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Law firms can benefit from a variety of software tools, some of which are essential and others which enhance productivity or help with marketing efforts. Although larger firms often spend eye watering sums on office software, sole practitioners with a meagre budget also have access to software with the same functionality for a fraction of the price - and often entirely free. We will take a look at some of the low cost and no cost options available.
Microsoft 365 - Microsoft still provides its traditional office suites which can be installed on a local PC, but it’s been pushing Microsoft 365 (formerly called Office 365) - its cloud based office suite - for several years now, and this has now become its primary offering. It also offers free cloud storage (OneDrive) and a free version of its office tools with limitations (Office Online) - but the full functionality associated with Microsoft Office still requires a subscription or one off payment. Since Microsoft 365 is cloud based, users can work remotely without being tied to a single PC, and documents can be worked on collaboratively. It is currently available to business users from £3.80 per month (per user).
Google Drive - Google provides equivalent versions of the main Office 365 tools, along with storage - but these cannot be installed on local computers; instead they need to be used in the cloud (albeit that an internet connection is not always required). All the office tools allow collaborative working. Although Drive has been around for quite some time and has become more refined, many office users still prefer the equivalent Microsoft products, as these are often seen as more slick (especially Excel). Google Drive is free for basic use, with more advanced functionality on it Google One product from £1.59/month.
iWork - Apple aficionados have their office suite which is a feature of iCloud. It includes word processing (Pages), spreadsheets (Numbers) and presentation software (Keynote), along with cloud storage and collaboration, all within the Apple ecosystem. iWork is free.
Dropbox - this was initially purely a cloud storage platform, but over the years it has developed to integrate with various other office tools and allow collaborative working. More recently, it has developed Dropbox Paper, which is marketed as a “word processor, real-time collaboration tool and project planner, all in one.” Dropbox is free for basic use.
OpenOffice - this is one of the most powerful fully featured office suites, with virtually all the functionality of Microsoft Office. It’s part of the open source movement of software, the idea being that volunteer developers collaborate on coding. The downside of OpenOffice is that it is not cloud based - it needs to be installed on a local computer running Windows, Linux or OS X. However, there are other versions of open source office software, notably LibreOffice which do have some online functionality. OpenOffice is free.
There are a whole host of video conferencing services available. Zoom, Skype, Google Chat and Facetime are the obvious choices - and they all have the benefit of being free to use for their basic functionality. If some of the callers prefer to dial in via phone, other low cost choices are available, including PowWowNow and WebEx.
It will often be necessary to record calls, particularly if interviews are being conducted. Although transcribing calls can take a long time, there are various low cost transcription services (which tend to use a combination of voice recognition software and human secretarial work) which turn around a transcription very quickly, including Rev.com ($1.25/minute) and Typeout (from £1.05/minute).
This is the definitive web analytics tool. Law firms that want to understand how clients (and, perhaps more importantly, potential clients) are engaging with their website, can use this free tool to see a plethora of statistics, including:
Number of unique visitors during a certain time period;
How long visitors view a certain page and the number of bounces (when someone lands on the website and immediately leaves);
The most popular landing pages and exit pages, along with the typical site navigation/flow;
Where website users are based geographically (or sometimes even which company networks they are using), what browsers they are using, the proportion of people access the website on mobile phones;
Conversion rates (eg how many users end up on the contact page after reading a blog post etc).
These types of statistics can help practice managers to optimise the firm’s website, and ensure that traffic is flowing according to the desired outcome. For example, if most users are leaving the website before getting to a contact page, perhaps the navigation needs to be changed to make contact details more prominent.
Ever wondered if someone has received your email? Mailtrack is an extension for Gmail which works in a similar way to the ‘blue ticks’ system on WhatsApp. It basically allows you to see how many times a recipient has opened your email. Although not entirely accurate, this can be extremely useful in a whole range of scenarios. Whether or not this could be potentially used as legal evidence (eg when serving a notice) is up for debate. The basic extension is free to use but more advanced features cost €59/year.
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