my eysesight isn’t what it once was (macular degeneration). I was a bit concerned about bumping down from a 14.1” monitor to a 12.1” wide screen monitor. My previous laptop before the Panasonic was a 12” laptop and I really think that’s too small. The new Toshiba has a widescreen which means it is actually the same size width way as the 14.1” monitor, but it is just not as long.
  • Great LED display – Very crips display. Very nice look. It has an outdoor button to turn the backlighting off. The sunlight then bounces off the screen and brightens it. It actually does work. Neat stuff.
  • Lots of Ports – 3 USB ports, 1 PC Card port, VGA out, SD card slot, firewire.
  • Removeable battery – You can get a second battery for travelling, or a larger battery for when you want to be away from a power supply for an extended period of time.

So far, I’ve loaded up the software and am loving it. I’ll let you know more as I go along.

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Using iMacs to Build a Better Windows Network

20 Okay, this is going to sound a bit odd, but my tech guy is using Apple iMacs to build a more stable, easier to maintain Windows network.

About 2 years back, Apple started using the Intel processor in it’s computers, which is the same processor that Windows machines use. The benefit of that is that Macintoshes can now run Windows in ‘native mode’ and not through an emulation program. You can do this one of two ways. You can use Boot Camp and when you turn on your machine either boot into Windows or boot into Mac’s OS X. The other way is run a Macintosh program called Parallels. Both programs require you to purchase and run a full copy of Windows.

My tech guy is buying iMacs like the one pictured above to put in offices and using Parallels to run Windows. Most people will only see the OS X screen flash for a second and after that, they won’t even know they are working on a Mac box.

So what is the advantage of running Windows on a Mac? A few:

  • Nice Hardware at a Reasonable Price – Chrome and glass, 20” monitor, memory, speed, decent memory all in one box. It works well and is attractive.
  • Less Desk Space – The Macs are an all in one and leave a small footprint on your desk. It’s just the monitor and the keyboard.
  • Ease of Maintenance – The entire Parallels Windows file is a single computer file. That’s huge. You can install Windows, tweak it to the way you want, install all of the programs that you want and then all of that information will be in a single Parallels file that can be copied and backed up. If your Windows goes down, you can just copy that file back to your iMac and you’re up and running. If your entire iMac goes down, you can copy that file to a different iMac and you’re up and running. No worrying about file registries, different hardware signatures. No fuss, no muss.
  • Portability – Once you have your Parallels backup file, you can copy that to another machine without any problems. You can’t do that (easily) with Windows, because of different hardware configurations and the Windows registry.
  • Ease of Installation – Once you have a specific set up that you want, for example, WordPerfect, TimeMatters, CaseMap, TimeMap, Sanction, MicroSoft Office, you can save this as a building block and as a base for every installation. Of course, you need to have a site license for each program. You will also have to switch license codes, but that’s a lot easier than starting each machine’s installation from scratch.

So oddly enough, the hoops that MicroSoft makes you jump through actually make it quicker and easier to run your Windows program on a Mac. Go figure. Plus you get a cool looking machine.

We’re going to start replacing one machine at a time, until we have a full Mac office.

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Sending Print Jobs to Kinko's Online

I have started to use Kinko’s online printing feature and it works like a charm. I upload a .pdf to them and then a secretary can pick up the job the next day.

It’s a lot more convenient than dropping the print job off in person and saves a lot of time.

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Don't Use FindLaw or Martindale-Hubbell if You Want an Internet Presence

IN a recent discussion, some lawyers wanted to know whether they should use Martindale-Hubbell’s Lawyers.com or FindLaw. My personal opinion is that either is a huge waste of money. These are large law portals that are focused on building their brand and not on building your brand.

You need an independent website that it well optimized and does well on search engine searches. The top companies doing plaintiff’s firm websites are

My personal preference is towards Justia. Tim Stanley at Justia is one of the initial founders of FindLaw and really, really knows search engine optimization. I know people who’s opinion I really respect that prefer eJustice and Einstein Law is the preferred provider of AAJ.

I recently spoke with some people at The Attorney Store and was favorably impressed with their offerings and prices. I don’t know too much about them, but liked what I did hear about them.

Get a good URL (website address), get a good company to help you and get your own website. Don’t go with one of the large portals. If you follow the pack, you will be one of the pack and won’t differentiate yourself.

 

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Accessing Your Computer Remotely at a Fast Speed

I’ve been using some form of remote computing since 1989. First starting with PCAnywhere and then moving to GoToMyPC. PCAnywhere is a software based solution and GoToMyPC is a web based subscription solution. When PCAnywhere got bought out by Symantec, they started upgrading so frequently that I decided to go with GoToMyPC. A flate rate per year and no software to install or worry about whether you had the current version, plus it could be accessed from anywhere that had an internet connection.

Now, you can set up a virtual private network (VPN) without the use of either program (more about that later).

But in contacting our cable company to get a static IP address, they told me that I could have various speeds of accessing the internet, from a standard cable modem speed all the way up to the speed of a dedicated T1 line. Also, there were differences in speed in the ‘upload’ rates.

I was not familiar with what the upload speed rates were, but was told by my tech guy that it affected how fast I could access the office computers over the internet (e.g. remote computing). For a fairly small amount, I tripled the speed that we can access the office computers remotely.

The net effect is that I can be at home and working on my office machine and where there used to be a noticeable lag time, the remote access now is nearly at the same speed of sitting at the keyboard.

I had no idea and had never heard of increasing the upload time before. Check with your local internet provider and see what you can do to increase your upload time for faster remote access.

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The Myrtle Beach Lawyer Goes Digital

After that great guest post on using an open source PBX system, I thought I would share what we’ve been working on. We’ve been working on taking the entire office electronic. It’s time to take the office digital. What does that mean?

