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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oTranscribe: Free, Open Source, Easy Transcription Web Tool

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Recording your thoughts, lectures, or other audio sources is all well and good, but maybe you want to memorialize those sounds in written word. There are plenty of tools out there to accomplish this, but thought I would mention here one that recently came to my attention. oTranscribe, developed by journalist Elliot Bentley, is a web app that allows you to import an audio file, open a word processor and type while the audio plays. It will play whatever formats your particular browser can process and has a built-in file converter. Controls are found on your keyboard, which makes it easier to stop, rewind, etc. You can insert time stamps with Ctrl + J or Cmd + J, which will allow you to jump to the insert points. The transcription is stored locally in your browser’s cache, nothing is uploaded. While this means you can’t access the goods from another computer, you also enjoy greater security with respect to your data. 

The keyboard stroke controls include the following:

Audio playback

  • Esc: Play/pause
  • F1: Rewind
  • F2: Fast-forward
  • F3: Slow down
  • F4: Speed up

Text editing

  • Ctrl+B: Bold
  • Ctrl+I: Italics
  • Ctrl+J: Insert timestamp

Note: On OS X, using Cmd instead of Ctrl.

Chromebook / Chrome OS alternative controls

  • Ctrl+1: Rewind
  • Ctrl+2: Fast-forward
  • Ctrl+3: Slow down
  • Ctrl+4: Speed up

Pretty cool. Thanks Elliot!

PacerPro – Going Free-ly Into The New Year

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Remember PacerPro? That cool web service that helps you interface with PACER in a much more civilized manner than the actual PACER site? I introduced it here in the Studio a little over a year ago. At that time, it was an introductory release with an anticipated monthly cost and separate charge for  mobile app access. At the price, it was still a fantastic bargain for anyone who has to deal regularly with the federal PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) databases, with documents numbering in the billions. You may recall from my post here that it offered a great cross database searching and filtering, (which is sorely lacking from PACER), great document management and bookmarking features and mobile access and no additional Pacer charge for pulling documents out of the archive.

So, how do you make an already awesome service even awesomer? You offer it for free. That’s right. Free. You still are charged for your PACER access, as your PacerPro account is tied to your PACER account, but because of how PacerPro is set up, you can minimize those costs through better targeting and filtering of your results. In case you don’t remember what the PACER charges are, access to court documents costs $0.10 per page, with a cap in a single document at $3.00. The cap does not apply to name searches, reports that are not case-specific and transcripts of federal court proceedings. Because PACER is a transactional system, you can’t go back and access your prior research efforts without having to pay twice or more.  PacerPro, on the other hand, allows you to bookmark your cases and return to them in the My Cases tab.

Another small but useful feature of PacerPro is the data behind the documents – when you save a document out of PACER, the file naming convention makes no sense and you have to rename everything so that you can figure out what you have pulled down. PacerPro uses a smarter naming convention that defaults to a file name that makes sense, which saves you some time when saving and moving on to the next document.

Another thought to keep in mind – while the paid services offer some access to the materials in the PACER system, only PACER has everything in the PACER system. So, when you really need to be sure you have every federal filing, you should check your search in the PACER database, using PacerPro to get your results in real time.

There are lots of details in the information that PacerPro shows that really make the service useful – you can see when dockets have been updated, you can see more key information about the matter on the results page than you can in regular PACER, etc. All these features make PacerPro more efficient and user-friendly.

Why the change of price? PacerPro is adding paid features at some point in the future. Even at free, however, the PacerPro basic service is quite robust and useful, so I can only imagine how cool the paid features will be. Here is the list of current features from PacerPro’s FAQ:

  • Simultaneous searches. Search across one or more district courts in real time.
  • Aggregated results. Say goodbye to wading through multiple web pages to see complete results.
  • One-click download. Download the entire docket with a single click.
  • Freebies. Previously downloaded documents are free.
  • Automatic PDF labeling. PacerPro saves you time by sensibly labeling your documents.
  • Bookmarking. Once you’ve found a case on PacerPro, you’ll never need to search for it again.
  • One-click docket update. Dockets update at the push of a button.
  • Advanced docket search tools. Locate the right record with robust search options, including boolean and proximity searching.

