It’s August and that means three things: it’s very hot here in Texas, the Nebraska Cornhuskers have already lost a football game, and it’s time for my annual “Cool Tech” for in-house counsel blog post. As you can imagine, I am pretty excited about the last one. Not so much the first two. Regardless, this is the seventh year in a row where I will be sharing technology and tech-related ideas that can make life easier for in-house counsel (well, at least better). If you want to check out past editions (and I hope you do), you can find them here:
If you have followed this blog and my posts on LinkedIn, then you already know that I am a big believer in the power of technology to improve the capabilities of the legal department and, more importantly, help show the value generated by the legal team. That said, for my annual Cool Tech edition I generally try to discuss technology that is free (or very low cost) and adds immediate value. So, if you are looking for an evaluation of e-billing systems, matter management systems, document management systems, electronic signatures, and so forth, you’re at the wrong movie. If you do want to read about this type of “big tech’ (and all in-house lawyers should), I suggest the annual LawGeex 2021 contract technology buyer’s guide or Deloitte’s technology in the legal department guide. Packed with great information, they are both free! But, for today’s purposes, we’ll stay small and focused, i.e., technology you can buy and start using today, some of which is free. As usual, I received nothing for recommending this technology to you. I just think in-house lawyers will find the technology useful. I also realized as I was writing this that because I am spending so much time working from home (thanks Delta variant), a lot of my suggestions work especially well for your home office. And with that, let’s dig into Cool Tech for In-House Lawyers 2021 Edition:
1. Epson Eco-Tank Printers. I don’t know about you, but the myth of a paperless office has been just that, a myth. I still find myself with the need to print out a good amount of material every day. Trying to read everything on a screen (especially lengthy, complex contracts) is just too difficult. At least it is for me. The problem with printing out so much paper is that you run out of ink very quickly, especially if you are using an inkjet printer (you know, the one with the small ink cartridges that cost more than a good meal). I found the solution – an Epson Eco-Tank printer. Specifically, the ET-3760 model because that was what was on sale at Costco when I went shopping for a new printer. It has four huge ink tanks that you can easily refill far more cheaply than buying cartridges and a full tank lasts about a year with normal use. Mine prints in color because every once in a while I need to see the different colors of the redlines in what I am printing out. There are several ET models to choose from, though. Big thumbs up for the Eco-Tank.
2. Jabra Elite Active 75t Wireless Ear Buds (Noise Canceling). For the past several years I have refused to give up my wired headset for my iPhone (no matter how difficult Apple made it to keep using it). A month or so ago I read a review for the Jabra Elite Active 75t wireless ear buds. I am a big fan of Jabra products. The review was very positive. And, they were on sale at the time, costing about half of what Apple is charging for its high-end earbuds. I went out on a limb and bought a pair. Wow! Even if you cannot get them on sale, they are still a bargain. They work great, are easy to set up, and cancel most of the background noise while providing crystal clear music and phone call audio.
3. Eero Mesh Network. Unfortunately, my home office is as far away from the WiFi router as possible inside our house. Accordingly, I have struggled to get a consistently strong WiFi signal while working. I had tried just about everything, including paying a professional to install a mesh network that worked everywhere but the home office. I was considering buying a dedicated hotspot and just footing the bill for another internet signal when I found Amazon’s Eero mesh network on sale earlier this year. For under $200, Amazon promised to solve all of my WiFi signal problems. This was less expensive than the dedicated hotspot and worth a shot. It has worked spectacularly well! It took about 15 minutes to set up and I have not had a single problem with WiFi coverage in my home office since. There are several versions you can buy, but I kept it simple and bought the three router pack. Probably the best $200 I have spent this year!
4. Wanderlog. Like many of you, I was finally starting to travel a lot after getting vaccinated. I have always done a lot of traveling for business and for fun and it felt great to be eating crappy food and sitting at the gate waiting to join the rush for overhead bin space. While travel seems to be slowing down somewhat (again, thank you Delta variant), I did find an incredibly useful new itinerary app for my smartphone: Wanderlog. Man, do I love this app (and so do many others). Check out the website for more details, but with this app, you can:
- View your map and itinerary in one view.
- Add places from guides with one click.
- Collaborate with friends in real-time.
- Import all of your trip details.
- Optimize your route.
- Access to curated travel guides for your destination
- Much, much more.
5. Ginger (writing app). I am a big fan of Grammarly (free version), the most popular writing-assistance app out there today. It made my Cool Tech list a few years back. I use it when I write this blog and for emails and Word documents (even contracts I am drafting). It works great. But, Ginger is going to give Grammarly a run for its money. Ginger, of course, corrects spelling and simple grammatical errors. It also makes changes and recommendations for sentence structure, punctuation, and writing style. It makes suggestions for re-phrasing wording and uses artificial intelligence to suggest synonyms. Best of all, it’s free (though the free version is more limited than the free version of Grammarly, which is a downside). Of course, just like spell check in Word, you should not over-rely on Ginger, Grammarly, or any other tool to properly edit your writing. The suggestions are generally correct, but not always. So, always take responsibility for proofreading your own writing.
