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Esquire | Mac is a blog by Adam Greivell, a 20+ year Mac veteran and Maryland litigation attorney. Adam practices law primarily in Hagerstown, Maryland. Macs are his weapons of choice.
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(1) It should go without saying, but, I'm a lawyer and I can't keep from saying it: This site is for informational purposes, and is not to be construed as legal advice. I can't imagine how anyone could possibly think anything here equates to legal advice, but in case you did: it doesn't. 
(2) Although I work for the above referenced law firm, this site is not affiliated in any way with that firm. This site is solely a personal endeavor. 
(3) This site has nothing to do with the magazine "Esquire" or esquire.com. Esquire is used in the title here in a purely descriptive sense invoking the traditional definition of the word as a label for an attorney.

Tuesday
May052009

Excel and Numbers Templates for Attorney Billing Timesheets

I do a fair amount of billable hour work in my practice. Over the years, I've developed a fairly simple but flexible spreadsheet for tracking my billable time. For our firm, this represents the ideal solution at present. I have taken a liking to a few different Mac billing apps out there (like Billings, Involer, Invoice, GrandTotal, and iRatchet) but each of them falls short in one way or another for our purposes. I would encourage you to give them a try, however, as your needs might be different than ours.

Early on, I would write my time down here and there, and at the end of the month, I would be gathering my snippets of billing information from all over my office and my computer - even going back over my recent emails and documents to forensically reconstruct my billable time for the month. As you can imagine, you lose a fair amount of billable time that way - both for time it takes to recreate the month, and for the work that ultimately never gets billed for because it was missed in the reconstruction.

Obviously, I needed to find a system for capturing my time contemporaneously with the work I was billing for. For a while, my solution was to keep a legal pad next to my computer and jot down my work as I was doing it. That's not a terrible solution, but it left me at the end of the month with a good bit of work still to do. I would go over the pages of chicken scratch (yes, surprise, my handwriting is horrific), and try to give a client-by-client report to our secretary who creates and sends out our billing invoices.

Eventually, I realized that by using a spreadsheet, I could capture my time as I do the work, and, at the end of the month, we can manipulate the data in any way we want. Specifically, the data can be arranged by client or matter to give our billing secretary easy access to copy and paste the relevant information.

As most firms do, our firm bills by the tenth of an hour.

It is easy to type in the start time and end time for your tasks in the spreadsheet. The hard(er) part is to do math with the time, convert it to tenths and round it up to the next tenth. Of course, this can be done manually, which is how I used to do it, but the with power of Numbers and Excel, it can easily be done automatically - if you know the right formulas.

First, you need to make sure your start and end time columns are set to the Date and Time format. The next step is intuitive enough: subtract the start time from the end time. If that is all you do, however, your result will be something like "0.0" because the spreadsheet doesn't fully understand what you're up to. Multiplying the whole answer by 24 will give you a decimal representation of the time. But, you're not done yet. At this point, you may get an answer like 0.717. You could just set the decimal places to 1 in the cell format settings, but that would round to the nearest tenth, rather than rounding up. The solution is to add the ROUNDUP operator to the beginning of the formula. To tell the spreadsheet what decimal place to round up to, add a ",1" to the end of the formula.

In the end, your formula for calculating time to the tenth of an hour, rounding up, is "=ROUNDUP((B1-A1)*24,1)" where B1 is your end time and A1 is your start time.

So, without further ado, here are two templates for tracking your billable time:

One final tip: I have found that in order for me to practically capture my time as I do the work, I need to have the spreadsheet very quickly accessible. The way I accomplished this was to put the billing document in my dock. Just drag the document from where ever you keep it to the right side of the dock (where your "stacks" folders are kept), and it will stay in the dock for one click access to your timesheet.