Wait. You say this isn’t enough free goodness for you? Then check this out. PacerPro has taken on the task of monitoring the uptime status of the various district courts across the United States. You can check out the “health” of the courts’ online systems at this link here.  There is a scale that looks a lot like Weather.com’s storm rating graph – from green and healthy to red and acute or even black and down – across the various districts. At writing, the Federal District Court for the  District of Connecticut is looking quite red and acute, while the District Court for the District of New Hampshire is green and healthy. Hover over the districts to see the actual upload speeds. You can get speeds from the last hour up to the last minute – very useful real time information if you are down to the wire on a court filing. You can generally see the high performing and low performing courts, and can even compare court speeds to the speeds of other popular sites, like Healthcare.gov, and Google.com. The site promises that more courts will be coming soon. There’s a Twitter account right now that provides live updates when court sites go down (https://twitter.com/PacerPro). Very cool feature, indeed!

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One last add: Ellen Gilmore, a reference librarian at BOALT, is in the process of creating a series of short videos which demonstrate how to use PacerPro’s free services. You will be able to  check them out at the pacerpro.com site once available.

UPDATE: the tutorials are live at this link.

So, all good from the fine folks at PacerPro. Check out the service by signing up for free with your email and PACER credentials and let me know what you think. I think you will be impressed.

Free Law Project To Promote Access to Law, For Free

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Court opinions and records are in the public domain, and therefore open to the public, of course. But not for free – just try to secure a case from PACER. UC Berkeley School of Information assistant professor Brian Carver and UC Berkeley alumnus Michael Lissner have taken the law into their own hands, so to speak, and have formed a non-profit organization called the Free Law Project with the goal of providing free and easy to access legal content for download. As can be seen from their About page, the idea is:

  • to provide free, public, and permanent access to primary legal materials on the Internet for educational, charitable, and scientific purposes to the benefit of the general public and the public interest;
  • to develop, implement, and provide public access to technologies useful for legal research;
  • to create an open ecosystem for legal research and materials;
  • to support academic research on related technologies, corpora, and legal systems; and
  • to carry on other charitable activities associated with these purposes, including, but not limited to, publications, meetings, conferences, trainings, educational seminars, and the issuance of grants and other financial support to educational institutions, foundations, and other organizations exclusively for educational, charitable, and scientific purposes as allowed by law.

The end result will look much like other research tools, in that it will offer access to current and historical state and federal court decisions via search interface, with alerts, advanced search and citator services. Another cool thing, they will use open licenses for their software -  Juriscraper and CourtListener.  Because they are open, anyone can take the software and make it do more, better, faster, more awesomer things. For instance, the ultra-interesting Ravel Law has used the Free Law Project databases to shore up its own content.

It has always rubbed me the wrong way that court documents and judicial opinions are supposed to be open, public documents but that you can’t get them without paying a gatekeeper. This runs completely counter to how the Internet does and should work, IMHO. This principle is what activist Aaron Swartz gave his life to promote. Making money off of access to the law reminds me of paying for bottled water. Why? We already pay for the systems that generate the resource.

Kudos to Carver and Lissner for doing their part to break down those walled gardens.

Cutting Edge Research Alternative Ravel Law

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Here’s another one for you: Ravel Law, a 2012 startup out of Stanford Law, promises radically easier, faster and more intuitive legal research option through its visual search engine. Apparently, Ravel (which promises to UNravel the law), is a collaboration between law, computer science and design. I can’t help but agree that the interfaces offered by the traditional legal database giants continue to fall WAY behind the curve on UI and ease of use.

Ravel uses a graphical visual interactive interface to display key information about cases. It is really something else entirely. I searched in the SCOTUS database the terms “insurance” and “mccarran ferguson” and got the result below:

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When you hover over a circle, it takes you to a case in the results. You also can drop down in the list on the right to see the citing sources, click on them and get a new visual representation of how that case has been interacted with. You can quickly move along research trails using the visual interface, or scan in a more traditional model using the list on the right. I think it is a truly brilliant and novel approach to parsing out how court decisions interrelate – you can easily map out the history of cases and how and when search terms are cited in a manner completely different from traditional models.

Right now, the information being mined includes  cases and statutes from the federal circuits and SCOTUS back to about 1950. They are expanding as they can, but are somewhat limited to the extent that the underlying data is or is not presented in a machine-mineable format. The service is currently in beta and is free. Check it out and let me know what you think about it.

Casetext’s Wikipedia-Style Resource for Legal Research

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An eBay for lawyers? How about a Wikipedia for legal research? They’re mashing up social media with the legal profession left and right these days. Casetext is an interesting, um, case, particularly here in the Studio where I am all about the free and cheap and the big Two Three have been a target of mine for years. Imagine. Making all that money off publicly available information.

Casetext is clearly intended to disrupt some of that. The hurdle that  free and cheap access to legal research materials has had to overcome is the value-add that comes from annotations and citation treatment. Lexis and Westlaw have certainly spent a lot of effort honing and promoting that value-add. Casetext’s angle is to get that value-add through crowd-sourced case annotations, much like Wikipedia does with its articles or Quora does with its Q/A format.

