Here is an interview with John Harding. The family law specialist technology blogger talks about how technology can be used to improve law practice.
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Interviewer: Dan Couvrette, CEO, Divorce Marketing Group, Divorce Magazine and Family Lawyer Magazine.
Guest Speaker: John Harding, Family Lawyer
HERE IS THE TRANSCRIPT OF THE PODCAST:
Hi, my name is Dan Couvrette. I’m the CEO and publisher of Family Lawyer magazine and familylawyermagazine.com as well as Divorce magazine and divorcemagazine.com. It is my pleasure every month to interview professionals who are working in the divorce area — family lawyers, mediators, therapists, judges, financial planners, accountants, et cetera.
Today I have the pleasure of talking with John Harding about technology and apps and those topics. John is an experienced family law trial lawyer and a divorce mediator. He is recognized throughout California and the United States as an expert in family law. He regularly writes articles for regional and national legal publications including Family Lawyer magazine, by the way. He frequently presents seminars on complex issues in family law for local, regional and national legal groups. He has maintained an active family law practice in Northern California since 1989.
John is a fellow of the prestigious American Academy of Family Law Attorneys. He is certified as a family law specialist by the state bar of California, of legal specialization. He is a principal of Harding Associates Family Law with offices in Pleasanton and Walnut Creek, California. John is a publisher of the family law tech and practice blog. You can visit that blog, the address is familylawyertech.blogspot.com. I’m gonna say that again. It’s www.familylawyertech.blogspot.com.
So I’m going to talk with John and he’s going to give us some ideas about the apps that he recommends — productivity apps, connectivity apps, presentation and evidence apps, substantive law apps, legal research and office suite apps. I know that if you’re listening in, you’ll benefit from John’s knowledge because he is Mr. Technology for family law. He is the most experienced and knowledgeable person we know, which is why I invited him to speak with me today on this subject.
So welcome, John. Thank you for taking a few minutes to talk with us tonight.
Hi, Dan. Glad to be here.
Great. So I’m gonna start off by — we had a brief conversation before this seminar started and we were talking about why you embraced or how you embrace technology. So if you can just give me a little bit of background — kind of how you got started in going down this road of using technology in your practice and what benefits you see in a general kind of perspective as to the use of technology and then specifically apps.
Sure. Sure. As a bit of background, and as I had mentioned to you when we were speaking before, I’ve just never done without a computer in my practice. I was probably one of the first generations of people who had that technology available every day, so I don’t know any other way of doing things. I’ve never dictated a letter in my life; I’ve always put my own fingers on the keyboard and taken care of it myself.
So I’ve always been an adopter of technology — not only because I don’t know an alternative, but because I’ve always appreciated that it just makes it a whole lot easier to practice law. That same philosophy has blossomed with the evolution of the tablet technology. It’s opened up a whole new channel of opportunities for me to take the technology that I use in my office with me wherever I go, including settlement meetings and trials at the courthouse.
So how do you use your tablet in your practice? If you can give us just a bit more detail in terms of how you actually use it. What’s kind of a typical day or a couple of days for you in terms of how you use your tablet?
You bet. I’ll break it up into parts. As far as practice management goes, I use my tablet constantly as my calendar. I don’t carry a date planner with me or any sort of paper calendar. It’s all on my iPad and that’s my tablet of choice. If I’m away from the office, I’m using my tablet to send and receive e-mails so I can keep in touch with clients. I use an instant messaging app so that my staff and other attorneys in the office can get a hold of me all the time.
My iPad is my law library and I have that law library with me wherever I go. We went paperless in our office about a decade ago, so everything is converted to PDFs. And through the technology of the iPad, I can have client files with me wherever I go. We have some remote computing capabilities so that through my iPad I can log into my computer at the office and I have the entire infrastructure at the office available to me through a Wi-Fi connection so that I can get any client file onto my iPad so that I can take a look at pleadings, I can take a look at research memos, I can take a look at correspondence and archived e-mails.
I have other tools that help me to perform better when I’m in court and I utilize those. Once in a while just as a diversion, I have some fun stuff that I use in my tablet, my iPad. So those are the big balloons that I have in the air for my iPad and the different ways that I use it.
You mentioned that you have your files, of course they’re on a computer in your office. Do you also use the cloud to keep files or do you keep everything in your office?
