Jim’s three favorite technology tools
James W. Martin
Technology is science applied to practice. And not just any practice; my practice. Science has brought many applications to my desk over the last three decades: word processors, Westlaw, computers, automated practice systems. Sometimes I was at the forefront of users (1981: the first lawyer in Pinellas County with an IBM Displaywriter), and sometimes I lagged behind in the stubborn belief the newer technology was not better than the old (1987: replaced the Displaywriter with a PC). But I’ve read, talked and tested technology since 1967 and that gives me a lot of perspective.
So with that perspective, here are my three favorite technology tools in use today. They are the favorites based solely on one factor: frequency of use. Each of these tools is used daily, hourly, minutely. They are inherent to my practice, the way I work. Without them, without any one of them, I can just go home and watch TV. Not because I must have them to do my work, but because I am very grouchy when they’re down or don’t work or have the digital flu.
1. Microsoft Office Keyboard. I learned to type in 7th grade on a manual standard typewriter. Since then I’ve typed on everything from IBM Selectrics, punch card, mag tape and mag card typewriters to Wangs, TRS80’s, Redactrons, Apples, Macs, Dells, Compaqs, laptops, desktops, and PDA’s. The absolute best is the MS Office Keyboard. Why? It lets me scroll, copy, paste, back, forward, and change applications with my left hand—without leaving the keyboard, without using the mouse, without using “shortcut” keys (the keyboard version of the game “Twister”). It does this by the simple expedient of six little buttons and a wheel on the left side of the keyboard. It only costs $39 and they sell them at Office Depot or online at www.TechDepot.com.
2. Xerox Document Centre 545. It looks like a regular old Xerox copier, but inside it has a computer and hard drive dedicated to one thing: moving one image every second wherever you tell it to go. So it copies 45 pages a minute. Big deal, you say, my copier already does that. But this one copies them to its internal hard drive then prints it out any way you want. So if you want to reduce 45 pages of estate planning documents into a 10-page booklet to hand to your client after the wills are signed, it scans and prints it out in a minute automatically. Or if you want the 45 pages to reduce 4 pages to 1 page front and back, it does it in less than a minute. This means that you can keep the electronic version of the documents on your hard drive and have a paper backup for your paper folder file that doesn’t take up so much room.
But making copies is not what puts the Xerox 545 on my favorites list. It’s the fact that it scans a page a second without jamming, ever (knock on wood), and then it puts it on my hard drive. Yes, it scans 45 pages a minute directly onto my desktop computer in the next room. Walk up to it with a 45-page contract, drop it in the document feeder, select network scanning instead of copying, press the start button, and 45 seconds later the contract’s 45 imaged pages appear on my computer’s desktop as a single file. For those readers who care, I have the Xerox set to save the scan as a multi-page TIFF file, but it can be set to save as a PDF file. I prefer TIFF files for reasons best left to another article, but Adobe’s proprietary PDF image file format can be read by most clients’ and lawyers’ computers, so it is nice to be able to walk up to the Xerox and quickly make a PDF to email out for signature.
Just in case you don’t already have a high speed laser printer, the Xerox 545 is also a 45- page per minute network printer, and it prints on both front and back sides of the paper (duplex), if you want to conserve space.
3. Microsoft Office XP. I use WordPerfect 5.1 as my primary word processing software. It came out in 1990, before many who read this article began to practice law, so this admission may damage my credibility. Before passing judgment, please keep in mind that I beta tested WordPerfect 6.0 in 1991 and found it to be a step backward, and I purchased every version of WordPerfect since then and found them all inferior to WP5.1. Why? I think it’s because lawyers and mathematicians find their comfort zone amongst rules and rule followers, and WP5.1 DOS is a rule follower. Unlike later word processing software, WP5.1 does not change the word “plaintiff” to “plaintive,” it does not critique my writing as being “archaic,” and it does not decide in the middle of a 25-page contract that consecutive paragraph numbering is passé and random paragraph numbering is somehow called for.
So, why is MS Office XP (aka Office 2002) on my favorites list? Because DOS is dead and WP5.1 is too slow to keep up with my computer’s speed: 3.06 gigahertz is about a thousand (or maybe a million) times faster than the 12 megahertz world that WP5.1 was born to live in. The fact of the matter is that a recent spate of crash-the-computer digital flu in my office was traced back to WP5.1 and its inability to let go of the high speed computer’s steering wheel. It caused a sort of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, for those who remember Disney World’s kiddy ride.
Switching to MS Word XP has not been too difficult. After all, it’s been eight years since I bought Word 95, and I upgraded at every turn with Office 97, Office 2000, and Office XP. But I never liked it as much as WP5.1 so I just used it to convert incoming Word files to WP5.1 files. But now that I am forced to use Office XP, I find it very powerful, and one of my three favorite tech tools.
However, I am not ready to upgrade to Microsoft Office 2003. I tried its Beta 2 test version and, while it has a more pleasing screen appearance and a few more tools and applications, I don’t think it would be worth running to the head of the line to get the first retail version and install it on all the network computers. This time I decided to give Microsoft a year to work out the bugs before investing in Office 2003.
Besides, deep down inside, I have a gut feeling that Microsoft Office XP 2002 is the best version of Office that will ever exist. And if that’s the case, maybe I can use it for as long as I used WP5.1— 13 years. So I figure I can spend some time learning all its ins and outs; I will get a lot of use out of them.
After all, that’s what technology is all about: science applied to practice. Science…observe, study and experiment…to determine the underlying nature of things…what works and what doesn’t. Some tech tools support the practice of law; others just create diversion from it. The practice of law and technology both move forward, but not necessarily at the same speed.
James W. Martin has written legal forms, books and articles for West, ALI-ABA, and The Florida Bar Journal . Martin consults from his St. Petersburg law office on contract, business, corporate, probate, wills, trusts, real estate and lawsuit matters. He may be reached at [email protected]