The Mac Lawyer’s Task Manager

On January 23, I spoke at the MSBA’s Hanging out a Shingle conference for attorneys considering going out on their own to practice law.  I spoke about some of the technology needs and issues of solo attorneys and new firms.  As a Mac user, one of the attendees at the conference asked me what software I used to keep track of tasks, and whether I know of a task manager that would synchronize my tasks between my Mac and my iPhone.  I did not, but being the presenter I am, I told the audience I would look into it.

I’ve been testing out a software package called Things that was developed by Cultured Code.  Things runs on the Mac and provides you with a way of tracking what’s do, and also scheduling recurring tasks (like pay the firm credit card or bill your clients).  Things can synchronize with the task list that you can keep in Mail for the Mac, which can then be synchronized with MobileMe and be available within iCal (tasks in Mail will show on the right hand column of your calendars in iCal).  As for the iPhone, Cultured Code has also published an app that can synchronize with a desktop running the full program in the office.  In order to sync, the iPhone and Mac with Things running must both be on the same WiFi network.

So, for example, in the morning, you could open up Things on your Mac, manage your tasks for the day, and before you leave the office, open up your iPhone’s Things app, let it synchronize, and then leave.  As you get stuff done while out of the office, you can check off the items on your to do list (like go to the bank, mail those payments for your office rent, buy some more copier paper, and drop off some pleadings at the courthouse).  When you get back, you can open up Things on your iPhone (after connecting to your WiFi hotspot) and Things will update on your Mac, marking off as complete those tasks that you have completed out in the world.

As a result, for those of you addicted to checking off items from your to do list, you can now get your fix electronically on your iPhone, without having to carry a paper list, or manage two independent lists (one on your Mac and one on your iPhone).

And for those of you that want to have a single task list shared across multiple Macs, there is a way to do that as well.  If you subscribe to MobileMe, you have the option of synchronizing files on iDisk.  Things itself has a database file in XML that it uses to manage its data.  You can put that set of files onto iDisk and allow other Macs the ability to access that file and be updated with the latest list.  There is a complete post by another author here that explains the step by step.  Please note, however, that this MobileMe solution is not real time.  In testing, I’ve found that you generally need to keep Things closed on the other Macs until after changes to the XML file are fully synchronized, then open up Things on the other Mac to see the changes made.  Using iDisk may be a solution for a small office, but probably will not work for a large number of attorneys and paralegals working together.  Hope this helps.

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Maryland technology attorney and college professor.

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