Dropbox Tips

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Despite all the concerns and discussion out there over cloud usage by legal professionals, Dropbox still remains one of the most popular applications among lawyers. I am not going to discourse on whether or not that should be the case – the internet is rife with the opinions of very capable commenters on the subject – just remember that there are Bar rules out there about lawyers employing reasonable measures to ensure security when using the cloud. My personal use, however, takes into account the potential risks as well as rewards of using this free and cheap multi-user, cross-device sync app that a majority of cloud users have embraced. That means I enable security features whenever possible and store documents I have no fear of others potentially having access to.  While that may limit others’ use of the service, I still find plenty of utility in Dropbox when I need to collaborate or share with someone else – and I have chosen not to use my other favorite sharing / storage service, Google Drive.

First, as with any other online service, make sure you have a very secure password – please, no 1234567! Did you know that is one of the most popular passwords out there? No duh! Make it hard to crack with letters, numbers, symbols and mixed caps. Also, disable automatic user log in on your computer and log out on your devices when not using the service. And, now that they offer it, enable two-factor verification – I have it on all services that allow for it, like Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. Dropbox has it too – all this means is that when you (or anyone) attempts to log into your account on Dropbox, you will get a text message on your phone with a verification code that you will also need to enter to get into your folders. Dropbox also encrypts files on its side of the fence and you can too – check out Boxcrypter, which I wrote about here in the Studio, for an extra level of encryption on YOUR side of the fence. Some content creations applications, like Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat, let you password protect at the document level. You also can set Dropbox to selectively sync only certain files, thus limiting unwanted access where syncing isn’t really necessary.  No guarantees that these steps will prevent any and all security breaches, but it certainly improves your odds in keeping your data intact.

Besides syncing, sharing and backup, there are some pretty cool uses for Dropbox. Automatically upload your photos from your devices to Dropbox by enabling the auto upload feature in the app. Set up remote printing by creating a print queue folder, and setting up a script that will look to the folder and print locally at home anything you add to it while on the road (thanks Amit Agarwal at Digital Inspiration Blog). If you use 1Password for your secure password storage, you can use Dropbox as a password backup application. Backup your WordPress blog to Dropbox using plug ins such as  WordPress Backup to DropboxWP Time Machine andBackupBox. Use Wappwolf to automatically share, convert files, sync, zip, unzip, encrypt, decrypt  and employ actions in other applications such as  Evernote, Facebook, Flickr using Dropbox. There is little doubt that Dropbox’s popularity is one of its benefits – there are plenty of very smart users out there who create applications to extend the reach and utility of Dropbox because they use it too.

One last little gift to you: MakeUseOf has a cool chart showing off some of Dropbox’s tips, tricks, keyboard shortcuts, and tools and plug ins. Check it out – this really only scratches the surface of what you can do with the service. And remember, always sync responsibly!

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Boxcryptor Encrypts Your Cloud

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I know, I know. Don’t tell me. I have been a bit AWOL for a while. Day job and miscellaneous other excitement.

But I’m back, and have something to talk about, which certainly helps when trying to write. The common complaint raised by cloud opponents is the lack of security when you move your valuable data out of your direct control and into the ambiguous grasp of a server in Mozambique.  For those of you out there using the cloud and enjoying all that mobility and freedom, you may be interested in a little tool called Boxcryptor. Boxcryptor is an encryption application for common cloud services like Dropbox, Box, Google Drive and SkyDrive, all of which I happen to use, as well as any cloud using a WebDAV standard. It is also platform independent, so you can use it on your Mac or PC, Chromebook or Android or iOS device.

Boxcryptor creates a crytopgraphic virtual drive on your computer.  Files are encrypted locally before uploading them to your cloud of choice. Files are encrypted on an individual, rather than grouped, basis for added security. Any file dropped into an encrypted folder within the Boxcryptor drive will get automatically encrypted before it is synced to the cloud. To protect your files, Boxcryptor uses the AES-256 and RSA encryption algorithms. I love that it basically encrypts files on the fly, as part of your normal process of creating and saving data – just drop your files in the special secure drive rather than your usual cloud folder. You will know that your files are encrypted when you look in the cloud and see the .bc extension following the file name. It looks really simple to use, which is always nice.

