Typography (Or Why Your Briefs Should Be Visually Appealing)

I trust that anyone who reads my blog would also read the much more popular Ernie the Attorney. If you do not, I urge you to go subscribe to Ernie’s blog right now. Ernie is one of the pioneers in the legal blogging world and consistently posts well written, topical, and useful posts. This week, Ernie is talking about things that he learned from Matthew Butterick’s Typography for Lawyers. This looks like a fascinating book. I have ordered my copy, but I am waiting for it to arrive (Amazon was temporarily out of stock when I ordered it).

While waiting, however, I have had the pleasure of reading Ernie’s posts about lessons that he learned from the book. Thus far, he has posted the following:

If you have any interest in making your briefs more readable, you must read these posts from Ernie. You also might want to check out the book. I am waiting with bated breath for mine to arrive.

If you are not a typography nerd (there’s no shame in that) and you are wondering what all of the fuss is about, let me just say that how you format your document both affects the reader’s ability to read the documents, as well as the reader’s perception of you.

I was recently on a call with one of my clients and we were working through some discovery issues that had been raised by opposing counsel in a letter. This attorney clearly does not put a lot of thought into formatting his documents and one of the things that my client told me was that the letters from the opposing attorney are hard to read because of the way in which he formats them.

Even if you don’t want to study this issue, you should spend a little time just figuring out if there is something you can do to make your documents more effective.

Becoming Paperless: The Process

I have said before that becoming paperless is a mindset. It is not about the technology, though you will need technology to accomplish it. Further, it is not about getting rid of paper in your life. If you are an attorney, there will still be paper in your life. Instead, it is about deciding that you no longer want to be a slave to the paper. It is about deciding that you will handle your documents electronically, rather than as paper.

As I look back on my career, I now see the first baby step that I took toward becoming paperless. I had been practicing for a few years and, like most other attorneys that I knew, I took a copy of the court file with me to each court appearance. Further, unless the case file was exceptionally large, I took a copy of the entire file. One day, while my back was hurting from lugging case files around, I asked myself why I was carrying the entire file. I quickly realized that I had no good reason.

From that day forth, when I went to court, I took with me only the documents that I thought might be necessary for that court appearance. Often, that is only a copy of the last order entered in the case. In doing this, I quickly learned the joy of freedom over my paper. I also realized that I have never once ended up in court wishing that I had my entire case file rather than the documents that I selected to bring with me.

That realization is similar to the same sense of freedom that I had once I decided to create a paperless office. I realized that I could control the paper, not the other way around.

Becoming paperless does take some time, however, it is not rocket science. Anyone who can manage law school and the bar exam can handle converting their office to a paperless office.

Recently, Ernie the Attorney posted a great primer on The 3 Phases of Becoming Paperless. In his post, Ernie takes you through the three phases of becoming paperless: (1) Optimize your digital skills in general; (2) Keep digital information in digital form; and (3) Learn to digitize information.

I cannot argue with anything Ernie says in this post. Instead, what I will say is that the new year is often the time that people make resolutions. This is my suggestion to you: If you do not currently run a paperless office, go read Ernie’s post, find out where you are in his three phases, and commit to taking the next step. Change takes some time. However, don’t be afraid of taking that first step. Except for firing a toxic employee, I can’t think of a single thing that you can do to improve the efficiency of your office more than converting your office to a paperless office.

I believe this and I live this. If you are thinking about going paperless and you still aren’t sure where to start or what to do, shoot me an email or give me a call. I will be happy to answer your questions.

Why Newspapers Are Going Out of Business

I am not one of the people who ran out to buy an iPad when it was released. However, given how much I like my Kindle2, I believe that there is a market for a device like this. One of the useful features of a device such as the iPad is the ability to read news and magazine stories. There was a time when I read 3 newspapers a day (actual paper newspapers) as well as a handful of magazines a month. Those days are long gone. Although some magazines show up in our mailbox every once in a while (why I don’t know), I haven’t read one in ages. Similarly, I check out the headlines on 3 or 4 newspaper websites regularly, but I couldn’t tell you when I actually read a physical newspaper last.

Obviously, if these organizations are to succeed in the future, they will have to embrace, at a least to some extent, the new media available. Ernie the Attorney, who did get an iPad, decided to try out the Wall St. Journal app. Ernie explains:

I downloaded the free Wall St. Journal app for the iPad, just to see if there was something worthwhile. I used to subscribe to the print version of the Journal and liked it a lot. I got the iPad app to work, after chopping through the thicket of registration screens and admonishments.

I figured I’d get about 2 weeks of hassle free time to check out the app and see what kind of content they are putting out for the iPad. No dice. I kept getting a registration screen. So I deleted the application.

