With the advance of electronic filing and paperless offices, attorneys and paralegals use Adobe Acrobat Pro on a daily basis. Not only can you turn a Word document into a PDF, but you can also use it to sign, redact and Bates stamp documents. In this blog post, I’ll show you how to use these tree basic features with Adobe Acrobat XI Pro.
Save time and paper! Instead of printing, signing, scanning and then emailing your electronic document, sign your document directly with Adobe Acrobat Pro. Under Fill & Sign, select Place Signature. You have several options to create a signature:
Redaction is often used for litigation and public record requests. Once done, there is no going back. So don’t forget to save a copy of the original document before you redact it. Under Tools, select Protection and click Mark for Redaction. With your mouse, select the text you want to redact and click Apply Redaction. If you are looking for specific words to redact, use the Search and Remove Text function. You can also change the Redaction Properties if you want to pick a different color or add text over the redacted elements. You can even refer to the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act provisions.
Bates numbering is used to organize and find litigation documents. Under Tools, go to Pages. Click on Bates Numbering and select Add Bates Numbering. On the top left corner of the window, click Add Files. Then you have the option to add files, folders or use open files. Let’s say your documents are already open. Click on Add Open Files. Select which open files you want to Bates number. When you’re done click OK. You can then format the numbering by choosing the font style, size and color. After selecting where you want the Bates numbering to appear on each page, click on Insert Bates Number. Select the number of digits and the start number. Add a prefix or suffix, if necessary, and click OK. A Bates numbering preview will appear. If everything looks good, click OK and Adobe Acrobat Pro will apply the Bates numbering to your documents.
Hope this quick tutorial was helpful. If you have any questions, comment below.
Thanks to the General Practice Solo Small Firm Section of the Florida Bar, I attended my first legal tech seminar last week. On Day 1, the speakers talked about courtroom technology, e-discovery, social media and blog ethics, Microsoft Office, PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat. Day 2 was mostly on practice management. There was also an interesting conference on social media discovery and jury selection. I learned a lot and met great attorneys and paralegals. For those who couldn’t make it, these are my favorite tips of the Wild Wild Tech Seminar:
The GPSSF Section will host another legal tech seminar next January. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to keep up with legal technology and trends.
A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about Fastcase and Casemaker, two low cost alternatives to Westlaw and LexisNexis for solo practitioners and small law firms. Attorneys and paralegals can use another legal research tool to find case law and legal articles: Google Scholar. And it’s free!
As you’ll read below, you can’t only use Google Scholar to perform legal research and cancel your paid subscription to other legal research providers. But if you want to save your client money, use Google Scholar first to see what you can find. Here are some Google Scholar FAQs for legal research.
What is Google Scholar?
Google Scholar is a search engine for scholarly literature covering different disciplines and sources. You can look for articles, theses, books, abstracts and case law from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other websites.
What is the extent of the legal coverage?
Google Scholar covers federal and state cases, plus legal articles.
What are the benefits?
As I mentioned above, it is free. However, if you want to read the full text of legal articles, you may have to subscribe to the academic website. Another advantage of Google Scholar is that it includes limited unreported cases. Email alerts for new cases and the option to create a library are my favorite features.
What are the cons?
Google Scholar does not include statutes. Its citation service is not as good as Shepard’s or KeyCite because it does not show if the case is good law and how subsequent courts have treated it.
How do you search case law?
On Google Scholar’s homepage, type in keywords relevant to your legal issue. Under your keywords, click on case law and select the court(s). When you are on the search result page, you can filter case law by date and again by court. Under each case, you can find how to cite it pursuant to Bluebook rules by clicking on “Cite.” To read a case, click on it. At the top left-hand corner of the case, click on “How cited” to find subsequent authorities that have cited the case. The horizontal bars next to the “Cited by” case names represent the depth of discussion of the searched case.
Unlike Westlaw or LexisNexis, Google Scholar only uses the connector AROUND. According to Eric Voigt from R+W Legal Consultants, you can only use the word AROUND to search for a term that appears after another term. As an example, if you type “email AROUND(5) official AROUND(10) record”, Google Scholar will find cases where “official” appears within 5 words after “email” and where “record” appears within 10 words after “email” and “official.” Eric Voigt also explains that AROUND must be capitalized, have no space between it and the parenthetical and include quotation marks around the entire search string. Lastly, AROUND only connects individual words, not phrases.
How do you search legal articles?
