While keeping an ever vigilant eye on the bottom line, I try to stay on the bleeding edge of technology and office systems in order to stay one step ahead of the competition in terms of efficiency and client service.
Here are some products and services I use and recommend.
HP ENVY 120 PRINTER
I love the form factor and usefulness of this printer, so much so that I bought a second one for the conference room.
HP offers a service called e-Print, which allows you to assign an email address to the printer. Anything sent to the email address prints on the printer. Here is how I use it in my practice.
I'm meeting with a new client in the conference room, and although they brought me most of the documents I need to review, they left an important document back at the office. No problem. I give them the email address of the printer in the conference room, they call their office, and while we continue our meeting the document prints out on the printer. Yes, their office could email or fax you the document, but that would require coordinating with someone in your office to watch the fax machine or email, and to bring you the document when it arrives. Plus, if the document in question is a color document, it arrives that way. Try that with a fax.
Similarly, how many times has a client had a document, email or photo on their cell phone that they want to show you? Just tell them to send it to print; the HP Envy 120 printer shows up on their phone as a printer.
It is also flat bed copier if you want to copy any documents brought by client, and the form factor makes it so slick that it's perfect for the conference room.
For my own part, I like to check email on my iPhone throughout the day when I'm away from the office, but then it shows as “read” on Outlook when I'm back at the office, sometimes causing me not to follow up on an email. If I see an important email, or if a client emails an attachment that I know I want to print for the file, I immediately email it to the printer in my office, where it is waiting for me when I return. Next to moi, the HP Envy 120 printer is the coolest thing in our office.
As I have explained elsewhere, to maximize your SEO results and bring in the most new clients, you need a mix of niche websites and blogs devoted to your various practice areas. “Niches make riches”, so even if you only do family law, that can be broken down into narrower practice areas in order to boost your rankings. You're not just a “family lawyer”, you handle uncontested divorces, child custody disputes, fathers' rights, etc.
Although blogs are fantastic, if you make everyone of your sites a blog, you are going to kill yourself trying to keep them fresh with new content. Rather, your goal should be to have as many blogs as you can comfortably keep current with articles. In How to Create a Big, Fat Pipeline of New Clients for Your Law Firm in Just 10 Days, I detail how to set up your blogs so that they won't be quite as time sensitive, but you'll still need to feed it content eventually.
As soon as you create your third blog, you must sign up for ManageWP. Just as WordPress made it incredibly easy to create a blog and add articles, ManageWP does the same for multiple blogs. All your blogs are maintained from a single page, where you can update WordPress, update the plug-ins, read and respond to comments, publish articles and so much more. If you have four blogs or less, the service is free.
Sometimes you will write an article that is appropriate to two or more of your blogs. Without ManageWP, you'd have to open each blog, open a new post and write the article (or at least cut and paste the text). With ManageWP, you just select the blogs you want to publish to, and with a single click that article is published to all of those blogs.
I liked ManageWP from day I found it, and it has always provided a quantum leap in efficiency, but the publishers recently undated the interface to make it truly amazing, greatly improving the ease of use.
If you have multiple WordPress blogs, you must get ManageWP.
DRAGON NATURALLY SPEAKING SOFTWARE
Your experience with dictation software might match my own.
I tried it once (it actually came with Word Perfect at one time) but never really got into it. The time spent editing out all the mistakes it created ended up being comparable to what it would have taken to type the document in the first place. In my case, I've gone through that process a couple of more times. I was sent a review copy at some point, and even paid to upgrade it to keep it current, but never go into the habit of using it.
However, I finally forced myself to take the time to implement it and to develop my technique, and my efficiency has taken a quantum leap. I am a very fast typist, but I cannot type anywhere near as fast as I talk (no one can, that's why we pay the big bucks to court reporters, and even they must constantly tell people to slow down).