We have a server, a very secure server in-house and that’s the core of our network and that’s where everything is at. But I do use the cloud platform in two ways — my iPad and a Dropbox account, which we can talk about eventually, so that I can move files back and forth, that I’d do that not only when I’m using my iPad but so that I can access files if I want to work from home or from a hotel room or somewhere else. So I do use the cloud but it’s not our default method of storage.
So for you, a lot of it is also about mobility and that you don’t have to be in any one particular place to fully utilize the system you’ve created here.
That’s right. Interesting story: when our first child was born almost 17 years ago, I started telecommuting is what it was called then and now it’s called remote computing, so that I could work from the house and be with our newborn. It’s a technology that has stayed with me to this day and with the advent of improved upload and download speeds over the internet, it’s only gotten better and better so that I could work anywhere in the world and the distance is completely irrelevant.
Right. I do the same thing, John. That’s the good news sometimes and the bad news.
It’s good when the work has to get done. It’s bad if you become a slave to it.
Exactly. So why don’t you take us through which apps you use for your work and you’re certainly welcome to break it down by category, general productivity, et cetera. You’ve given me a list of quite a few apps, so I know you’re only gonna have time to hit the highlights of the ones you use the most. But I wanna let the people know who are listening to this podcast, that we’ll have a complete list of all the apps that John recommends. You can find all of these apps on the iTune app store, so don’t be worried if we don’t go into great detail on all of this. But I’ll let you start with your general productivity apps that you use.
Sure. The apps that I would use as just a general app or a personal productivity app would include the calendar as I’ve mentioned and for that I don’t have anything special, I just use the native calendar app that’s on my iPad. Likewise with e-mail. I use the resident app that came with my iPad. I use those two apps constantly.
Another app that I use with great frequency is a note-taking application. My particular app is called Notetaker HD. I use it most of the time. I take my iPad to depositions, I take it to court. When I’m taking notes during a court proceeding, when I’m taking notes during a deposition, I’m using my finger as the pen and I’m writing it right on to the screen of my iPad with my note taking app. So that app gets a whole lot of use.
The ability to communicate with our server at the office is essential, that idea of remote computing. So another app that I use quite frequently is the GoToMyPC app. A lot of your listeners are probably familiar with Citrix and GoToMyPC as a means for communicating with the office computers. GoToMyPC does have a free app, but you have to have the subscribed GoToMyPC account for it to work. LogMeIn Ignition is another app that enables you to do that remote computing and I use that app a whole lot.
As I mentioned, all of our paper in the office is converted to PDF documents. So for me to look at those PDFs on my iPad, I use an app called PDF Expert Professional, it’s a $9.99 app, and it’s fantastic. It gives me a full-screen image of the PDF documents. I can upload ’em to our Dropbox account and then pull ’em down to our iPad, see the document. For example, if I need to look at a bank statement or answers to interrogatories or a letter, they’re right there. If I wanna work with documents, this PDF Expert Professional gives me the ability to annotate documents.
Another really neat feature about it is it enables me to sign documents. When you set the app up, you write your signature with your finger and you save it and this proved to be a real lifesaver this week as a matter of fact. I was in one court in a particular county and my opposing attorney in a different case was at the courthouse in a different county, trying to get a trial date rescheduled.
He sent me an e-mail with a letter saying John, I’m literally sending you this from my iPad at the courthouse because the judge will give us a new trial date if you will sign and return this letter that I drafted. So through this PDF Expert Professional app, I was able to affix my blue-ink signature to it, send it right back to him and we got our trial date continued.
That could have taken days to get handled—
Absolutely. And it was done in a matter of minutes and again, two different counties, two different courthouses, distance was irrelevant and there wasn’t the exchange of any real paper. It was all virtual. So that’s an app that I use all the time under my general productivity apps definition. Dropbox, talking about the cloud, is an app that I use frequently. I’m going to presume that your listeners know what the cloud is and they may already be familiar with Dropbox.
But what it is, is an account that you set up and you can consider it a file cabinet out in the internet. So you can upload documents to your Dropbox account so that you can then log on from a different computer somewhere else and pull them back down. Or you can synchronize your various machines so that they all have the same version of a document in this central repository and you can go back and forth and access it at your convenience.