This is not an uncommon phenomenon. A company decides to try to move its product to a digital version and makes it too difficult or cumbersome to use. When it is not  adopted, then the provider declares that attempt a failure, blaming the media, not their poor design. Ernie laments that many companies spend millions of dollars trying to build a following. Newspapers, however, (at least right now) already have that following:

Newspapers have large audiences in the print world and can’t seem to figure out how to tease a substantial portion of that audience into the online world. The production and delivery costs of online media are much lower, and so you’d think that the newspapers would be desperate to transport their paper readers to online media.

And then comes the iPad, a device perfectly suited to making that transition possible. And what do newspapers like the Wall St. Journal do? They want to charge almost the same amount of money for the online version as the print version. And they can’t figure out how to let early adopters on the iPad consume their content free to get them hooked.

Ernie then concludes with one of the best lines I have seen in a long time:

Maybe they should fire all the executives at the newspapers and replace them with drug dealers. At least the drug dealers understand how to get new customers hooked on a product before exploiting them.

A Great Way to Share Your Contact Info

As usual, Ernie the Attorney has another great suggestion:

Whenever I go to an event I usually bring business cards.  Sometimes I remember to hand them out and sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes people to ask me for them, but usually they don’t. When I’m speaking in front of a group I wouldn’t take the time to hand out my cards.  And yet that’s a moment that many people might want my contact information.

The next time I speak or go to an event I’m going to tell people “if you want my contact info take out your cellphone and send a text message to ‘50500’; type in ‘ernieattorney’ and hit send.”  If you want to try this now you can see what those folks will receive.

I know that I have ran into this problem before when speaking.  I think this is a great solution. I, like Ernie, set up my digital business card as well. Simply send a text to 50500, type in BryanSims, and you will get my digital business card back.

The service is provided by Contxts. Click here to sign up.

Making a Useful Signature Stamp

At PDF for Lawyers, Ernie the Attorney provides a great tutorital on creating a digital signature in Adobe Acrobat. The problem with using a digital signature in Acrobat is that most people don’t understand them. In addtion to your name, the digital signature contains other information that verifies that you signed the document and that it has not been changed since.

Ernie explains:

A signature, digital or not, has to satisfy two elements: (1) non-repudiability, and (2) acceptance by the receiving party.  In other words, the point of signing a document is so the recipient knows it’s from you, and that you can’t deny it’s from you (i.e. you can’t repudiate authorship of the document).  Digital signatures are far superior to regular signatures in this arena.  Where they fail miserably is in the ‘acceptance’ part.
Because digital signatures are not familiar to most people they freak out if they see a bunch of numbers where they’re used to seeing indecipherable human scrawl.  So, how to remedy this problem?
The quick and dirty fix is to do what I outline in that blurb I mentioned a few sentences ago. Just create a stamp and slap that on the document you want to ‘sign.’  It won’t be secure like a real digital signature (and if you want to repudiate it you can say your secretary exceeded her authority and stamped it without your knowledge).  But, let’s say you’re a fair-minded, by-the-rules kind of guy (or gal).  Is there another option?

Fortunately Ernie has solved this problem. Simply go to his post and follow his few simple steps to create a digital signature with an appearance that won’t freak people out.

PDF Tips and Tricks

Recently PDF for Lawyers pointed to a great article on How to Do Everything with PDF Files. I don’t know that the list actually covers how to do everything. However, it is a pretty comprehensive list with several different tips, including several for creating PDFs without using Adobe Acrobat. The first few tips include:

Q: First things first – How do I create PDF documents on my computer without Adobe Acrobat?

A: Get a copy of DoPDF – it installs as a virtual printer driver on your desktop just like Acrobat and lets you print PDF files from any Windows application including images, documents, emails, websites, etc.

Q: I don’t want to install software just for converting a bunch of documents to PDF. Do you know of any alternative?

A: Upload your documents to Google Docs via the browser and then export them as PDF files. Simple.

Q: A client just sent me a PowerPoint presentation by email. Since I am travelling without the laptop and my mobile phone cannot read PPT files, what should I do?

A: Forward that email message (with the PPT attachment) to pdf@koolwire.com – they’ll convert the presentation to PDF and email it back to you immediately. Most mobile phones can read PDF files.

Check out the article for the entire list. The list contains some excellent tips for manipulating PDF files if you do not have Adobe Acrobat.

Now I, like Ross Kodner, believe that the best PDF solution available is Adobe Acrobat. Further, as Ross explains, multiple ways exist to get a full version without paying list price. Additionally, when compared to other similarly powered software solutions, the street price of Acrobat is not out of line.