With multiple blogs to feed, I need to be able to create quality articles quickly. My technique is to use a wireless headset. I pace the office talking and even gesturing as though I am explaining something to someone, the only difference being that I end sentences with punctuation and say “new paragraph” when appropriate. I don't look at the computer monitor during the process. I found that the time it took to edit by voice (“select ‘Brad Berry', spell it, B R A D B U R Y, go back”) was the time-consuming part of the process. If I make a mistake, I just say “fix this” and keep going. (I used to just say “crap”, but I didn't want that to mistakenly end up in a document.) I just get it all into the document and then go back and edit.
I use Dragon Naturally-Speaking on my computers at the office and at home, as well as on my laptop. Writing an article with the keyboard seems so last millennium. It's like the scene in the Star Trek movie, where the crew travels to the past (our present), and Scotty sits down at a computer and starts talking. When that doesn't work, he picks up the mouse and talks into that. Finally, when Bones points to the keyboard, Scotty says, “how quaint.”
You can do much more with Dragon Naturally-Speaking, including operating your computer. For example, you can open your email program, dictate an email to a client and send it without ever touching the keyboard. For me, though, I just use it for the lightning quick entry of text; mostly for articles and letters. For court documents, where I will be cutting and pasting research and moving around arguments, I still find that the “quaint” keyboard is the way to go, but even there I use Dragon to speed up the process. To start dictating, you just say “wake up” and the mic turns on and Dragon types whatever you say. So, when I am preparing a brief and come to a point where I am going to insert my brilliant analysis, I just say “wake up”, dictate in all that I want to say, and then say “go to sleep”, at which point I return to typing.
Be sure to buy Dragon Naturally Speaking Premium as opposed to the slightly cheaper home edition. The difference in price is small, and the Premium Edition comes with some important features. If you want to really get fancy, there is also a Dragon Naturally Speaking Premium Mobile edition that comes with a recorder. You dictate your thoughts into the recorder when you are away from the office, and then plug it in and let Dragon translate it when you get back. There is also a Dragon Dictate for MAC.
There is a Dragon Naturally Speaking Legal edition that is about $700, but so far as I can tell it just has a built in lexicon for lawyers. For my purposes, I would have no reason to spend that extra money. You can teach Dragon any word, and if it is a unique word that is unlikely to arise in the future, such as a legal term or someone's name, I use a simple word in substitution, and then do a global search and replace when I go back to edit.
If I still haven't completely sold you on the virtues of dictation, invest 99 cents and get the e-book How To Write A Book Without Typing It in 6½ Easy Steps: #1 Secret Hack for Authors. This very short e-book contains a wealth of information about the advantages to dictation, that go beyond the mere efficiency. The author argues, and I agree, that dictation leads to better, more natural writing.
KINDLE FIRE HDX OR KINDLE FIRE HD
You already have, no doubt, made your decision about which tablet to own and carry (or whether to own one at all). Amazon dominates the e-book world, and the primary reason to favor a Kindle over any other tablet is for the easy access to e-books. With a Kindle, buying an e-book from the Amazon bookstore is a true one-click experience. But even without a Kindle, you can read Amazon e-books on just about any other tablet or computer using the Kindle Reader app or program. For example, even though I own a Kindle, I often read e-books on my iPad because it has a larger screen than my 7-inch Kindle (although overall I greatly prefer the smaller form factor of the Kindle).
Nonetheless, even if you already own another tablet, there is a huge reason to own a Kindle. That reason is text-to-speech.
Not all kindles offer text-to-speech, but the Kindle Fire HD and the Kindle Fire HDX do. Again, I am always looking for ways to be at the bleeding edge of technology. We are in a wonderful time of readily available and very inexpensive e-books on every conceivable topic. The 99 cent e-book I discussed above would have easily cost $10 just a few years ago as a softcover, assuming a short book like that would ever have been published. Now, I was able to absorb some great information with just a 99 cent investment (and no trees had to die). With the addition of the Kindle Unlimited subscription program, I now have access to a virtually unlimited library of free e-books (except the price of the subscription).
