Category: Tips & Tricks

Simple Timeline Software

Sometimes you need to create a simple Timeline, but you don’t do it often enough to justify buying expensive application software.  What do you do?

We’re all probably familiar with TimeMap, now owned by LexisNexis.  It was probably the first really good and easy-to-use software designed specifically for this purpose.  It’s become a favorite of trial attorneys and paralegals.  There are always specials at trade shows, like ABA TechShow, and I grabbed it for $99 a number of years ago.

If you don’t do a lot of timelines, or don’t get to the shows, how can you produce a decent Timeline without spending the bucks?  Simple.  You already have tools to do it.  Here are instructions on how to create a Timeline using Excel.  Here are instructions to create a Timeline using the SmartArt graphics feature in PowerPoint.  There’s even free shareware called Timeline, which is a cross-platform application.

All three tips are courtesy of attorney Paula Gibson, on ABA’s LawTech listserv.  Thank you Paula!

Do You Like Free Stuff?

 

No, I don’t really expect you to answer.  It’s a rhetorical question.  Of course you like free stuff.  We all do.  But we’ve been raised on the notion that there’s nothing good for free.  Not true.  And there’s a resource out there that reviews and categorizes the good stuff for you.   I’m talking about Gizmo’s Freeware.    I’ve been a subscriber for a long time, and have always appreciated the tips. 

Here’s the perfect example.  For my mother’s 88th birthday present, my sister and I gave her a Kindle.  Best darn thing we ever got her next to the gym membership we got her for her 50th birthday.  But Mom is such an avid reader — sometimes going through a book a day –that she eats through our gift certificates like a hot knife going through butter, and runs up quite a tab on her credit card as well.  She is always looking for the “bargain” books, regardless of whether or not she is really interested in the author or genre.  If the book is under $1 she’ll read it. She’ll be in heaven when I help her bookmark some of the 446 Places for free e-books and audio downloads recently published by Gizmo’s.  It will be an easy thing to download whatever she wants and move them to her Kindle.

Don’t have a Kindle and don’t want to purchase another piece of electronic stuff?  Well, how about free software that will turn your laptop, netbook, or desktop into a great e-reader?  Yep, Gizmo’s provides tips too, in addition to the details and links.

What do you like?  Are you an iPad or iPhone user?  Have you been to their App store?  It’s overwhelming, isn’t it?  There’s a ton of free or no cost applications.  Sure there are end-user ratings on some of the stuff, but nonetheless I’ve had the distinct displeasure of downloading many apps based on high ratings, and been sorely disappointed.  Gizmo’s isn’t the be-all and end-all expert, but when they review something and rate it highly, I have a higher level of confidence, based on experience, that it will work as I expect.  And the fact that they aggregate applications in meaningful ways that make sense to me, make them a great resource.  Take a look for example, at their list of the Best Free iPhone Apps.

I own no stock in Gizmo’s.  I’m just a fan who likes to share with others what I find useful.  Enjoy!

Google Privacy Countdown

My partner, Jennifer Ellis, has just posted instructions on her blog about how to get rid of your Google web search and YouTube histories before the March 1, 2012 account consolidation deadline.  You can read about it here.

As Jennifer explains, Google announced that it would be combining all of the data from various accounts into one place for purposes of making its privacy policy easier. She finds the prospect of Google  putting all of the data from various accounts into one place  a bit scary, and notes that, not too surprisingly, a lot of people want to delete the data before Google puts it into once place.  Jennifer explains what you can and cannot delete, and provides illustrated step-by-step instructions.

Outline Numbering in Word

Me and my partner, Jennifer Ellis, just returned from presenting numerous seminars at The Paralegal Institute and The Law Practice Management and Development Institute, both of which were held at the beautiful Lancaster Marriott Hotel & Convention Center.  I presented, among others, a session on Word for Paralegals, and Word for Attorneys, respectively, at each institute.  I ran into a frustrating and embarassing problem when demonstrating Outline Numbering in Word.  I promised those who attended I would get to the bottom of the problem and post the resolution on my blog.  I am making good on that promise with this post.

While still at the conference, I contacted our Microsoft trainer, Judith Kraft, to see if she had a solution.  Judy’s suggestion was worth noting, however it was not the cause of the problem I experienced at the conference.  I had already detected that a Microsoft Word default setting was, ahem, wrong, and fixed it.  But it’s likely that you haven’t, so you will want to check this first, before you attempt to follow my instructions.

It seems that by default the automatic numbered lists check box might not be checked in the Autocorrect section.  To get there:  Click the Office button / select Word Options in bottom right / Proofing / Autocorrect / make sure that “autoformat as you type” is checked.  If not, click in the box to turn it on.  The default is NOT turned on in the 2007 and 2010 versions out of the box. 

Ok, but as I said, that isn’t what was causing the pesky problem during the demonstration.  Then I remembered that when I last suffered a similar embarassment, it was demonstrating the exact same feature in Word 2003.  And I further recalled having the problem as far back as Word 2000, when I first encountered it.

