Nobles Law Firm

Cool, free stuff for lawyers and other folks

freeSo, here’s the deal — I’m a cheapskate and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Actually, I came by my cheapness honestly. Back when I was a 20-something attorney, I was in a small law firm with two partners and we were struggling to make ends meet. There were some weeks our secretary made more than we did, in fact. Why? Because overhead was killing us.

There were some things we couldn’t do without in that office. The copier lease, electric bills and other necessities were critical. But, software? Back then, we couldn’t save that much on software but that is no longer the case. In fact, you can find open source, free alternatives to common software that can save you some serious money in the long term.

Here are a few of those packages all of them except CutePDF Writer (for Windows only) work on Linux, Mac and Windows:

Office suite

For years, I’ve been using a nifty, open source product called Apache OpenOffice (it used to be called OpenOffice.org, but thankfully the “org” part has been dropped). That suite is about as close as you can get to Microsoft Office without worrying about copyright infringement. OpenOffice, in fact, reads and writes to Office files and has a word processor, spreadsheet, database and presentation software that is a real steal at the price. I have had no problem reading and writing Microsoft Word documents and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, but a compatibility problem or two has popped up with the database and presentation software ( those PowerPoint documents are mostly compatible, but there are some problematic differences).

And there is no real alternative for you Microsoft Outlook junkies. If you use the calendar feature in Outlook frequently, you will miss it when it’s gone.

Click here if you want to give it a try.

Email client

While there is no great replacement for Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird isn’t half bad. In fact, unless you need Outlook’s calendar integration, Thunderbird is a great choice.

Ah, but that’s the problem, isn’t it? A lot of people have gotten so used to syncing with the Outlook calendar and having it remind them of events that living without it can be tough.

Still, Thunderbird is a solid choice. Get it here.

Graphics editing

Adobe Photoshop is a heck of a program, but it can cost quite a bit. If you want something similar that will yield professional results, give GIMP a try. You can edit photos, build graphics and do all of those things that you can do with Photoshop, but the price is a heck of a lot better.

The GIMP is great for editing logos, too, but here’s a word of caution about that. The gift handles raster graphics but doesn’t deal with vectors. What’s the difference? Essentially, a vector graphic can be scaled as large or small as you want it without losing resolution and you can’t do that with raster. If you need a good vector editor, try Inkscape. Inkscape is fairly new and, as such, can be a bear to use. You can get the job done with it, however.

Still, most people still work with raster graphics and the easy-to-use, powerful GIMP is a great choice for handling those. Get it here.

Layout

Adobe InDesign remains the king of layout programs and there’s a very good chance the most recent magazine or newspaper you read was put together with it. Finding a good replacement for InDesign is tough, but Scribus will do more than fine in a pinch.

It’s not as easy to use as InDesign and it is largely incompatible. Oh, and Scribus balks at some vector graphics, too. Still, the product is always improving and you can crank out some professional publications with it, to boot. Still, it does its job well and since you’ll import your final documents to PDF, anyway, how much does compatibility with InDesign really matter?

Get it here if you want to take Scribus out for a spin.

PDF printing

One of the coolest applications on the block is CutePDF Writer. Simply print to it like you would an ordinary printer and it will output a PDF file. Remember all that jazz about the paperless office a few years ago? This thing actually helps make that possible. It’s a good thing, too. I’ve got paper littering my desk and I don’t need anymore.

Sadly, CutePDF Writer is for Windows only, but that makes sense. Last I checked, Mac OS has PDF writing built right into the software and there are plenty of PDF writers available for Linux. Get CutePDF Writer here.

Cloud storage

There are a lot of cloud storage providers out there, but Dropbox is one of the oldest and best services on the block. You get 2 gigabytes of storage when you sign up for a free account and you can increase that amount pretty easily. The great thing about Dropbox is that it can sync files between your personal computer, smartphone, tablet and anywhere you can open a browser and hit the Internet.

It’s dead easy to use, too. Just download the client and save files to it like you would any other folder. Files will sync automatically and those in a “public” folder can be shared as HTML links. It is very possible to scan and maintain entire client files in Dropbox so they will be backed up and accessible whenever you need them.

In fact, my backup plan is centered around Dropbox. I leave my critical files in Dropbox so I will have no problems getting to them if one of my computers explodes. Simply throw out the old computer, install the Dropbox client on the new one and nothing is lost.

Get it here.

Mass email client

If you need to send a lot of emails, format a newsletter to send to clients or do anything else that requires you to toss out a bunch of emails, MailChimp is a program you don’t want to miss. Designing great HTML emails is a snap and the thing allows you to import your address books from just about any application that uses them. It will tell you how many people open your emails, who is opening them and will even tell you if an email address has gone bad.

The only drawback to MailChimp is that you can’t add email attachments. To get around that problem, simply generate an HTML link to the file you want to send from the public Dropbox folder mentioned above.

The free MailChimp account offers storage for plenty of email addresses and lets you send a lot per month, too. If you grow beyond what the free account provides, you can up your limits quite inexpensively with paid subscriptions. And, believe me when I tell you that is a good problem to have — if you outgrow what the free account provides, times are indeed good for you and you can afford the upgrade.

Sign up for the Web-based service here.

Audio editing

When it comes to full-featured audio editing programs, the totally free Audacity is hard to beat. Let’s say you are podcasting, for example. Plug in your microphone, have Audacity capture your voice and you can easily make edits, drop in music and build a complete show through the easy-to-use audacity. You’ll have to do some work to get it to output MP3 files, but there is documentation for that and the process is very easy.

Few things are more gratifying than mixing in several tracks, mixing a professional sounding product and realizing that the software that allowed you to do all of that didn’t cost a dime.

Get it here.

So, there are just a few free programs that will make your life easier and allow you to be a cheapskate. Most of those are open source, too. Isn’t the open source movement just downright dandy?

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