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.

Medium

  • CaseMap – This is a case management program. It differs from a practice management program like TimeMatters or Amicus that are extended calendaring and rolodex programs and help you stay on top of your practice. CaseMap helps you track everything that is going on in a case. You enter the people, the places, the documents, the facts and the elements of the causes of action. When you enter the facts, you link the people to it, the places and/or the documents to it. You also link the facts to the causes of action that you’re trying to prove. It’s a lot of work, but once it’s done it has tremendous power. You can sort the information by cause of action and see every fact that you have for each element for each cause of action. If you’re in Court and having a difficult time getting a document admitted, you can see how many other ways you can prove the element and know whether you can let it go, or whether it’s a make or break fight. You can sort the information by person and automatically generate a checklist for deposition or trial. The program can also generate witness or exhibit lists. Cool stuff. Al Nye did a complete review of CaseMap that is worth reading. It’s a lot of work for a standard car wreck case, but when you have a lot of facts, witnesses and causes of action, CaseMap can help you keep them straight.
  • MindManager 5 – MindManager is the top mind mapping program. What is mind mapping? I discussed this in an earlier post. Basically, it’s a way to brain storm and track information at the same time. You can start with a basic concept and then draw ideas out from the concept like spokes on a wheel and then you can take each of the spokes and add ideas to them. Once you have the basic ideas, you can then focus on each of them, and add documents, spreadsheets or other electronic forms to any of the parts of your mind map. Dennis Kennedy gives a more complete review of MindManager.
  • Trial Presentation Software – Sanction and Trial Director are the two best. I’m partial to Sanction, but there are a number of people I respect that prefer Trial Director. Both programs are full featured and you won’t go wrong with either one of them. Check them out and see which one you prefer. They allow you to show video depositions, documents, and other exhibits very easily. Sanction allows you to synchronize a video deposition with the transcript. Then you can identify your deposition designations and objections. The judge can make a ruling before your testimony and you can adjust the video in about 3 minutes. Neat stuff. When showing documents, you can pull out and zoom in on specific parts (signature blocks, important sentences, vitals on a medical report…) and also to highlight, circle or draw an arrow to them. You can also set various ‘layers’ of a document. That means that you can place all of the marks on the document, and do the zoom ins before the trial, but only show them one piece at a time (like a transparency overlay). As an analogy, I tell people it’s PowerPoint for Trial on steroids.

Hard

  • Practice Management Software – Software that tracks the information you need, keeps on top of cases and provides you with the information you need. There is no ‘perfect’ system out there. There’s a lot that have great features, but will have inexplicable weak spots. The important thing is to see which ones seem like a decent fit and then outline exactly what you are looking for and compare it to how well those programs provide it. Once you decide on the items that are important to you, put them in categories of how important they are. Have to have, would be nice to have and it’s okay not to have. Then decide how good of a fit each program is for each of the items you have listed. TrialWorks will be the best fit for my office based on their document generation and ability to scan in everything that goes in and out of the office.

Practice Management is listed under hard, because it permeates every area of your practice and takes a lot of effort to set up right, to get everyone to buy into it and to use it.

Good luck, and I hope this list helps you.

Written By:Andrew Flusche On December 24, 2006 1:34 AM

David,

This is a really good list. I'm especially intrigued by Speak-Write. It seems they have some pretty good rates. The only thing that would be better is if it was free.

Take care,
Andrew

Written By:Jane On December 25, 2006 12:28 PM

I can't agree, that Mind Manager is the top mind mapping software. All my friends and me are using ConceptDraw MINDMAP www.conceptdraw.com and we think it's more visiual and give more possibility for creativity.

Written By:Dave On December 25, 2006 3:33 PM

Jane,
Thanks for your input. I believe that MindManager has the largest market share for mind mapping programs.

Thanks for letting us know about ConceptDraw, I'll check it out.

What do you and your friends use ConceptDraw for? How do you use it? I'd love to hear more about your experiences with it.

Written By:Ed Poll On December 26, 2006 5:01 AM

It can be free! If you have the Panasonic (KX-T76360 phone system or one like it, you can dictate into your telephone and receive a .wav file to your email. This can then be transcribed by Dragon Naturally Speaking into text.

Now you have a draft version that can be edited, cleaned up by your secretary and "beautified" for distribution to the appropriate persons.

Written By:Joe On December 27, 2006 1:45 AM

I have tried all the different Mind Mapping products out there and believe that NovaMind is better than the ones mentioned above - see http://www.nova-mind.com

I've been using it for several years now and the advancements in the program have been impressive, and the quality and ease of use are excellent.

Written By:Scott Riddle On December 30, 2006 1:01 AM

Thanks for the tips and recommendations. I am considering case and practice management software, as Outlook, Acrobat and paper are getting more and more inadequate. I'll note which companies pose as "friends."

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