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All Our Tips

  • Research & Writing

A regrettably continuing series.

Core
Almost as bad as key (when used, like core, as an adjective meaning ‘principal’ or ‘main’). Both have a distinct whiff of the 1990s to them.

My gut
Please, no one wants to imagine what your digestive tract is doing – much less what it is telling you.

Next steps
For the love of pity, can we stop talking about these at the end of every meeting? It’s not as though we can take previous steps at that point.

Action items would not be an acceptable substitute; it’s another piece of jargon. Tasks would work just fine, no?

Pivotal
Why, all of a sudden, are events deemed important now said to be pivotal? Besides being tiresome by its ubiquity, the word betrays an inherent teleological fallacy in assuming the inevitability of whatever resulted from a supposedly pivotal moment. This is rarely the case.

Please just say something normal like important or significant instead of this over-used piece of nonsense.

Scalable
Like a mountain, a fish that needs cleaning or a tea-kettle if your water is hard?

Better: adaptable, extensible, flexible, variable.

 Serial entrepreneur
Couldn’t this suggest someone who has left behind a trail of business failures masquerading as success? (A certain slum landlord turned real estate developer, TV personality and politician comes to mind …)

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

 

  • Technology

You know what really grinds my gears? When I open a PDF file containing what appears to be digitally-formatted text and find that it is non-copyable and non-searchable. The ability to search, copy and paste text are essential functions of digital communications – so the idea that a text is born digitally and therefore ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) encoded, and that somebody wittingly or unwittingly should remove that functionality – it leads to much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth on my part.

Well just last week I was sent a large PDF document with more than 70 pages of text. So I opened it in Adobe Acrobat, and tried to execute a search for a key term, and found that it was (you guessed it) another one of those documents that had signs of ASCII-formatted text in its progeny, but through the manipulations of some kind of monster, been reduced to the mere semblance of text, no more searchable than a stack of paper.

So naturally I commenced with my usual process of wailing and gnashing, but after a few minutes of that I got a notion that maybe I should try something different. In near desperation, I got the idea that – just maybe – if I “select all” and paste it into a text editor then some hitherto-hidden ASCII-encoded text might appear. Worth a try, right?

So I hit control-A, and THIS happened:

Hello!

“Why yes,” I said out loud, “in fact I WOULD like to run text recognition to make the text on this page accessible – THANKS for asking!”

I clicked Yes.

Then I got asked for some settings, which I ignored and just clicked OK – opting for the default option in my excitement.

Adobe Acrobat then leapt through my document, systematically performing the miracle of breathing life into the dead letters at the rate of about a page a second – slightly faster for the “born digital” main portion, and a bit slower for some appendices that bore the stigmata of pre-digital technology.

The result was perfectly copyable, pastable, searchable text in the main body of the document. As for the typewritten appendices, Acrobat almost flawlessly converted them into digital text as well, while maintaining the visual features of the original typed text. Basically, the document looked identical to how it had looked prior to the procedure but was now digitally functional. The only letters and numbers that resisted the resurrection were data from a single table with a very small typeface – those few characters remained a heretical community of graphics in the midst of a near-universal mass conversion.

Optical text recognition technology has come a long way in a few short years.

Now if you work anywhere in the legal industry (or do any kind of office work), then there is a good chance you have been able to follow right along, and to some of you, this is already old news and why am I boring you. But if there are any among you who don’t know what I’m talking about with text that can be searched and copied – you need to learn a few tricks that will make your life a whole lot easier. Begin with learning these commands, which work on almost all text-editing software:

CTL-F … Find text in document

CTL-A … Select All

CTL-X … Cut selected text

CTL-C … Copy selected text

CTL-V … Paste the last text you cut or copied

CTL-Z … Undo last operation

CTL-Y … Redo undone operation

CTL-H … Find all identified text in document and replace with other text

You can use point-and-click menus for these operations as well, but I find the keyboard shortcuts easier. These features, and many others, are now standard practice in office work – so learning them will not get you ahead so much as get you caught up with the rest of us.

And if you ever come across a text, especially a longish one, for which the above commands do not work, try to do minimal weeping & wailing and tooth-gnashing. And when you are done that, wipe the tears off your keyboard and try the simple operation described above. Failing that, try something else. And if all else fails, ask your friend in IT to perform a miracle. Because there is no reason to tolerate text in a digital file that cannot function as digital text.

[This tip by Ken Fox originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]

 

  • Research & Writing

Administrator’s note: thanks to Wendy Reynolds, Manager, Accessibility, Records and Open Parliament at the Information Services Branch, Legislative Assembly of Ontario for this guest tip!

Libraries track reference questions for many reasons. Primarily, we capture information about transactions – who we did work for, how long it took, and how difficult it was. A simple spreadsheet or piece of paper on the ref desk will suffice for this most common kind of tracking.

