12/2/10

Elephant Post: What Free Product Do You Use In Your Job?

Not everything that you need to use at work has to be expensive. In fact, many of us use free or open source software all the time. So, this week's Elephant Post question is:
What Free (or very low-cost) Product do you use everyday that helps you accomplish your job?
Although the saying of "you get what you pay for" usually applies, there are some products that are out there that don't cost a dime, yet are extremely useful. I have become a big fan of the collaboration you can do with Google Docs, or apps like Flipboard to follow information flowing from my friends on Twitter. Both of these are free, but very useful products. Here are a few more products that our contributors use… and you might want to check out, too!
Law Librarian Perspective TweetDeck Scott Bailey Great way to set up searches and monitor topics across social media sites. Tired of logging into Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn separately? Posting separately? This is the ticket. Set up searches and view profiles quickly.
Legal Research/Competitive Intelligence Perspective WatchThatPage Greg Lambert One of the best resources I use is the free website watching tool called Watch That Page. If you need to track when things change on a website, then you will want to check this site out. It has been around for a number of years now and hasn’t really changed at all in that time. You put in the sites you want to track, the times of day you want it checked, and you’ll get a single email back for all of those sites. I’ve used it for years to track new articles and alerts that peer law firms write. Since most of those firms don’t seem to understand what an RSS feed is, WatchThatPage shows me what’s new.
Library Perspective CanLII Susannah Tredwell While CanLII (the Canadian Legal Information Institute) is well known to Canadian law librarians, it may not be so well known to those in the United States. CanLII is a free resource that carries federal, provincial and territorial case law and legislation. When I’m looking for recent (or even not-so-recent) Canadian case law, CanLII is my first choice. Case law is generally provided directly by the court so CanLII tends to be as up-to-date as any of the paid sources. It also has a fairly nifty point-in-time feature that allows you to compare two versions of legislation to see what exactly has changed.
Small Business Owner/Manager Perspective
Lindsay Shugerman, Owner, GAC Communications
I have what is euphemistically called a “small business.” What that means is I have four people for whom I need to keep some sort of reasonably accurate records. Stuff like when they’re not at work and why, or when they were hired (and on a bad day, why), and how I can reach their next of kin when they slip slowly under the table after a 3-days-straight-with-no-sleep project. Oh, and when their birthday is, so I can embarrass them with silly hats and cupcakes. You know, the important stuff in the business world.
I hate paper, so the file folder and forms route was NOT working for me. I could not see paying big bucks for some software package to keep track of our little amount of information, and Excel spreadsheets have been known to blow up on me with no warning. Seriously. I have witnesses.
So my favorite free business tool is something called Tracksmart. It’s a free, online (no paper!), employee attendance/absence tracking service that keeps my not-so-vast amounts of records safe and available. They have an upgraded version for over 20 employees, but for us micro-mini businesses, it’s free and easy. And no exploding spreadsheets required!

Library Perspective
E-laws is an indispensable tool for Ontario Law Librarians. It contains the official consolidated versions of Ontario laws and regulations. Even more valuable are the legislative tables which allow for easy(ish) tracking of legislative changes. I refer to it daily and point our articling students there regularly.


Lawyer in Social Media Perspective Drop Box Mike Mintz I don’t know how I ever lived a life online before Drop Box. This is not your daddy’s cloud computing online folder service; it’s all that, on steroids. The unique thing about Drop Box is that while you have online file storage, you also have the option of creating a folder directory within your existing My Documents file structure that allows you to full access to all of your DB files. This will also sync across all computers that have Drop Box installed with your account information, meaning forget USB keys, emailing yourself files, or even antique CD RWs - this little tool will allow you never to be file less again, and even if you are on a computer that doesn’t have a folder installed, you can retrieve what you need via the online Drop Box site. Free accounts start with 2GB of online storage (upgradable to 3GB if you get friends to join), and you can buy premium plans of 50GB and 100GB for $9.99 and $19.99 per month respectively. Welcome to the cult of Drop Box.


Library Perspective Evernote Ellen Quinn The free source that I use every day, other than the business related databases that are available through our fabulous public library system, is a program called Evernote. If you are the sort of person who writes lists, notes and reminders on post-it notes and stick them all over your computer monitor then Evernote is for you. What makes Evernote more useful than most list making or note taking apps is that it is accessible from any computer or smart phone. You synchronize your notes on the Evernote web site. You can save notes in a variety of formats such as text, pictures, web sites or pdfs. You can assign subject tags to your notes, put them in folders and sort them by criteria such as date or title. There is a paid premium version of Evernote that allow you to search saved pdfs and save documents in other formats such as Word or Excel. Its hard to believe that something so incredibly useful is free and while there is advertising on the free version of Evernote it is unobtrusive.


Library/Educational Technology Perspective Doodle and X1 Debbie Ginsberg and @debgpi One of my favorite free tools is Doodle. Doodle is an online scheduling system which is perfect for group meetings -- no more sending out endless emails trying to figure out when everyone is free. I tell Doodle which times work for me. Doodle gives me a link that I send to whoever I'd like to schedule a meeting with. They click on the times which work for them. I can then pick a meeting date and time which works for everyone's schedule. It's that simple. As for low-cost software (under $50), X1 is one software app I can't live without. After several years in one job, I have a lot of emails and documents, some in folders, some not, and some in folders which only made sense at the time. X1 indexes everything, including the full text of emails and documents, and lets users search by author, title/subject, folder name, document type, date, and full text. It even can search attachments, calendars, tasks, and network drives. Now I can find anything in just a few seconds. (Note: Xobni is a similar tool which is free, but I haven’t had as much luck with it so far but how well these tools work is often a matter of individual system configurations as anything else.)