But who has the time to sit and read all these great e-books? That is where text-to-speech comes in. I have a very short commute to work, but even with that limited amount of time, I go through on average three e-books per week that I would not otherwise be able to consume without text-to-speech. All by just listening during my commute and other usually wasted time. Audio books are great as well, but they are expensive and are limited to what the publishers perceive will have mass appeal. Chances are How to Write a Book Without Typing will never be an audio book.
When using text-to-speech, the Kindle moves through the book and keeps you at the current page. If you arrive home and want to continue reading the book, you just turn off the text-to-speech and pick up reading right where you left off. And that is true across devices. If you stop text-to-speech on your Kindle, the book will open at that precise point on your iPad or whatever. If your only experience with text-to-speech is the computer-like voice that used to be the norm, you are in for a real surprise with the Kindle. The reading is far more natural sounding, and you can even choose whether that voice is male or female.
Years ago, I used to listen to books on tape. Even then, as much as I enjoyed listening to these books, I felt the information could be imparted much faster. I found a cassette player sold at Radio Shack that permitted the user to increase the speed of the playback, while at the same time equalizing the narrator's voice so that it didn't sound like a chipmunk. As evidenced by the fact that we read much faster than the speed at which people speak, we can absorb information at a much higher rate. With my Radio Shack cassette player, I not only used commute time to read books, but I went through twice as many books.
That same technology is built into every Kindle with text-to-speech. In any book that you are reading, you simply touch the play button and the speech begins. In the lower right-hand corner of the screen there is a button marked 1x, and touching that button increases the speed to 1.5x, 2.0x, 3.0x, or 4.0x, again all while keeping the voice normal. I generally listen at double speed.
For copyright reasons, Kindle allows e-book authors to elect whether text-to-speech will work with their books, but with the exception of books that might someday become audio books, they almost always do. I don't recall the last time I wasn't able to use the feature with a book I was reading.
Which Kindle to buy is a personal choice, dependent on your intended use. If you have a tablet you like and are getting the Kindle primarily for the text to speech, then get the base model of the Kindle Fire HD. If you want to use the Kindle as your primary tablet, then opt for the Kindle Fire HDX, which is lighter, has better resolution, and includes the really cool Mayday feature, with a video assistant to provide technical support.
That just leaves you to decide the amount of memory and whether it will come with cellular data access. As to memory, I don't keep much on mine, and all the books are stored in the cloud, so 16 GB was sufficient. As to the data plan, next time I will get it with that option. I was so sick of data plans that I just could not face another, and opted for the Wi-Fi only model. That is fine 99% of the time, but occasionally I find myself wanting to be able to get a book when I'm not at a hot spot. As with my iPad, AT&T now offers a pay-as-you-go data plan. I may go four months without ever needing or paying for a data plan, but when I need it, I can pay $15 dollars to buy some quantity of data. I seldom use it, but I'd like to have the option. If you don't think that circumstance will ever arise for you, then save the money and buy the Wi-Fi only version.
When I originally posted this information, the 7 inch Kindle Fire was a bargain at $139, but now they've dropped to just $49.99! I can't keep up, so check the image below, which will automatically show the current price. Even if you are leaning toward a different size or configuration, the link below takes you to the Amazon page with all of the available models and configurations.
Speaking of sizes, Amazon now offers a 6-inch version of the Kindle Fire. I love this size! (As do others, apparently, because it cost more than the larger 7-inch model.)
Why would a smaller screen size be preferable? Because as much as I like my 7-inch Kindle HDX, there's no where to put it when I'm not using it. In other words, if I'm listening to a book as I drive, and I want to continue to listen when I arrive at the grocery store, where do I put it? Whereas the 6-inch is just a little bigger than my iPhone 6+, and I can stick it in my back pocket.
As I am writing this, the 6-inch Kindle comes with 8GB or 16GB. I got the larger size, because there were a number of reviews from people regretting buying the one with less memory. If you intend to download any videos, 8GB is pretty small.
