By Gerry Morris
I’ve written about a variety of hardware and software products over the past couple of years. I’ve mostly written about gadgets and applications that either I or a close colleague use so that I can give you a first hand review of how it does or doesn’t work. Some of the products I’ve written about are now gathering dust somewhere, but there are a few that I’ve come to depend on to help me run my practice and my life in general. This month I want to briefly recap some of my past reviews and add one or two new ones to make up an all-star list of ten useful products. These products, listed in no particular order are the stuff I use every day and recommend. Some are pricey, but some are inexpensive or even free.
1. Amicus Attorney – Small Business Edition. This is the practice management software application I use in my office. I chose it over its competitors because the graphical user interface is the most intuitive in the field. It does everything I need it to do in my small firm practice and is extremely user friendly. I’ve also found it to be very reliable. You might also take a look at Time Matters for larger installations or more sophisticated functionality.
2. Google Desktop. I thought I would throw in something that is absolutely free. This program can be downloaded from, where else, Google.com. This desktop search engine indexes everything on your network and desktop PC much as Google’s Internet search engine indexes all the materials on the gazillion web sites on the World Wide Web. Type in what you are looking for in the program’s search box and, in less than a second, a list appears in a browser window with links to every relevant document, email, chat or previously visited web site. It’s amazing.
3. Splash ID. This program works with my Palm Treo. The product includes a desktop application and an application for the handheld. This program is basically a small database in which I enter all my web logon information, my credit card and bank account numbers, my wife’s clothes sizes, my frequent flier account numbers and so on. I can enter them in the desktop application and sync the information to my Treo. Splash ID allows me to carry with me all the information that I may need to get through a busy day of logging on, checking in, and paying up. Of course, all the info is password protected so I can safely keep it all in one place.
4. Publicdata.com. This is an online service that allows me to search driver’s license records in several states by name. There are also criminal records from several jurisdictions and a few state’s DMV records. The service costs a few cents a search but is well worth the meager cost. Not a day goes by that we don’t have occasion to find a current address for a witness or someone otherwise connected with something we’re working on.
5. Paperport. This document management program interfaces with our scanner and allows my legal assistant to drag and drop scan documents into Amicus Attorney. On each of our desktops we use Paperport’s stack and unstack feature to manipulate scanned documents. We can separate documents into individual pages, combine documents and turn scanned documents into fill-in-the-blank forms. We also use Paperport to convert documents into Adobe Acrobat pdf format.
6. Fujitsu sheetfeed scanners. The exact model of Fujitsu scanner I use, the 620C, has been out of production for some time. If the two I have ever wear out I’ll replace them with the current model. However, I don’t think that will happen anytime soon. These scanners operate at about 20 pages per minute and work flawlessly. We go months between paper jams and when they do occur, it’s usually because of a paperclip or staple. Speed is important but reliability is paramount. It doesn’t do any good to have a 50 page per minute scanner if the sheet feeder jams every 25 pages. From what I’ve read and heard, the newer Fujitsu models have carried on the tradition.
7. Palm Treo 755p. Apple iPhones are sexier, Blackberries are all the rage, but I prefer my Treo. The palm operating system enables me to take advantage of the thousands of low cost applications such as Splash ID mentioned above. I can create and edit Microsoft Word Documents and Excel Spreadsheets. I can even view PowerPoint presentations. I can listen to music on a MP3 player and to unabridged books downloaded from Audible.com. I can receive and send email when I’m out of my office. Of course, the standard calendar, contact and task functions are included and the Treo syncs with Amicus Attorney without first having to sync with Microsoft Outlook. My new 755p has more built in memory than its predecessors and a faster processor. Treo’s market share is declining but, for me, it’s still the best smartphone available.
8. Audible.com. This one is purely for entertainment. Audible.com is a wonderful web site where, I can download to my computer and ultimately on to my Treo, any one of thousands of popular books ranging from the classics to today’s best sellers. The membership fee is about $16.00 per month which entitles me to two books per month with no further cost. If I want more books than that, additional ones can be purchased. I can knock out the average book on about 4 or five trips to one of the surrounding counties for court appearances. However, something like the unabridged version of Moby Dick took about nineteen hours of total listening time. Audible.com is well worth the price.
9. Onlymyemail.com spam blocker. This is a web based spam blocker which means that it retrieves your mail from your ISP, filters it, and then delivers it to your desktop. All the spam is retained off site. After I wrote about this service several months ago, I received several favorable emails from readers who tried it. There are a couple of downsides. If you sign up for the basic version for $4 per month, there is about a 5 minute delay from the time your ISP receives an email until it reaches your desktop. The advanced version for about $30 per month eliminates this issue. Also, the basic version has an attachment size limitation. I suggest creating a second email account on your ISP strictly for sending and receiving large attachments.
10. Brother HL-5250DN Laser Printer. For years I was strictly a HP devotee when it came to laser printers. They were reliable as the sunrise and the consumables were widely available. I occasionally strayed to try some new brand and always regretted it. However, after reading several reviews of the Brother HL 5250DN, I decided to give it a try. The twenty something page per minute, (Brothers says thirty) dual sided, three paper bin (on the model I have) networkable printer performs like a champ. All of our PCs are connected to it via our network, which mean that there is no dedicated printer server PC that must remain turned on. The print quality is excellent and the consumables reasonably prices and easy to find. The purchase price for one complete with extra paper trays is around $260.
Thank you for the kind reviews several of you have given me about this column. I always enjoy the feedback. I also enjoy hearing about technology you use in your offices.
E. G. “Gerry” Morris is a small firm practitioner and has practiced law for over 29 years in Austin, Texas. He is certified as a Criminal Law Specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. His firm web site is at www.egmlaw.com. Email your comments and questions to Gerry at email@example.com.