Okay, let’s just admit it – 2020 has kind of sucked. Like an episode of [Not] Finding Bigfoot on Animal Planet (and, hopefully, ten seasons of not finding him will sate everyone’s Bigfoot lust). I read on Facebook that 2020 is proof that time-travel has been invented because someone keeps going back to February 2020 to try and “fix things” but only ends up making everything worse (“killer hornets” for crying out loud…). It’s also an election year here in the USA which means the stupid factor needle is buried deep in the red. Oh, the humanity. But, there is some good news I can share. It’s August. And August means it’s hot here in Texas. Crazy hot. August also means it’s time for my annual “Cool Tech” blog! Something I look forward to writing every year, i.e., my top ten list of cool technology I think all in-house lawyers should check out. This is the sixth edition and you can check out past editions here: 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. As always, I get nothing for listing these items. It’s just my opinion that these are worthy of your checking out. And with no further ado (or footage of Bigfoot), this edition of “Ten Things” sets out my “Cool Tech” picks for 2020:
1. Draft by Slite. I jot down a lot of notes over the course of a day. Usually on a Post-It Note or piece of scrap paper. Then it goes into my amazing filing system (just kidding – it goes into a box with billions of others scraps of paper and I sort through it all periodically to try to find what I’m looking for usually without success). I recently discovered Draft by Slite. Draft by Slite is a free Chrome browser extension (you do not have to be a Slite-user to use Draft by Slite – though you do have to set up a free account to store your notes). When turned on, it turns an open tab into a down and dirty memo taking page. Whatever you type is automatically saved, even if the tab is closed accidentally and just one click sends the notes to your account for storage. It’s a great way to keep my random notes and thoughts organized day-by-day (that’s pretty much what I do, just create notes for each day then save them). The tool has several ways you can create checklists, numbered lists, charts, etc. Sorry big box of random notes, you’ve just been replaced! Well, maybe…
2. WeBoost. We’ve all come to rely on our smartphones for multiple tasks, starting with phone calls and texts. Unfortunately, depending on your carrier and where you happen to be standing or driving, getting a strong signal in a dead spot can be a challenge. This means dropped calls, delayed texts, no FaceTime, and frustratingly slow apps and other services. It is particularly awful when the dead spot is your own home – where we all seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time in 2020. WeBoost solves the dead spot problem. It’s not cheap, but if you live on your smartphone and suffer from lack of strong or consistent signal strength in your home (or car), WeBoost is a godsend. And it works with all U.S. mobile phone carriers.
3. Audacity. Sometimes you need to record something off of your computer or smartphone. You may need audio to enhance a PowerPoint presentation, or you are just looking to preserve some audio for work or for fun (like recording songs from Pandora or Spotify). Audacity is a slick, free, open-source app that allows you to do just that. You can also record live audio, podcasts, add effects, edit, etc. If you’re Boomer, you can finally get all those old albums and cassette tapes on digital! It works with all operating systems and even works on laptops and desktop computers from 10 years ago! It does all of the basic stuff easily with some more advanced features for anyone who wants to kick things up a notch. The Audacity website has a manual with free tutorials and you can find even more help on YouTube.
4. Selfie Light Ring. Okay, these guys get zero style points for the name, but the product is great. If you’ve ever wondered why you look like Frankenstein’s butt on Zoom or Teams, it’s because of the lighting (or at least I hope so…). There are lots of lighting systems available online but the Selfie Light Ring is a $17.00 solution that clips onto your laptop screen, desktop monitor, or smartphone. It gives you three different lighting modes – anyone of which will greatly improve how you look on video conference calls, FaceTime, or “selfies.” It won’t make you look like Brad Pitt, but you can kiss Frankenstein’s butt good-bye! Um…, sorry, that came out wrong, but you get the point.
5. PowerConf. Sure, you can use the speakerphone button on your smartphone for conference calls – and sound like you live in the basement of Oscar the Grouch’s trashcan – or you can up your game. For years I have used a USB-connected Jabra Speak 410 speakerphone for conference calls. It works really well, but not as well as my new Anker PowerConf speakerphone! Not only is it less expensive, but it also has Bluetooth, six microphones for 360 degrees of coverage, background noise dampening technology, and a long-lasting rechargeable battery. With PowerConf you go from sounding like Rudy Valle at 78 rpm to sounding like Luciano Pavarotti singing opera at the Met!
6. Freehand. If you have ever worked for me you know that I love going to the whiteboard! Sketching out ideas, workflows, SWOT analysis, or whatever on a whiteboard has always been the ultimate way to collaborate – at least to an old guy like me. So, you can imagine how much I have missed my whiteboard during the whole Covid/work-from-home everyday time loop we’re stuck in. Then I found Freehand by Invision. Freehand is a digital whiteboard that can be shared with your team and every one can edit (as a group or by themselves). It comes with a number of predesigned templates that you can edit to suit your needs, be it a virtual “stand-up” meeting, to a group ice-breaker for your now totally online legal offsite. The free version is pretty powerful and, of course, you can upgrade to more fulsome tools for a little bit of cash. Worth checking out.