Casetext is the creation of two former law review heads from Stanford and Harvard.  Users of the service are encouraged to add tags and text to cases, link to other cases and generally provide similar data to that provided by the attorney editors at the big paid legal data companies. Contributors can provide  analysis of a document or of a paragraph within a document, link to their own articles or other related sources, add related cases and up-vote useful related sources. Contributions are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, permitting commercial use with proper attribution.

Users have to use real names, which hopefully encourages a higher standard of contribution than the anonymous commenting model. LIke any good social model, there is a reward system. Casetext uses reputation points, measuring a user’s contribution to Casetext. Gain points for adding content, for categorizing cases, for upvoting, and for receiving upvotes on content you add. Lose points for being downvoted and pay points to downvote others. Interesting system of checks and balances. There are some decent contributors on the site already, including a law professor who annotated a case he had argued to SCOTUS.

There are Quick Facts and a Document Wiki, essential information at a glance and and free form document summaries, respectively. Related cases are citing sources. The record includes oral arguments to SCOTUS. Create a PDF of a case with the two column format you may be very familiar with from the other guys. You can create a bookmark list of cases to read later, and even a Heatmap which highlights the most cited passages – dark blue means most cited. There is also a “copy with cite” feature – one of the features the Westlaw rep proudly touted to me when she was up-selling me on WestlawNext.

Its free to use right now, but is promising a paid Pro premium model. Right now, the big challenge is scope: the databases only include all U.S. Supreme Court cases, federal circuit court cases from Volume 1 of F.2d, federal district court cases published in F.Supp. and F.Supp.2d from 1980, and Delaware cases published in A., A.2d, and A.3d from Volume 30 of A. It was last updated on June 14, 2013. Hopefully it will open up to new jurisdictions soon. Quite frankly, I think this is a very exciting development, with a whole lot of promise if enough people play along.

Check out Casetext in action in the video below. What do you think? Would you contribute your expertise? Does the good of the many outweigh the good of the few or the one? Let me know.

Docracy Helps You Track Changes In Online Terms of Service

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You never know when these new media / web services are going to pull the rug out on privacy and change the Terms of Service. Other than those high profile changes that get the tech blogs all in a bunch, it is very difficult to track changes and modify your on-line behavior accordingly.

Docracy to the rescue! If you are unfamiliar with Docracy, I have a video with their ad blurb at the bottom of the post, but short story: Docracy offers a web tool for the creation, modification and electronic signing of “free” legal docs. More to the point of this post, Docracy has a new online Terms of Service Tracker. From their site:

Using Docracy’s unique document change analysis, we are now tracking terms of service and privacy policies for hundreds of the world’s top sites. See below for summaries of recent changes, or to see the complete terms for any of the sites we track.

We started tracking these policies on January 16th, 2013. Earlier versions of selected policies can be found on EFF’s TOSBack and TOSBack2 projects.

It’s nice to have someone like Docracy do the heavy lifting for you. Just subscribe at the link to their RSS feed and be notified when they note a change in a policy. If it affects you, simply head over to the site for more detail and, if warranted OPT OUT!

Docracy’s main tool, the free document generator, not only offers consumers a source for free basic forms, it also offers attorneys a means of promoting their work by submitting documents to the pool and gaining another outpost for sharing work online. Obviously, use of the free docs won’t directly result in money in your pocket, but decent, on-point resources on your profile page or embedded in your website may cause a few people to head your way when they need more than a simple form. For more about Docracy, check out their vid:

Congrats, Rocket Lawyer, on the LawPivot Acquisition

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Rocket Lawyer, the do it yourself legal document creation tool site, has just announced its purchase of LawPivot, the Quora Q&A site for legal advice. Seems a decent match. Rocket Lawyer leverages the mindset of the new Web – the belief  that anyone can leverage web-based information and tools to accomplish whatever the task at hand, in this case legal document drafting. Rocket Lawyer also taps into attraction of  a la carte legal services – when the drafting process gets onerous, Rocket Lawyer will connect you with legal counsel to help you with the details. However, the cost of admission to the document generating process is free. Rocket Lawyer is all about improving access and simplifying the process in an affordable way. For lawyers, Rocket Lawyer offers a place to build a profile and means to connect with clients who need more assistance than the free legal forms generator can provide.