There is one more configuration decision to make. you can buy a Kindle “with special offers” or “without special offers”. All that means is if you opt for the slightly less expensive model that comes with “special offers”, you will be greeted with an advertisement each time you turn on your Kindle. Save the few dollars and get the Kindle WITH special offers. I actually like the ads, because often they are something that interests me. They never appear while you are using your Kindle, only when you first sign on. In any event, if you decide I was wrong because you hate the ads, you can just pay the difference and upgrade and Amazon turns them off.
Crucial tips regarding Kindles (and probably any other tablet).
One final word about the Amazon Kindle. When I got my first Kindle Fire, I was disappointed by the battery life. Not the battery life while you are using the Kindle — it seemingly lasts for days — but rather the battery life when it is sitting in your briefcase. It seemed that every time I pulled out my Kindle, if I hadn't used it for a couple of days, it was dead. Amazon suggests that you turn off the wi-fi to the extend the battery life, so I would dutifully go into settings and turn off the wi-fi every time I was done using my Kindle. But it was a hassle, and it didn't seem to help much.
Eventually I figured out that turning off the wi-fi was still leaving on the Bluetooth, so the much easier way to turn off both was to just put the Kindle in airplane mode. I just swipe down from the top of the screen, and touch the airplane icon. But to really extend the battery life, you also need to make sure you don't have any programs running that are using power even when the screen is locked. Ironically, because I was experiencing battery life problems, I had downloaded a battery app in order to see which apps were using the most power, and since that app was always running, it was a constant drain.
Now that I am good about using airplane mode and have eliminated any battery draining apps I added, battery life just isn't an issue. By way of example, I just pulled out my Kindle HDX, which hasn't seen a charger for a week, and even though I've used it a few times this week (my Kindle 6 is my latest toy and is getting the most use), it still has an 82% charge.
Speaking of listening to e-books on the Kindle, here is the perfect Bluetooth earbud I have found, after years of trial and error. It goes in your ear, and is very unobtrusive. Most don't notice that I am wearing it.
I'm an information junkie, and when I'm walking, running, shopping, or waiting in line, I use that time to listen to e-books on my Kindle, or podcasts or audiobooks on my iPhone. I find any kind of wired connection to be annoying, so I just wanted a small Bluetooth earbud I could stick in my ear. This fits the bill perfectly, and is actually better than I envisioned.
It paired flawlessly with my Kindles and iPhone, and I really like that it uses verbal prompts. It tells you when it powers on, when it links, and when it powers off; no need to look at lights or remember what “beep bop boop” means. An unexpected surprise was the “VoiceDial” feature. I've had this on other Bluetooth headsets, but this one activates Siri if I'm using it with my iPhone. The entire face of the earbud is a button. Hold down the button for a second or two, and it switches to VoiceDial mode (and tells you that it has done so). Yes, you can then ask Siri to make a call, but you can also use any of Siri's features. Thus, without the iPhone ever leaving my back pocket, I can send text messages, have my text messages read to me, check the weather, etc. I'm sure most Bluetooth headsets now have this ability, but somehow it is cooler that I can do it all with just this little thing in my ear.
Again it's probably standard technology and I just missed the memo, but this works amazingly with my car's Bluetooth. If I'm listening to a podcast on my iPhone with the earbud, and start my car, the podcast switches to the car's Bluetooth. When I arrive at where I'm going and leave the car, the podcast starts playing in my ear again. I don't recall such a seamless hand-off experience with other Bluetooth headsets I've used.
It comes with ear hooks, and an assortment of sizes of the rubber part that goes in your ear, including one that that is twice as long as the others to really hold on. I must have the perfect sized ear canal or something because the pre-installed one fits me. I don't use the hook and the earbud stays put with no problem.
If you don't like sound in just one ear, it comes with a short wire that goes around the back of your head (or you could put it in front of your face I suppose if you want to look special) and is attached to a second, even smaller earbud.
Like most things on Amazon, the price on these vary as much as pork bellies, but they are usually around $15, with a list price of $30. I was so impressed with this that I bought a second one, just to be sure one is always charged.
I was already listening to about three books per week just by using Kindle's text-to-speech feature during my spare but unable to read time, but with this earbud, I've made even more “reading” time available.
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