  • Documents Will be Digital – Everything coming in or going out of the office will be scanned. There’s a number of options we could have gone with. I chose to put a scanner on everyone’s desk. The easier it is to use, the more likely it is to get used. My first choice was a Fujitsu Scan Snap, but that didn’t have a TWAIN or ISIS compliant driver to scan from within case management or document management programs. We decided to go with the Xerox Documate 250. All incoming mail will be scanned, all outgoing mail will be scanned. The entire file will be available on the computer as a pdf.
  • PDF’s Will be How We Like Them – Everyone gets a full version of Adobe Acrobat to combine pfs, rearrange pages, or set up chapters, bookmarks and hyperlinks. Picture writing a demand package that talks about medical treatment that has a link to the appropriate page of the medical records.
  • Faxes Will be Digital – We are installing a fax server so that anyone can send or receive a fax directly from their desk. I was looking at eFax.com, but you have to use their number and can’t take the number with you if/when you leave. We’ll be setting up a separate fax server.
  • Bookkeeping will be Digital – I’m embarassed to admit this, but I’m still writing checks manually and entering the information on a 2002 version of QuickBooks for the accountant. We’ll now be writing the checks on the computer, downloading the monthly statements from the bank to automatically reconcile. We’ll also link the case management program and client expenses, operating account and trust account to automatically generate cost sheets, disbursement statements and preliminary disbursements for the trust account.
  • VPN Router to Allow Access to the Network – A Virtual Private Network (VPN). What’s that? It allows access to your local network even when you are not local. It’s similar to GoToMyPC or PCAnywhere and allows you to log on to your network from anywhere. When you’re out of town, you can log in and get your messages. You can work from your home office, your paralegal can work from home when their child is sick. Or….if everything is digital, then an employee can work without being in the office to work on the file.

Having the entire file in a digital format creates a lot of benefits. I’ve got a great staff and we’re ready to take this to the next level.

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Shopping for a New Laptop, Continued

Y7

Panasonic Y-7 – The Old Standby

This is Panasonic’s newer version of the Y-2. 14.1” screen, full 19mm pitch keyboard, built-in cd/dvd burner, lots of RAM, 160 gig hard-drive and Windows XP and weighing in at 3.3 pounds.

It even comes in colors now. The gun metal blue looks the coolest.

 

Rx1

 Toshiba RX-1 Dynabook – The Foreign Competitor

 64 gig solid state hard drive, 2 gigs RAM, .77 inches thick. Built-in DVD burner that’s only 7 mm thick. 12.1” transflective LCD wide screen, full size 19mm keyboard (believe it or not) and an incredible 1.88 pounds.

 

Dell-xps-m1330-big2

 Dell XPS M1330 – Surprising Challenger

Dell, home of klunky generic boxes has come out with an intriguing and sexy laptop design. Who’d have thunk it?

32 gig solid state drive, 13.3 inch LED backlit screen with VGA camera (2 megapixel with the LCD screen, 2 gigs RAM, built in DVD burner, great design comes in three colors (I would probably choose the piano black) and I do not know the size of keyboard yet. Regardless of which one I choose, this looks like a high performer, with good design and Dell will have a big hit on their hands.

ASusU3

  Asus U3 – Dark Horse Candidate

 Thanks to Engadget for this catch. It has a 13.3” screen and specs that include integrated GPS, HDMI and S-Video outs, eSATA, USB, and Firewire ports; SD and ExpressCard 54 slots; and an NVIDIA 8400M graphics chipset -- which can be switched off via hardware for power. I don’t know the price or other detials (like weight, solid state hard drive…). It should be coming out in September, which is about the time that the other models will be available with the solid state drives.

It looks like there’s a lot of good ultra-lights out with a lot of power and it doesn’t appear that there are any ‘wrong’ choices. It should be interesting.

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Shopping for a New Laptop

Time for a new laptop. What features am I looking for?

  • Weight Under 4 Pounds – This is a definite requirement. The lighter the better. I take my laptop with me everywhere that I would take a pad of paper. It needs to be in the 3 pound (or lighter) range. There needs to be a serious reason to bump up into the 4.1 or 4.3 pound range.
  • Keyboard – This is a bit of a surprise for me. In dealing with ultralights, or any laptop for that matter, there are certain tradeoffs and the keyboard is typically one of them. After a few weeks, your fingers get used to a different keyboard configuration for the laptop, and get used to a cramped keyboard layout. My Panasonic had a full size 19mm keyboard and I really enjoyed not having to switch keyboard sizes between my main computer and laptop. So, I’m putting a lot more emphasis on the keyboard than I used to.
  • Screen – Preferably an backlit LED, as opposed to an LCD screen, something that looks sharp, but I don’t need a tremendously high resolution as I’m over 40 and my eyesight is not what it used to be. I need something at least 12.1 inches. I’ve seen 10” screens and they’re too small for me. If I’m looking at a laptop and not a toy, the ultraportables with 7” or 8” screens aren’t even an option. I love the size, but not the crispness of the 14.1” Panasonic that I have now. A 13.3” is probably optimal.
  • Hard Drive – I would prefer a solid state drive. They come in 32gig and 64 gig models. Solid state drives are faster, lighter, use less power, are more reliable (and more expensive). I have a desktop computer and a home computer, so the size of the hard drive isn’t important. I just need the hard drive large enough to carry video depositions in Sanction for trial. If the laptop doesn’t have a solid state drive, it needs to be at least 7,200 rpms. There’s nothing worse than slow hard drive speed.
  • Ports – The only port that is criticial to me is a VGA monitor port. I speak in enough places where I have had problems with cable hookups for an S-Video or HDMI ports. Give me a standard monitor port anyday of the week. Built in wireless of course. An SD card reader would be handy, but is not a requirement. Other than that, lots of USB ports, and a biometric reader, expresscard (instead of PCMCIA) would be nice. None of them are dealbreakers.
  • Coolness/Fashion sense – Yes. I hate to admit this, but I want a laptop that looks good, that draws some attention and is fun to own. Think “sports car” or “convertible” for laptops.
  • Operating System – I would seriously prefer Windows XP instead of Windows Vista. I want to stay away from Windows Vista as long as possible. (Although, I don’t know if it will be possible).
  • Speed – I don’t really care about speed. I primarily do word processing, e-mail and research on the internet. The case management software is straightforward calendaring and contact management database software. Even the videos for mediations and trial presentation don’t take up that much processing power. Any of the computers currently out will be more than fast enough for me.
  • Optical Drive – This is not an important factor. It used to be, but not anymore. In my last laptop, I said “I want an internal cd/dvd player, so that way I don’t have to tote an extarnal player, plus I don’t want to be caught without help on that. It turns out that in three years, I have only used the player a handful of times. A nice feature, but not critical or a dealbreaker.
  • Price – Sadly, this is not important. This is my personal laptop that I will take everywhere with me and will hopefully have for three years. The difference in price between the cheapest laptop on the market and the most expensive one is not that large that price is the primary factor in deciding. And when I am looking at a 2–3 pound laptop, with a solid state hard drive, lots of memory, a good keyboard and a nice screen, those specs don’t come cheap.

