Archive for November, 2009

Apple Envy Redux: Using Macs In Your Law Firm

November 22, 2009  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

I just finished reading through the materials for the presentation by Ben Stevens and David Sparks at the 2009 ABA Tech Show called “Got Apple Envy? Macs in a PC World.” It’s a great introduction to using Macs in any business, but with a special emphasis on the business of law.

Since I missed it the first time around (the tech show was in April), I thought I would add my input. What has changed since April? There’s new software, of course. And I also have seven months of additional experience to draw on. So here is what I would add to “Got Apple Envy?” given the chance.

Office Suites

Ben and David did a good job of laying out the office suite options. But there are plenty of good word processing options outside of the suites.

One of my favorites is Nisus Writer Pro. I love the interface. Nisus Writer Pro makes it very easy to work with styles. It’s much better than Pages’ combination of styles drawer and inspector.

I’ll also give a shout out to AbiWord. It has the advantage of being free. But the real reason it’s valuable is because it does a good job of opening Word Perfect files. The PC version of Microsoft Word can do this, but Microsoft Word 2004 for Mac OS X doesn’t appear to have this capability. So I keep a copy of AbiWord around for those occasional Word Perfect files (yes, firms still use Word Perfect).

Task Management

People using Entourage probably use its built-in task management tools. But anyone using Mail has to choose between iCal’s tiny capabilities and using a third-party solution. The good news is that there are plenty of good Mac applications for task management (aka Getting Things Done – GTD). My current favorite is The Hit List. But I have also used Omni Focus and Things at various times. I plan to make a final decision sometime in the next six months, but it’s difficult. They all have their strong points!


I have to disagree that Bento has limited usefulness for a law practice. For a hypothetical firm that has a large budget for database design (or purchase) and someone experienced in charge of processes? Yes, Bento has limited usefulness because it just isn’t very powerful.

But many firms are still using pen-and-paper or Excel spreadsheets to track client work. Bento could absolutely help these firms if someone with just a little knowledge helped them set something up. Bento would definitely be a step up for countless small firms.

Research Tools

Another category of software that might be useful to attorneys are the research tools. Applications like Yojimbo, DEVONthink, and Together come to mind. I don’t have much to say on these other than that I know they exist.

I have used each of them, but I just prefer keeping my research data in a folder hierarchy rather than a single application. Ok, there is one exception. I have taken a liking to Little Snapper. I find myself using it much more than Paparrazi.

Anything Else?

I’d love to expand on the existing topics into the other kinds of applications that I use. But I doubt that most attorneys enjoy dabbling in law / marketing / design / programming like I do. Still, if there is a category of application that you want an opinion on, all you have to do is ask.

Paperless again!

November 16, 2009  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

Today the Scan Snap stopped working. The computer just wouldn’t recognize when the lid was open. So, like I do every few weeks, I went to Google and searched on “scan snap snow leopard”. And what did I find? Fujitsu released an update on Friday for Snow Leopard. Scan to folder works again. That means no more messing around in Adobe Acrobat.

Within a couple of minutes I had shut down Scan Snap Manager and run the updater. And no dice. The scanner still wouldn’t work. It turns out that the Scan Snap (I tried both the S510M and S300M) just wasn’t comfortable working through our USB hub anymore. It had been fine for months, but decided to stop just in time for me to go find the Snow Leopard update. Thanks USB hub! And thanks Fujitsu!

Bento 3 First Impressions

November 2, 2009  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

Now that I have had a few days to try building something useful in the new Bento version 3, I feel like I have seen enough to share my impressions. In some ways, this is like a review of Bento versions 1 and 2 because I never had the opportunity to give them much of my attention.

When I first downloaded the Bento demo, I was a little disappointed. It seemed like Bento would be good for tracking a few appointments, contacts, or projects, but not for anything heavy duty. I have been surprised, though, with the breadth of what I was able to build with Bento. It’s like having a setting of simple tools that, when used in combination, can make something which didn’t seem possible.

Case in point: smart collections. I was disappointed when I saw the list of options for smart collections. It’s nice to be able to view a list of projects that are due within the next three days. But what about overdue projects? How do I distinguish between tasks due yesterday and those due last month? For projects due yesterday, I can select those for which the due date is “in the last 1 days.” But there was apparently no option for selecting tasks that were due at least 14 days in the past.

So I put on my thinking cap and browsed the manual. I came across the section on Calculation fields and inspiration hit. A Calculation field   while nowhere near as powerful as those available in Filemaker Pro   could get me to where I wanted to go. I created a Days Overdue field by subtracting the due date from today. Creating a smart collection where the Days Overdue field is at least 14 (or “2w”) shows the tasks that are at least 2 weeks overdue.

The proper workflow to use is still something of a mystery to me. I created several smart collections, only to discover that later changes to the library’s forms don’t get replicated in the smart collection. So I need to make sure that I finalize the data fields and forms before I start filling out the smart collections.

Having worked with sophisticated databases and interfaces for many years, I still struggle a bit to get things done in Bento. But it sounds like Bento is a good springboard into Filemaker Pro, so it should serve the firm well for at least the next 6-12 months when a more advanced solution is ready.