Mark Lyon

eDiscovery Attorney

April 9, 2013

Tools: Time Tracking with Toggl


I just noticed a post from Robert Ambrogi about a tool called “Attorney Timekeeper“. Simplifying time tracking goes a long way toward ensuring accurate and complete billing.  The “Attorney Timekeeper”, however, costs $50 per month. That’s more than excessive.

I long ago found Toggl. It does a wonderful job of tracking time and, in its basic version, can be used for free. For $10/mo (or a little less, if you pay in advance), they throw in a ton of features, but I’ve yet to upgrade – the unpaid version does a wonderful job of meeting my needs. They also offer more expensive plans with super-advanced features.

I pin my Toggl page in Chrome, so it’s easy to remember to start/stop the counter. I’ve also installed their mobile app on my phone for time tracking on the go.  They also offer a desktop widget for those who don’t have a browser open all the time (though, the counter will keep going even if the site isn’t open).

I once worked at a firm that used paper timesheets, keeping time was always a pain.  My current employer’s timekeeping system is web-based, but requires a lot of data entry for each record.  It’s far simpler to use Toggl to keep a “rough” of my time as I go, then enter it into the office system at the end of the day.  I spend far less time managing timekeeping and more time doing productive work.

Toggl is free.  Give it a try.

This post was edited on 7 March 2016 to reflect Toggl’s new pricing structure
April 8, 2013

Please Remember Your Passwords

As you shuttle between projects at different agencies, or even different databases at the same firm, it’s easy to lose track of  passwords.  Unfortunately, few things can hurt productivity like waiting for technical support to reset your account, as your peers will get a head start on reviewing.  For some platforms, a response to a reset request can be measured in hours.  Once you’re finally in the system, it’s hard to catch up. Your metrics will look terrible.

I generally take two different approaches to solving this issue.  Where possible, I employ a unique but systematically generated passphrase that is secure but requires little or no memorization.  When I can’t, I resort to documentation.  It is, of course, incredibly important that you record a password in a way that doesn’t allow it to be easily exposed to others or violate any client or facility rules.

Generated Passphrases
I am personally a fan of passphrases.  XKCD does a good job of explaining how simple phrases are not only secure but easy to remember.  For accounts like review platforms, my phrase will relate to something visible or known to me when attempting to login. For example, if the platform was Xerox and the project was called Steel Chair, I might make my passphrase Vendor Chairs Xerox Steel.  Come up with your own system, stick to it, and you’ll find the easiest path to memorable (and secure) passwords.

Dealing with Password Requirements
Not all password options, however, allow a long passphrase.  Some also require special character combination rules.  These might include adding numbers, symbols or capitalization under certain rules.  For most of the restrictions that I encounter, having a 8-12 character password with one capital letter, two numbers and one special character is ideal.  To handle those, I’ve picked an easy-to-type pattern and substitute something memorable in certain spots to make the password unique.  For example, if my pattern was X32??????#@Y, I could replace the ? marks with something I’d remember on the matter, like the matter name.

When All Else Fails
Sometimes, the password requirements for a system will not allow you to use your personal patterns.  In that case, look to meet the complexity rules and record your password in a secure way. If you have access to internal email, it may be as simple as emailing yourself a prompt that will let you remember your password (or, if the system assigns you a password, making certain you save the password in your mailbox).  Make certain to flag or folder the message for easy access.  In the alternative, and if it is approved by your employer, consider recording the password on your smartphone using a password tool like LastPass or 1Password.  I personally have found these tools to be incredibly valuable for managing work and personal passwords.

A word to the wise: Some review platforms and computer systems allow the management or support teams to recover your actual password.  While it may be tempting, never use the same password on all your systems and accounts.  If that password is compromised in any way, someone with access to that login could easily use it to connect to other accounts.  While this is important for your personal accounts (password breaches are a frequent occurrence), it is especially important to use secure, unique passwords to protect client data.

Illustration courtesy of xkcd. Don’t use “Correct Horse Battery Staple” as your password.
April 7, 2013

How to List Document Review on Your Resume

kafka4prez -

Recently, I’ve helped several friends locate document review positions, with both my current company and agencies I’ve worked with in the past. Each time, I am reminded that everyone struggles with how best to list document review experience on their resume.

