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.

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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.

Create a Slide Show On The Go with These iOS Apps

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I have talked before here in the Studio about breaking out of the old Power Point mold with some spiffy iOS apps. I have been preaching the joys of Haiku Deck ever since I first discovered it, and have converted quite a few individuals to its benefits, including my son’s school and my boss, who thought the pictures behind my very dry Medicare slide deck were wholly awesome.

I have a few new ones to share, which are ideally suited to the iPhone, in my opinion. While they aren’t as perfect for that lengthy business presentation as Haiku Deck,  they all offer an interesting angle on the slide show problem, with the  benefit of a backing track.

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 2.38.56 PMThe first is Shadow Puppet (free). Using your own photos and voice, you can create a narrated show on your device that can be shared via email. You recorded dialog is matched to the images. The interface is very easy to navigate and the process involves three simple steps: select photos, add voice, and send. During creation, you can zoom and tap on images to focus the show with motion effects. Along with email, you can share to your favorite social networks, or message to a phone number. It does require setting up an account, for which you can use social network credentials if you choose. All in all, a very easy way to combine photos and dialog for a compelling presentation, all from your iDevice.

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Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 2.48.32 PMThe next app is Slidestory, (free). The resulting slide shows are short – only 32 seconds, but you may find you can accomplish a lot in that time frame. You need between 5 and 15 slides to create. You can apply filters to the slides, select some music from the selections offered in the app and create an ending slide. Hit render and then save to your camera roll. Very easy indeed. The show will be timed to your music selection, and the app will apply motion effects (think Ken Burns) to build interest. Optimized for iPhone 5, iOS 6 or later.

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Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 3.25.24 PMAnother option is MYMUSIAC (free). This app is really a gateway to a private social network, much like Instagram. You can pull in photos from Instagram or Facebook, or your camera roll. Add music from your iTunes library. You can invite friends to add to the slideshow, and you can text or share slideshows privately. The app employs a dropbox-like interface, encouraging group show creation. The resulting show will match the music. The event feature permits public or private use of the app.

 

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These are fun apps with obvious personal application, but I challenge you to come up with some professional use for the tools. Slideshows of events that you can share with colleagues, or quick presentations using your own photos as backdrops, which you can create on the go. Yes, the iPhone is a Swiss Army Knife indeed.

eSummary Mobile Offers iOS App for Lawyers & Insurance Professionals

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Apps are getting more and more specialized. Now there’s an app tailored to insurance professionals and their need to pass claims information securely from and to their iDevices. eSummary Mobile from ABI Document Support Services is trying to fill that niche with its iPad and iPhone app. It really is the mobile version of its pre-existing eSummary software. It is essentially an encrypted file-sharing tool with an insurance bent, in that it allows access to insurance claims files and attached documents, in Microsoft Word and Excel, Adobe PDF and other file types. It also permits cross document and folder searching of file names and key words. The security is decent, with AES, 256 key encryption on the device and SSL encryption during transmission off the device. Moving around in the app is slick with swiping and zooming within and between docs.

No pricing information available on their website, but there is definitely worth to purchasing good encrypted applications when performing functions with sensitive data. ABI Document Support Services clearly recognizes that professionals want to be able to use their familiar mobile devices to interact with their important data, so go check out the app and request a free demo to see if it would be worth it to you to manage your claims while on the move.

 

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.

iPhone. In Color.

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Just a brief note here on the big Apple event today where the new iPhones were announced (along with a few other details concerning iOS 7). For the first time, Apple will be offering two new versions of its phone at the same time: the 5C (c is for color, NOT cheap) and the 5S (for speed, most likely). Color and speed are pretty much the biggest differences between these two models, although price also differs. The 5C will come in 16 and 32 GB flavors ($99 and $199 on contract, respectively), in green, blue, yellow, red or white. Molded single piece plastic back and full touchscreen front. It does have a 4″ retina display as well, along with a 8 MP camera. It is essentially a colorful plastic version of the iPhone 5.

