Ten Things: “Cool Tech” for In-House Lawyers (2017)

I was a panelist at the 16th Annual Advanced In-House Counsel Course in San Antonio, Texas on August 18, 2017.  I was joined once again by Jason Smith of Apttus and Jane McBride of Optimus Legal to discuss ways lawyers can work smarter and not harder – a worthy goal if ever there was one!  Of course, one of the main ways to accomplish this is through the use of technology which we all touched on at some point during the discussion.  If you follow this blog regularly, you know that I have recently written on the impact of artificial intelligence on in-house legal departments as well as ways to slay the “Email Jabberwocky.”  Both highlight ways technology (and common sense) can help you do more in the same or less time.  You also know that I enjoy writing about the use of technology generally by in-house lawyers.  And now that I have gotten back in the General Counsel game after two years of private practice, I am focusing even more intently on ways technology can make my and my team’s lives easier.  What all of this means is that it is time for my annual “Cool Tech” blog post.  You can read my past posts for Cool Tech 2015 and Cool Tech 2016 (and I still recommend all of the technology mentioned there), but this edition of “Ten Things” will discuss an all-new list of cool tech for in-house lawyers.  As always, I do not receive any compensation or anything to endorse these products, it’s just my opinion about technology I think in-house lawyers might find useful:

1.  Waze.  Okay, I know I am late coming to the game here but I truly just discovered Waze.  And it is awesome (especially out here in San Francisco).  Waze is a “GPS” app for your phone or tablet that lets you know the fastest way to your destination when driving.  It uses Google map information and combines it with crowd-sourced reports from Waze users about road conditions, accidents, etc. to help calculate the best way to go on your trip.  You are able to add to the “Big Data” pile by making reports as you encounter traffic, accidents, police cars, gas stations, etc.  It has a voice activated search feature and a large number of ways you can customize the display and the voice directions (I prefer the UK English speaker myself).  So, before heading to the office or that big meeting or just out for dinner with your spouse and friends, Waze should be the first thing you open on your phone.  Click here for a YouTube demo.

2.  Duet Display.  If you are an in-house lawyer you use a dual-display configuration at the office, things can get tough when you are on the road or at home, i.e., no second monitor.  With Duet Display, you can turn your iPad or iPhone into a second monitor for your lap top or PC.  Simply launch the app on your iPhone or iPad and connect to your other computer (Mac or PC).  Unfortunately, while it can connect to PC or Mac computers, the second screen app can only be run from iPhones or iPads (no Android phones or Microsoft tablets).  Click here for a YouTube video demonstrating it working with a Surface Tablet as the main screen.  If you rely on a second monitor, here’s a way to get it while away from the office.

3.  Grammarly.  Let’s face it.  Everyone’s writing – including yours truly – can use a second pair of eyes to look for spelling mistakes, grammar, etc.  This is especially true if your work product is going on to the “higher” ups, where bad writing can cause a serious dent in your in-house career.  And if you write a lot, e.g., memos, emails, Facebook, resumes, LinkedIn, WordPress, and so forth, you truly do not want anything to go out riddled with errors.  Grammarly is your new writing buddy.  You can install it as a Chrome extension, or as an extension for Word and Outlook as well.  In addition to catching errors, Grammarly also provides you with word choice options that can make your writing more powerful.  I use the free version (I even used it to proof read this post) but there is a premium version you can buy.  If writing is important to your career, this is one app you need to get. Just note that you still need to decide for yourself if the suggestions are changes you want to make.  I accept about half the suggestions generally unless it’s spelling or verb tense.   Click here to see the YouTube demo of Grammarly.

4.  SavvyDox.  One problem I have run up against as in-house counsel is how best to take input from several different people on one document. For example, I once had a brief due in court and given the high level of visibility of the case, I had a number of “helpers” – from the C-Suite to the Board, all wanting to give their views and input on the document. Then I had to spend the better part of the day figuring out which redlines and comments to accept and which ones to reject – all based on looking at each version of the document one at a time. As you can imagine, that was (and is) a painful process. Not only that, I then had seven or eight different “versions” of the brief I had to manage or try to delete – and hoping everyone was always working off the “right” version going forward.  SavvyDox solves this problem.   I think their slogan covers what you need to know here:

Enterprise-class document distribution, version control, and change tracking. One document, one owner, multiple contributors, fully-tracked.” 

In addition to version control and management of redlines and comments in one document, another neat feature is that it has the ability to show you only the pages with changes/redlines (saving you the time of having to wade through a long document searching for them).  Click here for a YouTube video showing you how it works.

5.  NotaryCam.com.   Every once in a while you need a notary.  Sometimes on the weekend or late in the evening when everyone has gone home.  Or, you may work at a company where there are no employees who are notaries, meaning you need to drive to a bank or pay a high fee to have a notary come to the office and take hours out of your day to get this otherwise simple task accomplished.  What do you do?  NotaryCam solves this problem with online notaries available 8 am to 11 pm EST every day.  It’s legal in all 50 US states and in many foreign countries and it’s simple to use:  Go to NotaryCam.com, upload your document, connect to a live online notary face-to-face on a webcam, and electronically sign your document with eSign. The notary will verify and confirm your identity and apply their eNotary seal. Your document is then routed to everyone who needs it and is stored securely.  The cost is $25 USD per signature in the US ($79 USD international).  You need to have a browser, webcam, and internet connection to make it work.  Click here to see an explanatory video on YouTube or here for a set of FAQs about the process.