There’s a two-gigabyte free account that’s available through Dropbox. And if you really wanna get heavy into storing data on the cloud, you can get a subscription account with them for a nominal fee and never run out of storage space. So that’s one of my general apps that is a real go-to app for me.
Other modules that I use—I have what I call my law apps and those are the apps that I use at courthouse, that I use at settlement conferences, that I use at depositions if I need to pinpoint some law, if a judge asks me a question and I need an answer. If an opposing counsel gets into a legal argument with me, so that I can say I think I’m right and here’s the authority that supports my position.
Those apps would include Westlaw Next. That is a subscription app, it would be part of your library plan with Westlaw. But it’s an absolutely, positively fantastic application. It requires internet access, so you’ve either gotta have Wi-Fi at your disposal or you’ve gotta have the data plan on your tablet or iPad. But if you subscribe to the product, it gives you the entire Westlaw library right then and there.
In California, we have a series of reference books called the Rutter Group and it is really sort of the go-to, here’s how you do the A, B’s and C’s of California- family law book that every family lawyer in California has and it’s available as an online product.
I’m assuming that Westlaw probably — although I don’t know this for certain —has this for every state, I would imagine.
Yes. And they’ve really invested a lot of money in developing what I think is an outstanding app. And most of us family law lawyers are sole practitioners, partners in two-person firms or members of a firm with less than 10 lawyers. West has identified that as a target market and this product has really been written considering the small-firm practitioner, like most of us family law lawyers, as being in need of this product and it works like a charm.
Right. ‘Cause you don’t have a research department. You are the research department more often than—
You bet. As an aside, we don’t have a paper library in our firm anymore. We backed a pickup truck up to the office about five years ago and hauled all the books to the dumps. So they’re gone. And everything’s done electronically. Because the technology’s there and because I can fit a whole law library on my iPad.
So when you do have paper, do you then just recycle that paper if you have paper from clients, et cetera? Or do you store that paper?
Well, I always print a backup of a pleading. And we keep backup paper files for our clients. But we don’t use ’em very often. They just sit in a file cabinet. At the end of the case, because everything is already on our computer servers, we burn the entire client file to a CD. That’s what we store and then the paper binders are emptied and those records are shredded.
But getting back to our law apps on my iPad, I also have every single California code in one single app. It’s called California Codes and it’s created by a vendor called Tekk Innovations, it cost me $29.99 and it’s another fantastic app. You know, in California, we have more provisions in our family code than any other state. Our collective body of laws that are the California codes are easily the most voluminous in the United States.
If I were to try and carry all of the books that I need to family law trial, I’d need a motor home to do it. But for less than $30, I’ve got every single California statute on my iPad. In family law in California, we calculate child support and spousal support with computer programs that are written for that purpose. A lot of other states are doing the same thing. We have three different vendors who’ve been approved by California’s judicial counsel to sell a software product that accurately performs our support calculations.
One of those vendors, again, is West and they’ve also created an app for their support calculation program. It’s called DissoMaster. I used it when I was in court today. In the old days, I would actually have to call my secretary and say hey, here’s the incomes, type it in and tell me what your result is. Don’t have to do that anymore.
So the idea of completely eliminating the paper law library and being able to take all of that information that used to fill up a huge room and put it into a little device that measures less than a piece of paper, is just stunning to me. But also incredibly valuable because I have all of that information right at my fingertips.
What do you think this means to your clients in terms of having all this information at your disposal? I have to believe that it’s a benefit to your clients.
It’s a benefit in several respects. One, I think it really helps my clients to have that extra bit of confidence in me because they see that I’m paying attention to the latest technologies and I’m really trying to be a cutting edge lawyer. And as I get older, it seems like my clientele gets younger as a body. And these young folks who are totally conditioned by Facebook and by the internet—they almost don’t give you any credibility unless you know about these technologies and unless you’re able to utilize them in your practice.
If you can’t, they treat you like a dinosaur and your credibility goes down. So just the physical act of carrying an iPad adds to my credibility. But it helps my clients to be more confident in me when they see that if any question comes up, I can get an answer instantaneously for them, for my opposing counsel, for the judge. And having an abundance of data rather than a shortage of data empowers me to be a much better lawyer. Nothin’s gonna catch me by surprise.
