Three software programs that are noteworthy for lawyers, but not yet part of the mainstream roster of software in the law office.
By John Harding, Family Lawyer
Nowadays all the buzz seems to surround iPads and other tablet-computing platforms. I would offer, however, that desktop computers are still the backbone of technology in the practice of law. Given that significance, computer software (vis-a-vis apps) still has vital relevance. I utilize three software programs that I believe are especially noteworthy for lawyers, but not yet part of the mainstream roster of software in the law office.
Writing is one of the lawyer’s primary stocks in trade. It is bewildering to me why so many of us write so badly? We should be better at writing given that we get paid to do it. Beyond the core spelling and grammar functions of the eponymous word processor, I have come across a wonderful software app called WordRake. It is an add-on for Microsoft Word that places an icon driven menu bar in your Microsoft Word software. With a click of a few buttons in Word, WordRake becomes your computerized proofreader. WordRake filters your document for run-on sentences, redundancy, and other grammatical mistakes far beyond what Word can do. It does it all from the comfort of a visually appealing, user-friendly interface. Because it is a Word add-on it runs within Word. There is no cumbersome bouncing in and out of independent programs. You create a document and run WordRake while you are working on the document in Word. It then analyzes all of your text, highlights the problem portions, and includes recommended text to fix the problems.
I have used the free trial version of WordRake, and I really like it. It just plain works. The problem for me is the price. It is available on a subscription basis, and goes for $129 per year ($259 for three years). It really does work great, the price point just leaves me uneasy. If you need help with your writing this is an exceptional tool!
Custody X Change
Since 2005 I have been using Custody X Change for parenting plans and custody calculations (in fact, I was one of the first people to license the software after it was launched). It is time more lawyers learn of this valuable software.
Custody X Change helps family law attorneys create custody schedules and parenting plans for clients. With the software, you can make a custody schedule with the residential schedule, holiday schedule, and vacation or summer break schedules. You can pick a residential schedule from a template or you can create your own. You can also add special events and really customize a schedule depending on the types of schedules you make for your clients.
The nice thing is that after you make a schedule you can print out a custody calendar to give to your client. You can print a few months or multiple years depending on what you want. Clients really like these calendars because they can clearly see each parent’s time with the children and the visual picture helps them understand the schedule.
As you make custody schedules, the software calculates the timeshare percentage of each parent along with the number of hours each parent has the children. This is helpful to know for figuring out child support because you can easily get an accurate number to put into DissoMaster. You can also use the timeshare percentages to discuss schedule options with your client or to negotiate a schedule with the other party.
The software also has a parenting plan feature that lets you print a legal description of the schedule and add parenting provisions. If you have a boilerplate plan that you can use for most of your clients, you may not use this feature very much. But, if you make a lot of custom plans, or you are just starting your practice, you may find the parenting plan and provisions helpful.
The software has two versions—the Pro Lite and the Pro Full. The Pro Lite includes all of the scheduling features and timeshare calculations. The Pro Full has all of the Pro Lite features along with the parenting plan. The Pro Full also includes a journalling feature and a tracking actual time feature, but these features seem more useful to parents. The price of Custody X Change ranges from $97 for a 6 month license of the Lite edition to $747 for a Lifetime license of the Full edition.
Custody X Change is Windows based. As I am about to explain though we can overcome that fact.
Our mainline computers at my law firm are Windows machines. However, my laptop is a Mac Book Pro and my home computer is a Mac. The Macs are superior in every way. Better operating system, better software, better screens, etc.
We go with the Windows computers at the office because all of the legal-specific software that we use is Windows-only (for example, AbacusLaw, DissoMaster, Attorney’s Briefcase). Frustrating, but that’s how it is.
Fortunately, I have found a solution so that I can have my Mac and my Windows too. It is called Windows virtualization. Parallels and VM Ware Fusion 6 are software programs that allow you to install Windows on your Apple computer, and then run Windows and all of your Windows software on that computer. I have installed Parallels on my Mac Book Pro and it is AWESOME!
Once you have the virtualization software installed, you simply click an icon and then Windows is running on your Apple machine. Totally seamless. It seems to me that Windows runs even better and faster on my Mac than it does on my native Windows machine — and the same can be said for the Windows programs that I run on the Mac.
Now I can have the best of both worlds. Windows programs and Mac happiness. You can too with Windows virtualization software.
A couple of confessions: In addition to buying Parallels or Fusion 6, you are also going to have to buy a copy of Windows to install on your Mac. You are looking at more than a couple of hundred dollars. Also, the complete installation on your Mac can be a bit challenging. Be humble and call tech support. With help it took me about an hour and a half to get it done.
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John E. Harding is the principal of the firm of Harding & Associates. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and a certified specialist by The State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization. www.HardingLaw.com