On August 12, 2016, I will be one of the lunch-time speakers at the State Bar of Texas 15th Annual Advanced In-House Counsel Course in beautiful San Antonio, Texas. I will be joining Jason Smith of Apttus and Jane McBride of Optimus Legal to discuss ways to “Work Smarter, Not Harder.” A lot of what we’ll be talking about will involve the use of technology (along with some good old-fashion “non-technical” ideas). If you know me, you know I love gadgets and technology. Give me some neat technology to play with and I am off to the races, trying to think of all the ways I can use it in my work and personal life. And there is always something new to try. Last year, I wrote a post about using technology to increase efficiency in the Legal Department. I focused a lot on some of the bigger technology efforts most in-house Legal Departments now require, e.g., matter management, e-discovery, along with some of my favorites like Practical Law and Getting the Deal Through, etc. Everything I wrote about in that post is still relevant and it’s worth taking a look back at that one. But, since time does not stand still and there are plenty of new programs, apps, and other tech bits for me to write about, this edition of “Ten Things” will discuss 2016’s “cool tech” for in-house lawyers. I should point out that I do not receive anything to endorse the technology below, it’s just my opinion on what I think in-house lawyers, located just about anywhere in the world, might find useful:
- Pocket. This has become one of my favorite “everyday” bits of technology. I use to come across interesting articles or videos or whatever on the Internet and would either email them to myself or print them out. Pocket has changed all of that. You download Pocket to your favorite web browser and whenever you find an article, blog, video, website, etc. you would like to read or visit later, you just click on the little Pocket icon on your tool bar and it’s saved for later – whether you are connected to the Internet or not. Great for storing up stuff to read for the plane or while you’re waiting for that next meeting to start. It’s integrated with over 1,500 apps (e.g., Twitter, Flipboard), works on your lap top, smart phone, and tablet. Best of all, it’s free. The only downside is now you actually have to read all those articles you saved!
- Free Conference Call. Wow, talk about truth in advertising. This is, well, a free conference call service. And it works great! Not only do you get your own bridge-line (and password) to host free conference calls, you get toll free dial-in numbers for just about any country. You can also set up and present free webcasts and video streaming, just like GoToMeeting, only this is 100% free. And you can host up to 1,000 callers or webcast viewers. You can even record and share your calls/webcasts. The good folks at FCC host training webcasts several times a week along with easy to understand online tutorials. It takes about 30 seconds to sign up for this service. I use FCC almost every day. Highly recommended.
- Stanford Law School – Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Clearinghouse. This is a brand spanking new website from Stanford Law School in collaboration with Sullivan & Cromwell. If your Legal Department deals at all with anti-bribery issues, the FCPAC is a tremendous free resource containing a massive amount of information and data, including a repository of original source documents, detailed information all relating to enforcement of the FCPA (i.e., cases, fines, etc.). There are also data analytics available – which is always helpful when the C-Suite or Board asks you, “Well, what happened with other companies.” Additionally, the site contains data, maps, “heat” maps, alerts, articles, etc., all dealing with the FCPA. From the website:
“The goal of the FCPAC is to provide investors, policymakers, scholars, judges, lawyers, the media, and the public at large with a comprehensive website for all things FCPA-related. Users can review relevant laws, read articles about FCPA compliance and enforcement, and view, search, and sort data about FCPA enforcement actions according to their individual needs and interests.”
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- ContractSafe. When I was General Counsel one of the projects we started and stopped numerous times was purchasing a contract management tool. Like many companies, our contracts were stored in many different places, in different types of repositories, with different capabilities to get data. While we did have guidelines for storing contracts, we lacked a central system. And there were numerous times, litigation, due diligence, etc., where we could have saved an immense amount of time and expense if we could have quickly located contracts, let alone the missed opportunities by not having key contract dates and terms automated. The problem was most of the systems we looked at were way too complicated and way too expensive. The folks at ContractSafe appear to have solved that problem. Co-founder (and lawyer) Ken Button gave me a demo of the product a few months ago and I was very impressed. It was simple, did all the core things you would want (i.e., searchable, deadlines, access from anywhere, etc.) and it was fairly inexpensive. If this were available several years ago we would have definitely given it a hard look. There is a short four minute video (narrated by Ken himself) you can watch on YouTube. Check it out.
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- SnapDat – For some of the newer generation, business cards seem like a fossil or something grand-dad used to carry around with him. Yet, there are dozens of times during the week or the weekend where you wish you had a business card (or even a “social card”) to share with colleagues, opposing counsel, potential clients or customers, new friends, etc. If you didn’t happen to pack a few in your wallet or purse, or you left them back at the hotel room, you’re out of luck. Unless you have downloaded the free SnapDat app. SnapDat allows you to create an electronic business card and share it as a v-card with just about anyone electronically, including anyone in your contacts list. You can use your company logo or create one using a template. You can even include a photo and links to your social media accounts like Twitter or LinkedIn. There are a bunch of other features as well. Never get caught without a professional looking business card again. Check out this two minute video on YouTube.
- Notability – Believe it or not, “Mr. Tech” here is fairly new to the tablet world, finally buying an iPad about six months ago (though I still love my laptop). I am also a heavy note-taker, i.e., writing out notes by hand in my paper notebook (which is a much better way of learning/remembering than typing notes into a laptop or tablet). I recall that sometimes I wished I could record what I was listening to so that, in addition to my notes, I could hear exactly what was said (e.g., an interview with a witness). Eventually I figured out that I can record audio on my iPad and that, with the proper apps, I can either type or write notes by hand on it. Then I discovered Notability which seamlessly combines all three in one ass-kicking app. With Notability you can sync audio recordings up to your hand written notes. You can draw with it, add photos and other images, import and embed documents – all directly into your documents. It even has “left-hand” and “right-hand” modes. Your notes and documents can be saved as a PDF or other file formats and you can back everything up to iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, or other cloud based storage. It’s a bit pricey ($7.99 on iTunes) but if you want to meld hand written notes with technology, it’s worth it. Here is a helpful video describing some of its features. Oh, and go ahead and buy a good stylus for writing on your tablet. I like the Bamboo Fineline 2.