Next up. I’ll preview the three laptops that I am considering.

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Why Case Management Matters

I was at the Kentucky Academy of Trial Attorney's program on Technology: Learn How It Can Help You Be A Better Trial Lawyer. I gave a presentation on weblogs and what they mean for trial lawyers. Why you should write one, why you should read them and why they are changing the face of the internet.

I also listened to other great presentations at the program. I especially enjoyed Mike Burman from Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Mike gave a presentation on case management, a subject near and dear to my heart. Mike is using Needles and has it integrated with ecopy, a scanning networked copy machine. It looked like a slick operation.

In addition to what you can do with good case management, Mike talked about WHY you would want case management. Answer? It gives you more time to talk to your client. It allows you more time to think about the case. It allows you to be more organized and deal with problems before they occur.

Sounds good to me. I always say, it is important for the lawyer to manage his cases, or the cases manage him. Thanks for the input Mike.

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Programs to Help Lawyers be More Productive

Yesterday I gave a presentation on blogging for a law firm that I really respect in Columbia. They told me what programs they were using and I was asked what they could do to increase the productivity or effectiveness of their lawyers. They do trial work, but have a number of practice areas. This is my response to them.

Easy

  • Speak-Write – It used to be CyberSecretaries and then YouDictate, but is now known by Speak-Write. They will transcribe anything you have. You can dictate over the phone, you can send them transcription files, mp3 files, wma files, or you can even fax it to them and get the information typed up for 1 1/2 cents a word. The responses tend to come back in 15–30 minutes depending on the size of the file. I like to dictate my To Do’s for the day while I’m on the way to the office and then they’re in an e-mail all typed up by the time I get there. Neat stuff and easy to use.
  • TimeMap – This is a great, great program for creating timelines. It can do a timeline over a period of years, or a second by second timelilne that might cover only a few minutes. The program will automatically scale the timeline for your period of coverage. It’s really as easy as hitting insert, typing in the date and a description of the text for the box. And of course, you can drag your events above or below the timeline. One of my favorite things to do is to put the defendant’s version of the facts above the timeline and put the actual facts below the timeline. It’s so simple that you can use timelines for motion hearings to clarify dates and events, or to show the efforts you put in to get information from the defense counsel and what their responses have been. You can also add phone or document icons to spiff up your timeline. This is easy to use because it’s a standalone product, you can use it no matter what other software you are using. Continue Reading Posted inOffice Technology, Technology, Trial Technology |Comments (6) |Permalink

Moving Case Management System to TrialWorks

Well, I finally made the jump. I’ve been using TimeMatters for nearly ten years. We’ve also used Out of the Box, a great add-in product for TimeMatters for about two years. TimeMatters is a good product and I admire their open architecture, where there is the flexibility to customize the program and hook up third party products to it. TimeMatters has by far the largest market share of case management software. The last time I checked it had about 40% of the case management market.

We are leaving TimeMatters and moving to TrialWorks. I made the decision because TrialWorks is specifically designed for litigation. I don’t think there is anything that TrialWorks does that TimeMatters can’t do, but TrialWorks is specifically set up for litigation.

In my evaluation, Needles and TrialWorks were the top contenders. Needles has a larger installed base, regional user groups and one of the best customer support services around. TrialWorks had more modern technology and a much better interface. What I liked most about TrialWorks is the ease of use in scanning in documents (correspondence, medical records, pleadings…) and their document generation.

This may sound silly, but I also liked their filtering in creating documents. If I’m going to send a letter and click on a button, I only want to see the possible letters that we have. I don’t need to see every complaint, cover sheet, motion, proposed order that could be sent. Just show me the letters. TrialWorks does this well.

Those are my pro’s for TrialWorks. The con’s (at least for me) are their over reliance on MicroSoft. They use MicroSoft Outlook for their calendaring system. I realize the MicroSoft battle was lost over fifteen years ago, but I stil use WordPerfect, FireFox and Opera instead of Word and Internet Explorer. I do however use Access, Excel and PowerPoint so I guess I’m not too anti-MicroSoft.

I don’t mind the use of MicroSoft that much, but would be happier if I knew that there was a possible Linux or Mac version down the road. TrialWorks does have a web-based thinclient, which I would imagine could be used on a Mac or with a different operating system. Ah well.

John Day, John Romano and Gary Pillersdorf all have TrialWorks and they love it. I have a number of other friends that also have TrialWorks and they really enjoy it. Todd O’Malley, Larry Levin and Mark Joye have Needles and they’re very happy with it. I compared Needles and TrialWorks back and forth a number of times. I reviewed them screen by screen and feature by feature (believe me, the salespeople are probably very happy that I’ve now made a decision) and really think that TrialWorks provides a better interface and solution than Needles. I did have one friend that had a bad experience with TrialWorks, but he was also in a billable environment and I believe his staff told him that he had to stop using WordPerfect during the conversion. I believe that the conversion will go smoothly 92.8% of the time (which translates to very well, but not perfect).

