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If you work for a large law firm, most likely you have a complete IT staff with help-desk support anxiously waiting to resolve problems caused by technology or provide methods of accomplishing tasks. But if you’re a solo practitioner or small-firm attorney, don’t worry, because you are not all alone. So where do you turn when you need help or suggestions? Consultants are expensive, and if you are a solo practitioner, you’re already used to doing most things on your own. So the answer is really right at your fingertips. The most overlooked function in any program is its “Help” menu. Just about every program, along the top layer of functions, has a section called “Help.” Surprisingly, more often than not this actually provides the answer to what a particular problem, by utilizing either a search or index function. The newer Microsoft products, as well as many others, also offer a direct link to an online “Help” section for that particular vendor through the “Help” screen. In addition, most software programs have “knowledge bases” on their Web sites, and a search through these often yields answers to the problem or situation you are looking to resolve. If a product has been purchased recently, the vendor may also provide free phone support for a specific time frame and may allow you to purchase additional time once the free support is done. This one-on-one help is often preferable to wading through online knowledge bases. The downside is that you will often have to wait for upwards of 30 minutes or more before you get to talk to the right person to help you solve your problem. Another popular way of finding help is through online discussion groups. A good place to start is ITToolbox, ( www.ittoolbox.com ), which hosts numerous Web sites, discussion groups, blogs and newsletters on many technical areas. Although registration is required, there is no cost to join ITToolbox’s many sections. Members run the full range of technical skills, from novice to expert, and are always willing to offer advice to newbies. Of course, Google is also a great way to find an answer, but instead of just posting your search in Google’s search engine and trying to wade through all of the hits to find what you need, go to Google Groups (groups.google.com). From there, try the beta version of the new Google Groups, under the “Computers” section. This area is divided into the various areas of computing, such as operating systems or databases. Under these particular sections, you can find the specific area that you are having a problem with, as well as a potential solution. One word of caution – back up your data first before trying anything unusual you might find on the Web or in discussion groups. What works for one person might not work for another, as their setups and problems may be different from yours. Besides general computer-related technology sites, a number of lawyer-specific areas exist as well. A good starting point is the American Bar Association’ technology site, www.lawtechnology.org . Organized under specific “Info Centers,” including law office technology, court technology and mobile computing, the ABA site features knowledgeable articles written with lawyers, not tech-heads, in mind. Of particular note is the section for solo practitioners and small firms, including a way to join in the ABA’s discount program for Dell, IBM and Xerox products. Another helpful site, albeit more of an advertising site for particular products, is FindLaw’s Market Center, marketcenter.findlaw.com, featuring different sections on hardware and software. If you don’t find the answer you are looking for here, the next step is to try a book. There are many technology books on the shelves of the local big-name bookstores, from the popular “Dummies” series to the “Learn everything about (your product here) in 21 days” programs. But the best book for your colleagues might not be the best one for you, so take some time to browse through the different offerings on your particular subject before purchasing. It is better to actually visit the store than to order it online. If there is not a specific problem you are experiencing, but you just want to keep up with basic trends in computing or a particular program, a monthly newsletter or magazine may be your best option. A company that I find produces a good quality product is Element K ( www.elementkjournals.com ). Element K offers more than 40 monthly newsletters covering specific products in the Microsoft line geared toward business professionals, as well as products for IT professionals and graphic and digital designers. PC Magazineprovides concise tips and reviews on a monthly basis for many areas of desktop computing. The free newspaper, Computer User( www.computeruser.com ), offers localized tips and articles, as well as broad-based features. For legal-specific technology information, Law Journal Newsletters’ Legal Techprovides a wealth of information for large firms and solo practitioners alike ( www.lawjournalnewsletters.com/pub/ljn_legaltech ). Sometimes talking with another person in the same situation as you are can help resolve a problem or provide tips that you weren’t aware of. These “user groups” often meet on specific schedules. The Lawyers Users Group of Philadelphia is a good place to start. Call the Philadelphia Bar Association for more information on when the meetings are scheduled. For other user groups geared toward specific products, a good listing of these local groups can be found in the Computer Usernewspaper. So remember, you may feel all alone when it comes to your computer problems, but most likely if you’ve experienced it, so has someone else. Knowledge sharing is a great way to enhance your technological know-how. BRIAN R. HARRIS is the database administrator for the American Lawyer Media-Pennsylvania division and the former editor-in-chief ofThe Legal Intelligencer . Harris can be contacted at [email protected].

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