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December 2001
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Small & Home Office

Small Firm Technology Secrets

By Storm Evans

Small Firm Technology Secrets DO YOU think you are technologically challenged? Or cutting edge? See if you are using these tech secrets for small firms!

1. Exploiting the Internet

While we talk about the Internet constantly, small firms are not taking nearly full advantage of what it has to offer. Here are several Internet resources that a small firm could use to enhance their efficiency.

* West Group and Martindale Hubbell are just two of the many vendors who will design, maintain and host your Web presence for very little cost.

* Cybersecretaries offers a transcription service via the Internet. You dictate into the telephone and your transcribed document is returned to you by e-mail.

* Mapquest.com: Never leave your office without a map showing you how to get from where you are to where you are going. (P.S. Renting a car? Try Hertz' new Never Lost GPS service: it really works!)

* Kinko's will accept your Word, Word Perfect or Adobe format document via the Internet, produce the printed document and deliver it to your door.

* Eliminate the need for a dedicated telephone line and standalone fax machine: Try e-fax.com and j2.com, both Internet-based fax services. For $8 to $15 per month you can have a fax number in your own area code where people can send you faxes, which are delivered to you via e-mail. You can use the service to send faxes or you can still use your own fax software from your computer to send faxes (Winfax is still my favorite).

* Feed-dog.com offers online training, specifically for law firms. Sign up for courses in Microsoft Office, Corel's WordPerfect, and other software and skills development areas, and take your courses right over the Internet --at your own pace, wherever and whenever it is convenient.

* Mail-cleaner.com is a service that scans all incoming e-mail messages for hidden computer viruses. Messages and attachments are automatically scanned and viruses are intercepted before reaching your network or computer. The complete service is provided via the Internet, with no software or hardware purchase necessary.

2. Scanning

Scanners can really enhance your ability to get your work done. Despite all the talk of an electronic age, too many of us are still photocopying exhibits and faxing them around the country -- when we could be scanning in the pages, using Adobe Acrobat writer software to assemble the document, and e-mailing the document to a mailing list.

Check out scanning software and start using it. For example, Scansoft's Paperport software provides management tools that help you "stack" pages together to assemble the document just as if it was paper. The software helps you manage the scanned images into folders (if you wish) and it provides links to Adobe Acrobat writer, Word, WordPerfect, e-mail, and other applications.

The user interface is great. You grab the image of the document you just scanned and drag it to the icon of the software that you want to save it into. Dragging it to Word or WordPerfect initiates the built-in Textbridge OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software and opens the word processing software with the converted image in it.

Two other features of this software make it even more desirable. First, "SimpleSearch," a feature that allows you to search for words within the text of documents that you have scanned (yep, even if you have not put them through the OCR process). I call it magic, and it works. You can put a folder (like "My Documents") on the Paperport desktop, enable "SimpleSearch" and use it to find documents that you typed in the word processing software or created in your spreadsheet software as well.

Second, "FormTyper" almost entirely eliminates the need for a typewriter in your office. Scan a document or print a form from the Internet into the Paperport software, then grab the document and drag it to the FormTyper icon and type whatever you want into the blanks. Once you save the document and return to the Paperport desktop, you can drag the document to the printer, to an e-mail message or to Adobe Acrobat to create or add to the pdf file you intend to e-mail to several people.

3. Voice Recognition

Is voice recognition software ready for prime time? Yes, but are you ready for it? Voice recognition software can cut down on the cost of doing business. If a lawyer who dictates even an hour a day makes the switch to voice recognition software, she could save $13,200 in secretarial costs per year. That is assuming that you have other things that the secretary could be doing to earn you money rather than transcribing dictation.

Voice recognitions software lets you speak into other computer programs like word processing and time and billing software.The main thing to remember about voice recognition software is that it can be the mother of all piddleware if you try to make it produce complete, properly formatted documents. If you use it to capture your words, like you do your dictation machine, then let your secretary format the document, you will get more benefit in the long run. Dictate into the software, print the document, mark it up and give it to your secretary to revise and format.

And, the software still has to be trained. An understanding of words spoken with your Brooklyn accent or my southern drawl cannot be programmed into software at the factory. We have to teach the software to recognize our speech patterns.

4. Adobe Acrobat Writer with e-mail.

When you use e-mail to send attached documents, you usually send the documents in either Word or WordPerfect format. You might want to think about using Adobe Acrobat Writer to prepare electronic packages to be e-mailed.

Send documents in WordPerfect or Word form when you want the recipient to edit the document.

Use Adobe Acrobat Writer to e-mail documents that:

* You do not want the recipient to edit.

* You want to be sure prints at the recipient's office exactly like it prints at your office.

* You want to include as part of the package pages that were either created with a different software package or are only on paper at your office.

Use your scanner and the Paperport software to scan the documents, drawings or exhibits. Drag the images to Adobe, then use the Adobe software to assemble the package as you would have assembled the paper. Not only do you have a nice, neat electronic package to e-mail to an entire mailing list but you have the electronic package to put into the client's file folder on your computer system.

Law firm technology consultant Storm Evans is based in Philadelphia.

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