Some libraries go beyond the transactional. My employer, for example, relies on an Oracle database to collect questions, triage work, and record the answers sent to clients. We do this because so many of the questions we get are complex, and re-using a similar or previous answer is a much more efficient way to proceed. We also rely on three different groups of subject-matter experts to answer questions, and we need a way to distribute tasks while ensuring that all of the elements of the question remain together.

I was asked recently to inquire of my CALL-eagues how they track reference transactions. The variety of responses was interesting, and share-worthy.

  • Several responding libraries use custom databases built in house.
  • Two libraries use helpdesk software, and one of the respondents commented that this is an option that is worth exploring.
  • Specialized web-based reference trackers also received a number of mentions. Quest, LibAnswers and Gimlet were all mentioned.

Before selecting a solution, think about how you plan to use the product. Is this going to be a knowledge repository, or are statistics the goal of your implementation? If you’re building a knowledge repository, make sure it has capacity for large attachments or long answers.

Don’t collect more data than you use – if you make people input information that they don’t then see in use, they’ll stop using the tool.

Wendy Reynolds
Manager, Accessibility, Records and Open Parliament
Information Services Branch, Legislative Assembly of Ontario

 

  • Technology

In certain situations, I need to type something I’ve typed dozens or hundreds of times before. Rather than type it out, I prefer to type three to four letters. My Mac recognizes those letters and offers me the option of the full text I’ve typed in the past.

Here are two examples:

  • my name and phone number, for calendar invitations to schedule phone calls
  • a message I send people who I don’t know when they want to connect with me on LinkedIn

Name and phone number shortcut

Each time I schedule phone calls with people, I put my name and office number in the “Location” field of a calendar entry. Now, instead of doing that, I type “LBPN” (for Luigi Benetton Phone Number) and my Mac offers me my name and number.

This is a system-wide shortcut. In simple terms, this means my name and number appear in just about any program I type those four letters. It happens when a correspondent asks for my number in an email. It happens when a computer support representative asks for my number in an online text chat. It happens most anywhere I can type text on my computer.

LinkedIn Reply shortcut

The LinkedIn message is a more compelling example, since three letters trigger a message several lines long.

When I type the letters L, I and R (LinkedIn Reply) in sequence, my Mac replaces them with this message:

Thanks for reaching out.

I don’t think we know each other. Did something in my profile catch your eye? Is there something I can do for you?

Looking forward to your reply,

Luigi

Here’s what the option looks like on screen.

I simply click this popup, or press the Space bar, and the Mac replaces LI R with these words. (I normally add “Hello” plus the person’s name to the beginning of this message.)

Setting up text shortcuts

Here’s how I set up system-wide text shortcuts on my Mac.

  1. Open System Preferences by clicking the apple icon in the top left corner of the screen and choosing System Preferences… The System Preferences dialog appears.
  2. In the System Preferences dialog, click the Keyboard icon. 
    The Keyboard preferences appear.
  3. Click the Text tab. Text preferences appear.
  4. At the bottom left of this dialog, click the “+” sign to create a new shortcut. The dialog creates a new line at the bottom of the list of shortcuts.
  5. Enter the shortcut in the “Replace” column and the text to replace it with in the “With” column.

The phone number shortcut was easy to type directly into the “With” column. I had typed the LinkedIn Reply message earlier in a text document, then pasted it into the With column. If I want to check this text, I can copy it all and paste it into a text document.

Notes:

  • You don’t need extra software to do this on a Mac. The tools you need are included when you buy a Mac.
  • Other tools may offer features other than the basic ones shown here.
  • Certain programs enable the creation of shortcuts that work only within those programs.
  • Windows computer users may need to install other software on their computers to create system-wide shortcuts,

What do you do when you want to save time retyping things you need to type often? Share your solutions in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on luigibenetton.com]

 

  • Practice

In case you missed the big news, there’s a new addition to the Slaw family!

Slaw Jobs, a new Canadian legal job listings service, launched earlier this month with listings for positions across the country.  From lawyers to marketers to professors to content managers, there’s already a good variety of positions and employers on the site.

By using Slaw Jobs, you’ll be getting your listing in front of a large and targeted audience and at the same time, supporting the high quality, original legal commentary at Slaw.ca.

Learn a bit about the genesis of Slaw Jobs here, and the benefits of using our job portal here.

 

  • Research & Writing

If you are carrying out due diligence on an individual or company, the BC Securities Commission has produced a very useful online resource on the subject called Conducting Background Research. The guide does note that there is “no set template for a good background search. … You will need to use your judgment for each research decision, including the choice of sources to search and research strategies to employ.”