CI Perspective Fee Fie Foe Firm Emily Rushing Fee Fie Foe Firm! I smell...competitive intelligence? This site indexes US, UK/Commonwealth firm websites using a Google Custom Search Engine. Wondering who else is citing their representation of your top client? Looking for a benchmark practice with specific keywords? Need to find a law office in Outer Mongolia? FFFF can help, and at absolutely no cost. Fee Fie Foe Firm — Silly name; serious CI.


Social Media/Online Marketing Google Analytics and Hoote Suite Lisa Salazar

Measure It and Treasure It!

I use these freebies every day. WebTrends drove me bananas--I thought it was way too complicated. Google Analytics is probably nearly as complicated but I'm willing to put up with it because it is free. I had very poor customer service with WebTrends. I have yet to test that aspect of Google Analytics. But I bet even the worst customer service would make it tolerable because I am not paying a fortune to made to feel like an idiot.

Hoote Suite is my baby. We see each other every day; interacting, exchanging sharing, making new content. It just keeps growing and growing every day, getting better and stronger! Its a great tool to manage multiple social media outlets. Originally designed for Twitter, it has now expanded to help manage Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media sites. Pretty easy to use, they also are starting to offer online tutorials.


Next Week's Elephant Post Question: What Surprised You The Most About Your Profession? Whether you are new to your profession, or are about to retire, there were some expectations you had when you came in that turned out to not be as you thought it would be. For example, I thought that working in a Law School as a law librarian would be free of politics… only to quickly realize that politics ran wild. So, I left that to join a court library… only to find out that it was even more political (the fact that I worked for elected officials should have clued me in.) Luckily, I'm now in BigLaw… oh crap… If you have a story to share, please do!! Shoot me an email or tweet me and I'll give you instructions on how to contribute.

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10 comments:

Sam Glover said...

We use a bunch of FOSS at my consumer and business law firm.

We use OpenOffice.org for documents, and we use paid versions of a lot of free software like Remember the Milk, Evernote, Google Apps, and Freshbooks. Here's the full rundown of our law practice software.

Sam Glover said...

Oh, I should add that we also use WordPress for our law firm websites, and MediaWiki for our law firm wiki/operations manual.

Cedrik said...

We use Lookeen, an Outlook search tool! Not for free,but for a small price and you can test it 14 days for free!
There are freeware programs out there, but it is in the majority of cases that you have to pay for upgrades or features, which would be very helpful for work!
Because of that we decided to buy Lookeen once and then have it forever! :)

PPM Template said...

While excel is not free, we do create a lot of spreadsheets to keep us from spending money on "professional" software.

Not exactly free, but what is?

Sociable Lawyer said...

Google Analytics, GIMP, Firebug (Firefox plugin)

Anonymous said...

As a researcher I appreciate a feature in Internet Explorer that no other browser has, to my knowledge.

When printing anything off of the Internet, IE allows me to print a table of links. It is a webliography!! All of the embedded (sometimes not even bolded) hyperlinks behind words are suddenly revealed, indexed, so I can see what was linked, the complete URL to get to it, etc. I can then highlight links to visit later while reading a document on the train commuting to and from the office.

It is a real productivity tool when professional reading cannot be accomplished while sitting at a computer, but must be done at odd times in a variety of places where a few printouts are the only accessible format.

My research attorneys appreciate it when I print out something from the Internet for them, as well. Without this IE feature, they would have no idea that there were links in the document at all.

Greg Lambert said...

I think that is the first IE compliment I've heard since 1997…
Good to know!

Tracy Thompson-Przylucki said...

Jing is one of my favorites. I use it to create quick videos to send to tech support when I'm having a problem with my website, database or CMS, or to demonstrate some functionality that I want to modify. It's a great tool! I also love the snipping tool that's part of windows. It's a quick and dirty solution to grabbing an image and sticking it in a document, ppt, or prezi. Oh, and I love prezi, too!

vivian manning said...

I love free stuff, especially when it makes a big difference to my day: Along with Dropbox, I use the following free stuff daily:

Launchy - quick keyboard program launcher
Texter - text expander for any program that accepts text
Deskpins - pin that program to the desktop so it doesn't slip underneath
Skype - voice, chat, file transfer, video
Google Calendar Sync - Easily syncs my Outlook calendar to my google calendar
Join.me - remote control/assistance and more
Tweetdeck - my favourite twitter app
Chrome - never browse the web without it
Xobni - Outlook addin for instant email search and social networking (paid version has more features)
MRemote - quick and easy remote to every workstation on the network
Spiceworks - Help desk and inventory control and so much more

Low Cost
X1 - index everything on your computer/network for instant access and viewing
Quickjump - get to folders with just a couple of keystrokes
Snagit - screen capture and much more

Anonymous said...

+ PhraseExpress is the single most-productivity boosting free software I use: http://www.phraseexpress.com

It is a text expander and Autotext software and saved me more that $ 2,000.

+ FireFox is the Gold standard for browsing

+ Winmerge helps me comparing two text files for changes

+ Notepad++ is an awesome text editor

Simone Bakker

 

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