In general, I am a fan of simplicity and reducing clutter. Where possible, it seems reasonable to compress multiple projects into a single block with one description and timeframe, especially if the projects were close in time and for the same agency. Treat each employer/agency as a single job, even if they have overlapping timelines. If you’re applying to non-review jobs, this compressed format helps show the consistency of your employment history.

If your work history has a rather problematic timeline, consider creating a functional resume instead of a chronological one.  With this format, you can list your skills and experience separate and apart from the individual jobs you’ve held.

I generally advocate having a separate review-specific resume, including additional detail that is relevant to document review work but unnecessary on a less focused position.  Some important items that you might want to use in your description for a document review-specific resume:

  • Area of Law
  • Paper or Electronic Review
  • Review Platform
  • Type of review (responsiveness, privilege, significant issue coding, etc)
  • Duration
  • Quality Control or other similar work performed
  • Any other feedback you received – were you ranked as a fast, accurate coder or invited back for second level work?
  • If you did more than just code documents, point that out.

Skills that may be of particular interest to document review recruiters include foreign languages and computer or database skills. Be careful about getting in over your head, though. Just because you took an intro to Farsi course in college, you likely won’t be able to work efficiently in a review situation. Expect to have your language skills tested when you join a foreign language project.

If you’ve never used any document review platforms, consider going through some of the online tutorials offered for free on company websites. Having some basic understanding of what to expect could help when you start a new project. For example, Relativity, Concordance and iCONECT offer free online training options. Those without free online training, like Xerox Omnix, might offer sales or other promotional materials you can use to familiarize yourself with the tool.  Often, this information can be found in a “support” section of the company’s website. Don’t pass on a project because of inexperience with a specific platform, however. If you have any reasonable level of technical skills, you will likely be able to quickly master the platform with a small amount of training.

One important thing not to do, however, is identify clients and law firms as employers or in your description without explicit authorization. While it is perfectly acceptable to say you worked at Law Staffers for an AmLaw 50 firm working on an admiralty matter for an international beverage manufacturer, Listing Anonymous Law Firm LLP or Major Shipping Services, S.A. as your employer is inappropriate (you should, however, provide such information during conflict checks as necessary).

In a separate log, you should maintain a personal list of conflicts information. Here, you would want to track the start and end date, agency, case, client and opposing parties. When you’re asked to complete a conflicts form, this list will allow you to quickly (and accurately) provide the requested information. After a while, projects all seem to blend together. Remembering the name of a client from that weekend project last year gets difficult twelve projects down the road.

Finally, it’s important to get a second set of eyes to take a look at your resume.  Send it to a trusted friend or colleague in the exact same manner you will use for applications – for emailed copies you should always send as PDF unless another format is specifically requested.  If your word processor doesn’t save to PDF, look for a PDF printer like PDF995.  I like to personally save my file as Lyon, Mark – Resume.pdf.  Recruiters will often save many resumes in one large folder – making certain yours has a unique name will simplify things for them.

Resume image courtesy of Kafka4Prez.
March 17, 2013

Managing Conflicts as a Contract Attorney

I Love Spreadsheets - © craigmoulding (cc licensed)

While most attorneys represent a diverse set of clients, the unique nature of document review as a contract attorney creates significant conflict concerns. Temporary attorneys frequently work for multiple agencies and firms, moving from project to project. As a full-time associate in a firm, much of the effort involved in checking for conflicts will be carried out by the firm itself. Without that structure, it is important for each attorney to maintain their own records for conflict checking purposes.

Many agencies will, before confirming a temporary attorney for a new project, require that a conflicts form be completed. Often, these forms are completed quickly, relying only on memory, a recipe for missed details. On more than one occasion I’ve fielded a call or text from someone who worked on a project several years ago trying to identify the law firm or other details involved in a matter. Other times, attorneys will report for training day on a project – always a busy and hectic experience – only to be presented with a big packet of documents from the law firm or client. Invariably, one of the forms will ask for conflicts details.

While the potential for being excluded from a project is always a concern, ethical obligations require proper conflict checking and demand that attorneys step away from projects that would create an issue. This requirement has been reiterated by, among others, the California and DC Bars. Most staffing agencies and recruiters with whom I regularly deal have a great amount of respect for people who willingly notify them of potential conflicts. In the cases I’ve seen where the conflict prevented someone from getting work, that person ended up at the top of the recruiter’s list for the next project.