Of course, to be really useful, the cloud has to allow for multi-party file sharing. It’s one of the main reasons to use it! Boxcryptor supports this, and accomplishes it in a secure way.

You won’t be able to see your encrypted files without Boxcryptor installed. So, you will need to have it on any computers on which you intend to view your sensitive material. However, once installed, just enter your Boxcryptor password to get into your materials. A word of caution here: that password information is not stored either locally or with Boxcryptor and you won’t be able to retrieve it if you forget it, once it is set. So choose carefully and store it somewhere safe. Since everything is locally encrypted, Boxcryptor has no access to your data either, so no worries there.

Boxcryptor is free for personal use and it does  offer AES-256 and RSA encryption, secure file sharing and mobile apps. The limitation is that you can only use one cloud service at a time with the free. Unlimited personal for $48 per year allows unlimited providers on unlimited devices. Company subscriptions offer multiple cloud services at once as well, along with groups, with multi-user pricing that goes down as you add more users. Company plans start at $96 per year for unlimited business use. The company plan also offers a master key and password reset function, enforce policies and centralized management and invoicing.

Because Boxcryptor believes its product is of particular interest to legal professionals, they sent me along a coupon code for Studio readers of 20% discount on their regular prices (discount code: boxcryptorlaw20, valid until December 31, 2013). So, if your resolution for 2014 includes greater cloud security, hop on that train and grab yourself some Boxcryptor.

Do Lawyers Have Their Heads In the Clouds?

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Sometimes, as a heavy duty user of cloud tools and a vocal advocate of same, I take for granted that others have the same awareness of and comfort level with them as I do. Not necessarily so, it appears. Less than a year ago, Citrix published a study that revealed that most people were a bit confused about the topic. Their blog post reporting on the study posted a few somewhat humorous highlights, such as:

  • 95% of those who think they’re not using the cloud, actually are
  • 3 in 5 (59%) believe the “workplace of the future” will exist entirely in the cloud
  • 40% believe accessing work information at home in their “birthday suit” would be an advantage
  • More than 1/3 agree that the cloud allows them to share information with people they’d rather not be interacting with in person
  • After being provided with the definition of the cloud, 68% recognized its economic benefits
  • 14% have pretended to know what the cloud is during a job interview

So, how do lawyers measure up against the more general population of cloudless masses? The ABA conducts a Legal Tech survey every year, the actual results of which I admittedly don’t read because the multi-volume set is a bit pricier than I would like to fork over. So I tend to depend on the reviews and reports by those more in the legal tech know than I, such as bloggers Bob Ambrogi and Nikki Black.  I encourage you to hit the links to get more details on the results of the latest survey. But I can summarize for you that attorneys’ use of the cloud has grown significantly over the past year, with the  larger percentage of respondents assigning the greatest importance to time and billing and case management applications. Interestingly, though, the top four most used applications by lawyers are not legal-specific apps but are consumer apps – Dropbox, Google Docs, iCloud and Evernote, in that order.  As it appears, lawyers are ahead of the curve on cloud awareness and adoption. Yay, us.

But maybe you need a bit more information and guidance on the cloud and what it means to you as a lawyer. Well, I have the goods for you. Or, rather, MyCase – a cloud-based case management software company – has them, in the form of a nice slideshow. Check it out and be informed!

Cue, Formerly Greplin, Gets Smarter

Readers here may recall me extolling the virtues of Greplin, the app that lets you search across social networks and emails in your cloud to find that needle in the haystack you thought you remember seeing sometime long ago. Well, Greplin has morphed into Cue and has gotten a bit smarter and more agile. The basic premise remains the same – you can organize your information across accounts so you can pull that information and actually use it. But now Cue will actually index your information and combine snippets that appear to be connected, resulting in an almost semantic collection of related data that makes sense. So, if you are searching for a meeting you know you scheduled for a month from now, Cue will not just give you the meeting information in your calendar, it will give you contact information for attendees and emails pertaining to the meeting. Pretty cool.

Cue also has added support for your iOS calendars, and allows you to set which calendars will show up in your Cue. Cue indexes information from Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, iPhone Calendars, Yahoo Mail, AOL Mail, iCloud Mail, Dropbox, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for free. Premium, costing $50 a year or $5 monthly, adds Evernote, Salesforce, Yammer, Basecamp, Reddit, Pinboard, Delicious, Tumblr and Google Reader accounts. That is a whole lot of information.