The resolution at the time was to accept the fact that the one outline numbering format/style which seemed to be the most popular and appropriate with/for attorneys was in fact the only one which was buggy.  It just doesn’t work.  Could it be that all these years later, the problem had not yet been fixed?  Inplausible.  Impossible.  Yet, unbelievably, absolutely true!!

Since every outline style is completely customizable — one of the reasons for the demonstration — I decided to prove the hypothesis by using a different style, and making it look like the other one.  In doing so, I also discovered yet another shortcut which you will find makes it even better and easier to do this.  Here are the steps I performed:

  1. From the HOME tab, click on the Multi-level List Icon (the main icon, not the pull-down arrow next to it).
  2. When the menu opens, I noted that “None” was selected.  I immediately scrolled down to the bottom section of the dialog box and selected “Define New Multilevel List”. 
  3. I clicked on Level 1 to modify in the top-left box. 
    • I went to “Number style for this Level” and clicked on the down arrow, and selected  “I, II, III” for roman numerals.
    • I went into “Enter formatting for number box” immediately above.  I removed the right parentheses and replaced it with a period.  [Remember, you format this the way you want.  Just because I choose to put in or take out a parentheses or period, doesn’t mean you have to do the same.  You format each level how you want.]
    • I clicked on “Font” immediately to the right.  I picked the font I normally use for default, since it’s pretty likely it will match whatever document I use it in.  While you are in there, you should notice whether your font color says “No Color” and if so, change it to “Automatic”.  [If you want your numbers to stand out, you can pick whatever other color you want.]  I also chose to make the numbering Bold.  I also noticed that all of the “Effects” were shaded.  Just to make sure there were no errors, I purposely checked, and then unchecked each, so no special effects would be inadvertently applied.  [Remember, if you do this right, you won’t have to do it again, so take the time to do it right.]
  4. Anyone who does outlines which contain roman numerals, or have more than 9 items at the same “level” knows that your indenting can quickly misalign when your number is more than one digit in length if you only use the default .25 inch indent after the number.  So I changed the “Text indent at” setting from .25 to .50. 
  5. Here is the new step which saved tons of time aligning all the following levels.  I checked the box immediately to the right labeled “Set for All Levels.”  It opened a dialog box, where I changed both “Text Position for First Level” and “Additional indent for each level:” from .25 to .50.  By doing this, I didn’t have to do anything for the additional levels except for repeating step 3a through 3c above.  [Note:  for those of you who don’t want the text to all align like on this list – perhaps you want to have the text return to the position under the number for second and subsequent lines, or even wrap to the left margin, it will mean that you will want to change the “Additional indent for each level” number.]
  6. Once all nine levels were defined to my satisfaction and looked pretty good in the preview screen, I clicked “OK” and I was in my document at “I”. [Note:  for some reason, the “Numbered List” key was activated, and not the “Multi-level Numbering” key.  But I continued anyway, and it worked fine.
  7. Now came the testing.  I entered at least two lines of text for each number, and at least two numbers for each level.  I tested all nine levels to make sure that everything was indenting and wrapping just as I wanted, and that the labels were as I wanted. 
  8. Avoid the most common mistake made with Outline numbering.  To move down (right) a level, you press the “Increase Indent” key, not the Tab key.  To move up (left) a level, you press the “Decrease Indent” key.  Again, not the Tab key.  While Tab may appear to work correctly, you are putting errors in the side-stream of your document which very well could cause it to corrupt later. 
  9. Avoid the second most common mistake made with any kind of numbering – flat list or multi-level.  If you want an extra blank line between your numbered items, don’t try using an extra return, turning off numbering, and then another return and turning numbering back on.  Instead, build the space into each paragraph by going into Home / Paragraph.  Select the little right arrow on the right of the Paragraph section label to open the dialog box, and adjust the “Space After” setting.  [Note:  Word hates blank paragraphs.  It’s designed to have the extra blank spaces included within the paragraph definition.]
    • You’ll note that if you use the up and down arrows, by default the increments will change in 6 pt increments.  But you can just select (click and drag over) the number and type in anything you want.  If you’re using 10 pt for your font, then putting a 10 pt space after your paragraph will give you the equivalent of one blank line.  If you’re using a 12 pt font, then you’ll want to space 12 pt after the paragraph for the proportionate blank line.  And so forth.
    • When you correctly include the extra space within the paragraph, you’ll discover that when you move things around you won’t wind up with blank paragraphs (your extra blank lines) getting numbered in error, and having to turn numbering on and off manually.  Again, your current technique may look like it’s working, but it’s actually putting errors in your document side-stream which can eventually cause it to corrupt. By building the space into the paragraph, Word intelligently selects the paragraph with the extra space, and moves them together without causing numbering errors.
  10. Avoid the third most common mistake made with any kind of numbering– flat list or multi-level.  If you want multiple paragraphs within your numbered item, don’t try using a regular return, turn off numbering, type the next part, and then turn numbering back on after however many desired paragraphs are finished. You know what happens already – it is often difficult to align the text in the additional paragraphs.  And of course you’re doing additional work.  But the real problem shows up when you decide you want to take that multi-paragraph numbered item and move it elsewhere.  Each individual paragraph winds up getting its own number in the new location, and you have to start making manual corrections.  All of which puts more errors in your document side-stream, which lead to document corruption. When you want a multi-paragraph numbered item, like this one, you want to use a soft return instead of a hard return.  A hard return is created by pressing “Enter” whereas a soft return is created by pressing “Shift+Enter”.  You’ll notice that instead of a paragraph symbol, you’ll see a bent arrow.  You’ll want to do two soft returns to get the appearance of a blank line between paragraphs.Word will not see separate paragraphs, since there is no hard paragraph return.  It will intelligently select all of the paragraphs as one item when you copy / cut / paste.  There will be no numbering errors made in the new destination, and no corrections to make.