I’ll keep you posted as they convert our data and how the installation, conversion and set up goes. My firm will have to give a lot of guidance on exactly how we want the master calendar set up and what documents we want generated. The more time and effort we put in now, the more it will pay off in the long run.

I had to do an attitude adjustment for this conversion. It took me awhile to learn that the case mangement software companies are experts at case management software, not case management. There’s a difference. Conversations would go like this:

  • Software Company – We have ‘Management Reports’.
  • Me – Great!  I want to manage my firm better. What do you have?
  • Software Company – Whatever you want.
  • Me – Ahhh…..But I’m not certain what I want. You guys go into thoursands of law firms across the country, don’t you have a best of list?
  • Software Company – Every firm is different. We’ll do whatever you want.
  • Me – I’m looking for some guidance here and thought you guys could help.

The answer is that they are in the software and database management business and no matter how good their software and company is, they really don’t know much about practice management. That’s not a gig on TrialWorks. I found that to be true to all of the companies until I realized the fundamental difference between what I was asking for and what they were providing. Live and learn.

I’ll keep everyone posted on how the conversion goes and how we like TrialWorks as we get it up and running. I believe it will probably be a 2–3 month process.

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Going to a Paperless Law Office

In a recent discussion on scanning and going paperless, John Powers of Powers & Santola in Albany, had such terrific input that I had to share it. Take it away, John:

We’ve been paperless for nearly three years, using TrialWorks as our case management system.  The keys to going paperless are having a dependable HIGH SPEED scanner and a plan to make certain that everything gets scanned before it gets into the hands of a lawyer.

With 7 lawyers in the firm we are using the Canon 9080C scanner, which has color capability and scans at 90 pages per minute (180 pages per minute in duplex) in black and white and 50 pages per minute (100 ppm in duplex) in color.  We started with one scanner and subsequently added a second 9080C scanner to alleviate the frustration that occasionally arose when someone was “waiting for the scanner to be free”.  We also have three Canon 2080C portable scanners for use in court, at depositions or for gathering records outside of the office. Continue Reading Posted inOffice Technology, Practice Management, Technology |Comments (6) |Permalink

Should You Build Your Own Case Management Software from Scratch?

I occasionally see lawyers who have spent a lot of time and effort building their own case management systems. With the tools available today, it’s easier and cheaper than ever. Should you do this for yourself?

As an ex-programmer, I have NOT written my own software because I don't want the primary expertise/ knowledge base for our computer system to be with me. I want to spend my time being a trial lawyer. My primary objections to ‘rolling your own’ are not technical.

  1. Upgrading and maintenance – It's one thing to block out the time and put together a system. But as things change, versions of word processing software gets upgraded, links have to change. As new technology comes out and gets integrated into the system, it becomes work keeping everything current and up to date. I paid LexBlog to set up my blog and do it the right way. I willingly pay LexBlog too much money for the amount of work done. I pay them too much money not to do the work, but to stay up to date on the technology and keep my blog up to date on what needs to be done. They do a fabulous job of it and I am very happy to use the best in the country instead of worrying about that myself.
  2. The amount of time it takes me away from legal work –  The older I get, the more I realize that I only have so many 'clock cycles' in my head. If I fill my head up with worrying about computer stuff, it takes away time from thinking of legal matters. I used to be a programmer for a living. I love computers. I love logic. I love making the computer do what I want. My question to myself is “Where do I want to put my limited time and resources?” Personally, I'd rather take the time and effort to be a better trial lawyer and run a better trial practice than diving into the nitty-gritty of building a case management system from scratch.

My opinion is that if someone wants to set up a case management system from scratch, then that's fine as long as they realize it's like a hobby and an extra-curricular activity as opposed to one of the main things that helps them practice law. If they want to set a system up from scratch and realize that they're not being the most productive with their time, but they enjoy the computer work and want to do it anyways, I don't have a problem with it. But at that point, it’s a personal decision and not a business decision.

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Use Google Mini to Find Your Documents

Google has come out with the Google Mini. It’s a box that you plug in to your server and indexes all of the documents on your server. That includes, word processing documents, .pdfs, spreadsheets, databases, e-mail …. Why would you want to buy a Google Mini, instead of a software management solution? Because it takes the time and processing power off the server. You can use the Mini to index your website(s) and/or to index your internal network.

According to Google, you can use it to:

* Increase sales by enabling prospects to quickly find what they’re looking for on your public website
* Find critical information on your corporate network with just a Google search

Another quote from Google’s site:

"Our attorneys are continually searching for information. The Google Mini helps them find exactly what they need, when they need it, using an interface they’re already familiar with."

I  know that I want one, but I’m not certain it’s cost effective, or that I should spend the money at this time. I’ll let you know if I do get one how it works and whether I’m happy with it.

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Adobe Acrobat for Lawyers

If you’re not as up on Adobe Acrobat and .pdf’s as you should be (and I’m not). It’s time to learn. Pdf has been a standard format in the ‘real world’ for a long time and the local Federal Court now requires all of the filings to be in .pdf format, so it’s time to learn. Dennis Kennedy points to the Acrobat for Legal Professionals Blog written by Adobe themselves.  PDF for Lawyers blog written by Dave Fishel and Ernest Svenson is also a great resource for learning more about Adobe Acrobat.

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Getting to Basics with Case Management

I was starting to get bogged down in the minutiae on getting a case management program running so I decided to step back, take a deep breath and see where things where going. What’s even the purpose of having one and what did I want it to accomplish?

Basic Goals: To have a smooth running, efficient office. I want to help people, do quality legal work and also be profitable. I would like the computer to help me with that.

