Collaboration without the cost

When it comes to collaboration, the place to start these days is in the cloud, whether your law office wants basic file-sharing or a full-blown war room, according to two speakers Tuesday morning at the ABA Techshow 2011.

Practice management consultant David J. Bilinsky of The Law Society of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, and Barron Henley, a founder of Columbus, Ohio-based HMU Consulting Inc., gave snapshots of a number of collaborative services and a host of tips for how to use everyday programs like Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Word.

The best part is that many services are free or cost very little, the two said during “Developing Documents Using Collaboration Tools” at the Hilton Chicago. Among their favorites is Dropbox, an online storage service that offers up to 2GB of space for free and as much as 100GB for $19.99 per month. The storage is secure, and Dropbox has several backup features, including an “undo” history in case you need to refer to an earlier version of a document.

Sharing folders can be configured for individuals and groups, and the service can sync files across a number of devices so the file you worked on at the office is matched to the version you may call up on your laptop when you hit the road. There’s also a feature to access Dropbox from a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet.

Another free service that offers a fair amount of storage as well as applications to create, modify and integrate material is Google Docs. You can upload files in a range of formats and export them in an equally wide range.

While Google Docs has the household name attached, not to be overlooked is Zoho Docs. There’s free storage for individuals as well as premium accounts that offer more storage and more work spaces. In addition, Zoho has mobile access, but mostly for viewing files, not editing or manipulating them.

If your office or clients need greater sophistication, say for a war room that’s updated in real time, then Microsoft’s SharePoint can to the trick. But a drawback, Bilinsky noted, is that SharePoint requires a server, setup and support. An online option featuring many of the same capabilities is PBWorks.

Shifting from the services to the software, Henley covered numerous features in Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat, two mainstays of the practice. He also dispelled a couple of myths about the programs, such as the mistaken beliefs that Acrobat PDFs don’t have metadata and require the paid Standard or Pro editions.

If you create a PDF in Standard and send it to someone who has the free Reader version of Acrobat, you can attach the editing tools for the recipient to make changes. The tools won’t appear again in Reader until the recipient opens another PDF with them attached, Henley said.

~ by CDLB on April 12, 2011.

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