The 5S packs a lot more brainpower, as well as color choice. The cool with this one is a new 64 bit A7 mobile processor. It is claimed to be the first of its kind. It will also feature a mobile “coprocessor” to better read and track device movement. It will then use the better motion knowledge to feed you the information you want – driving directions while in a car and walking directions while on foot. New dual flash to improve picture quality, and a fingerprint identity sensor, which “snaps a pic” of your print and will then let you unlock and authenticate with iTunes using only your print. You can use multiple prints on the phone. The camera has a larger image sensor and aperture and increase in light sensitivity. There are all sorts of support features for the camera for stability and image improvement and a slow mo mode for video. You can live zoom the video while recording. With a nod to Instagram, you can also employ square format and filters on your photos within the app. Better Facetime now with an HD Facetime camera. You can get it in gold (ugh), black and grey / silver, for $199 on contract for the 16 GB,  $299 for the 32 GB and $399 for the 64 GB, on contract.

iOS 7, not surprisingly, is built to fit the 5S – it is now a 64 bit operating system. I won’t go into exhaustive detail on it, as I did discuss it already in another post here. I will add though that the Apple apps that have been paid to date (iPhoto, iMovie, Keynote, Pages, Numbers) will be free on at least these new devices and iOS7 compatible devices. Now THAT is cool.  iOS 7 will be available on September 18, 2013 and it is anticipated the phones will be available within a couple days thereafter.

Will I buy one? I am not sure. My iPhone 5 is still more than serviceable. I am thinking I will wait and see how well iOS 7 runs on it. If it gets laggy, I might consider the upgrade as I have little patience for slow phones. Will you buy one? What do you think? Does Apple still have the shiny? It will be interesting to see the sales numbers and whether Android really has taken a chunk of Apple’s territory.

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!

Guest Post! Living in a (Mostly) Paperless World

Chris Hill, Attorney

Christopher G. Hill, LEED AP is Virginia Supreme Court certified mediator, construction lawyer 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 and 2012. 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.  Additionally, Chris is active in the Associated General Contractors of Virginia and the Board of Governors of Construction Law and Public Contracts Section of the Virginia State Bar.

Thank you to Martha for allowing me to spend a Friday here at the Advocate’s Studio with her audience.  Be sure to head on over to Construction Law Musings to read here great insights into the latest Android based legal applications.

Now, on with the invasion! (insert sound of coconuts knocking together here)

The web is full of references to a “paperless” law practice.  First of all, this is a misnomer.  No such thing exists, except to the extent that an attorney like me does not keep much in a file cabinet.  So long as courts exist and lawyers need to produce paper exhibits for judges to read and rule upon, we attorneys will continue to “kill trees.”  Until every courthouse has the capability and the desire to allow “virtual” exhibits and pleadings and to spend the money to make this type of exhibit easy for the average (read non-huge firm) lawyer to present such exhibits in an easily digestible form, paper will be a necessity.

This is not to say that one cannot go mostly paperless in your practice.  When I went out on my own over three years ago, I bought a two drawer file cabinet.  It started relatively full and now is getting emptier and emptier as the files I brought with me from my old gig are resolved and closed.  I went “paperless” by necessity (I’m the only employee of my solo construction practice).

Essentially, the fact that when I’m not sitting in the office no one is “minding the store” so to speak made cloud based access to most documents and e-mail a necessity.  Be extension, scanning those documents into my computer and sending them to the “cloud” was a requirement.  Couple this with the somewhat fireproof nature of cloud based documents and fact that I hate to look at clutter and you have the motivation to go “paperless.”

So, how to do it?  Well, I started with a Brother MFC printer, scanner, fax and a computer.  I then upgraded my scanning ability to add a ScanSnap s1500 (since updated to the ix500) so I could scan and OCR (make searchable) documents faster and directly upload them to my Clio practice management software.  I also use Acrobat XI to create .pdf letters and pleadings for those cases (luckily most of them) where opposing counsel will accept e-mailed pleadings to avoid having to print and mail the documents.

Of course, the printer gets a workout when I have to prepare deposition or trial exhibit books, but I don’t keep “pleading notebooks” or paper documents.  I prefer to send clients .pdf copies for their records and I scan and return original documents provided by my construction clients.  In truth, most of the time, my clients provide e-copies of documents that don’t need this treatment.

With these three relatively simple tools (along with Google Apps for e-mail and the occasional use of Google Drive) I can access my practice, bill clients and review documents from anywhere that has an internet connection or from my tablet at home or, if I have to, my phone.

Even as an advocate of paperless practice, don’t go paperless just for the sake of doing it.  All of this paperless activity has one primary goal in mind: saving me time on administrative tasks so that I can focus on client service and efficiently provide the type of in person counseling that I like to give my clients.  If a paperless idea doesn’t help with this, I don’t use it.

Now, if only I could talk some of my pals at larger firms to quit sending paper my way. . .

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.