 

 


Saturday
Feb142009

Practice Tip: Record Audio While Taking Notes

Audio Notes in Microsoft Word



It's not often that I have something nice to say about Microsoft. That said, Microsoft Word is a pretty top-notch product, if a bit expensive. While I have pretty much abandoned Excel for Numbers, Microsoft Word is still my work horse for drafting correspondence and pleadings. I don't use anything else in the Office suite of applications; and until Pages enables you to set the default document format as .doc, I will continue to use Word for my law firm documents because, like it or not, the rest of the world uses Word, and therefore .doc. (I will refrain from commenting upon or even acknowledging those still using Word holy-crap-are-people-still-using-this-dinosaur Perfect. No offense, naturally!)

I recently discovered the "Notebook Layout View" in a Microsoft Word Document. It looks a little something like this (ok, exactly like this):


Ironically, I learned about this feature while learning the ins and outs of another great notebook application, Circus Ponies Notebook. If you will tolerate a brief aside... I have been looking for the best way to manage my documents for my cases in litigation - toying with Journler, Evernote, Circus Ponies Notebook, and, well, nothing (hat tip to Peter Summerill, the MacLitigator).


Last week my client had her deposition taken. I decided to take Microsoft Word's notebook layout for a spin. For those playing along at home, I'm using Microsoft Office:Mac 2008. Your mileage may vary for Office:Mac 2003 or 2004. The first thing you'll want to do is open a new Word document. You can select the Notebook layout from the Project Gallery that tends to present itself when Word first opens, or, you can select the Notebook Layout View in the bottom left-hand corner, like so:


Once you have chosen your Notebook Layout View, you can start the recording by clicking the record button at the top of the notebook.


As you can see in the screenshot, you can adjust the input volume. I noticed that I had to do this to pick up the voices from across the table. Using the built-in mic on my early-2008 MacBook Pro, I was able to hear everyone's voices very well on playback. The one drawback was that you could hear the clickity-clack of my keyboard even though I was careful to tread lightly with my fingers. Even so, the voices are still very audible over the keystrokes. While this may not be suitable for courtroom playback, it is plenty fine for your own reference. If you want to enhance your quality, you may want to plug in an external mic.


The coolest part about all of this is that you can play back the audio that was playing while you were typing any particular part of your notes. Just hover your mouse over the note you want to listen to, and a speaker icon will appear next to that note. Clicking it will play the audio that was being recorded as you were typing that note.


I was worried about what kind of file size this would result in. I actually found it to be very reasonable. An hour and a half deposition resulted in a 15 megabyte file. Not too shabby. I wouldn't take all of my notes that way, but it will certainly be worthwhile in many situations.


You can export the audio as an .mp4 file after the fact if you'd like to add it to your iTunes for playback on your iPod or iPhone.




Voice Annotating in Circus Ponies Notebook

If you use Circus Ponies Notebook to organize your litigation files, you can do essentially the same thing as I described above for Word. According to the Circus Ponies documentation:



You can type notes in a lecture or meeting and record the person speaking using the built-in voice annotation feature. NoteBook adds Voice Annotation Stickers that are synced to the voice recording, so you can start playback at the exact point at which you began typing a note. You can also copy a voice annotation file to iTunes, and from there to your iPod for anywhere playback.

Once you have finished recording, Notebook will place a voice annotation sticker next to wherever you added or changed notes while recording, and you can click those to play back.


Like the notebook layout in Word, in Circus Ponies Notebook, you can choose "Open in iTunes" to export the audio file for playback on your iPod or what-have-you.


Record with Good Old Paper and Pen with the Pulse Smart Pen from LiveScribe


Sometimes, you don't have your laptop on you, and sometimes you just want to take notes the good old fashioned way - with paper and pen.


I won't spend too much time on this because I have no personal experience with it, but the LiveScribe pen looks truly awesome. Basically, it does everything the above applications do, but it does it with or without a computer. I will refer you to their site to view the demo.