If you haven’t tried Cue, I suggest you do – more than once it has been able to find a lost email or post whose location  I couldn’t quite remember. It’s nice to have the mental backup. Works on your iDevice or the web. Check it out.

Total Attorneys Has It's Own App Store

 

Total Attorneys is a web-based (read: cloud-based) law practice management program. Essentially, TA provides the means for clients to retain your services, make payments, upload documents and complete forms online, while you and your colleagues can access complete case files at any time from any location with a secure Internet connection. Manage your practice, track time, send bills, manage documents and communicate with clients, all from a centralized Web location. They even offer virtual receptionist services from their Chicago location. Sounds pretty cool, right?

 

It gets cooler. TA has now implemented an App store for its platform, called Total Apps, unveiling the wonder at the ABA Tech show going on in Chicago as we speak. The first apps out of the box include:

 

• Fastcase, for legal research

• Capital Payments, for payment processing

• LegalEase, for attorney and paralegal contract support services

• Legal Web Experts, for website creation and marketing

• Virtual Receptionist, for fielding calls

• LawQA, to showcase expertise

• Google Sync, to keep Contacts, Calendars and Tasks in line

• IfByPhone, to reach out to leads that have contacted you

• LegalLeads, TA’s own lead generation service

 

Plus, TA has an iPhone and iPad app to enable access to the platform while on the go. The timetracking feature on the mobile apps is ultra simple to use, making it quite easy to accurately keep time. Plus you can easily access the various tasks within the platform and, I presume in the near future, the apps via the mobile interface as well.

 

 

TA is making its API available to developers in the hopes that third parties will pick up and run with the store and integrate more functionality into the platform. I think this is a forward-thinking means of managing legal practice in a way  our rapidly mobilized society can understand – with app-based, tool-oriented deployable solutions. Nice work, guys.

 

 

 

Run, Don't Walk, To 50GB Free Cloud Storage Via Box

Ever watching out for the free goods, I clapped with delight when I saw this great deal. If you are the lucky owner of an Android device, and you find the idea of free cloud storage and collaboration pretty nifty, then download Box’s mobile storage application for Android, log into your account and, Voila!, you will be gifted with 50GB of free storage. That ain’t no chump change – you can hold a lot of stuff with 50GB.

Box offered a similar incentive for iPhone / iPad users back in the fall. Now Android fans can partake of the free-ness.

Box distinguishes itself from services like DropBox by focusing more on easy collaboration. It most closely resembles Google Docs with file / folder sharing, version tracking and collaboration tools. It bears noting that the per file size limit is 25 MB for free users, which may not be enough for certain of your file types. You can upgrade to 1GB file sizes for $10 / month. Another important limitation: there is no desktop application for the free version like DropBox – you have to download your docs, edit, and then upload and can’t get auto-updates in all places – not quite as handy as Google Doc’s ability to permit edits in the cloud. Nonetheless, free is free and 50GB is 50GB. And, on the plus side, Box integrates with a lot of other services like Gmail, Google Docs, and Microsoft Office, so there are work arounds to be had.

So, grab that storage while its hot. There must be something you can put in the Box.

Guest Post: Flying Solo In The Cloud

Christopher G. Hill is lawyer, LEED AP, and owner of the Richmond, VA firm, The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC. Chris has been nominated and elected by his peers to Virginia’s Legal Elite in the Construction Law category on multiple occasions and is a member of the Virginia Super Lawyers “Rising Stars” for 2011.  He specializes in mechanic’s liens, contract review and consulting, occupational safety issues (VOSH and OSHA), and risk management for construction professionals. Chris authors the Construction Law Musings blog where he discusses legal and policy issues relevant to construction professionals. You can follow him on Twitter at @constructionlaw.

First of all, I’m thrilled to cross post for a third time here at the Studio. Today, you can check out Martha’s great post on changes and fun with Google after you read this.

