|Oregon State Bar Bulletin JANUARY 2012|
Whether you are a new lawyer just starting out or a more experienced lawyer who has been around awhile, choosing new software or updating your existing software can be an arduous experience. New software programs are introduced every day, so choosing the one right for you — and one you can afford — is sometimes bewildering or intimidating. The following is an overview of affordable software for lawyers — programs that are fairly simple and easy to use, which could enhance your law practice in significant ways.
If you are an experienced Word or WordPerfect user, you will most likely want to purchase the current version. Little or no training is involved, and you can begin producing work product immediately. A recent comparison shows Microsoft Office Pro 2010 priced at $449.99 to $502.28 and Microsoft Office 2010 Home and Business at $197.47 to $341.56. Corel’s WordPerfect X5 retails for $199.99 to $279.99. (Through a special arrangement between Corel and the Professional Liability Fund, Oregon lawyers can purchase WordPerfect Office X5 for $124.99. Go to www.osbplf.org and look under News.)
If you are not an experienced Word or WordPerfect user, or you are open to other options, you may find that OpenOffice from Oracle (www.openoffice.org) is a great alternative. OpenOffice.org version 3.0 is the leading open source office software suite that stores your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose. I have used it with both Word and WordPerfect documents without any problems — conversion is a snap.
An inexpensive alternative to Microsoft Outlook for your calendar and conflicts program is AnyTime Organizer Deluxe 14, available from Individual Software (www.individualsoftware.com) ($39.95 for single user; $50 per user for network version). This program features easy-to-use multiple calendars, to-do lists, address books/contacts and notes. It also allows you to synch with Google, Outlook, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry and Android phones and tablets. The address book allows you to create conflict information in the searchable note field. AnyTime also has an unlimited number of clocks and timers.
If you want to create your own calendar to fill in and print, Printable Calendar (www.printablecalendar.ca) has multiple Word templates for printing your own calendar, or you might try Calendarlabs (www.calendarlabs.com), with multiple monthly and yearly calendar templates that are compatible with Word, OpenOffice and Google Docs. Some free online programs include the popular Google Calendar (www.google.com/calendar); Keep and Share (www.keepandshare.com), which has a strong privacy control option; WhichTime (www.whichtime.com), an easy-to-use visual calendar that can be downloaded or accessed from the web; and Convenient Calendar (www.convenientcalendar.com), a shared group calendar program with an automatically updating group address book. When using online calendars, remember to properly set the privacy controls.
Most case management software has an integrated conflict system, but two software programs designed only for conflicts are RTG Conflicts (www.rtgsoftware.com), which offers a free 45-day trial and sells for $95 plus $25 for each additional user, or the conflict-of-interest module from Overseer Law Office Software (www.overseerlawofficesoftware.com), which offers a subscription for $8.99 per month. Conflicts also can be organized in any searchable database, including Microsoft Outlook’s contacts, Microsoft Access, Microsoft Works, File Maker Pro or any number of free databases downloadable from the web. One user-friendly free program is FileAmigo (www.fileamigo.com), which allows you to get started with just a few keystrokes and can be updated to a pro version for $49 for a single user or $200 for a five-user network.
A simple, less expensive alternative to QuickBooks is Quicken from the same company, Intuit (http://quicken.intuit.com). If you are just looking for an electronic check register where you can track all bank and credit card accounts, Quicken is the answer. I recommend Quicken Deluxe 2012 ($59.99), which allows you to organize all your bank, credit card, investment and retirement accounts in one place. You can categorize all transactions, and it produces many reports to keep you on top of your finances. It includes reconciliation with bank and credit card statements and check printing. The PLF even has instructions — available from any practice management advisor — on how to set up your trust account in Quicken so you can track individual client funds with a printable report.
If you’d rather not spend any money at all, you can download GnuCash for free (www.gnucash.org). This program is personal and small-business financial-accounting software, freely licensed and available for GNU/Linux, BSD, Solaris, Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows. Based on professional accounting principles, GnuCash allows you to track bank accounts, stocks, income and expenses. Its features include: double entry accounting, statement reconciliation, a checkbook style register, reports, graphs, scheduled transaction and financial calculations. The program enables you to categorize your cash flow and generate reports such as profit and loss statements. The PLF practice management advisors also have instructions on how to set up your trust account in GnuCash.
Billing and Timekeeping
If you are looking for a simple, easy-to-use billing software program, take a look at RTG Bills (www.rtgsoftware.com). This program can be used by multiple timekeepers, includes trust accounting and spell check, and costs $95 for a network version used with RTG Timer. You can download a 45-day free trial. RTG Timer, a computerized stopwatch that timekeepers can use to enter time as work is done, costs $15 per user. RTG Timer Online, which costs $8.95 per month per user, allows time entry over the web (Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer) or a smartphone.
