Call me a “Google Tool” or whatever, but I love Google Apps for Work. And I think attorneys, especially those using Android, when given the chance to explore, would too.
For the uninformed, when I’m speaking of Google Apps, I’m talking about Google’s suite of business services similar to Microsoft Office or Office 365. Google Apps for Business gives users access to email through Gmail, calendaring, and the ability to create documents and store information in Google Drive. Of course, I had my reservations about Google Drive, but I think the recent revelations about the NSA made me abandon some concerns. I’m still not advocating sharing any confidential information with any cloud service provider.
What’s the advantage of Google Apps over my current system?
At the most basic level, lawyers are generally looking for one or two key things: the ability to manage email, and the ability to collaborate/coordinate calendars. Google Apps offers both features at a relatively low price of $5 per month per user ($50/year). Finding a cheaper, local replacement is difficult. A small business server running Microsoft Office Exchange can cost over $1,500. That’s a pretty significant investment. If you’re inclined to want MS Exchange, perhaps you should weigh the benefits of a hosted Exchange account.
But Google Apps extends its usefulness beyond email and calendar sharing by offering document creation and storage. Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Presentations are apps similar to Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Admittedly, Google’s office suite isn’t as robust as Microsoft’s, but it’s capable of handling most projects, including pleadings.
Finally, there is a marketplace of additional applications to install and use, which makes managing office tasks even easier. Similar to the programs running on your desktop for various services, these marketplace apps track information and link to your cloud of contacts. You can see some of my favorite Google Apps here.
But I can’t _______ in Google
Track changes seems like the biggest flaw of Google Docs — wait, maybe it’s “red lining” — but I’m really not sure why everyone is so enamored with Microsoft’s track changes feature. I suppose the feature is nice if you’re writing a book, but I’m still not convinced it’s absolutely necessary. And even if it is, Google Docs offers a similar collaborative feature, which arguably is slightly easier to use.
I will concede that the Docs commenting feature is not quite as strong as Word’s, but it works well and gets the job done.
[Ed.: Bob Ambrogi’s comment below points out that there is a track changes function by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Shift+G, which shows the revision history, color coded by author.]
Update: Google Docs now offers track changes with a new Add-on. Not anymore. The track changes feature is now called “Suggested Edits.”
Although Word styles are fantastic to use, many lawyers don’t take advantage of them. I think that’s because we don’t know how they work. But styles, when used correctly, will revolutionize how you produce documents (just a document assembly will). Google Docs offers the ability to create Styles with a couple of simple clicks on the toolbar.
Moreover, each style offers an option to update or reset to match your preferences.
Adding tab stops and indents
Once a colleague mentioned that he didn’t like Docs because he couldn’t get tab stops to work. Frustrated, he vowed never to use Docs again — I think his actual phrase was mingled with a colorful word or two, and mentioned how he wouldn’t work on a document with me unless we did it in WordPerfect. Unfortunately, what my friend couldn’t figure out is actually a relatively simple process of clicking the ruler bar (View > Show ruler) at the top of the document.
Docs will add the stop where you clicked, and you can adjust the position even further by clicking the stop and dragging it across the bar.
Peer-to-peer (or is it peer-on-peer?) collaboration is simply beautiful in Docs. Instead of sending emails between a number of different users and hoping for unanimous consent on the document, I like to use Google Docs to work together, at the same time, and in real-time.
Google also boosted the usefulness factor up to 1 million by adding an activity stream.
Sync files to a local computer
I don’t use this Google Drive feature as much as I should, namely because I do most of my at-home/away editing from my Chromebook, but if you want to keep a local synced folder, Google Drive can help.
You might get a little frustrated by the fact you can’t work on documents unless you’re connected to the internet. Don’t fret though, because Google Drive features offline editing. Simply click the Offline tab to see what documents are synced for offline use.
Just visit Google Drive to access your offline documents.
I use offline documents on my tablet and Chromebook, especially when I know I’ll need a copy and don’t want to rely on the internet.
Google Apps Marketplace
The Apps Marketplace is another area of the Google Apps system that I fail to fully use.
The Marketplace offers a number of Apps add-ons to boost Google Apps’ usability. You can check out some of my favorite Apps, or just go browse around the Marketplace for yourself.
Some limitations of Google Apps
Google Apps for Work isn’t perfect. In fact, there are a lot of improvements Google can make to make the service better. For instance, while you can create a pleading in Google Docs, if you’re in California (with a numbered margin) you’re going to have difficulty meeting the pleading requirements.
Some practice management programs (like Tabs3/PracticeMaster) won’t work with Google Docs. This is a frustrating flaw that requires you to keep using Microsoft Office.
The Price is Right
Google Apps for Work pricing starts at $5 per month per user, or $50 per year per user. That’s a huge savings over the higher-priced Microsoft Office software. For $5 more per month, you can get Google Apps for Business with Vault, which offers more extensive enterprise and security features.
But Google isn’t safe
I hear a number of attorneys and consultants pontificate about Google’s unscrupulous behavior and the fact “they’re selling your information.” Of course, Google is all about advertising and the information it can obtain for that purposes. But there are a number of features in the Apps Terms of Service (annual Terms) — including the default no ads setting — that helps ease my comfort level.
Plus, Google’s probably doing a much better job of protecting your data than you are. If that’s not enough, you can protect your information even further with apps like Boxcryptor. And, when you want access to your data, you can easily download Gmail and calendar information.
If your law firm hasn’t considered Google Apps for Business, you ought to look into letting Google manage your email, calendar, documents, and storage.
Side note: if you’re attending ABA Techshow 2014, one of my presentations will be comparing Google Apps for Business with Office 365.