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Big tech tips for small firms

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When advising small firm and solo lawyers recently at the American Bar Association Tech Show in Chicago, Indianapolis attorney Marc Matheny said he ran out of time before he ran out of tips.

Matheny was a co-presenter of “The Frugal Firm,” a session that offered an array of pointers for small firms to stay current with fast-evolving technology that bigger firms likely will adopt early.

“A frugal lawyer is not a cheap lawyer,” Matheny said in an interview following the ABA Tech Show, which he said drew record numbers. “Frugal means you use your money to the best advantage to make the most money. It doesn’t mean you spend the least.”

il-marc-matheny01-15col.jpg Indianapolis attorney Marc Matheny co-presented a seminar at the American Bar Association Tech Show in Chicago offering tips for small firm practitioners on frugally investing in functional technology.(IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Matheny and other small-firm lawyers shared their best practices for frugal but effective technology solutions.

Tip: Analyze your needs

Matheny, who is one of nine ABA Tech Show board members, said no set of tips will fit every solo/small firm situation or practice. During his presentation with Michigan attorney Patrick J. Crowley, “We made a very big point about saying how your firm is set up is going to dictate what your practice is all about and what your needs are,” he said.

There are a few essentials, though, on the hardware side: a core computing system – whether Apple or PC – telephone and mobility. Within all of those systems, there is room for frugality, Matheny said. Do you really need a server, for instance?

“Some of the hardware you can get to match your firm’s needs; maybe you don’t need the top-of-the-line computer with the Blu-ray player,” said Matheny, who also chairs the Indiana State Bar Association Solo & Small Firm Conference.

Tip: Buy a bundle

Indianapolis solo family law attorney and mediator Jana Strain recently crossed an item off her tech wish list with the purchase of a Fujitsu ScanSnap. The device scans documents and converts them to digital PDF files and enables sharing on mobile devices. For less than $500, it also includes the latest version of Adobe Acrobat – bonus frugality points since functional Acrobat software alone can cost hundreds of dollars.

“This just became sort of the gold standard for lawyers,” Strain said of SnapScan.

tips-facts.jpgMatheny said devices with multiple functionalities – all-in-one printers, copiers and faxes, for instance – can mean big savings for small and solo firms.

Tip: Do it yourself

Ann Marie Waldron, of counsel for the Indianapolis firm Robinson Wolenty & Young LLP, is the designated IT person for the firm’s five attorneys and three support staff, and she has the honorary propeller beanie to prove it. The firm concentrates in business law.

“There’s a lot of pressure for us to stay competitive, but at the same time we don’t have an unlimited budget,” said Waldron, who caught Matheny’s presentation in Chicago. “We have this amount of money to spend. Where is the best place to allocate that money?”

That puts the ball in Waldron’s court on decisions such as whether to upgrade to a new computer system or wipe the existing system to free up memory and increase speed. Waldron has a can-do approach to such tasks. “It’s all self-taught,” she said. “I Google it and learn how to do it. … You have to be confident that you can figure it out and be willing to try it.”

Tip: Work on mobility

Derrick Wilson, a partner with Mattox & Wilson LLP in New Albany, put it bluntly: “Anybody that’s buying a desktop,” he said, “is probably about five years behind the game.” Wilson said the attorneys in his four-practitioner firm are prepared to work anywhere, and he uses free online services to sync up mobile devices and portables. “We don’t look at paper files anymore.”

Mobile functionality, Matheny said, is “essential for all lawyers at this point, although some don’t know it.”

Tip: Try it for free

Waldron took away from Matheny’s presentation a new respect for how much software and legal information is available online at no charge. Google offers assistance in the form of Google Scholar, for instance. Casemaker provides a treasury of free legal research to ISBA members. Productivity apps abound.

There’s also an abundance of software for the taking, but Matheny offers a caveat about such freebies: “Some of those things aren’t replacements, they’re supplements.” Free versions or shareware often don’t provide the functionality of proprietary software they imitate.

Matheny said providers such as CLIO, HoudiniEsq and Rocket Matter offer low-cost case management and billing systems, sometimes providing users with free 30-day trials. A practitioner, though, should be careful to weigh whether it’s better to sign up for such a service with a monthly fee or pay the upfront cost of a more conventional system such as Tabs3 Practice Master or Abacus. “What you don’t want to do with any legal case-management software is you don’t want to go from one brand to another to another,” Matheny said. “It’s kind of like a marriage – for better or for worse. It’s better to stay with one.”

Tip: Put security first

Waldron said the nature of her firm’s work probably leads to being ahead of the curve when it comes to security. The firm uses a Linux-based email system, for instance, that she said is more stable and secure than Windows systems such as Outlook.