Susannah Tredwell

 

  • Research & Writing

In the first year of law school, students pick up many bad writing habits. Perhaps the chief of these is to use previously unfamiliar phrases that have a (specious) lawyerly appearance.

An example is at first blush, which is not commonly used outside the law; and because it’s used so much within it, it ought to be avoided as an over-used cliché. You could just write at first, without the blushing (‘This case seems, at first, to be uncomplicated …’)

On its face has a venerable legal pedigree (at least as far back as 1632, according to the OED), and referred originally to the words as they appeared on the face of a document – but, like the blushing business, it’s a worn-out expression that could happily be dropped.

If the previous two constructions are merely old and tired, the use of facially for on its face is recent, lazy and deplorable. I cross it out in student work-product, and wish I could do the same with the 408,000 occurrences in Canadian blog posts (according to Slaw’s Canadian Law Blogs Search Engine).

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

 

  • Technology

Are you reading this post on a computer that has slowed down significantly? To the point that you want to replace it?

Before you whip out your credit card, try a few simple things on your computer. You might make it more useable without spending a dime.

I’ve already posted two ways you can improve your computer’s performance.

Here’s a third tip – finding energy hogs on your computer.

The problem

Your computer expends a certain amount of energy to run each program you open. Programs that demand more energy frequently hog your computer’s resources, making the whole machine run slower.

The solution

Find out what programs are energy hogs. One you fine the energy hogs, you can deal with them.

The macOS ship with Activity Monitor, a utility that shows how much various applications use RAM, the processor and so forth. (I couldn’t find an equivalent piece of software in Windows 10, but I presume one is available from a third party.)

Rather than deal with the complexity of Activity Monitor, Mac owners can instead use an elegantly designed list to find energy hogs.

To find out which applications demand “significant” energy on a Mac, click the battery icon in the menu bar at the top right of the screen. The following menu appears.

The middle part of this menu lists any apps using lots of energy.

Note that each open app can vary in its demands on your Mac. At one moment, it demands lots of energy, the next it takes hardly any. For instance, Safari was using significant energy at the moment I took this screen shot, but minutes later it didn’t appear in this list. In fact, it read “No Apps Using Significant Energy.”

Once you find energy hogs, you can deal with them in several ways.

Uninstall energy hogs

If you don’t need the software at all, considering uninstalling it from your computer entirely. Be careful with this idea: your computer needs certain processes to run properly. If you aren’t sure whether you need the program, search for an explanation of it in Google. If you’re still not sure about it, leave it on your computer. Removing an application your computer might need could be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.

Shut down the program

You ought to get an immediate performance boost by quitting the program.

Switch software

If you need the features an energy hog offers but it consistently hogs energy, consider trying other software that could take its place.

Do you have any tips on tracking specific pieces of software that slow down your computer? Please share them in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on luigibenetton.com]

 

  • Practice

These days, a lot of lawyers are wondering how to make the most of LinkedIn. Some are wondering if they even can. So, for this week’s tip, we’re sharing news about a new group which may prove to be an easy entry point to greater participation on the site.

‘Keeping it Social: Practice Development for Lawyers TORONTO’, a collaboration between Bekhor Management and Toronto Lawyers Association is the antithesis to all social media groups! Of the various LinkedIn groups targeting Canadian lawyers, it is the only one that’s actually social.

The group will meet in-person to learn practice development tips and to network once every quarter. Each event will be focused on a different topic. The first 15 minutes will be dedicated to a formal presentation. The next 15 minutes will allow for participants to ask their questions or to practice the tips through exercises, templates or role-play. The second half hour will be dedicated to networking.

Given that this is a practice development group that offers live events, it is restricted to practising lawyers and articling students in the Toronto area. Lawyers in other cities can use this group as a model to set up similar groups in their area.

To learn more about Keeping it Social: Practice Development for Lawyers TORONTO:

Sandra Bekhor, Toronto

 

 

  • Research & Writing

John Laskin, late of the Ontario Court of Appeal, suggests in his ‘Forget the Wind-up and Make the Pitch’, that although ‘this advice may cause mutiny among lawyers and judges’, you should avoid writing sentences containing ‘The fact that …’

It’s much more effective just to state the fact, rather than to state the fact that the fact is a fact. So, not ‘The fact that my client has accepted your offer ..’ but ‘My client’s acceptance of your offer …’ The latter is direct, clear, less wordy.

Similarly, eschew notwithstanding the fact that in favour of the plain English although, and the dreadful due to the fact that for good old because. As Laskin notes, The fact remains that can simply be omitted; it adds nothing but verbosity.

I’m not sure why The reality is … bothers me as much as it does, but it does. Like The fact remains…, it’s useless. Just state what the current state of affairs is, without the pointless preface. And, please, don’t ever say or write The reality is, is that …

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)