Archived Practically Speaking
Six free software programs that get the job done
Critical function for the solo and small firm practitioner
by Rodney Dowell, Esq., director
Law Office Management Assistance Program
Although there is almost always some price to be paid for using free software, either in functionality or annoying advertising, the following programs provide sufficient benefits to get you past the limitations.
Note: Always use a little caution when installing free programs. Try to ensure they are from reputable sites and look for positive feedback about the software or sites offering them.
Free business accounting programs
If you are not currently using an electronic accounting software package, you may want to test two free products, one from Intuit, the other from Microsoft.
QuickBooks Simple Start 2008 (Intuit)
This free software has no expiration date. It includes basic accounting features, allows you to create simple financial reports, invoice customers, manage payroll, and write and print checks. It also allows you to set up two separate companies (one for your operating account and one for your IOLTA account). If used properly, the financial reports provided are sufficient to keep you in compliance with the BBO rules on IOLTA Three-Way Reconciliation.
This product is for first time users because it cannot import data from existing accounting programs such as Quicken or QuickBooks.
Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2008 (Microsoft)
When working in Microsoft Outlook you can mark your tasks, appointments, meetings, etc. as billable, create time entries, import the billable events into Accounting Express, and invoice your clients.
Unfortunately, the software does not allow you to import the journal entries from Microsoft Outlook. This is an unfortunate failure since the journal provides a stopwatch and tracks time.
Accounting Express does allow you to import data from existing accounting programs such as Microsoft Money and Intuit QuickBooks. Like QuickBooks Simple Start 2008, it will also allow you to invoice customers, write checks, manage payroll, track expenses and reconcile online bank accounts.
Also like QuickBooks Simple Start 2008, Accounting Express allows you can create a separate company to track your business account and IOLTA account. The financial reports included create reports that comply with BBO rules for Three-Way Reconciliation. It is worth a look.
Free Web site development tools
I owe my use of Xenu’s Link Sleuth to my friend and Boston attorney Ken Rodriguez. This neat tool allows you to check for broken links, identifies the cause of the error, and provides a nice report from its simple interface. You may then take the information and correct your Web site.
When I added content to my Web site, I had included links to several other Web sites that did not work. When I was informed of the problem, this Web-based software allowed me to find the broken links in my web site and quickly told me how to identify and correct the errors.
If you are concerned about your Web site’s links, try this software. This tool will also make you sound knowledgeable when you talk to your Web site developer!
Free mobile synchronicity
For Windows users, I like SyncToy, to keep my laptops and server/desktop synchronized. For me, the critical question is ease of use with an intuitive interface. This product gave me the simplicity I need. As someone who constantly picks up my laptop and runs to the next meeting, this tool allows me an easy way to maintain a synchronized copy of the documents on which I am working.
I am now confident that I am using the most recent version and ready to go on the road.
BlackBerry Professional Software Express for Microsoft Exchange (Blackberry)
If you have a BlackBerry, consider this free (one license limit) tool. Click the link above for the software and an explanation of the technical requirements.
This software offers wireless synchronization for your e-mail, calendar, and address book. For example, if your staff enters a new contact and meeting while you are on the road, you will have that critical information within minutes. Also, if you delete an e-mail on your desktop or your BlackBerry, that action is reflected on both devices within minutes without requiring you to duplicate your efforts.
I hesitate to add this free software because of the technical difficulty of installing the program and the need for Microsoft Exchange 2003, but if you use a BlackBerry, this free software, which includes one free support call, makes using your Blackberry a true joy.
Free PDF creation
CutePDF (Cute PDF)
If you are looking to create PDF files for filing in federal court, to control the ability of others to make changes, or simply for electronic storage, you may wish to look beyond the major players (Adobe and Nuance) in the PDF file format industry. Although Adobe and Nuance both make excellent products, they can also be prohibitively expensive for some users.
There are a number of free and inexpensive alternatives that allow, at a minimum, the ability to create a PDF document.
My thanks to Christopher Morse, for letting me know about PDFCreator, a free program that generates PDF files from almost any Windows application. You can encrypt, send files by e-mail, and merge PDF files.
Although these products may not have all the features you get with purchased products, if you are willing to put in the up-front investment of your valuable time, these tools can provide an adequate substitute for the more expensive alternatives.
Questions? Contact Rodney at (857) 383-3250 or via e-mail.
Click here to visit the Law Office Management Assistance Program Web site.