6. Peak Design Backpack. I generally use a backpack to haul all my stuff around. Unfortunately, doing so usually makes me look like a lost hiker or a very old second-grader. Until recently, I just accepted that if I wanted to use a backpack for my laptop, papers, cords, etc. (especially when traveling) I was doomed to lug around something that looked pretty unprofessional. Then I came across the Peak Design Everyday Backpack Zip, an ultra-roomy and ultra-sleek backpack that should be standard issue for in-house lawyers anywhere in the world. While designed with the professional photographer in mind, it’s the perfect backpack for any professional who is tired of looking like they are going camping at Yosemite for a week while traveling or just commuting to the office (yes, that is still a thing). You can configure it in many different ways and the larger size pack can even double as an overnight bag. It’s not cheap, but it is incredibly good-looking and practical. I love this bag.
7. StayFocusd. Like everyone, there are times during the day when I will be working on something and decide that a quick peek at my favorite time-wasting website won’t hurt anything. Thirty minutes later I am kicking myself for getting distracted and off-target and desperately trying to regain momentum on my work. StayFocusd is the perfect free browser extension for anyone who needs a little help avoiding the temptations of The Onion, ESPN, YouTube, Facebook, or whatever. It’s pretty simple to use. Once loaded, StayFocusd allows you to block completely or set limits on the amount of time you can spend on distracting websites throughout the day. As to the latter, once your allotted time is used up, the site is blocked for the rest of the day. For me, if I have a big project, it’s easy to simply block everything for an hour or two and force myself to focus on what I need to be doing. Definitely worth checking out.
8. Any.do. Part of being a lawyer is the never-ending search for a “to-do” list tool that works like you do. Any.do may be the answer. It’s a slick app that works with just about any device or browser. There is a helpful YouTube tutorial for beginners on it here. It is pretty powerful for individuals and families (as you can share lists), and it also works for teams at the office. It works equally well for work tasks and personal tasks, with a simple interface and color-coding features. I have my battles with to-do lists generally (not a fan) but I recognize that many people love them and there is value in keeping an overall list of open projects (at home and the office). Any.do may be the answer I have been looking for.
9. Summize. I know I said I wasn’t going to get into contract management software. I lied. Going over my notes for this blog, I realized that I wanted to share one contract management tool that has a lot of promise for in-house lawyers. Summize is a relatively new player on the contract tech/CLM stage. I saw it in action for creating a contract checklist, i.e., a form tied to your contract playbook or other requirements that allows you (or the business) to quickly review a contract to see if it contains the right clauses or not (and if further legal review is needed). It, of course, does much more than that. One core feature is its ability to provide an accurate summary of any contract you load into the tool. The summary can be something you share with the business or, for most in-house legal departments, a way to save time, i.e., reviewing contracts with a list of the issues that need your attention and feeling confident in ignoring things that don’t matter. I think the folks at Summize have a pretty cool product because it is customizable and can be purposed to work like you and your team work when it comes to contract review and management. It works with Teams, Slack, Sharepoint, etc. They also pride themselves in low friction deployment with a low-cost point. It’s worth checking out to see if it can help your team save time and add value.
10. Coogle.it. Lawyers like to think linearly, i.e., go from A to D to Z, in order. But, the world doesn’t always play along and neither do complex problems at work. Things get messy, things overlap, things are connecting multiple data points in weird ways. This can all lead to one massive headache and hours of “start over” drafting, or, worse, the inability to explain what you are thinking to your boss, your colleagues, or the business. Coogle lets you create mindmaps and flow charts that allow you to think, draft, connect ideas, and present in ways you cannot easily capture in an email or PowerPoint. For example, if you have ever used a decision tree to help present options to the business, Coogle makes the task easy. There are free and paid versions. I have been using the free version so far and it’s great. It is the perfect brainstorming tool, and a way to open up your mind to looking at – and solving – problems differently. You can get a quick peek at how it works here.
That’s it for the 2021 version of Cool Tech for In-House Lawyers. I hope you saw at least one thing worth checking out for yourself and/or your team. If you have any suggestions for Cool Tech, let me know (and post them in the comments or in a reply on LinkedIn). As of this post, we are just a few followers away from 5,000! Thank you for taking the time to read the blog and pass it along to colleagues and friends. I truly, truly appreciate it.
August 31, 2021
My fifth book (on showing the value of the legal department) will likely come out in October. Next blog I will reveal the title. Two of my books, Ten Things You Need to Know as In-House Counsel – Practical Advice and Successful Strategies and Ten (More) Things You Need to Know as In-House Counsel – Practical Advice and Successful Strategies Volume 2, are on sale at the ABA website (including as e-books). If you are having trouble finding them or buying them, let me know.
“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, ideas for a post, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or, if you would like a CLE for your team on this or any topic in the blog, contact me at email@example.com.