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Every year, new gadgets and technologies try to pry dollars from our wallets. But how many of us struggle with what we have already purchased? There’s a cybersaying that we all only use 10 percent of any software we own. How can we access the elusive 90 percent? This can be especially intimidating for small-firm practitioners, who may not have in-house IT support or formalized training sessions. So here’s a month-by-month plan that will, in a year, increase your technology literacy and confidence. JANUARY Attend LegalTech New York, Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, at the New York Hilton & Towers. This conference � celebrating its 25th anniversary � is the best conference and exhibition in the country and usually has more than 300 exhibitors, all showing their latest and greatest. But don’t get overwhelmed (which is easy). Instead, take a look at the program before you arrive and choose three vendors. While you’re there, spend time with those three exhibitors and learn more about software � especially case management � and how it can help you in your practice. There are also some dynamic sessions on electronic data discovery you don’t want to miss. FEBRUARY Focus on calendaring this month. Learn how to expand Microsoft Corp.’s Outlook calendar to create rules and filters. For example, if you have a bar luncheon every month, same day, same time, learn how to schedule this automatically using a rule, instead of manually making an appointment every week. Another task to learn this month: how to take an incoming e-mail and turn it into an appointment. MARCH This month’s target: word processing. Learn three new functions this month.
First: Does your firm still convert Corel Corp.’s WordPerfect into Microsoft Word? Take a look at how to open up and how to send e-mail attachments. Second: Learn how to customize your own toolbar, specific to your needs. Third: Learn how to be sure you haven’t left any metadata on that client letter.

APRIL Take three of your best clients to lunch. (One at a time, not all together). Don’t talk, just ask questions. And most important: Listen. Are they happy with the services your firm provides? How can you improve the delivered services? Are they satisfied with your firm’s communications � telephone response as well as e-mail? Do they expect more immediate results? What technology do they use, and what do they expect you to use? You’d be surprised at how clients like to be asked their opinion. Attend the ABA Techshow, April 20-22, in Chicago. A great educational conference, with panels for all skill levels, it includes about 100 exhibitors. Another chance to hear your colleagues explain how they did it. Again, take a look at the program ahead of time, and choose one area to focus on. The key is to avoid tech overload. Wander the exhibit hall and pick up a thumb drive (at least one vendor will be giving them away). When you get home, practice saving your Microsoft PowerPoint presentations on the drive and get in the habit of carrying one as a backup, especially to out-of-town client presentations. (Pretty soon, you may decide to leave your computer at home.) MAY This month, focus on advanced features of Google. Click on “Images” to search only for images, “Groups” to search through News Groups and “News” to search more than 4,500 news sources. Click on “Advanced Search” to be able to perform boolean searching. Try Googling your own name and your firm name. Then go to Technorati and set up a WatchList. And if your firm doesn’t already have a Web site, ask three colleagues how they set up their site, and if they can recommend someone to help you get started. JUNE As many people say, “You might as well not even break the shrink-wrap if you don’t train on the software.” A key secret to successful use of technology: Train, train and then train some more. Start with word processing. Set up three brown-bag, one-hour lunches at your firm and learn one specific task at each session. It’s a good way to learn “Styles,” “Track Changes,” “Footnotes, Endnotes” and “Table of Citations.” Again, one step at a time is the best way to learn. JULY Now that you’ve attended either LegalTech New York or ABA Techshow (or both), it’s time to begin framing your long-range technology plan. Focus on the firm’s long range needs. For example, it’s a good idea to replace computers every three to four years. This not only helps to keep up with technology, but more important, helps to plan a reasonable budget for the firm. Don’t do it all at once. Replace one-third this year, one-third next year and so on. There are many ways to approach this task, but for small firms, the first step might be to talk to a practice management adviser at your state or local bar association. If your firm is big enough, create a technology committee. If you don’t already have in-house technology staff, consider whether you might want to establish a relationship with an outside consultant. There are models of long-range planning available; you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. You should be able to complete a long-range plan within a few weeks. AUGUST Read law technology blogs, including Monica Bay’s The Common Scold, Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips, Rick Georges’ The Future Lawyer and Ernie Svenson’s Ernie the Attorney, to name a few. Check out Law.com’s Legal Blog Watch, and look at the “blogrolls” of your favorite bloggers. Learn about RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds so that you can have your favorite blogs’ new posts automatically e-mailed to you. Is a blog in the future for your firm? SEPTEMBER Focus again on e-mail this month. You have already learned how to send and open attachments, so now explore further. Learn how to create a “signature” for your correspondence. Learn the difference between “text” e-mail and “html” e-mail, and experiment. Figure out how to create distribution lists for e-mailing groups of people, and how to designate an e-mail as confidential and add a bcc. OCTOBER October brings a lot of fall festivals. Take time to smell the leaves, so to speak. Attend at least one event, whether it’s related to a special interest, your community, your family, your church, politics, music, theater, whatever. Remember, there are some things more important than work. You can always take your Treo or BlackBerry with you. Don’t have one? Then on the way back from that festival, stop by Best Buy, Circuit City, Target, etc. (or go online) and cough up the $500 for a smartphone. Take your pick: Palm Treo 650s, Kyocera 7135s and BlackBerry 8700s are hot, hot, hot. Within two weeks you will wonder how you ever lived without it. And you can go to a lot more wineries, beaches and ski slopes without worrying about that client in crisis. Be forewarned, though. You might get so hooked on the smartphone that your colleagues will start calling it a “crackberry.” NOVEMBER Stuck on a plane heading to relatives for Thanksgiving? Throw a tech manual in your carry-on. You just bought that smartphone, right? When you are crammed in the middle seat, pull out the manual and learn three additional features. You’re in first class? Pull out your laptop, click on Games and learn how FreeCell works. Or better yet, download the latest version of Bejeweled before you leave, and the six-hour flight will feel like 10 minutes. DECEMBER Congratulations, your technology comfort level has reached a new level. You’re ready to tell Santa you want a new laptop with built-in wireless connectivity � and a wireless router (about $50 after rebates). Yes, you really can � in less than an hour � set it up and provide everyone in your household wireless access to the Web. You’re ready for that New Year’s toast! (Of course, if you’ve been realllllly good this year, you might ask Santa to also leave a little Apple iPod nano in your stocking!) Andrew Adkins III, a member of the Law Technology News editorial advisory board, is director of the Legal Technology Institute and associate director of technology services at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. This article was originally published in Law Technology News.Practice Center articles inform readers on developments in substantive law, practice issues or law firm management. Contact Associate Editor Candice McFarland with submissions or questions at [email protected].

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