Despite my believe that everyone should have a full version of Acrobat. I recognize that the solutions in this list are useful for two groups of people. First, there is the large number of people who can’t or won’t purchase a full version of Acrobat. Second, are those who have a full version of Actobat but who are stuck working on a different computer because of travel, etc. In either situation, the tips here give you a great option to create or manipulate PDF files.

Note: I recently installed and begin using Nitro PDF and am in the process of evaluating it. I will be providing a full review on it in the near future. In the meantime, I would note that it has many features not found in other PDF programs and I am enjoying trying it out.

Creating a Digital Signature

I know that I have written before about creating a digital signature. (Just to clarify, by digital signature, in this instance I am talking about a digital picture of your physical signature.)

Ernie Svenson recently announced that he was putting on a CLE seminar on digital workflow. As Ernie explained at the time:

In the past two years I’ve given several presentations on ‘Digital Workflow,’ or how to make your law practice less dependent on paper. Whenever I give this talk the room is always packed with people who want to know the step-by-step process of becoming more digital.

About six months ago Dane Ciolino and I were tapped to give this presentation together, which was great because, over the years, Dane and I have often had lunch together to talk about our ‘paperless law practices’ and share ideas on how to make things better. So presenting together was a lot of fun for us, and (from the feedback we got) entertaining and informative for the audience.

* * *

It occurred to us that there’s a big demand for this kind of information, and it’s not really being presented very often around Louisiana. So, we decided to take the bull by the horns and put on our own CLE Seminar. The idea is to create a group of basic, intermediate, and advanced sessions. And to present them on a fairly regular basis. We’re going to start with a 3 hour session on December 12th, in the morning. For more information, and to register for the seminar, click here.

Since then, they have added several useful pages to their CLE website, including a page on the IRS requirements for keeping records electronically and basics on scanning. The page that caught my eye, however, was on digital signatures.

That page has a PDF download that explains how to create a digital signature as well as how to “flatten” your PDF so that the siganture is not easily removed. The page also includes javascript code that allows yout to add the flatten command to your Acrobat menus.

This is a great resource and I urge you to check it also. Also, if you are anywhere near where Ernie is giving one of his presentations, I would suggest that you attend that as well, if at all possible.

Adobe Creates a Community for Acrobat Users

Ernest Svenson posted an announcement today at PDF for Lawyers that he and David Masters are moderating the legal group at the new Adobe Acrobat User Community. Ernie explains:

I happy to announce that Adobe has created an online forum called Adobe Acrobat User Community. It’s free to join, and there are lots of good reasons to do so. First of all, there are some great free online seminars coming up (e.g. Digital Signatures on Dec 17th, and Scanning & OCR on Jan 21st of next year).

But, if you are in the legal profession, a great reason to join is the sub-group on Legal issues. I am a co-moderator of that forum, along with David Masters, whom many of you know is the author of The Lawyers’ Guide to Adobe Acrobat. The more people who participate and share their knowledge the more beneficial the forum will be. So stop by and sign up if you can.

Did I mention it’s free?!

I have already signed up. If you use Acrobat in your practice (and you should), you should check it out as well.

The Perfect Filing Cabinet is a Trash Can

Ernest Svenson (a/k/a Ernie the Attorney) has a great post at PDF For Lawyers about the necessity of keeping paper documents after they have been scanned.

Ernie explains:

Once people realize the benefits of scanning and decide to do it they usually have one last question: how long should I keep the paper after I scan it? My advice is always to get rid of the paper as soon as possible. A friend of mine who long ago found Nirvana in being completely paperless says he thinks it should be illegal to sell scanners without a paper-shredder attached.

Still, people wonder about getting rid of paper and believe there are special rules that require them to keep certain papers. Which ones? They’re not sure so they tend to keep most of them—just to be sure they comply with that mysterious bureaucratic edict.

He then notes that he recently read a post that advised that all tax related documents must be kept in paper form. Ernie objected to that strenuously:

Oh brother! Here we go again. The comments to this post were festooned with supporting opinions on how vital it is to keep paper receipts.

Instinctively, I knew this was ludicrous. Both from a practical standpoint, as well as a legal one.

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But what about the IRS? Isn’t the Unclutterer article right about the IRS requiring you to keep paper copies of receipts and supporting documentation related to your tax returns? No, the IRS doesn’t require paper copies. And if you don’t believe me then read IRS Rev Proc. 97-22, which specifically allows electronic storage systems if they meet basic requirements of reliability.

You need to check out the entire post. Also, make sure that you read the comments as well for a great discussion of the practical applications of Ernie’s suggestions.

I admit that I have not quite gotten to the point where I toss the paper when it is scanned. However, I have managed to rid myself of a bunch of paper. Further, I am finding it more and more frequent that my physical file on a matter is nonexistent simply because all communications and work on the file have happened entirely electronically.