Okay. So far so good. That’s some fine goal making, but what does that mean? Here’s some processes that should be streamlined: Continue Reading Posted inOffice Technology, Practice Management, Technology |Comments (1) |Permalink

Choosing a Case Management System for a Law Firm

We’re about to put in a new computer system. I’ve had TimeMatters for 8 years and really like it alot. However, for whatever reason we’ve never got the full use out of it. Some of it might be our fault, but we’ve got lots of use out of it, but haven’t been able to use it to it’s full capacity. Since we first bought TimeMatters, we’ve gone from a general practice to a straight trial practice and it’s time to put in litigation specific software. Although, I’m not opposed to looking to others, the leading candidates are TrialWorks and Needles. Needles has always been considered the high end in litigation software. In the past 5 plus years, TrialWorks has been coming on strong and while has a smaller market share, has really taken a sizeable portion of the market in a relatively short period of time.

After spending more than 30 hours with each of the programs exploring the nooks and crannies, I think they are both fabulous programs. My impressions in a nutshell are that TrialWorks looks like it was built with all of the functionality of Needles, but with all of the technology that was available 5 years later. Needles on the other hand, has made customer service it’s number one priority, has a number of local and regional user groups and tours and TrialWorks hasn’t had the time to catch up with the customer support and large installed user based of Needles yet.

This is some of the things that I’m looking for in a case management program: Continue Reading Posted inOffice Technology, Practice Management, Technology |Comments (9) |Permalink

Add-Ins to Make TimeMatters More Useable

With Karl’s post of his efforts with TimeMatters, it reminded me to write about some add-ins that can help increase the functionality of TimeMatters

I have personal familiarity with Out of the Box and Premier Software. They are both excellent. We have had a lot of success with the Out of the Box add-on. It’s actually improved our workflow and helped get things done.

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Wireless Travel Router to Help on Those Out of Town Trips

I travel frequently for work. When I go to a hotel, they will normally have broadband internet access. Interestingly enough, the nicer hotels in the larger cities charge for the internet access. The standard chain hotels in smaller cities provide the access free of charge. But regardless of the price, most of them require a wired access and you can’t use your wireless card on your laptop.

I found a tip for a Wireless Pocket Router  by D-Link. What it does is connect up to the hotel network point and allows you to be wireless. It has three different modes to work in almost any situation (Access Point (AP) mode to create a wireless connection; Router mode to share an Internet connection; and Wireless Client mode to connect to an existing wireless network). Not a bad deal for less than $55.

Thanks to Tom Collins of More Partner Income for the tip.

[Update]: I bought one of these from Amazon. The router comes in a nice little case that’s portable (which is good, because that’s it’s job). I plugged it in the wired hotel connection in my room and it worked like a champ. I love technology that works. I also love being wireless with my laptop. This will definitely be staying in my travel bag.

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Best Treo 650 Tips and Tricks and Programs

Engadget is starting a new feature with the best helpful hints for gadgets. First up is the Treo 650. All of the tips are in an unmoderated Comments section, so you have to wade through a bit of chatter, but there’s some real good ideas there, including:

  • Opera Mini Web Browser
  • PDANet –  to turn your Treo 650 into a wireless internet access for your laptop
  • Chatter E-Mail – Push e-mail technology like Blackberry
  • VoiceDialIt – Add Voice dialing to your Treo

Some of my favorites are:

  • Silver Screen – Extends the functionality of the Palm OS
  • SnapperMail – Better e-mail client than comes with the Treo
  • Insaniquarium – Very entertaining fish feeding arcade game (it’s better than it sounds)
  • AcidSolitaire – The best solitaire game on the market.
  • PocketTunes – MP3 player for the Treo
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Use the Right Codes to Help Your Word Processing Documents

I rarely get involved in coding documents anymore, but there are two very helpful codes that most people don’t know about or use.

Hard advances – When you have a document with blanks to fill in for name and the name is too many characters, it can go past a tab stop and push the words out of alignment. Select Menu [Format] [Typesetting] [Advance…]  You can choose a horizontal advance (where the words will be on the page from left to right) or a vertical advance (where the words are from the last word or the top of the page). You can also choose a specific advance from the insertion point or from the edge of the page. If you want the words to appear in the same place all of the time, choose the advance from the left edge of the page. By using a hard advance instead of a tab, you won’t have to keep taking out the extra tabs in your documents.

Tab Settings – Most people know how to change their tab settings, but don’t take full advantage of the different kinds of tabs.  You can use decimal tabs to align rows of numbers and right tabs for table of contents. You can also use any of the tabs with dot leaders, which are exactly what they sound like. When you’re setting up a table of numbers, a table of contents or index… you can have WordPerfect automatically put in the line of  dots (eg …….) with dot leader tabs.

I’m sure Word has the same codes, but perhaps with different naming conventions I just don’t use Word.

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Picking the Right Case Management Program

The right case management system can make a huge difference in your practice. But how do you know which one to go with? I have a simple rule of thumb. Go with the best or the most popular.

With most software, I’m not tremendously particular. I do some research and then try the program. If I like it, fine. If not, I’ll try something else. But with case management software, my entire professional practice is going to be on the program. All of my information about every one of my cases. All of my correspondence, pleadings and other documents will be on there. If I’m scanning information, then all of my case information will be on there too.

I’m not going to trust my professional life to just anyone. I don’t care how insanely great there software might be. I won’t go with a small programming company. I don’t want to have my entire livelihood on a software program and then find out the company went out of business. Or that their main programmer left for somewhere else and they can’t find a good replacement for them; or that the owner had a tragic accident and the company is no longer in business.

So what is the best? The top of the line case management programs for litigation are Needles, TrialWorks and ProLaw. The most popular programs are TimeMatters and Amicus Attorney. Before reviewing any of the features, I would start looking at one of these programs. More to follow…

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USB Hard Drive with Fingerprint Security - No Software Installation Needed

I’m a big fan of USB 2.0 hard drives. I have one where there’s no power supply and no software drivers. You just plug it in to a USB port and your computer recognizes it as a spare hard drive. Neat stuff. La Cie has just introduced a USB hard drive with fingerprint security.