- Slack – Slack is the hot collaboration tool of 2016. It allows you to build a team site and put all of your team communications in one place (called “channels”). You can utilize real time messaging and file sharing, one-to-one messaging for private conversations, and you can search all of the information in your Slack project channel, including documents and conversation threads. You can download the mobile app or a desk top version (or both). You can create channels for teams or for specific projects. Slack allows you to drag and drop all of your files, images, PDFs, documents, and spreadsheets into Slack and then share them with anyone you want. If you use Dropbox, Google Drive or similar services, you can paste the document link into Slack for everyone to access (and it becomes searchable as well). Slack can reduce the wear and tear on your email inbox dramatically. There is a free version so you can try it out and see if it’s something that works for your team and then, if necessary, upgrade to one of the paid versions with more features and storage. Here is a short video with some of the basics of Slack. This is a great tool for legal projects both within the Legal Department and within the company – you can even invite people from outside the company to join a project. Just remember that you need to be very careful about attorney-client privilege issues and work product issues when using a platform like this. Be sure to label privileged communications and documents properly and ensure everyone using the tool understands how the privilege works and is “writing smart,” i.e., not using the tool in a way that can come back to embarrass the company or worse. Those jokes just aren’t as funny when you see them thrown up on a giant screen at trial.
- Typeform. One of my blog posts last summer was on how to prepare a client satisfaction survey for the Legal Department. In that post I talk about using Survey Monkey or Zoom. Those are still great tools, but I found one that is better. Typeform allows you to easily create great surveys, and provides templates containing numerous ways to ask survey questions, from “yes/no”, to multiple choice, to scales of 1-10, open text, or whatever. There is even “skip-logic” that allows you to take the user to different questions depending on the answer they select in an earlier question. You can create online payment forms, job applications, event registration forms, polls, integrate with common apps, and a dozen other uses. There is a free version with unlimited surveys and other basic templates, and you can download the results of your survey into a spreadsheet or use the online analytical tools. The paid versions give you even more features and options. Besides client satisfaction, you can use Typeform for your next Legal Department offsite, to get feedback on things going on in the Legal Department (e.g., the department meeting), or many other things. Any time you think feedback might be useful, Typeform can help you automate the process of gathering the data and make it easy for people to give you the feedback you want.
- Safe PST Back Up – I save a lot of my emails to folders I have created in Outlook on my laptop hard drive. I have also experienced the joy of the “tech guy” updating my laptop and losing all of my folders. Twice. So, let’s just say I have learned my lesson here: backing up your laptop is like voting in Chicago – do it early and often. I use Safe PST Back Up which is a free download that allows you to easily capture and back up your personal email folders (and other things). To simplify, when you save emails off of the email server they become what are called “PST” files (vs. “OST” files). Once they are saved as PST files, if you have deleted them from the Exchange server there is no way to get them back if your laptop crashes and the emails stored there are lost. Safe PST Back Up solves that problem. You can back up email, contacts, calendars, tasks, and other folders and you can access them with any version of Outlook. Once you get started, the software only backs up changes/new items to your PST files, saving time and storage space. I use a 1TB Seagate external hard drive to back up my PST files (and my other files, i.e., documents, spreadsheets, PDF, etc.). You can back up continuously or at different intervals (hourly, daily, weekly, etc.). Of course, there is a paid version and an enterprise version with more features. But, if all you want to do is make sure you have your save email folders in case something goes horribly wrong, the free version is all you need. There are several excellent short “how to use” videos for Safe PST Back Up on YouTube.
- If This Then That – This is an app you will be hearing a lot about over the next few months. The Wall Street Journal calls it the best internet productivity tool of 2016. “If This Then That” (IFTTT) connects apps and devices through a series of “recipes,” i.e., if this happens, then do this. It’s that simple. It connects two different services (no more and no less). The only limit is your imagination. For example, if you wanted an alert sent to your son to take their allergy medicine every time the ragweed count hits a certain level, you can link together the ragweed alert to your text message system. Or anytime you are tagged in a photo on Facebook, have that photo sent to your Dropbox account. You do all of this through what is called a “recipe” where a “trigger event” causes an action, i.e., if this, then this. It’s a bit like being a computer programmer. Okay, a very, very simplistic computer programmer! And if you don’t feel like reinventing the wheel or want to see what recipes other users have cooked up, the IFTTT community has posted over 400,000 recipes online. There is a good tutorial about IFTTT available online. Well worth the 20 minutes to watch it.
You do not have to be a technophile to use any of the technology above. Trust me, I’m just an “Average Joe” when it comes to technology. But I do love to try stuff out and see if it can improve my work product or make me a better lawyer or leader. The key is to not be afraid to try it. As you can see, there are lots (and I mean lots) of videos on YouTube to help you get started with just about anything noted above. You won’t break anything, so give it a shot. One thing I am watching but didn’t list above is how in-house Legal Departments utilize “virtual reality.” It’s still in its infancy but I think there will be some really neat uses of VR (besides playing video games). For example, you can host a department meeting virtually, or even an annual shareholder meeting if you’re really ambitious. You can also attend that deposition you don’t want to travel to or sit in the court room while your attorney argues that key motion – all without having to leave your desk. Well, that’s what I predict any way.