One easy way to simplify providing this information (while simultaneously demonstrating professionalism and preparation) is to maintain your own spreadsheet of conflicts information and update it when you start and finish each project. After spending far too much time in a training trying to recall some of the information requested in a project packet, I started to keep my own log.

For me, accessibility was a primary goal. Often, the first people to respond to a recruiter’s request for availability are the people selected for a project. That sometimes means responding from my phone, where a spreadsheet on my home computer won’t help. Personally, I use Google Docs for this purpose, since it is easily accessible when I’m away from my computer. Other services like Dropbox, Box and Microsoft Sky Drive can also provide easy access to your record.
To select the information I record in my spreadsheet, I consulted several conflict forms from various agencies on past projects. Now, when responding to their inquiries, I simply write “see attached” on their form and include a copy of my log.

My log includes columns for:

  • Client
  • Law Firm
  • Opposing Parties
  • Opposing Law Firm
  • Caption / Jurisdiction (or internal investigation)
  • Short description of case
  • Outcome (review completed, terminated when work slowed, case settled)
  • Major areas of law
  • Start date
  • End date
  • Agency / Work Location
  • Role (review, qc, qa, team lead)

I also have a few private columns for information about the project that I find personally helpful.

  • The name and contact information for the project manager.
  • The rate paid.
  • Total hours worked (you can generally collect this information from the timekeeping system when making your final entry).
  • A more detailed description of the project to help jog my memory if later asked about the matter.
  • A “people” section where I note contact information and other details of new people I meet during the engagement. It’s easy to fall out of contact with people once a project ends. Once work slows, though, these contacts can often be a valuable resource for new projects.

Verify appropriate conflict information for each project with the agency or project management before leaving the matter. While most understand and appreciate the record you’re creating, I’m aware of at least one situation where the law firm tried to prevent several long-term contract attorneys from providing information about the project on conflict check forms, claiming same was prohibited by their confidentiality agreement. Ultimately, the issue with that client was resolved, but it would have been far better for everyone involved to have sorted out that issue while the project was ongoing instead of while attorneys were being considered for a new matter.

Remember, You may not be able to get online during training days. It’s always helpful to have a printed copy of this document with you when starting a new matter.

Mug image courtesy of Craig Moulding.
January 16, 2013

Website Updated

I neglected my personal website for a number of years. After numerous false starts at reviving the site, I have decided to start fresh. I will migrate content from my old site as time permits. My focus, however, will be on creating new and (hopefully) interesting material. Look for additional posts soon.

If you have any questions, please use the contact form.

January 1, 2013

Gmail Loader Deprecated

In 2004, when Gmail was launched, I was amazed by the incredibly large 1GB capacity of the free service. The ability to instantly search a large volume of email was amazing. As someone who never deleted messages and still had messages dating back to 1994, I immediately looked for a way to import my existing mail into the new service. When I couldn’t find such an option, I decided to make one for myself.

My tool works by reading the local mail file and remailing it to the new destination, one message at a time, into your Gmail account. With the exception of the time stamp shown in the inbox, it works quite well for relocating your messages. Unfortunately, as a way to control spam, many ISPs now prevent residential accounts from directly sending mail in this way.

In the intervening years, the Google Mail Loader has been used by thousands of people to upload their existing mail. Uploading became so popular that in 2009 Google finally began to provide a built-in mechanism for importing mail from many major webmail providers. These new options are superior methods for importing mail.

  1. Importing mail and contacts from another major webmail provider (Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL and similar providers).
  2. Importing mail from an external server, not supported by the previous method (including other Gmail accounts) using a POP server.
  3. If you’re using Google Apps with your own domain, please make use of the options listed here.
  4. If you’re unable to use any of the above methods and want to move mail from your local computer, enable IMAP and add your Gmail account to your existing mail program (using IMAP). Once the new inbox appears, drag and drop messages from your existing inbox into the Gmail inbox. This method bypasses many ISP restrictions and preserves the original dates.

If you’re looking to import your existing mail into a Gmail account, I highly recommend trying one of the following methods:

Please note: Google has altered their MX servers. The most frequent problems involve using SMTP servers (which require authentication) instead of MX servers (which accept mail from the wider internet) as the destination.  For the mail server address, use one of the values listed on the MX servers page like ALT1.ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.COM.

If you’re looking for a way to archive and back up your Gmail account, I recommend GMVault.  I’ve also heard good things about the YippieMove service and was recently alerted to Shuttle Cloud, both of which do the migration work for you.

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