On Google Scholar’s homepage, type in keywords relevant to your legal issue. Under your keywords, click on “Articles.” When you are on the search result page, you can filter your articles by date. Under each article, you can find how to cite it pursuant to Bluebook rules by clicking on “Cite.” You can also find if it was cited by other articles or case law. To read an article, click on it. It will bring you to the publisher or the academic website where you will find whether you have to subscribe.
How do you create an email alert?
Creating an email alert for new case law or legal articles is simple. When you are on the search result page, on the left sidebar, click on “Create an alert” where you will provide your email address.
How do you create a library?
First, you have to enable your library by clicking on “My library” on Google Scholar’s homepage. Then when you are on the search result page, under each case or legal article of interest, click “Save.” Saved cases and articles will appear in your library. Later on, you can create labels to organize it.
Hope this convinced you to try out Google Scholar. It’s simple and it’s free. If you have any questions about using Google Scholar, leave a comment below.
Are you wondering why your law practice is not growing? Do you meet with potential clients without any results? Do you have to go back and forth with clients because you forgot to ask important questions during your initial meeting? You may be one of many attorneys who do not have a procedure for client intake. Not only is client intake important for the reasons mentioned above, but it also helps ascertain whether you should take on a matter. A typical client intake procedure include a client intake form and checklist.
Client Intake Form
A client intake form is a questionnaire completed by the potential client prior to the initial meeting. It usually asks for basic information about the client and the matter: full name, contact information, the reasons for assistance, parties involved, etc. It may also include marketing related questions about the referral source. Questions may vary by matter (probate v. real estate) and client type (individual v. business).
Client Intake Checklist
A client intake checklist is used by the attorney, paralegal or secretary during the initial phone call or meeting. The checklist helps collect all essential information for a conflict check. It also helps determine whether you should take on the matter or not. Below are items to include in a checklist:
Refusing a Client
There are many reasons to refuse a client. Some of which will be revealed by using the client intake form and checklist. The most common ones are:
If you refuse a potential client or refer him to another attorney, it is good practice to send him a non-engagement letter.
Using Potential Client Data
Once you obtain all relevant information about the potential client, store the data in a spreadsheet or practice management program. The data will be used while providing services to your client. You may also use it for marketing purposes. For example, you can find out through which marketing channels your clients find you. You can also use their contact information to send out informative newsletter, announcements and holiday cards.
This is a summary of client intake procedure. If you would like client intake forms and checklists for your law firm, visit the Florida Bar and Michigan State Bar.
This is one thing they don’t teach you in law school (or paralegal school for that matter) even though it’s often part of your daily tasks. You learn how to find public records on the job, often at your client’s expense. The good thing is, it’s a lot easier and quicker to perform public records searches now than 10 years ago. You don’t have to go on a special trip to your local courthouse or send your request by snail mail. Most public records are now a click away. Below are some of my favorite local and statewide websites for free public records searches.
Clerk of Court
Your local clerk of court website offers a wide range of records. Court records generally include civil, criminal and traffic court matters. You can also find records related to real property transactions, liens, plats, marriage, divorce and death.
The property appraiser website is the best place to look for real property information. For each real property, it lists the parcel control number, current and past owners, recent transactions, appraisals, structure details, a map and basic tax information.
The tax collector website provides tax information related to real property, tangible property and businesses. This is where you can find if someone’s taxes are due!
Division of Corporations of the Department of State
In Florida, the website is called Sunbiz. This is where you can find corporate records and filings. You can locate a company’s filing date, status, address, registered agent and members. You can also perform a business name search to see if the name is already used.
Still can’t find what you are looking for? Don’t forget to look at federal websites such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for public companies information and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for patent and trademark searches.
Now it’s your turn. Which free public records website do you use on a regular basis?
Have you heard about the Sunshine Law? No, it doesn’t refer to Florida’s beautiful weather, but to openness in government. Open government is necessary to ensure public trust, promote accountability and strengthen democracy. Open government is achieved by giving citizens access to government meetings and by making available for inspection public records. These rights are established in Article I, Section 24 of the Florida Constitution, and Chapters 286 and 119 of the Florida Statutes.
