Lawyers Going Google: How to Use and Supercharge Gmail and Calendar

google-for-lawyersMillions of corporations, small businesses, solo lawyers, large and small law firms, and federal, state, and local governments have “gone Google.” They have moved from hosting their own e-mail servers (and in some cases calendars and documents) to using Google’s cloud-based productivity tools – Google Apps. This includes large corporations like Konica Minolta and Jaguar to law firms of all sizes like the twelve-office law firm Bradford & Barthel to the seven-lawyer Burton Law Firm (Ohio and North Carolina). Government agencies like the U.S. General Services Administration and the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office, cities like Pittsburgh, and entire state governments like Wisconsin.
Some of the first questions we get when discussing Google Apps are:

  • “What about the security and confidentiality of the information stored in those documents and e-mails?”
  • “Is it secure enough for lawyers to use?”
  • “Is it ethical for lawyers to store this information in the cloud?”
  • “Can I reach my Google Calendar, Gmail, and Documents if I am not online?”

We would not have written “Google Gmail and Calendar in One Hour for Lawyers” for the ABA Law Practice Division if the answers to those questions were “no.”
“As a law firm handling confidential information for our clients, Bradford & Barthel takes security extremely seriously,” explained the firm’s Director of Knowledge Strategy and Technology, Eric Hunter, in a guest post on the Official Google Enterprise Blog. “We’re responsible for private information on individuals and companies, and our best security option is Google Apps,” he continued. “Google has many security features—SAS70 Type II certification [by the AICPA] and two-step verification included—that allow us to feel confident our data and the data of our clients is much safer than if we hosted it on premise.”
Even with the security measures Google has in place for Google Apps, you still have a responsibility to make your account as secure as is reasonably possible by using a strong (hard to guess) password and two-step authentication to access your account. You should also continually focus on security after you’ve selected any technology product and consider additional security features as they become available.
Why Use the Cloud-Based Google Apps Suite’s Calendar and Gmail over Conventional Calendar and E-mail Software?

Cloud-based tools like Google Apps give lawyers the ability to manage, access, and retrieve information more efficiently – wherever they are.

For Bradford & Barthel, “Technology like Google Apps and social applications are creating a culture where the legal industry is much more connected with clients and clients have much more access to information about the law,” the firm’s Hunter said in that same blog post. “Our primary reason for investigating Google Apps back in 2009 was to start preparing our firm to keep up with this new culture of constant communication and to help employees enhance client relationships through better sharing and collaboration.”
“Since we migrated to Google Apps in April 2010, we’ve made collaboration much easier and more efficient through the use of Google Sites, Google Docs, and shared Google calendars,” Hunter added. “Our attorneys have found Google Apps to be intuitive and flexible.”
From a practical, day-to-day perspective, the cloud-based Google Apps suite’s Calendar and Gmail offer a number of advantages over conventional software:

  • Access Your E-mail and Calendar from Any Web-enabled Device, From Anywhere at Anytime
    • You can check and send e-mail or add events to your calendar using any device from anywhere, as long as it has an Internet connection. That could be your laptop or desktop computer or it could also be almost any web-enabled mobile device (such as Android, iOS [iPhone and iPad], BlackBerry, or Windows Phone) using a dedicated “app” or through a Web browser.
  • Automatically Sync Your E-mails and Calendar Across Your Devices
    • With conventional calendar and e-mail software, you may have to install software on each device you own and then manually sync your data between those devices. With Google Calendar and Gmail, you do not need to install any software and you do not need to manually sync any of your devices; it happens automatically because Google Apps and your data live in the cloud.
  • Access Your Downloaded Messages When You’re Offline
    • While not widely-known, Google Apps does offer the ability to access Gmail and Calendar information when you’re not connected to the Internet. To work offline requires you to use the Chrome Web browser and install separate extensions (into the Chrome browser).
    • The Gmail plug-in offers more functions, like reading and responding to messages it has stored on your computer. This includes accessing attachments to those messages and drafting completely new messages. (Note that any replies or new messages you draft will be stored locally until you connect to the Internet again and open the “Gmail Offline” app.) A recent test showed about ten weeks of messages available offline.
    • The Calendar plug-in offers fewer features. With it, you can view existing appointments on your calendar (but cannot edit them or add new ones.) You can also respond to invitations you had previously received.
    • A third plugin is available to access Google Docs offline.
    • Once you have installed the plug-ins, you can access the offline component by selecting the Apps icon on your browser, as shown in the illustration below:
  • google-apps

    • Easily Search and Retrieve Messages and Meetings from Gmail and Calendar
      • Because Gmail and Calendar are operated by Google, they benefit from the same powerful search-and-retrieval capability we’re familiar with from Google’s Web search when we’re trying to find a message, an attachment, or an event. Using the Advanced Search menu, you can easily search keywords and phrases, or exclude words and phrases and filter by date, to, from, has attachment, etc.
    • Integrate with Practice Management Software
      • As practice management software has evolved, vendors of traditional and cloud-based practice management software have built in the ability to integrate messages and/or appointments from Gmail and Google Calendar into their products.
    • Save Money
      • Google Apps accounts range from free to $50 or $100 per user per year, depending on which type of account you choose. Compare this to the $200 price for one packaged copy of Microsoft Office Home and Business. (Note that Microsoft does offer a competitively priced Office 365 Small Business product for $60 per user per year)
      • There are no upgrade costs. When new features and functions are introduced to the Google Apps suite, they appear automatically.
      • You may be able to reduce your IT expenses because Google’s engineers are maintaining the servers that handle your mail.

    Cloud-based solutions like Google Apps aren’t just for large law firms like Bradford & Barthel. Chad Burton, Principal in the smaller, Dayton, Ohio-based Burton Law firm, cites a number of reasons for switching his firm to Google Apps. “We have a virtual law firm with lawyers working in a distributed manner around Ohio and North Carolina, and Google Apps makes it easy for everyone to connect.”
    Burton made the decision to switch his full service and virtual law firm to Google Apps for Business two to three years ago because of the, “user interface, 25 GBs of storage, and up-time guarantee,” he said. “I also like the ease of use with mobile devices, including iPhones and iPads, and also back when I unfortunately used a Blackberry.”
    ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
    Carole Levitt, Esq. President and founder of Internet for Lawyers (a CLE seminar company), has over thirty years of combined experience in the legal field as a California attorney, Internet trainer, Law Librarian and Legal Research and Writing Professor. Ms. Levitt has served on the ABA’s Law Practice Management Section’s Publishing Board since 2004 and served on the Section’s Executive Council from 2007—2011.
    Mark Rosch Vice-President, Internet for Lawyers, is the developer and manager of Internet for Lawyers’ (IFL) website, Facebook Company page, and online education services. He also is the editor of IFL’s newsletter, The Internet Legal Research Update. Mr. Rosch serves on the ABA’s Law Practice Management Section’s TECHSHOW Planning Board.
    Together, these internationally recognized authors and Continuing Legal Education speakers have given hundreds of CLE seminars and have written six books published by The American Bar Association, including “Google Gmail and Calendar in One Hour for Lawyers” (2013).