Billing Tracker Pro (www.billing tracker.com) ($179 for a single user and $199 per user for a multiuser version) offers a free trial version, has a built-in timer to automatically track client and case activities, and produces professional looking invoices that can be printed or emailed. The program includes six invoice templates, or you can design your own template. The company offers an encrypted backup service for $9.99 per month, which includes unlimited email support, all upgrades to new versions and the ability to redownload your version of the software.
If you are looking for an online billing program, try Bill4Time (www.bill4time.com). The company offers a free 30-day trial and has a free version for one user that provides for three clients and five projects. Pricing for the Lite version for 20 clients and 30 projects is $9.99 per month, or the Pro version with unlimited clients and projects is $39.99 per month and $19.99 per month for additional users. The program is user-friendly and flexible with three ways to access your account: online, mobile app and desktop. All data is stored and organized to create invoices in minutes. Professional invoices can be sent out via email or printed and mailed.
If you do not have a tape calculator at your desk, I recommend downloading the free printable calculator Moffsoft FreeCalc (www.moffsoft.com). This calculator resides in your desktop tray and looks like a Windows calculator. However, FreeCalc has a tape feature that will print your transaction tape, including a time and date stamp.
If you want free remote access over the Internet that’s much easier to set up than the Windows RemoteApp and Desktop Connections, take a look at the free application TeamViewer (www.teamviewer.com). TeamViewer connects to any PC or server around the world within a few seconds.
Do you want to store your documents online for easy access? With Box (www.box.net), you can store and share your content with a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee, SSL encryption, redundant storage, configurable permissions and more. The personal version is free for one user and provides 5 GB of space. Additional space can be purchased on a monthly basis. You can choose between the business version and an enterprise version. Other similar services are available at 4shared.com (5 GB free storage), SkyDrive.live.com from Microsoft (25 GB free storage), or Snapdrive.com (5 GB free storage). Both Dropbox.com and SafeSync.com not only store documents but keep them synchronized across all your devices and in the cloud. This means you can update a document on your PC and access the revisions on your iPad or through any web browser. Not only does that give you a high degree of mobility, but it also provides the peace of mind of knowing your documents are always backed up.
If you’re having trouble keeping track of your passwords, take a look at LastPass (www.lastpass.com), a free password manager that makes web browsing more secure. All your data is encrypted locally on your PC, where only you can unlock it with your main password (the only one you will have to remember). It works on Windows, Macs and Linux and can be used with Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari or Opera. It also has a free app for the iPhone and Android.
A few portable document format (PDF) programs are much cheaper than Adobe Acrobat and have many of the same features. Although Acrobat is the PDF standard in the legal community, it is relatively expensive. A recent Price Grabber search found the Adobe Acrobat X Pro priced from $142 to $450, with the standard version selling for $126 to $295. Adobe Acrobat Standard comes preinstalled on the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 desktop scanner, which you can buy for as little as $340.
One of the best available alternatives to Acrobat is PDF Studio (www.qoppa.com/pdfstudio/), an easy-to-use PDF editor that provides a large number of functions on PDF documents. PDF Studio maintains full compatibility with the PDF standard. The basic standard version is $60 and provides these basic features: scan-to-PDF, fill-in and save PDF forms, secure documents with passwords and permissions, merge/split/assemble documents, and add bookmarks, watermarks, headers and footers. The Pro version is $95 and adds functions for batch processing of multiple PDFs, digital signatures and advanced splitting and merging. You can download a demo version that prints a DEMO watermark on each page.
Nitro Pro 7 (www.nitropdf.com) gives you user-friendly tools that make working with digital documents simple, straightforward and cost-effective for $99.99 (multiple user prices are available). You can view, create and combine PDF files, scan and OCR (optical character recognition), edit, reuse content, review and annotate, apply your handwritten signature, secure documents with passwords and certificates, redact information, save, print, design and submit forms and Bates-stamp documents.
Foxit PhantomPDF Express (www.foxitsoftware.com) ($49 per user) creates PDF documents from Microsoft Office applications like Word, PowerPoint and Excel, and from multiple files and scanned files. It supports digital signatures and encryption with passwords. You can insert comments, highlights and stamps to existing PDF documents. Foxit PhantomPDF Standard ($129 per user) adds the functionality to edit text, manipulate pages and secure sensitive information, along with OCR capabilities. It also supports the PDF/A format (PDF for archiving). Foxit PhantomPDF Business ($199 per user) adds advanced editing capabilities and security to safeguard sensitive information. This version contains an advanced PDF editor, allows you to convert PDF to Word, text and image formats, and includes redaction capabilities and form design. OCR is supported, along with a PDF optimizer and high compression of scanned documents.
Inexpensive software alternatives abound for sole practitioners and small office lawyers. This article describes those I know best and recommend, but it is not a comprehensive list. If you are interested in learning more about alternative software for law offices, please contact a practice management advisor from the Professional Liability Fund (www.osbplf.org) at (503) 639-6911 or (800) 452-1639. We are happy to meet with Oregon attorneys to assist in all areas of practice management.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dee Crocker is an OSB Professional Liability Fund practice management advisor and can be reached by email at email@example.com.
© 2012 Dee Crocker