LawPivot, on the other hand, takes a slightly different approach to matching lawyers with potential clients. Over 2,300 lawyers in 37 states, to be precise. Site visitors can ask confidential legal questions on the site. Attorneys will then message the visitors back with legal advice. Users can ask unlimited, free, follow up questions. LawPivot can assist with questions on corporate, intellectual property, contracts, employment, tax, and immigration law, among other areas. Like Rocket Lawyer, the lawyers on LawPivot can create profiles to provide some background to site visitors about the lawyer’s competencies. LawPivot also attempts to connect users with lawyers who are best suited to answer the particular question. The more a user interacts with LawPivot, the better the site can track usage trends and improve matching of lawyers and potential clients.

I definitely see the overlap between these two sites and it seems to me that a purchase / merger makes a great deal of sense. Between forms generation and Q&A legal advice for discrete legal questions, the combination of Rocket Lawyer and LawPivot can cover a great deal of legal need with agile on-line tools. It appears that Rocket Lawyer will build LawPivot into the Rocket Lawyer experience. It will certainly be interesting to see the end result of this marriage. Best of luck to both businesses in reforming the practice of law.

Skimzee’s Web Tool, Bookmarklet & Chrome Extension Summarize the Web

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Skimzee is another free tool to help you combat information overload on the Internet. Via web site, bookmarklet or Chrome Extension, you can summarize most news stories, content from YouTube, Twitter or Facebook, Wikipedia, and control the size of the summary with an adjustable slider. The site also incorporates an RSS finder/reader function in that it allows you to search for feeds, add them and create groups of them from the Settings page accessible at the little gear icon at the upper right on their site. You can get the summaries from your home page – hover over the results and click to expand the “view summary” link. Some will not show that link – particularly if the site is behind a paywall, or uses Javascript, or is password protected.

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A Latest Stories drop down on the Feeds tab lets you browse by subject. You can also click on trending or latest videos, or Facebook feed or wall, if you set up your Skimzee to access such content. Search tab allows you to enter search terms or a specific URL for summary treatment. A drop down arrow next to the search box allows you to select / deselect your target content. Skimzee also prompts you with popular page links at the top.  The settings page from the gear button allows you to customize your Skimzee experience, including what page is summarized when you navigate to Home, what feeds to show at startup, what Summary Bookmarks to include along the top, what and how to summarize via the bookmarklet or extension as you browse the Web, what RSS feeds to include and how to show them, and more.

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There are other tools out there that help you make sense of the Web by personalizing your experience and showing you news deemed of interest to you. Skimzee takes a different approach by giving you access to all the news, albeit in shortened, summarized form. If that is your preferred method of parsing, then Skimzee might be of interest. Check it out – and check back in. Would love to hear what you think.

I Have a Good One For You: Google Wave Resurrected – Rizzoma

So here I am, minding my own business, checking out the notifications filter folder in my Gmail box and all of a sudden, I get mention of a new comment on a Google Wave conversation I had participated in oh, about a million years ago. Naturally, my interest was piqued and I, of course, much like the proverbial cat smitten by curiousity, followed the link. To Rizzoma.

Rizzoma was an existing Russian company but, in 2010, they too became smitten with Wave and started work on improving it. They started private beta of their site in January 2012. Apparently, they began allowing import of existing Google Waves in February, 2012. And, to make it more Google-like, you can sign in with your Google ID, or a Facebook ID.

If you hadn’t moved your waves over by April 30, 2012, you are out of luck in saving that matter. But, you can certainly head over to Rizzoma and start a new wave if you are hankering for that old not-sure-whether-it’s-email-chat-text-messaging-social-network-sharepoint-bulletin-board experience of Wave. The interface is quite similar, but seems stable more stable, something Wave really wasn’t. Right now it is totally free and it’s open source – let’s hope they find a way to make money or they may be going the way of the Wave. Rizzoma did their research and found that Wave users were using it for business purposes, and have directed their efforts at becoming a decent business tool. Some other cool features of Rizzoma: the ability to @mention like Twitter; the ability to open access to any link, and the ability to reply and correct a message in any place of a document. Rizzoma sports a clean interface, with a navigation pane on the left divided into Topics, @Mentions and Public, a shortcut window on the bottom left. and  a larger content pane on the right. There are also sharing buttons for sharing topics from Rizzoma to Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

In all seriousness, I always liked Wave and thought it could be a very effective collaboration tool, particularly for business users. I think Rizzoma might be onto something here – taking the best parts of Wave, making it more stable and usable and keeping the vibe going. Good luck to them for sure.

If you want to see a use case in action, check out the Rizzoma video – don’t mind the robo-voice, the video started out in Russian, but I thought viewers here might prefer the English version: