As the Rolling Stones have touted for decades: “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you’ll find you get what you need.” True for life and surprisingly, also true for software. Who doesn’t want the latest and greatest software at their disposal? I know I do. But the reality is that few law firms can afford the expense of purchasing the software, rolling out the software and training employees to use the software. Not to mention, the software upgrades every time you blink. Nobody wants to get stuck with the Betamax.
For document review, it’s almost always cheaper and more efficient to use a trusted vendor to load, host and maintain a document database using Concordance, Iconect or Summation. You log on to their system remotely and, voila! There are your documents and coding sheets. No stress, no mess.
But what are some of those other neat software programs that are available? What about, let’s say, Photoshop? That would be nice to have, for instance to brighten your teeth on your headshot, crop out an ex-husband who just happened to get in a really good photo of you, or to copy a photo of a chart to make changes to it for an exhibit. Instead, you can use “Paint” on your computer. You have it right there under “Accessories.” Paint is a pared-down version of Photoshop. You don’t need Photoshop — you work in a law office! Paint will suffice.
How about all this chatter about linking? If you don’t know how to link, you better learn, and learn fast. I predict that within a year the courts will require that all exhibits and case law be linked within the document. Microsoft could not make it easier to link within a document. It’s so simple.
This is how to do it: Have all of the exhibits scanned and drop them in a folder. In the same folder, start the document. When the document is finished, go back and simply click on the number of the exhibit in the document and click “Insert,” then click “Hyperlink,” and the exhibit number turns blue with a line under it showing it has been linked. Just make sure your document and all of your linking documents are in the same folder or it won’t work.
Another great way to use linking is to prepare an Excel spreadsheet that lists all of your exhibits or documents, or whatever it is you need to organize. You can add the date, description, exhibit number, Bates numbers, whatever you need. Then use the same technique to link the documents to your spreadsheet. This will quickly become your “go to” system for keeping track of everything. For one thing, you can search the description that will take you right to the document you need. You can use this as a “bible” for documents, too. So if you can imagine what PACER looks like when you access it, that’s what this spreadsheet will look like.
Here’s another great use for linking. You’re doing some Internet research on Lexis or Westlaw research. Use this linking technique to link the cases or Web sites directly into the memo. The attorneys will love it. Better yet, download it to a flash drive and load the memo onto his or her desktop. You are instantly a genius!
You’re drooling for the latest version of Sanction or TrialDirector — both very good trial management software programs. Both well worth the money spent to purchase to have in-house. But if the accounting department just isn’t approving it, use PowerPoint. Yes, that’s right. Use PowerPoint. I only get half of a page for this column, so you’re going to have to learn on your own how to do it, but may I suggest www.half.com, where you can purchase the “PowerPoint Bible” for about $20. I can assure you, it’s not rocket science. What you can learn to do in PowerPoint will amaze you.
Don’t overlook Outlook. Outlook can do some amazing things. For starters, you should learn to invite everyone to a meeting, you should learn to use the voting buttons (this only works in-house), and you should get into the habit of always putting your tasks into Outlook. Your tasks will appear on the side (if you choose that view) and you can print a calendar view of your tasks and deadlines whenever you need too. You can have case-specific calendars that you can share with other team members. Outlook is a very powerful organizational tool and you already have it. So use it! Poke around, see what it can do to help you with your daily deeds and tasks. Outlook is not just for e-mails.
Some day, when you have some down time (a little paralegal humor — we never have down time), start clicking on all those buttons in Word — you know the ones at the top that might be a little scary, with the titles like “SmartArt” and “Chart.” In no time, you will be creating flow charts and diagrams like a pro. Just as if you had SmartDraw software. Click on CoverPage and watch your reports come to life. Don’t be afraid to see how easy it is to create professional-looking documents without all the fancy software.
I am on a mission to see how much I can do with the software I already have. The software we all have. Each Microsoft Office Suite comes with Excel, PowerPoint, Word and Outlook. Each of these programs has a manual that is two inches thick, so it’s safe to assume that there is a lot you don’t know. A quick look through the table of contents will pique your curiosity. With a little experimentation, you will soon be devising new ways to integrate the features of the Microsoft Office Suite to suit you. It’s almost like having customized software, developed just for you.
I do think that every law office should have Adobe Acrobat 9, preferably the Professional version. The days of paper are quickly becoming a distant memory, like the eight-track. The Adobe PDF is the future. Adobe is one of the fair software companies that allows you to upgrade your software at a reasonable price when updates are made available. Adobe Acrobat Reader is available for free, so anyone can open and read a PDF, regardless of whether they have the ability to create a PDF. So purchasing Adobe won’t break the bank in the future with costly updates, and its upgrades are seamless. Honestly, I don’t know how I lived without Adobe Acrobat 9. The software can OCR documents, Bates label documents, allow you to create forms, and remove and insert pages within a PDF. Remember all the things you couldn’t do with a PDF? Well, now you can; you can even edit a PDF. It’s truly amazing.
The economic climate may not be ideal and your firm may be not buying the latest and greatest software, but that is no reason for you not to hone your skills with the software that’s sitting right there on your desktop. Amaze yourself and save your firm some money — it’s all good. •
Kim Walker is a senior litigation paralegal with Berger & Montague, where she specializes in complex class action lawsuits. She has been a paralegal in Philadelphia for more than 25 years. Walker is on the board of the Philadelphia Association of Paralegals, is an instructor for the Institute for Paralegal Education and blogs at “Paralegal Pie.“