Wilson said attorneys must be vigilant as cloud computing becomes more prevalent. It’s important to know where data is stored and how safe it is, and he said free online file-sharing solutions such as Dropbox may have vulnerabilities that attorneys might not realize.

“All those things have terms of service agreements none of us read that say who has a right to your information,” Wilson said. “It needs to be either password-protected or encrypted.” Dropbox and similar services offer such protections, though sometimes at a premium, he noted.

Tip: Ask a lawyer

Strain has used a number of free software solutions she’s learned about through tech shows and bar resources. “Membership in the Indiana State Bar Association as well as IndyBar will give a lawyer access to a lot of resources they might not find if they were not a member,” Strain said.

Waldron said the value of tech shows such as those offered by the ABA or the Solo & Small Firms Conference of the state bar are good places to find ways to get the best bang for the buck.

“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Waldron said. “There are all these people who’ve already done the work.”•

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  • Sound advise David
    hey David, sound advise. The one thing you may want to mention is the HoudiniEsq on-premise is 100% free for Solos, including support and all upgrades. HoudiniEsq.com

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  1. California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) End of Year Report 2014. (page 13) Under the current system many local registering agencies are challenged just keeping up with registration paperwork. It takes an hour or more to process each registrant, the majority of whom are low risk offenders. As a result law enforcement cannot monitor higher risk offenders more intensively in the community due to the sheer numbers on the registry. Some of the consequences of lengthy and unnecessary registration requirements actually destabilize the life’s of registrants and those -such as families- whose lives are often substantially impacted. Such consequences are thought to raise levels of known risk factors while providing no discernible benefit in terms of community safety. The full report is available online at. http://www.casomb.org/index.cfm?pid=231 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) US Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs United States of America. The overall conclusion is that Megan’s law has had no demonstrated effect on sexual offenses in New Jersey, calling into question the justification for start-up and operational costs. Megan’s Law has had no effect on time to first rearrest for known sex offenders and has not reduced sexual reoffending. Neither has it had an impact on the type of sexual reoffense or first-time sexual offense. The study also found that the law had not reduced the number of victims of sexual offenses. The full report is available online at. https://www.ncjrs.gov/app/publications/abstract.aspx? ID=247350 The University of Chicago Press for The Booth School of Business of the University of Chicago and The University of Chicago Law School Article DOI: 10.1086/658483 Conclusion. The data in these three data sets do not strongly support the effectiveness of sex offender registries. The national panel data do not show a significant decrease in the rate of rape or the arrest rate for sexual abuse after implementation of a registry via the Internet. The BJS data that tracked individual sex offenders after their release in 1994 did not show that registration had a significantly negative effect on recidivism. And the D.C. crime data do not show that knowing the location of sex offenders by census block can help protect the locations of sexual abuse. This pattern of noneffectiveness across the data sets does not support the conclusion that sex offender registries are successful in meeting their objectives of increasing public safety and lowering recidivism rates. The full report is available online at. http://www.jstor.org/stable/full/10.1086/658483 These are not isolated conclusions but are the same outcomes in the majority of conclusions and reports on this subject from multiple government agencies and throughout the academic community. People, including the media and other organizations should not rely on and reiterate the statements and opinions of the legislators or other people as to the need for these laws because of the high recidivism rates and the high risk offenders pose to the public which simply is not true and is pure hyperbole and fiction. They should rely on facts and data collected and submitted in reports from the leading authorities and credible experts in the fields such as the following. California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) Sex offender recidivism rate for a new sex offense is 0.8% (page 30) The full report is available online at http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Adult_Research_Branch/Research_Documents/2014_Outcome_Evaluation_Report_7-6-2015.pdf California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) (page 38) Sex offender recidivism rate for a new sex offense is 1.8% The full report is available online at. http://www.google.com/url?sa= t&source=web&cd=1&ved= 0CCEQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F% 2Fwww.cdcr.ca.gov%2FAdult_ Research_Branch%2FResearch_ documents%2FOutcome_ evaluation_Report_2013.pdf&ei= C9dSVePNF8HfoATX-IBo&usg=AFQjCNE9I6ueHz-o2mZUnuxLPTyiRdjDsQ Bureau of Justice Statistics 5 PERCENT OF SEX OFFENDERS REARRESTED FOR ANOTHER SEX CRIME WITHIN 3 YEARS OF PRISON RELEASE WASHINGTON, D.C. Within 3 years following their 1994 state prison release, 5.3 percent of sex offenders (men who had committed rape or sexual assault) were rearrested for another sex crime, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. The full report is available online at. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/press/rsorp94pr.cfm Document title; A Model of Static and Dynamic Sex Offender Risk Assessment Author: Robert J. McGrath, Michael P. Lasher, Georgia F. Cumming Document No.: 236217 Date Received: October 2011 Award Number: 2008-DD-BX-0013 Findings: Study of 759 adult male offenders under community supervision Re-arrest rate: 4.6% after 3-year follow-up The sexual re-offense rates for the 746 released in 2005 are much lower than what many in the public have been led to expect or believe. These low re-offense rates appear to contradict a conventional wisdom that sex offenders have very high sexual re-offense rates. The full report is available online at. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/236217.pdf Document Title: SEX OFFENDER SENTENCING IN WASHINGTON STATE: RECIDIVISM RATES BY: Washington State Institute For Public Policy. A study of 4,091 sex offenders either released from prison or community supervision form 1994 to 1998 and examined for 5 years Findings: Sex Crime Recidivism Rate: 2.7% Link to Report: http://www.oncefallen.com/files/Washington_SO_Recid_2005.pdf Document Title: Indiana’s Recidivism Rates Decline for Third Consecutive Year BY: Indiana Department of Correction 2009. The recidivism rate for sex offenders returning on a new sex offense was 1.05%, one of the lowest in the nation. In a time when sex offenders continue to face additional post-release requirements that often result in their return to prison for violating technical rules such as registration and residency restrictions, the instances of sex offenders returning to prison due to the commitment of a new sex crime is extremely low. Findings: sex offenders returning on a new sex offense was 1.05% Link to Report: http://www.in.gov/idoc/files/RecidivismRelease.pdf Once again, These are not isolated conclusions but are the same outcomes in the majority of reports on this subject from multiple government agencies and throughout the academic community. No one can doubt that child sexual abuse is traumatic and devastating. The question is not whether the state has an interest in preventing such harm, but whether current laws are effective in doing so. Megan’s law is a failure and is destroying families and their children’s lives and is costing tax payers millions upon millions of dollars. The following is just one example of the estimated cost just to implement SORNA which many states refused to do. From Justice Policy Institute. Estimated cost to implement SORNA Here are some of the estimates made in 2009 expressed in 2014 current dollars: California, $66M; Florida, $34M; Illinois, $24M; New York, $35M; Pennsylvania, $22M; Texas, $44M. In 2014 dollars, Virginia’s estimate for implementation was $14M, and the annual operating cost after that would be $10M. For the US, the total is $547M. That’s over half a billion dollars – every year – for something that doesn’t work. http://www.justicepolicy.org/images/upload/08-08_FAC_SORNACosts_JJ.pdf. Attempting to use under-reporting to justify the existence of the registry is another myth, or a lie. This is another form of misinformation perpetrated by those who either have a fiduciary interest in continuing the unconstitutional treatment of a disfavored group or are seeking to justify their need for punishment for people who have already paid for their crime by loss of their freedom through incarceration and are now attempting to reenter society as honest citizens. When this information is placed into the public’s attention by naive media then you have to wonder if the media also falls into one of these two groups that are not truly interested in reporting the truth. Both of these groups of people that have that type of mentality can be classified as vigilantes, bullies, or sociopaths, and are responsible for the destruction of our constitutional values and the erosion of personal freedoms in this country. I think the media or other organizations need to do a in depth investigation into the false assumptions and false data that has been used to further these laws and to research all the collateral damages being caused by these laws and the unconstitutional injustices that are occurring across the country. They should include these injustices in their report so the public can be better informed on what is truly happening in this country on this subject. Thank you for your time.

  2. Freedom as granted in the Constitution cannot be summarily disallowed without Due Process. Unable to to to the gym, church, bowling alley? What is this 1984 level nonsense? Congrats to Brian for having the courage to say that this was enough! and Congrats to the ACLU on the win!

  3. America's hyper-phobia about convicted sex offenders must end! Politicians must stop pandering to knee-jerk public hysteria. And the public needs to learn the facts. Research by the California Sex Offender Management Board as shown a recidivism rate for convicted sex offenders of less than 1%. Less than 1%! Furthermore, research shows that by year 17 after their conviction, a convicted sex offender is no more likely to commit a new sex offense than any other member of the public. Put away your torches and pitchforks. Get the facts. Stop hysteria.

  4. He was convicted 23 years ago. How old was he then? He probably was a juvenile. People do stupid things, especially before their brain is fully developed. Why are we continuing to punish him in 2016? If he hasn't re-offended by now, it's very, very unlikely he ever will. He paid for his mistake sufficiently. Let him live his life in peace.

  5. This year, Notre Dame actually enrolled an equal amount of male and female students.

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