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Software I use, and recommend

By March 25, 2010Uncategorized

My theory of technology is that ‘it should just work.’  I don’t want to waste time configuring things, or learning a new piece of software only to find out that it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

I shouldn’t be tied to one computer, one operating system, or one piece of software.  My important data should be available to me from any computer that’s connected to the internet.  Also, my data should be backed up easily and automatically.  When I buy a new computer I should be able to transfer to it seamlessly, and without a lot of set-up time.

In most cases, I prefer to have my data on the web, or at least synchronized up to the web.  If you use a large company that is unlikely to go out of business (e.g. Google) the odds are that they will do a better job of securing your data than you would.  Also, if you use software services that are internet-based you’re free to access those services from any computer as long as it has access to the Internet.  The security concerns that people usually raise are valid, but almost always over-stated.  Security is always a trade-off. Perfect security entails imposing many check points, to the point that users get annoyed and either don’t use any security, or don’t get very much done.

You want things set up so that you don’t constantly run into roadblocks and configuration issues.  Having your data ‘in the cloud’ and using web-based software services means upgrade headaches aren’t your problem.  And same with compatibility issues.  The web-based software just has to work with your browser, and you have to have access to the Internet.  So, that’s why I incline towards web-based solutions in most cases.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons about how not to do things.  And, more recently, I’ve learned about easy and reliable ways.  Obviously, everything I do isn’t automatically applicable to you.  But I figured I’d tell you what tools I use, and why I use them.  Hopefully I will give you enough background information so that you can decide if any of my choices make sense for you.

Click here to download and view the PDF that lists all the technology (mostly Mac-centric) I use, and explains why I use it.

P.S. If you're a practicing lawyer, check out this Law Practice Assessment . After answering a few questions, you'll get detailed recommendations for improving five key areas of your practice.


  • Wixtech says:

    Great article, thank you for the thoughtful analysis. One niggling issue – in the Drobo section you refer to GB when I believe you mean TB, for example 4 TB drives. Just a really minor point, but wanted to bring it to your attention. Thanks again for the article.

  • John says:

    I share the privacy concerns expressed the an earlier commenter. I would love to move my client information and data to the “cloud” but I know that once that information leaves my computer, I have lost control over it forever.

    In my opinion, most lawyers will not move client information to the cloud until clear standards regarding protection of client data are established and some authoritative agency (Bar Association, State Supreme Court, Disciplinary Counsel, etc.) certifies that a particular site or service meets those standards. In other words, we need some type of “safe harbor” so lawyers can move their data to the internet without worrying about the legal and ethical consequences of a breach in web site security.

  • Mr. Gunn says:

    Hi Ernie!

    I’m definitely with you on multiple monitor, gmail and Dropbox. I use all of those. I have two monitors on my desktop and I convert my laptop into an extra monitor using synergy so one mouse and keyboard work seamlessly across both the desktop and laptop. You can even copy and paste from one to the other. All you need to know is the IP address of the machine to which the mouse and keyboard are connected. If you plug in a secondary monitor to your laptop you can effectively work with 4 screens without fancy graphics hardware.

    For PDFs, I use Mendeley. It’s free, has cloud storage for your PDFs, and will automatically add files from a Watch folder, renaming/moving them according to your specifications. You can read and annotate documents and the annotations get backed up as well. You can also share both files and annotations with other users, which is handy. Because most of your stuff is scanned, the automatic document metadata extraction might need some tweaking, but since it’s free it can’t hurt to give it a try.

    For backups, I use Syncback and an external drive. I’m on Windows, but I’ve always been happy with it.

  • Stephen says:

    I practice with a medium-sized firm in Calgary, Alberta. When computing in the cloud and online backups are mentioned around here, the powers that be become defensive and cite privacy issues with respect to the lack of control over key client data. Likewise, they balk at online fax services and instituting a paper-less work flow because of a perceived need to store and preserve paper.

    In your helpful PDF, you mention that you use Dropbox to backup files in the cloud and sync data across multiple computers. Granted, there may be differences in the rules of records retention between our respective law/bar societies, but I wonder how you might respond to the concerns over privacy issues and lack of control with respect to online backup and cloud computing.

    Also, as an aside, I’m pretty sure the Drobo has more than 32GB of storage.

  • Margaret says:

    Ernie, I am catching up on my feed reader, and just read your attached document. I am confused about 1password. How is this different from using the same password on everything? If the bad guy figures out my password, he still has access to everything…

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