In short: Using special paper (that you can print yourself, btw) you take notes with the LiveScribe pen and it records. When you want to play back your notes, you tap on the paper on the notes you want to hear and it knows based on where you tap what portion of the audio to play back. Even better, you can transfer the files to your computer, and it will convert your notes into a PDF - no scanning required.


David Sparks (of MacSparky) wrote briefly about LiveScribe in a guest post over at Ben Steven's blog, The Mac Lawyer earlier this year.




Tuesday
Feb102009

Download Postbox Today: Open Beta

Recently, I posted a review of Postbox, a new email client for Mac and Windows that is based on Mozilla, like Thunderbird. Until yesterday, the application was in private beta. Now, you can go to http://postbox-inc.com/ and download the beta version to try for yourself.

If my review wasn't enough to satisfy your curiosities, check out these reviews below from (arguably) more qualified sources:


Monday
Feb022009

Beware the iWork '09 Trial

This post is a word of caution to anybody trying out the iWork '09 30 day free trial.

Curious about the new features in iWork '09 over iWork '08, I downloaded the free trial from Apple a couple of weeks ago. The only app I actually use on a regular basis is Numbers. I have a spreadsheet that I use to track my billable time, and I use it basically every day that I'm working.

Smartly, when you install iWork '09, it leaves your iWork '08 apps intact. Once I downloaded iWork '09, however, my Numbers documents began to open with Numbers '09 by default. I vaguely sensed that this was not a good idea, but went along with it anyway.

Today, out of an abundance of caution, I wanted to see what would happen if I tried to open my timesheet (which had been converted from a Numbers '08 document to a Numbers '09 document) in Numbers '08. My suspicions were confirmed: no can do. You cannot open Numbers '09 documents in Numbers '08.

I have no intention to purchase the upgrade to iWork '09 in the near future. The value-add just isn't there. Frankly, the iwork.com integration means next to nothing for me, and I have not found much added utility to the rest of the suite for my purposes.

Hence, now, the obvious problem: once the iWork '09 trial expires, I will have no way to access my now-converted Numbers '09 documents. Apple will then effectively be holding my important information ransom.

No problem. I decided I would simply copy and paste the information into a Numbers '08 document. Sorry, can't do that, either. Copying data from multiple rows and columns results in one of two situations: (a) the data fills a single column (even though it was copied from several columns), or (b) the cells "paste" into the '08 document as an uneditable picture clipping. Bottom line, there was no way to simply and effectively transfer the data from a Numbers '09 document to a Numbers '08 document.

I then had the inclination to export the '09 document to an Excel document from which I could then copy/paste into an '08 Numbers document. When doing a "Save as..." I was presented with the option of Saving as a Numbers '08 document. This I did, and the data was safely back in the '08 format.

There is one gaping hole in this scheme. If I were to allow the trial to lapse without purchasing it (I assume) the application would become disabled, and I would have no way of accessing the data trapped within the '09 document.

Perhaps Apple has thought of this possibility and has implemented another workaround. But, if I were you, I wouldn't risk it. If you have downloaded the iWork '09 trial, be sure to convert all of your important documents back to the '08 format if you do not intend to purchase the '09 upgrade.

Please, somebody, tell me I'm wrong in the comments. I hope it's me that's being stupid here and not Apple.


Monday
Jan192009

Postbox: New Heavyweight Email Contender

postbox_logoShortly before Christmas, I learned of Postbox, a new cross-platform email application from Postbox, Inc. The new email client is being developed by Scott MacGregor and Sherman Dickman - both men having an extensive background at Mozilla.

According to CrunchBase, Scott MacGregor was "a lead engineer at Mozilla Corporation," and Sherman Dickman was "Director of Product Management at Mozilla Corporation" where he "oversaw market and customer research, analytics and metrics." Suffice it to say, these guys know something about building an email application.

Postbox grabbed some attention last fall when it was launched at TechCrunch50. You can view their demo below.