When I contacted Martha for what she’d like for a post, we decided on “the Cloud.” I know, this has been done to death. The “cloud” is everywhere. SEO and other tech buzzwords rule Twitter and blogs. I feel as if it’s all around us and that we can’t escape it. Smarter folks than I have discussed the ethical, practical and legal implications of the use of the “cloud” (read Internet) in legal practice. If you are looking for a discussion of those types of high level thoughts and implications, you are in the wrong place.

As anyone that reads Musings will know, I am not anti-cloud (and I love to read the Advocate’s Studio to keep up on the latest tech). I use Web 2.0 (or whatever we call it now) for marketing, client development and other helpful things, so please don’t turn away at this point because you think I will be panning use of internet based practice tools in legal practice (or construction practice for that matter).

When I went out on my own on July 1, 2010, I embraced the mobility available through cloud based tools. I am the entire staff of my law firm, so I needed to streamline and go paperless (to the extent possible in legal practice) to keep my practice manageable. I signed up for Clio, hooked my trusty laptop to the internet, later purchased a ScanSnap scanner, bought a Blackberry Playbook (yes, I’m still using a Blackberry), and charged forward. While the scanner is not in the cloud, it keeps my paper to my goal of a two drawer file cabinet.

Now, when documents come in, I scan the documents; send them to Clio through its great document mail drop service that files the document to the right matter; and, stamp it “scanned” and either shred or file it away (there are still documents I need to keep in original form). I also keep a record of e-mails that go back and forth in the same manner. With the documents redundantly saved on Clio’s servers, I can get to them wherever I can find a web connection.

I bill clients by e-mail (often with just a web link allowing them to see and pay their bill). I accept credit card payments over the web. I occasionally collaborate through Dropbox and/or Google Docs. Without web based practice tools, my practice would not run as smoothly.

On the other hand (and you knew there’d be one, didn’t you?), I do not think that the Web is the be all and end all of legal practice and marketing. Particularly with my clientele (contractors and subcontractors), the value of a handshake, and having boots on the ground cannot be underestimated. While having a web presence is, in my opinion, necessary, it cannot be all that I use. The flood of web based possibilities seems endless, but trying to use all of them would kill my productivity and, frankly, cause my eyes to hurt from staring at a screen.

In other words, the cloud is great, but there’s way too much out there to use it all so take what you need and leave the rest. I have on more than one occasion referred to myself as a “MASH unit lawyer,” dealing with claims and practical, non-cloud based issues, with what I hope to be a level of pragmatism. I take this same ethic to the “cloud” with me. Judicious use of the cloud allows my practice to run and it can help yours too. Just be sure to get your head out of the cloud on occasion.

RFP Attorney: An Online Attorney Marketplace

Another option for attorneys to display expertise and connect with potential clients? Another site for potential clients to search and vet attorneys based on knowledge and content? RFP Attorney seeks to meet both needs. The site offers a marketplace with optimal search capabilities and flexible content options, ideally offering attorneys and clients a better means of connecting with each other. RFP promises to maintain a state of the art site on which attorneys can collect and showcase vital information through the creation of a Presence, which includes vital contact information, an About Me with background, experience, unique qualifications and personal statement, Case Studies or your example cases including actual briefs or key links, Thought Leadership which collects articles, newsletters, presentations, links, etc., a place to link your blog posts, your Twitter feed, real world Events you are appearing at and where potential clients can meet you in person, and Services – provide information on the legal services you offer, including optional Flat-Fee Solutions. This latter concept is a means offered by RFP for attorneys to offer unbundled legal services through their platform. Presence is not structured around an area law, but rather industries and services the attorney serves and provides, presumably making it easier for potential clients to find what they are looking for. Attorneys can share their Presence on other social platforms as well – improving visibility through more established sites. RFP also promises to boost your visibility on the web through its back-end and search friendly features.

I like the “Verify Me” button – this allows clients a quick link to the applicable bar association for each attorney, allowing potential clients to perform a quick search to determine whether the attorney is in good standing.

For potential clients, RFP offers a variety of tools to search, track and manage relationships. Potential clients can use Quick Search which asks two questions – where do you need the attorney and what your needs are – and returns responses. There are filters on the result page that allows you to further refine the return. Clients can submit requests for proposals for legal services through the site and the tools make it easy for clients to complete the request. Submitting requests after the first will incur a charge, which is one of the means by which RFP monetizes. Attorneys can accept or decline the request. Prices break down as follows:

For Attorneys: Signing up is free and creation of the first Presence is free (you can have more than one). If you wish to showcase additional areas of knowledge, add a second Presence for only $19.99 per month, and each additional Presence after that is $9.99 per month.

Each client lead an attorney accepts costs $1.99. Discounts are available: 5 for $1.59 each and 10 for $0.99 each. Responding to an RFP received costs $9.99. Discounts are also available: 5 for $7.99 each and 10 for $4.99 each.

For Clients: Signing up is free. Searching for attorneys and reviewing their content is free. Sending a contact request is free. If you choose to run an RFP, the first one is free. If you are a legal department, business, or individual with several areas of legal needs, you can run additional RFPs for $29.99 each. Discounts of 5 for $19.99 each are available as well.

I am not sure how the charge arrangements comport with referral / fee sharing rules – we will have to see how hat all falls out.

If the site works as well as it promises and it’s fee structure compliant, this could be a cost effective means of tailoring attorney marketing and fine-tuning attorney search. I am interested in seeing reviews on the RFP Attorney process as people kick the tires.

Windows Live SkyDrive Offers 25GB On Your iPhone

Want to expand your virtual real estate on your mobile phone? If you haven’t already gotten your free Windows Live account, now is the time to do it. Sneaking under my radar during the holiday crazies was this announcement from the fine folks at Windows Live – you can now access SkyDrive’s 25GB of storage via apps on your iPhone or Windows Phone. Pretty darn cool. Dropbox is nice, but it can’t hold a candle to the size of SkyDrive.

Of course, Microsoft has baked SkyDrive fairly deeply into Windows Phone 7.5. With the Windows Phone app, you can store documents, notes, photos, videos and access them from your phone. Share photos stored on SkyDrive by email, text, or IM, use Office apps like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint with SkyDrive files, and keep your phone’s camera roll up-to-date on SkyDrive automatically. SkyDrive is integrated directly into the apps as well as core phone functions. Of particular use on mobile, you can browse your entire SkyDrive. share files and manage your storage.

The “extra extra” though is an iPhone app! In addition to their OneNote notebooks, iPhone users can access their files in SkyDrive, create folders, delete files, and share links to folders and files directly using the Mail app. Much of the functionality is the same between the Windows Phone and iPhone apps – tailored to the particular phone’s user experience. This is very very cool indeed – kudos to Microsoft for not leaving us iPhone users hanging!

Read more about these apps and SkyDrive and check out some vids over at the Windows Live site. And get an extra 25GB of useful storage on your mobile device. Thanks Microsoft.

 

The Cloud: A Foul Play?

Whether or not to use the Cloud in your legal practice: that is the question. To be, or not to be, in the Cloud depends heavily on the ethical rules that guide our profession. Not surprisingly, those ethics commissions are having just as much difficulty grappling with the question as are the ordinary practitioners faced with the attractive option of SaaS and cloud products. Is there an ethical trap inherent in the use of these tools, just waiting to be sprung?

Fortunately, the ABA Commission on Ethics is striving to be realistic in its approach to the use of cloud computing and possible violation of client confidentiality. The Commission has drafted a proposal to assist lawyers in making decisions regarding cloud services. 

The gist of the proposal, as well as the gist of the ethics opinions rendered by state bar associations, is that a lawyer need take “reasonable” steps to ensure client confidentiality and that this same standard applies to use of the cloud to transmit client data. Some opinions also combine the concept of flexibility with reasonableness, clearly a nod to the “everchanging nature” of technology. Protection level may be adjusted based on the client’s needs and nature of the information involved. And, rightly so, the onus should be on the lawyer to establish that he or she acted reasonably with respect to the use of technology for storage, manipulation and transfer of data. This includes a showing that the lawyer acted diligently by, for example, analyzing terms of service, privacy policies, security features and actively took the steps necessary to ensure the greatest level of protection available. This does not inecessarily require a complete refusal to use anything cloud in support of your practice.

Take a look at some  of the reported ethics opinions. From these, you should be able to get a sense of what is required of you when you opt to look to skyward for technological assistance. And remember, just because it comes from the cloud doesn’t necessarily mean that something wicked this way comes.