    [Note:  some of you may not know about intelligent selection.  If you put your mouse in the gutter to the left of any paragraph you want to select – you’ll see an arrow instead of the blinking cursor -- and double-click, Word will intelligently select the paragraph in entirety, including any spacing before or after, and including what looks like multiple paragraphs thanks to soft returns.]

SAVE YOUR DOCUMENT.  Even if you’ve tested the outline with total gibberish for text, it doesn’t matter.  As long as you’ve got all nine levels on there and looking as you want, and the spacing between paragraphs just as you want, give it a name and save it.  Why?  My next post will tell you how to make a style out of the outline in this document, so you never have to do this again.  Ever.  You’ll only have to turn on the style, and it will be perfect every time.  So stay tuned!

Tools for Longer Tweets

Are you one of those people who cannot confine your Tweets to 140 characters?  Heck, I can’t even say my own name in 140 or less characters :-) Fortunately, now there are tools which enable you to post longer Tweets.  Check out the post entitled “6 Tools That Allow You To Write Longer Twitter Tweets” which appeared on the makeuseof.com blog.

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A New Blog — You’ll Want to Subscribe to This One

Most of you are familiar with the excellent CLE courses which have been prepared by Jennifer Ellis at the PA Bar Institute, even if you don’t know Jennifer personally.  It’s a shame that most of the time she is in the background instead of on the podium, as her skill in bringing seminar ideas to fruition are clearly eclipsed by her vast knowledge and considerable presentation skills.  I have had the pleasure of sharing the podium with her on many an occasion, and it has always been a great experience for this speaker as well as those attending.

Jennifer just informed me that she has started a new blog.  The blog is titled, simply, Jennifer Ellis.  In this blog she will share her thoughts on technology, law, and law practice management.  Her most recent post, entitled “I am Begging You — Don’t Look Like an Idiot on the Web” is a must read. 

I, for one, will look forward to reading her future posts.  Congratulations, Jennifer.  And thanks for providing another excellent resource to the online community.

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Disposable Email Addresses

How often do you go to a web site for information, only to find that you need to provide your email address before you can get it?  Now you’re faced with the dilemma of passing on the information, or providing your address, knowing all too well it will result in even more spam arriving in your inbox.  Don’t you wish you could provide a legitimate email address which you could close down whenever you want? You can, if you have a disposable email address.

Heinz Tschabitscher, the Email Guide for About.com, offers a review of the Top 7 Disposable Email Address Services, with links to each.    Check it out.

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More Information on Google Scholar

The latest issue of the State Bar of Wisconsin‘s InsideTrack electronic newsletter features a very comprehensive article on Google Scholar, as well as links to other sites offering access to judicial decisions.  The article is written by Bev Butula, manager of library services at Davis & Kuelthau. 

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Free Case Research on Google Scholar

On November 17th, Google announced its latest offering —  Google Scholar — a place where one can find and read full text legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts; all for free.  Google envisions that this will “empower the average citizen by helping everyone learn more about the laws that govern us all.”  But it is also a handy tool for attorneys. 

 

Harrisburg, PA attorney Jan Matthew Tamanini astutely says “It’s no substitute for paid services, but its utility in two areas is great: checking cases cited in opinions or briefs of opposing counsel, and looking into other states’ caselaw as analogies to areas that don’t have much PA law.”

 

Google Scholar offers more than 80 years of US federal caselaw (including tax and bankruptcy courts) and over 50 years of state caselaw.  Check it out.

 

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Copy and Paste from One Computer to Another

Most computer users have encountered the situation where they want to copy some text  from one computer to another.  Often this means having to create a text file and then transferring the file to the other computer using a USB flash drive or CD.  Here’s a simple alternative that works, courtesy of Gizmo’s Best Freeware :

Hey!PasteIt  is a free web service that allows you to paste the text onto a clipboard on their site where it is then stored at a unique address such as http://www.heypasteit.com/clip/XYZ.   You can then access that clip from another computer using that address, copy the text and then paste it to a file or where ever.

This site is well worth bookmarking. One day you’ll use it.

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