Engadget has the details. They will come in 40 and 80gb models. The nice thing is, even with biometric security measures, no software to install and no drivers. Cool stuff.

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Sub $100 Printer - Dell LP 1100

CNet brings tells us about the new news of the Dell LP 1100, a laser printer retailing for $99. It’s a 600 dpi, 15 ppm printer. They’re also aggressively pricing the toner cartridge at $65, that will print 2,000 copies. That’s cheap enough to drop one on everyone’s desk.

It sounds like a good deal and I’ll have to check it out. However, at one point I had 4 laser printers in my office, all with different toner cartridges. Now, every single laser printer I have uses the same cartridge. I know it’s a bit excessive. But when we reorder we always make certain we have 2 in stock and reorder when we get down to one. If we miss the reorder, we can always grab a cartridge out of one of the other printers for the day or two it takes Office Depot to deliver. It beats stocking 4 different sets of cartridges. 

And thanks to Engadget for the pointer to CNet and the Dell LP 1100.

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Roundup of Backup Drives and Software

PC World has a roundup of external hard drives, network drives and backup software. A timely reminder of easy ways to backup. There’s also a review of online data backup services.

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What is Your Data Recovery Plan?

In this day and age, I know that everyone has at least some backup plan. But what is your plan to restore your backups? It sounds like the same question, but it’s not.

I just had a hard drive failure on my server at the office. No problem. We have a 3 disk RAID 5 array on our server where we can lose a drive without losing a beat. You replace the drive, the system rebuilds and away you go. We did this and were fine.

My tech guy suggested putting all of the system files on a separate physical drive and then imaging an exact copy of the system drive, so that if our server went down we could swap drives and bring the server up lickety split. Sounded like a good idea to me so we went ahead with it. Continue Reading Posted inOffice Technology, Technology |Comments (6) |Permalink

Averatec 4200 Widescreen Laptop Looks Good

Engadget points to the new Averatec 4200 widescreen laptop.

At 4.7 pounds, Averatec’s 4200 laptop may not be the lightest notebook around, but for the features it offers — which include a 13.3 inch widescreen display, Pentium M 730, 512MB RAM standard, 80GB HDD, WiFi, flash reader and a DVD burner — it’s pretty light on the wallet at $1,199. And, oh yeah, it comes in a half-dozen different colors.

While, I like to keep my laptops under 4 pounds, this definitely looks like a laptop I would consider buying. I’ve been impressed with the features that Averatec offers for their price tag.

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Easy Backup Means Security Risk

With the advent of USB flash drives and USB hard drives making backups as easy as drag and drop, that creates a security nightmare for lawyers and network administrators.

Picture this, a visiting attorney comes to your office for a deposition. He asks to use the phone and you put him in an office with a phone on the desk. While he’s in there, he can slip a keychain USB flash drive in the computer and downloads half your computer network in about 2 minutes. Unethical? Yes. Scary? Definitely.  Easy to do? Absolutely.

Engadget has a story on this and shows how using an iPod or ‘Podslurping’ can be a security risk.

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Is there a Macintosh in Your Life?

I keep reading of people switching from Windows to Macintosh. For example, in his Working Smart blog, Michael Hyatt writes:

The best part of the Mac experience so far is that the technology simply works. I have yet to experience software conflicts, viruses and spyware infections, and endless tinkering and tweaking. Installing a printer, an Apple Airport Express, or some other peripheral is easy and painless. The bottom line is that I am simply spending more time getting real work done. And that’s what I was hoping for by making the switch.

I bought a Macintosh Powerbook for my wife. 12 inch screen, 768 megs of ram and a cd/dvd burner (superdrive in Mac parlance). So far it’s been a pretty good experience. I’ll give you one example. We wanted the Macintosh to be able to accept the memory stick from our Sony camera, so we got a 12–in-1 USB card reader. There were no drivers to install, we just plugged in the card reader. We put the memory stick into the card reader and the little iPhoto button literally started jumping up and down and then opened up asking us if we wanted to download the pictures to our computer. Simple, easy and it worked. Who can ask for more?

It’s too early to know whether there’s an office switch in my future, but it’s interesting to play with the technology and see what it can do.

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Ultralight Laptop Roundup

No surprise, but the laptops keep getting faster, smaller and lighter. I tote my laptop everywhere with me, so I like them light. I hate to say that I’m spoiled, but my maximum weight limit is 4 pounds. Any weight over 3 pounds becomes a negative. Over the past few weeks, manufacturers have been dropping a number of great ultralights on us.

  • Acer TravelMate 3000  12 inch screen, lots and lots of goodies, including built-in card reader and 3.1 pounds for $1,399. The main drawback is an external CD/DVD drive.
  • Averatec 1000 Series  3.6 pounds, 80 gig hard drive, and a built-in DVD/CD-RW drive and other fun stuff for $1,380. The drawback? The screen is 10.6”.
  • Fujitsu new LifeBook B6000 line of TFT notebooks This one has a touch screen, 3.3 pounds and a 12.1 inch monitor along with other fun stuff for $1649. The touch screen increases the cost some.
  • ThinkPad X41 3.2 pounds, 40 gig hard drive, 12 inch screen and external DVD/CD-RW drive for $1,899. Engadget points to the PC Magazine review.

The Fujitsu Lifebooks and Sharp Actius laptops are always good choices. Of the bunch, the Acer looks like the most fun, but I still like my optical drives built in. I have a Japanese Panasonic Y-2 which has the same weight as the Acer, but also has a 14 inch screen and a built in DVD-RW/CD-RW burner and a gig of RAM. I love it. Thanks to Engadget for the roundup of these new laptops.

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Portable Photo Printer from HP

One of the ways I stay current with technology is to buy and try new gadgets. I try them at home and depending on how well they work, I integrate them into the office. I have an 18 month old baby girl and a wife that loves to take pictures, so we decided to try a portable photo printer. I decided on the HP Photosmart 375B Compact Printer with Battery.