6.  BreachRespondeRS.  Here is an online tool from the Reed Smith law firm that walks you through a series of questions to help you determine if you have a data “incident” or a reportable data “breach.” The tool is called Breach RespondeRS and it’s available for free.  Here is how Reed Smith describes their tool:

“Nearly every state in the United States requires notification when certain personal information is lost, stolen, or misused. However, the many state laws vary in subtle but crucial respects, making it difficult to get to a bottom line quickly… Breach RespondeRS guides companies through a series of basic factual questions and shares immediate initial assessment reports as to the likelihood that notification is required.”

This is a great idea and potentially helpful tool for those first hours of a data incident when everything is flying fast, so hats off to ReedSmith. Of course, the proof will be in how it works when needed. I made up a data incident to play with the tool (i.e., clicking on the correct buttons for my imagined incident) and it does give you a helpful report at the end along with access to other resources.  It’s worth checking out.  Click here for a YouTube demo of the tool.

7.  Trove.  Jason Smith described Trove as “AI for Email.”  I think this is a great description, a smart phone app that allows you manage your email more efficiently, in particular, by highlighting emails that most likely need your immediate attention (all based on the use of AI learning about your email habits).  If you live out of your email inbox, then Trove is the app for you.  And it will soon be available in a desktop version as well.  Here are the key features of Trove that I find the most appealing (but there is a lot more it can do):

  • Highlight emails that need your immediate attention
  • Allow you to “snooze” emails and have them come back into your inbox at a later time
  • Group less important emails and allow you to delete with one swipe (with the ability to move any email out of the list before deleting)
  • Stay on top of emails that ask you questions

There is a lot here to like, especially once the desktop version gets going.  If you’re someone who does not believe in “zero inbox,” then Trove is worth a try.  Click here to see a YouTube video showing some of the features in action.

8.  ActiveWords.  Have you ever wished you could simply type a word or two and instantly have text that you use repeatedly (entire agreements, clauses, signature blocks, photos, symbols, directions to your office, or whatever) appear?  ActiveWords does just that.  For example, you probably noticed that at the end of each blog I have several paragraphs of text that rarely vary from post to post.  Prior to ActiveWords I had to find an old blog post and cut and paste.  With ActiveWords I simply type the word “End,” hit the spacebar twice, and all of that text instantly appears in my document.  You can also use it to open programs, a specific document, websites, and folders on your computer. Click here for a YouTube demo.

9.  FreePDFConverter.  I use this one a lot.  FreePDFConverter allows me to cleanly convert and Office document to PDF (with working hyperlinks).  It also lets me convert a PDF to Word, which can be a real timesaver if you need a form or otherwise need a document you can edit and you only have a pdf version.  Granted, you might have software that does this on your work laptop but there may be times when you do not have your laptop with you or you’re working with someone who does not have the right software.  If so, this free service can be a lifesaver!  The downside is that the free version only allows you to convert one document every 60 minutes.  If you need to do more than that, you either have to wait or you can upgrade to the paid version which – in an “emergency” – would be worth the $9 USD for a month-long membership.

10.  Zapier.  This is a really slick app that connects the apps and programs you use every day.  For example, you can use Zapier take a “trigger” (e.g., a new email with an attachment) to take an action (save the email attachment into Box) and additional actions (alert you in Slack that you have a new document in Box).  The combinations are almost endless.  It works with over 750 apps, including SalesForce, Facebook, Gmail, Google Sheets, Twitter, Marketo, Evernote, Office 365, and with more on the way like Outlook.com and iPhone.  Here are some additional ideas on how to use Zapier from the website:

  • Automate your social media presence by sending new RSS items to Facebook as posts
  • Keep projects organized by copying new Trello cards into Evernote
  • Stay in touch with prospects by adding form respondents from Typeform to your mailing list in MailChimp
  • Make sure your team never misses a meeting by notifying a channel in Slack of upcoming Google Calendar events

There is an online book with over 350 “Zap” combinations to get you started (click here).  Zapier is similar to IfThisThenThat (IFTTT) which made my 2016 Cool Tech list.  My experience is IFTTT is easier to use but Zapier allows you to do more complex linking of apps and programs and is aimed more at business users.  Ultimately, it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.  Click here for a YouTube video on Zapier.

*****

There is so much “Cool Tech” out there that it’s difficult to even scratch the surface when limited to “10.”  If I had to name a few “honorable mentions” I would go with:

  • Poll Everywhere – allows you to insert live interactive polling into presentations, which can really give you some extra “oomph” when presenting
  • Expert Fee Calculator – lets you get a good estimate on the good of an expert witness broken down by category/type and geography
  • PDF Expert – if you have a Mac, iPad, or iPhone this is hands down the best pdf editing tool out there.  You can also use it to fill in forms and sign PDF documents

I could keep going, but that’s better left for my Cool Tech 2018 edition.  The good news is you can explore all of these ideas and see what works best for you or your team. Hopefully, there is one good piece of technology here for you.  Or, you can search on your own and see what cool tech you uncover.  If you find something awesome, let me know.  It might make next year’s list!

Sterling Miller

August 31, 2017

Ten Things You Need to Know as In-House Counsel: Practical Advice and Successful Strategies is now available for sale.  Described by the American Bar Association as “The one book all in-house counsel need to own!”  Click here for details on how to order.  Perfect for your library, or as a gift to clients or members of the legal department (or your next legal offsite).

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Follow me on Twitter @10ThingsLegal and LinkedIn where I post articles and stories of interest to in-house counsel daily.  

If you find this blog useful, please click “follow” in the top right and you will get all new editions emailed to you directly.  “Ten Things” is not legal advice nor legal opinion and represents my views only.  It is intended to provide practical tips and references to the busy in-house practitioner and other readers. If you have questions or comments, please contact me at sterling.miller@sbcglobal.net.

My first book, “The Evolution of Professional Football,” is available for sale on Amazon and at www.SterlingMillerBooks.com.

College football starts for real on Saturday, September 2.  Go Cornhuskers!

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