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ABA TECHSHOW 2008: Outlook Tips and Tricks (Roundtables Track)

By Mazyar Hedayat | Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Presenters: Adriana Linares and Catherine Sanders Reach
Thursday, March 13 at 4:15 pm

Every year the LPM Section includes a series of "roundtable" sessions designed for attendees to share real-world experiences with colleagues. However, these roundtable sessions are presided over by speakers with a great deal of experience.

This session featured uber-trainer and TechShow board member Adriana Linares of LawTech Partners and Catherine Sanders Reach of the ABA's Legal Technology Resource Center, both of whom shared their insights on one of the most ubiquitous and vexing of all office applications — Outlook.

The discussion/lecture covered Outlook 2003 and 2007 based on a 50/50 show of hands from the audience — meaning presumably that nobody in the audience used an older version than that, or was willing to fess up if they did. In any case I was lucky to be seated up-front because it was a packed house with the speakers and the audience engaged in a rapid-fire exchange. The allotted hour hardly seemed adequate for the number of useful tidbits flying from the speakers or the many questions lobbed from those in attendance. I've tried to capture the highlights of the discussion by topic for the benefit of our readers. Enjoy.


The principal difference between Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2007 when it comes to searching is that the latter has search built-in, while the former uses the anemic search utility that comes bundled with Windows. Outlook 2007 even highlights search terms automatically and with a simple right-click can accommodate some of the most common searches such as "related messages" and messages from a particular sender or conversation thread. Popular add-ons for searching in Outlook include:

Google Desktop
Copernic Desktop
LookOut (Outlook 2003 only)

Another useful practice is to save and re-use effective search strings and put the results into a particular folder, such as "Today's Mail," "Messages from Mom," etc. Using pre-written searches in conjunction with follow up flags, deadlines, tasks, and labels (aka 'tags' by name, event, etc.) will provide the most effective search results.


When backing up items related to you look for your particular .pst file. You can download a Personal Folder Backup tool at the Outlook Web site that automatically backs up your .pst's. Yet another backup technique involves creating a shortcut to your .pst folders (once you find them 7 levels deep in the file hierarchy) and periodically backing up to that location. The resulting backup folder can be password protected for security and saved to a CD for permanency. The speakers suggest keeping all personal information in such folders, including not just email but calendar items, contacts, tasks, etc. so that you can restore your identity in the event of corruption, destruction, damage, etc.


Yet another way to use .pst files is to archive and remove all messages, calendar items, tasks, and contacts related to a closed case. The speakers pointed out that archived files should be saved as searchable PDF documents rather than in native format to ensure longevity. One advantage of using PDF in such situations is that it preserves the attachments as well their host email messages. But be sure to keep it uniform — for example, Outlook 2003 saves archived items as PDF files while Outlook 2007 saves them as more complete (but space-intensive) PDF packages.


A truly useful alternative to searching for items is to sort them to a reliable location in the first place. That's where the use of Outlook Rules comes in. Adriana Linares suggests using Rules retroactively as well to gather all like messages, contacts, calendar items, and tasks in a single place. But before you set up a gaggle of rules that could actually counter-act one another, consider this handy scenario proposed by Adriana Linares:

• Add a "To" field in your Inbox to identify items sent directly to you by name as opposed to those sent to a group of which you are a member, a discussion forum, your company, etc.

• Further categorize messages by color-coding or sorting, with only the ones sent directly to you visible up-front (or identified in an eye-catching color).

Simple but effective. Likewise, consider this tip for viewing multiple or like calendar items on the same page: hold down the Control key and select multiple items or dates with your mouse to display your schedule for all of those items on a single page (which you can print, or save as a custom calendar view).


To take advantage of the built-in contact relationship management (CRM) feature in Outlook, drag all the items (calendar, task, etc.) related to that contact into their "notes" panel. While it is tempting to including documents related to a contact in this easy-to-use drag-and-drop area, the speakers strongly counsel against it. Once you've done this you can keep related items connected going forward by using the "related contact" field.

To speed the process further hold down Alt K and put in portion of a contact's name — Outlook finds the rest and fills it in for you. After that you can spread your own contact information by including vCards in your email messages and downloading vCard attachments from those with whom you communicate. Once a contact has been included in your system the process of connecting them to the right items and staying connected begins all over again.

Outlook as Case Management System

On this topic the ABA will soon publish a series by Ben Shore. Until then the question remains whether Outlook can be used as a kind of case-management system. According to the speakers: short answer is "no ... but" and long answer is "yes ... if." Got that?

Case Management Systems with two-way Outlook integration:

Amicus Attorney
Tabs 3
Time Matters

Third party plug-ins that almost make Outlook into a Case Management System:

LinkedIn Toolbar
QuickFile 4Outlook - Lawyer's Edition
GTD Plug-In for Outlook
Payne Metadata Assistant
Xobni (currently in beta, look for coverage in TechnoLawyer NewsWire when released)

[I myself suggest Agendus and 4Team.]

Finally, oh ye of little faith behold: Outlook now synchronizes with Google Calendar! Hallelujah! Also worth noting in this department is Plaxo, which has attempted to become your universal online calendar, contact manager, and social networking hub — and yes, it synchronizes with Outlook, Google, MSN, AOL, and the rest of the Internet alphabet soup.

Read more firsthand reports from ABA TechShow 2008.

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Topics: Business Productivity/Word Processing | Email/Messaging/Telephony | Practice Management/Calendars | Trade Show Reports
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