It’s a great little box that resembles a toaster and it only prints 4 x 6 photos. It has an LCD screen on it, so you can take the memory card (it handles 6 major formats) straight from the camera and pop it into the printer. The printer allows you to zoom, crop and adjust the picture and then print it out. It takes about a minute to print a full copy, but the print quality is great.

One of the interesting features on this printer is not only can you print without a computer, it has a battery and can print about 100 pictures without even being plugged in. So you can take this little printer to a family picnic or a wedding and print out photos for people before they leave. So far the printer has been great and we’ve enjoyed it a lot. I’ve got nothing but good to say about this printer.

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Who Has the Fastest Computer in Your Office?

Years ago, when I was a computer consultant. I would see secretaries, paralegals and support staff with under powered machines, while the boss man would have the fastest, shiniest box on the market. What does he use that monster machine for? “Nothing. Every now and then he’ll check e-mail.”

So let me get this straight. The person who uses the most computing horsepower has the slowest computer and the person who uses his computer the least has the fastest most expensive one? Yep.

Who uses the computers in your office the most? And do they have the tools they need to succeed?

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Use Dual Monitors for Greater Productivity

I finally broke down and added a second LCD flat panel monitor on my desk. I’ve been thinking of doing that for about 2 years. It’s easy to add a second monitor. All you need is an appropriate video card (as low as $50) that supports two monitors and a few setting on your Windows Display properties on the desktop.

What a difference it makes. You can have drag a program from one screen to the other or have two programs maximized at once. It allows you to do research on the internet, see the information up and type into the your word processor at the same time. You can be working on a document and have your case management software up at the same time. It gives you a lot more information and saves a lot of time. I liked it so much, I got dual monitors for the all my staff members in the office.

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Why Trial Lawyers Need to Know About Mind Mapping Software

Mind mapping software. Hmmm…. is that like a Vulcan Mind Meld? Nope. It’s actually quite simple. Think of an outline, only less structured. Picture this. You have a new case with a lot of possibilities. You sit on the floor and write down ideas on 3 x 5 cards. One idea to a card and spread the cards around you. Writing as fast as you can, you fill up as many cards as you can. Okay, this part is called brainstorming. Then, when you’ve finished and are surrounded by cards, you start sorting. This card generally covers the same material as that card. That card can be put over here, and you start grouping things. I’m sure we’ve all done something similar at one point or another. Now do this electronically with software and you have mind mapping software.

Mind mapping software allows for a graphic representation to visually express complex relationships in an easy to understand manner. Sounds like a good trial exhibit to me. The New York Times recently had a good article on mind mapping software:

"For me, there is a big difference between laying out ideas in this kind of map" and just writing them in a list, says Michael Jetter, Mindjet's co-founder. "It's like when you look at ads. The white space can be as important as the words. I find when I am able to space out the ideas in a certain way, somehow I can move around them easily rather than starting from the top. It's the same information, but you look at it differently."

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TechnoLawyer Update

After my post about the great TechnoLawyer  e-mail list, I was talking to Neil Squillante. Neil had the following to say:

While power users may prefer subscribing to all 8 of our newsletters and keeping them in a personal archive, some of your readers may
instead prefer to subscribe to just 1 or 2 of our newsletters. When  you first sign up, you get all 8 newsletters.

Most of our newsletters are weekly or biweekly, and we have one that is twice weekly -- Answers to Questions. In this newsletter, subscribers can get their business and technology questions answered by their peers. So the users can get as little or as much information as they want.

So you get to pick your poison. Good stuff Neil. You can find TechnoLawyer here.

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Stay Up to Date on Legal Technology by Using TechnoLawyer

Neil Squillante has created quit a juggernaut with his TechnoLawyer newsletters. What is it? It’s a newsletter of 10,000 lawyers, sharing reviews, asking questions, answering questions and providing opinions on any technology related question as it relates to practicing lawyers. Here’s a list of what Neil says his list covers:

TechnoLawyer covers many topics, including Accounting, Case Management, Digital Copiers, Document Assembly, Document Management, Handhelds/PDAs, Knowledge Management, Law Office Management, Legal Marketing, Litigation Support, Word Processing, and much more.

What makes Neil’s listserv different? The fact that all of the questions, answers and opinions are provided by practicing attorneys. I also like that vendors are invited to provide information on how their products can help lawyers. These articles by vendors are always clearly marked and in a separate e-mail. If you don’t want to read about that product, just hit the delete key. If it's a product I use or am interested in, I like hearing how to get more out of the product. I also like that it's clearly marked as coming from the vendor.

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WordPerfect Resources and Links

It’s great to see WordPerfect making a resurgence. It was almost on life support, but lately I’ve been hearing more and more people switching back to WP. Ben Rondeau gives us a lot of WordPerfect resources to help us use the program better. Each of these sites has tons of information and links to other WordPerfect sites.

I knew of a few of these, but most were new to me. Thanks for the tip, Ben.

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Twelve Ways Technology Can Make You a Better Trial Lawyer, Continued

Wow. What a response to my guest post on Evan Schaeffer’s Notes from the (Legal) Underground. There’s been a good discussion in the comments section, plus a host of weblogs linked to it:

Matt Homann and Matt Buchanan noticed that 5 of the 12 ways to use technology to be a better trial lawyer were in the use of weblogs. I hadn’t noticed that, but I guess they’re right.

Continue Reading Posted inOffice Technology, Technology, Trial Technology |Comments (0) |Permalink

Guest Post on Using Technology to be a better Trial Lawyer

I have a guest post on Evan Schaeffer’s Notes from the (Legal) Underground today. The post details Twelve Ways Technology Can Make You a Better Trial Lawyer

If you're not familiar with Notes from the (Legal) Underground, it's a great read. It’s worth adding to your reader. Check it out.