7. Lynda.com. Many companies offer training to their employees, e.g., how to use certain software, basic business and accounting skills, etc. So, that is the first place in-house lawyers should look if they feel they need to learn something to help them be a more effective partner to the business. YouTube is another good place to find free tutorials on a lot of different topics (though the quality can be a little spotty which you usually don’t realize until you are about 45 minutes into a two-hour video – bummer). Lynda.com has been around for a while now. LinkedIn figured out what a great tool it was and bought it back in 2015 (and of course Microsoft bought LinkedIn so there you go). Regardless, Lynda offers thousands of training online training sessions for a monthly subscription fee. There is a one-month free trial to try it out. But, if you want to hone your skills in Excel (pivot table anyone?) or business intelligence or PowerPoint or how to manage high-conflict employees or whatever, it’s probably a Lynda.com course. And, the courses are all taught by experts with high-quality sound and video.
8. FindTime. Have you found yourself playing the “when can you meet” game more frequently in 2020? I know I have. It gets exponentially worse when you have more than one person to coordinate calendars with. Rather than sending dozens of emails and calendar invites to try to find the one time everyone can meet, I have started using FindTime, a free Office 365 extension that allows you to propose multiple meeting times and let the attendees “vote” on which times work for them. You know quickly whether you have a time everyone can meet or if you have to suggest additional times. There is a similar tool out there called Doodle which works well too. Though the free version of Doodle is not as good as the paid version, the free version does the job (though you will get pestered to upgrade). With FindTime, all you need to be is a user of Office365 and you’re set. Regardless, finding a tool that cuts down on the time spent trying to set up meetings is one way to minimize the pain of Meeting Hell. Make this one of your priorities for the next few weeks.
9. X.ai. A friend turned me on to X.ai when we went to lunch late last year. X.ai uses artificial intelligence to schedule meetings (and you know how much I love all things Artificial Intelligence!). If you just have one person to meet with, it works a lot like FindTime. But, if you have a group, you just type out the details of your meeting and “cc” your AI assistant “Amy” and Amy does the rest – from reaching out to those you want to invite, to managing cancelations or the need to reschedule. She even sends reminders to everyone to ensure the meeting is still on. And she can set up meetings in conference rooms, over Zoom, or at a restaurant for lunch. It’s all pretty amazing and a huge time-saver. Here is a short video showing you how it works (Schedule a Meeting with X.ai). There is a free version and a paid version. The free version is fine for most but just be careful with the setup. I accidentally emailed all of my contacts asking them to connect to X.ai when I thought I was just loading contacts into the tool. Chaos!
10. ThePhotoStick. At one point last year, I had about 4,000 photos on my smartphone. I knew I needed to get them off and save them somewhere other than my phone but was having a hard time figuring out “how.” Then I saw an ad for the PhotoStick. Problem solved! The PhotoStick comes in different sizes of memory (I got the 128k GB version for iPhone) and looks like a UBS drive on one end, while the other plugs into your phone. It comes with a free app that unpacks when you first plug in the stick. Then it’s one click and photos are backed up onto the PhotoStick. You can then load them off of the PhotoStick onto a hard drive or online storage, and you can then delete the photos off of your phone. Super easy.
That’s all for this year’s Cool Tech list. I hope there are one or two things that you find interesting and helpful. And I hope 2020 starts turning the corner soon. But, if you’re going to be working from home almost full time for a while, many of the items above should help you to be more productive day in and day out. Again, I receive nothing for putting any of this cool tech on my list, I just think in-house lawyers will find any one of them useful. That said, if Elon Musk wants to drop off a Tesla Model S in my driveway here in Dallas it just might make the Cool Tech 2021 list. Otherwise, stay cool, stay apart, stay well, and stay away from Bigfoot – if you can find him.
August 31, 2020
Ten (More) Things You Need to Know as In-House Counsel – Practical Advice and Successful Strategies Volume 2 is out. It’s my second book based on this blog series. As the ABA says, “All in-house lawyers need to own this book!” Click here to buy it.
I have three published three other books: Ten Things You Need to Know as In-House Counsel – Practical Advice and Successful Strategies, The Evolution of Professional Football, and The Slow-Cooker Savant. I am also available for speaking engagements, coaching, training, and consulting.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Sorry, I just finished Max Brooks’ Devolution, a book about a fictional(?) Bigfoot attack on an American enclave in Washington State. So, I have Bigfoot on the brain. Max Brooks also wrote World War Z, a book about a zombie apocalypse, which I also really liked. Max – great books: which eight-year-old me nightmare are you going to write about next?
 The “Ten Things” blog is actually based on my habit of training lawyers on my team on a whiteboard by writing out the ten things they needed to know about something. Yep, that simple. Now you know.