Postbox is currently in private beta. I was invited to the beta program about a week and a half ago and have had an opportunity to put Postbox through its paces.

Although I was very excited about Postbox from the beginning and really wanted to like the app, unfortunately, I am underwhelmed. Ultimately, Postbox feels like Thunderbird-dressed-up-all-pretty; which shouldn't be surprising since this app is built on Mozilla by two former Mozilla employees.

What sets Postbox apart from other email applications?

See for yourself:
Main Interface
Main Interface

Conversation View
Conversation View

Document Search
Document Search

Image Search
Image Search

Text Search
Text Preview

Topics Panel
New Topic

Contacts Panel
Contact Panel

New Message Window with Image Search
New Message Compose

New Message Window with Places Search
New Message Compose

(Source)

Some other things you can do with Postbox:

  • Twitter - you can highlight text from an email, right-click and post that text to Twitter. I'm not sure I see how useful this is, but I guess it doesn't hurt to have the option. I've never felt like I just had to twitter something someone sent me in an email. They would do better, in my opinion, to build in a full Twitter client that could show a threaded conversation view. That would actually be useful.

  • Annotate Emails - I have not seen this anywhere else, but you can actually add text to emails that people have sent to you as a way to annotate them. This is a pretty neat idea. As a lawyer, however, I tend to treat emails as archival; as evidence of a communication that has occurred. That said, I feel weird adding text to an email because I feel like I'm altering the record. Perhaps I'm just being paranoid (I know you're listening!). If you can get past the dirty feeling you get by altering a sacred digital record of communication, then this could actually be pretty useful.

  • Easy Links, Maps, Images: One of the coolest features about Postbox is the ability to very easily add links, maps, and images to your new emails. When composing new email, on the right-hand side, there is a pane where you can run a quick google or wikipedia search which will display results as you type. You can then drag any of the results over to your message to send to somebody. This can actually come in handy. Check the screenshot below.


picture-2

What I don't like about Postbox?

  • No Quick Look: As cool as Postbox is in the way it helps you collect and search your attachments, it does not (yet) include support for Quick Look. In our office, we scan all outgoing and incoming mail, pleadings, etc. These scans come into my email box with nondescript filenames. I love how Mail.app allows you to do a Quick Look at an attachment, allowing you to see the full contents of the document without actually opening up the attachment. Obviously, this is much faster than going through the emails one by one and opening the attachments one at a time. This is actually a deal breaker for me.

  • No Unified Inbox: Also a deal breaker for me is the lack of a unified inbox. By this, I mean that you can only view your emails one account at a time. I have three main email accounts that I must manage with my email client. In Mail.app, I can have all emails come into my one Inbox. I don't have to click on my work email account to see my work email, then my personal email account to see my personal email, then my EsquireMac email account to see my EsquireMac email. Beyond this, with Mail.app, I can view all of the folders and sub-folders for all of my email accounts at one time and drag and drop emails between accounts with the magic of IMAP.

  • Slow: Postbox has some great features, but it is not fast. Mail.app feels rock solid and is the fastest email client I've ever used. Postbox has about the same feel to it as Thunderbird. When you click on an email, there is a definite stuttering period where it is getting its crap together so it can do you the favor of actually displaying the contents of the email you just clicked on. It is not instantaneous like Mail.app.

  • One Signature Per Account: Perhaps this is no big deal to some people, but Postbox only allows one signature per account. You actually have to create a text file containing your signature, then point Postbox to that text file to pull your signature from it. It's a bit klugy.


Conclusion

All in all, Postbox is innovative and is taking the desktop email client in the right direction. I think they've already outshone Thunderbird. They've got some ground to cover, though, performance-wise and feature-wise, if they're going to unseat Mail.app.

Oh, I almost forgot. Postbox will be a free application and works on Mac OS X and Windows.

There's plenty more to learn about Postbox, so don't take my word for it. Read up on Postbox and sign up for the beta here.