Internet skills for lawyers

This article covers some internet skills and tools which may already be second nature to you, but equally may be refreshing ideas which will make your working life that little bit easier.

Bookmarks – good practice and useful tools

Everyone has their favourite websites which they like to visit. Of course, whilst there are some which you may use on a daily basis, others are used more occasionally or are gems that you stumble across or are referred to. Many people save these website addresses as bookmarks in their favourite web browser. It is bookmarking practice to organise these bookmarks into subgroups or folders. The useful thing about computer bookmarking is that you can duplicate a website address so that it appears in multiple folders, and you can easily create subfolders, so your “work” bookmark could have subfolders of “crime”, “personal injury”, “conveyancing”, “admin” and so forth. Once you have taken the time to set up the folders, the process becomes infinitely easier as you simply add any new bookmarks into the relevant folder (or folders) straight away.

What you really need though is an easy way of making your bookmarks accessible everywhere from all of your computers and devices. The best solution to this problem is to store your bookmarks on the Internet, and there are various tools which can help you to do this. One great way of accessing bookmarks from multiple locations is by using the Yahoo Toolbar.

Another excellent solution is the xmarks tool. This runs in the background and automatically keeps your bookmarks in sync between different browsers on different computers, and even keeps a backup of all of your bookmarks in case you accidentally delete one you really need. You can also access your bookmarks using the premium xmarks tool on your iPhone, Android or Blackberry phone for just $12 a year. If you only use one particular browser, you can often keep your bookmarks in sync on different computers using that. For example, when you use Google Chrome, if you log in with a Google account, it will offer you the ability to keep the same bookmarks on any other computer where you sign in to Chrome. Firefox offers Firefox Sync to do the same thing, and Safari users can keep bookmarks in sync via iCloud.

Using RSS feeds

Bookmarks are a great way of revisiting information that you want to go back to later, but many web sites change on a very regular basis, and constantly revisiting any website looking for a change is not only distracting but time consuming as well. One alternative is to subscribe to an RSS feed on that website. An RSS feed is similar to a bookmark, in that you store the address of a website that you are interested in, but the difference is that your computer can automatically look at the website for you to see what new articles have been published, so you can easily see and be notified about the new articles.

Using an RSS reader helps with this, aggregating all the feeds from different websites into one place. They can also track which articles you have read and which you haven’t, and to save the details of the articles for future reference. Some of the RSS readers are online tools, so you can log in and read your favourite websites from anywhere. This is great for keeping your list of unread articles in sync between home and work. Others are PC based, which have the advantage of being even faster than web based readers, but don’t sync up between different computers. The most popular online reader used to be Google Reader, but that was dropped by Google in 2013, so an excellent alternative is the RSS reader Feedly which is highly recommended and easy to use. On the iPhone and iPad, the Feeddler app is a great free way of reading RSS feeds. In a similar way to bookmarks, you can organise your feeds into folders, view all feeds or just pick one website and view its feeds, as well as saving and highlighting favourite feeds and dismissing those which you don’t want to read or have finished with.

If you are a big fan of RSS Feeds, then you will have probably found by now that not all of your favourite websites have RSS feeds (keep your eyes peeled for the RSS icon on the websites to make your life easier). Fortunately, the excellent allows you to create your own RSS feed for any website by following a few simple steps.

Searching your computer

By using search engines like Google, you can easily find information on the internet as a whole, but how do you manage to find things on your own computer? We all end up with files called “Complaint.doc” and “Bank Letter.doc” and so on, probably scattered amongst directories named “Important” and “Personal”. These made sense when they were created several years ago, but may not do so now. Similarly, you probably have e-mails that contain really important information, but you can’t quite remember what the subject was, or who it was from. Fortunately there are applications which can help.

Windows users all have access to a Desktop Search function, which allows you to search through all of the files on your computer, as well as your e-mails (as long as you use Outlook), and OneNote contents too. It is integrated into Windows 8, Windows 7 and Vista, or is available as a download for Windows XP. This also allows you to search documents and e-mails. In Windows 8, the search functionality not only searches your computer, but also searches through application content and the internet too; it’s an incredibly powerful search.

Apple Mac computers have a great built-in search feature called Spotlight. Spotlight allows you to search through files, applications, e-mails, calendar, and so on. To access Spotlight, either click on the search icon at the top right hand side of the screen, or press Command and Space together.

Converting PDFs

There is nothing more frustrating than to be sent a PDF document which you need to edit (for example when filling in an application form – you don’t want to print it out, complete it by hand then post it or fax it somewhere, it is infinitely preferable to be able to complete it and return it online). How do you do this without rendering the contents into gobbledygook? The incredibly helpful website simply converts the document into a readable and more importantly editable word file and swiftly emails it to you. You can either convert files individually on their website for free, or for heavier users convert multiple files using their Nitro Pro system which has a free 14 day trial, followed by a paid-for service.

Password management

Most users of the internet find themselves registering for multiple websites, all of which require a username and password. Because of the difficulty in remembering multiple passwords, people often use the same one or two passwords on multiple websites. This is a dreadful idea, because hackers will often attack a weak website to get your password which they can then try to use on other websites, perhaps getting access to your e-mail from a variation of your password on a poorly protected website, then sending a password reset request from your online bank to your compromised e-mail account. The only real protection against that is not to use the same or similar passwords on more than one web site.

So how do you safely remember all of the passwords? One answer is with LastPass, a browser add-on which allows you to generate unique secure passwords for every website, and remembers your passwords for you. Unlike your web browser’s password storage, the passwords are very highly encrypted in one large file that would be almost impossible for a hacker to crack – the larger the file (ie the more passwords), the harder it is to crack. It allows you to securely synchronize passwords between multiple computers, and even your mobile phone, so you don’t need to worry about forgetting all of the different passwords. Your password information is completely secure to you – the information to decrypt it is not stored on the web. In addition, they offer two factor authentication – which is where you need both your master password and a physical device like your phone to access your passwords, so even if your master password got stolen, no-one can access your password file. It also offers security checks (via its Security Challenge) to test the strength of your passwords (prompting you to upgrade the weaker or duplicated ones) and will check whether any of your usernames have been found in any known security breaches to give you added peace of mind. LastPass is free to use, with additional features costing $12 a year. If you do just one thing as a result of reading this article, sign up to LastPass – it allows you to protect your accounts, and your clients’ information.

Keyboard shortcuts

These can save you a lot of time. Google “Keyboard Shortcuts” to find a website document relevant to your own version of Windows or Mac. Here are a few of my favourites for Windows:

  • To open a link in a new window so that you can keep the current window open too, click on the link with your right mouse button instead of the left one and pick “Open In New Window” from the options.
  • Press Ctrl+T to open a new tab on your browser.
  • To find some specific word or phrase on a web page, press Ctrl+F to open a “Find” window.
  • To print a web page, but it is too wide to print on the paper, try changing the “Page Setup” options (under the “File” menu) to “Landscape” instead of “Portrait” to get more width on the page.

Amanda Millmore is a non-practising barrister and founder of accredited CPD provider Legal Training. The material in this article is considerably expanded upon in two one hour CPD courses available on the Legal Training website, “Essential Internet Skills” and “Advanced Internet Skills”. Email Twitter @LegalTrainingUK.

Legal Training is a well-established online CPD provider, offering 100% online, flexible, accredited CPD training for barristers, solicitors, chartered legal executives and licensed conveyancers. Courses cover IT Skills, Social Media, Family Law, Criminal Law, Property Law, Civil Law as well as a range of other topics which would be of general interest to all legal professionals.

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