Government In The Sunshine Law
Florida’s Sunshine Law provides a basic right of access to most government proceedings of public boards, commissions and other governing bodies at both the state and local levels. It applies to elected and appointed boards, and to any gathering of two or more members of the same board to discuss matters that will come before the board for action. The Sunshine Law lists three basic requirements:
Public Records Law
The Public Records Law provides for a right of access to state and local government records or records of any private entity acting on their behalf. In the absence of a statutory exemption, the right to access applies to all material made or received by an agency in connection with its official business. Over the years, the definition of public records has evolved to include not just written documents, but also photographs, films, sound recordings and records stored in computers.
If you would like more information on these topics, the Government-In-The-Sunshine Manual, a yearly publication written by the First Amendment Foundation, covers in great details the who, what, when, where and how of open government laws. It also provides for recourses and consequences when a public board or agency fails to apply public records and sunshine laws.
Do you need more information on a probate topic? Are you looking for an estate planning form or checklist? Are you wondering how much you should charge for your services? These websites provide resources to assist your estate law practice.
ABA Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law has a list serve for open discussion of estate planning and estate administration issues by lawyers, accountants, trust officers, financial planners, insurance agents, law professors and law students. They also have portals containing educational materials, practice settings, forms and checklists related to estate law. The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys provide a list of helpful links.
Laws & Rules
Chapters 731-739 of the Florida Statutes include the Probate and Trust Codes. Guardianship laws are covered in Chapter 744. Florida Probate Rules govern the procedure in all probate and guardianship proceedings. Finally, don’t forget to check administrative orders for the circuit court you practice in.
The Florida Lawyers Support Services, a non-profit corporation assisting attorneys, has a great website for real property, FR/Bar contracts, probate, guardianship and trust forms. The forms are sponsored by the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section of the Florida Bar and are available for purchase individually or in packages. The website also provides a list of all licensed software vendors offering the Section official forms.
In addition to select probate and guardianship forms, many circuit court websites offer checklists. Below are a few:
The Florida Department of Revenue website has a quick overview of Florida estate tax requirements. Forms are available for download including the Affidavit of No Florida Estate Tax Due. The estate tax section of the Internal Revenue Service also provides publications and forms to be filed upon an individual’s death under certain circumstances.
Probate Attorney Fees
Are you wondering how much to charge a personal representative for your probate services? Section 733.6171, Fla. Stat., provides attorney fees for ordinary estate administration services. Attorneys are not required to follow the fee schedule, especially for large estate where the fees are inflated and, in most cases, unrelated to the amount of work done. It is still a helpful guide for setting up your probate fees.
These are some of my favorite estate planning and probate resources. What are yours?
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Starting a law firm is not an easy task. Most law schools still don’t teach future lawyers what it takes to start and manage a solo practice or small law firm. Nonetheless, there are a lot of free online resources for attorneys who want to hang a shingle. Below are some of my favorites.
Florida Bar Law Office Management Assistance Service
Even though it is geared towards Florida attorneys, LOMAS provides useful information for anyone looking to open a law firm. It offers free on-demand CLE courses from the ABC’s of starting and managing your law practice to building a small firm marketing program. LOMAS gives access to over 100 administrative forms including a contract for legal services, a general partnership agreement and a new law practice office checklist. It also has a help line and a FAQs section with topics ranging from trust accounts to planning for vacation when you have a solo practice.
ABA Solo & Small Firm Resource Center
Like LOMAS, the ABA Solo & Small Firm Resource Center offers advices, tools and resources to successfully manage a law practice. Their topics include, but are not limited to, marketing, work and life balance and staffing. They also have a form bank and an active listserv, SoloSez, where you learn about events, networking opportunities and ask for advice.
General Practice Solo and Small Firm Sections
As a solo practitioner or small firm owner, there are several benefits of being a member of your state bar section or ABA division. There are numerous networking and referral opportunities, reduced price CLE and monthly publications.
There are several blogs for attorneys looking to build their own law practice. Lawyerist has resources, articles and product reviews. My favorite features are the technology oriented articles and its forum where anyone looking for help can asks questions about the practice of law. My Shingle is another blog inspiring solo and small firm lawyers. I especially like the Start a Law Firm Guide page where blog posts are listed by subject such as setting up and growing your law firm. Finally, Attorneyatwork offers a daily law practice tip that can be delivered straight to your inbox.
As a solo practitioner or small firm owner, what are your favorite online law practice resources?
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Disclaimer: The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. Your Paralegal Help Desk's blogger is not an attorney and cannot give legal advice. If you have a legal issue, you should immediately seek the advice of a licensed attorney in your state.