Right. You’re more confident yourself because you have the information at your disposal.
Absolutely. And if I render an opinion, I can stand behind it. It helps my confidence and I can go to the precedent and I can produce the case law. I can produce the statutory law. I can go to the discovery document and show the response rather than just guessing or thumbing through a hundred pages of legal pad notes or calling the office and having an associate run to the file room and look something up for me.
So I know that you have a few more apps that you want to talk about but I just also want to give you a moment to talk about your own blog and to just share with the listeners what information they can find on your blog and how regularly do you update information on your blog.
I maintain the blog at least weekly. And probably closer to every day than not. The reason I started blogging is that I couldn’t find that one go-to resource for family law lawyers so that I could learn how other people were doing it, ’cause I really felt like I was always inventing the wheel. Eventually, Dan Couvrette and Divorce Marketing came along and they’ve helped fill that need.
But when I started out as a lawyer, I didn’t know—should I have a Yellow Pages ad? If I should, how big should it be? Should I buy an iPad? If I do buy an iPad, where can I find apps for it? How much are other lawyers charging? How are other lawyers doing this, how are other lawyers doing that? Just the little things that they don’t teach you in law school and that nobody has written a book on as far as operating a practice.
So I would surf the internet and I would find all of this great information for free and I wouldn’t know what to do with it, other than maybe print out the web page and put it in a three-ring binder. So I came upon the technology of blogs and I thought this is perfect. I can take what I learn on the internet or at seminars or reading books. I can type up a summary of what I’ve learned, I can publish it to the blog and I can share it with all my colleagues. And not only is it there for the benefit of my friends and neighbors, but it’s also kind of a nice encyclopedia for me.
Yeah, ’cause I can say boy, you know, I think I read about this somewhere, go to my own blog, put in the keyword and there it is.
Right. I’m going to give the address again, John, just in case people didn’t get it. It’s familylawyertech.blogspot.com. Are there any other apps that you wanna talk about, John? We have three or four minutes before we wrap up. Are there ones in particular you want to mention?
A couple for you, Dan. There are some great apps being developed if your listeners are Microsoft Office devotees. Up until now there’s been a bit of a lag and the software apps haven’t been there so that you can seamlessly work with Word documents and Excel spreadsheets and other Office suite products. New cloud-based products are coming online—CloudOn is one. Another is OnLive Desktop.
These are applications that enable you to upload your word documents or your Excel spreadsheets and work with them in a completely native format so that there aren’t any formatting errors because of the lag time in developing compatible products. That’s absolutely a fantastic tool. Skype has an iPad app. I’ve got clients talking to their kids—virtual visitation via the Skype iPad app and that’s a product that I think can be real important to your listeners and to their clients.
And by the way, this interview is being recorded on Skype, so Skype has multiple uses for professionals and clients.
I think, Dan, the takeaway that I would want your listeners to get from this is law can be a very, very challenging profession. And I’m always looking for ways to be a better lawyer without necessarily working harder at it. That’s what technology does for me. It offers up tools by which I can be a better lawyer, but I can be better while also getting more efficient at the same time. Even if it’s eliminating distance—if I don’t have to walk as far to get the information, if I don’t have to carry those bankers boxes with me to court every day. Or if I don’t have to rely on my memory as much, which isn’t perfect, by turning to a statute or turning to a book that’s on my computer.
So that’s what technology is for me—being a better lawyer with less effort.
That sounds like a good strategy for your business and for your life—to use technology and benefit from it. John, I appreciate the time you’ve given us today.
So thank you once again and if you want more information as a family lawyer, of course, www.familylawyermagazine.com has hundreds and hundreds of articles now. Other professionals, family lawyers, accountants, financial planners, mental health professionals, judges, et cetera have been very generous in providing us with a huge amount of content, information and resources that can benefit you and your practice.
Thank you for listening and I wish you all the best. Thank you again, John. Take care.
John E. Harding, JD, CFLS, AAML was the principal lawyer at Harding & Associates. John was a family lawyer, collaborative practitioner, and mediator. He regularly wrote articles for legal publications and presented seminars on complex issues in legal groups. He was also the publisher of the Family Law Lawyer Tech and Practice Blog.
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