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YouDictate On-line Dictation a Penny a Word

I’ve been telling people about YouDictate for three years, but there are still people that are not familiar with it. There’s no contract, no monthly fees, no minimum. Dictation for a penny a word (a 1.5 cents if you have them use your specific forms). The great thing about YouDictate is that any format you can get the material to them, they’ll dictate it. Phone (either land or cell) is the most common, but you can also fax them documents or e-mail .wav, mp3, .dss or practically any other file. I’ve always received the material back within 15 minutes.

I like to use YouDictate to review and get To Do’s out of my head on my way to the office. By the time I’ve got a cup of coffee, the To Do’s are sitting in my e-mail inbox. I have them and the codes for dictation on speed dial on my cell phone making it easy to dictate from the road.

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IOGEAR introduces USB 2.0 Docking Station

I’m not a docking station kind of guy, but a lot of people use/love them. Engadget points out the new IOGEAR USB 2.0 Docking Station. Connect to the docking station by your USB port and you’ll instantly add an Ethernet port, two PS/2 ports, audio-in/out jacks, a serial port and three USB 2.0 ports. The price tag is $89.95.

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On-line Translation services

If you have text or a web site in a foreign language and want to know what it means in English, try Free Translation or Babelfish.  This is a freebie too. Babelfish I knew about, Free Translation is a new resource compliments of  Mark Zamora .

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Sending Large Files Across the Internet

Another tip from Mark Zamora. We’ve all had files that were too large to send across the wire on the net. You try to e-mail the file and either your e-mail or the recipient’s e-mail chokes on the size of the file and kicks it out. With www.YouSendIt.com you can send files up to 1 gigabyte in size.

And yes, it’s free. Thanks Mark.

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Godaddy Domain Names and Bob Parson's Rules of Survival

Al Nye, the Lawyer Guy picks up the hubbub with Go Daddy’s Super Bowl Ad. Right now, I consider Godaddy.com the best place to register a domain name. You can register a domain for $7.95 and park it with godaddy. It’s quick, cheap and easy.

Godaddy.com was founded by Bob Parsons, who has a great  16 Rules of Survival. My favorite rules?

  • Always be moving forward. Never stop investing. Never stop improving. Never stop doing something new. The moment you stop improving your organization, it starts to die. Make it your goal to be better each and every day, in some small way. Remember the Japanese concept of Kaizen. Small daily improvements eventually result in huge advantages.
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Add Form Requests to Your Website for Free

I’m at the Southern Trial Lawyers Convention this weekend and Mark Zamora from Georgia has a number of great tips for ideas for lawyers on the internet. I’ll post these as I get them in:

If you want want to add an input form on your web site, but don’t want to pay a programmer, CreateForms will generate the code for you to put on your site. Best of all? It’s free. There’s no HTML Programming, No HTML Coding and they have lots of templates to choose from.

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Dennis Kennedy's Predictions for 2005

Dennis Kennedy shares his predictions for the upcoming year in his ABA Practice Management article.
Fortunately, Dennis finds that many small firm and solo lawyers are ahead of the curve and starting to peel off some business from large firms.

Dennis feels that in 2005, technology will offer even more dramatic improvements for the solo and small firm lawyer at surprisingly small cost.

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Noise Cancelling Headphones

Evan Schaeffer of Notes from the Legal Underground talks about the Bose noise cancelling headphones. I agree with Evan, noise cancelling headphones are great on planes. They don' reduce all of the noise, but can reduce about 75% of it. I often take my headphones and turn on the noise cancelling without plugging them in. This allows me to sleep and/or avoid a headache from the vibration.

I prefer the Sony MDR-NC11 noise cancelling headphones. They're small and lightweight, but the cords do get tangled easily. They get great sound and are $150. I don't know how the Sony compares to the Bose in sound, but my guess is you wouldn't go wrong with either one. You can check out the CNet reviews here and buy the headphones from Sony here.

I have two of the Sony's along with a $5 headphone splitter, so that my wife and I can both watch movies on the plane.

[Update] Buzz Bruggeman raves over the Etymotic ER-6i headphones. While not noise cancelling, the ear buds go deep into the ear, which minimizes outside noise.

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Sub-Notebook for less than $1,000

I'm a big fan of ultra-portable laptops. My current laptop is a japanese import Panasonic Y-2 which is a little over 3 pounds for a lot of hardware. It's a great box, but doesn't come cheap.

Engadget highlights the Averatec's 3250 which weighs four and a half pounds, an inch thick and the size of piece of notebook paper. While not a powerhouse, it has built-in wireless networking, a big hard drive, cd-burner and pretty respectable specs for an under $1,000 laptop.

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Rio Carbon 5 gb MP3 Player

Check out the Rio Carbon. I got one of these when they first came out and love it. It's an mp3 player that holds about 150 cds and the battery lasts 20 hour on a charge (rechargeable internal battery). Rio's software is easy to use and very intuitive.

I have over 50 hours of ATLA presentations on mine, including ATLA's Overcoming Juror Bias seminar, over 30 comedy cd's and all my favorite music. When I'm traveling, I can learn, laugh or jam depending on my mood.

I tell you, the toys keep getting better and better.

[Update]: Since I've written this, Apple has come out with an iPod Photo for a whopping $499 that allows you to view photos with your songs. There's a lot of new mp3 and personal media players out there. I still like the Rio Carbon, but the mp3 and media player field is changing fast.

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External USB Hard Drive with Fingerprint Security

Engadget highlights MicroSolutions biometric external USB hard drive that comes in 80, 100 and 120 gigabyte versions.

I love the new USB 2.0 external hard drives. They're fast and there is no software to install. The drive pulls it's power from the usb port, so there is no power supply or power cord to tote around.

The MicroSolutions drive adds the extra ability of adding fingerprint security to the drive. The drive can identify up to 8 different users and can be partitioned in up to 7 different drives (which can be keyed to difrent users).

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