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Browser Basics for Busy Lawyers

by Erik Mazzone |

The web browser is one of those things that flies under life’s radar. It is almost definitely one of the top two or three pieces of software used on your phone and computer (competing with Outlook and Word, for most lawyers), and yet it also probably gets among the least amount of brain space and attention. This is kind of a shame because browsers are kind of amazing software. Free, easy to use and almost infinitely customizable, they can be huge value adds to your workflow, as well as make the other non-work parts of your life (you do have some of those somewhere, right?) smoother and easier, too.

I’m going to assume for this article that most of you are using Google Chrome or Apple Safari or Microsoft Edge as your browser (since those three account for 90% of total browser use), though it is worth noting there are lots of other great browsers out there, such Mozilla Firefox, Brave,  and Arc. I’m going to keep the tips in this article general so they will apply to users of all three of the main browsers (and almost all modern browsers, in fact), but as always, if you have specific questions you want to talk through, you are always welcome to schedule a complementary practice management consultation with me here.

Back to your browser. Probably, you are using the browser that came installed with your computer or which your IT person installed for you. Probably that browser is Chrome. And probably you have not given it a moment’s thought since you picked up your computer for the first time. But your browser can do a bunch of cool stuff that’s worth knowing about and salting away for exploring when you have some free time (haha). To wit (the main legacy of my legal education is adding in phrases like “to wit” into these articles, sadly):


Extensions (or Add-ons) 

Extensions (in Chrome-speak) are like little mini programs that you add to your browser to allow it to do some things that it doesn’t do off the rack. Sometimes these extensions are made by the browser developer (Google, in Chrome’s case) and sometimes they are made by third party developers. Kind of like apps in the app store for your phone. Most of the time they are free. Sometimes they involve a paid component.

You can find the available extensions for your browser by (you guessed it) searching for it in Google: “Chrome extensions” or “Safari extensions” will get you to the place where you find and install those. A word of warning: before you start adding tons of them to your browser, make sure you look at who the developer is (make sure you trust them), see how many reviews there are (a large number of reviews is a better hedge against wandering into some malware trap), and if you’re nervous, ask your resident tech geek in your life before you install.

Extensions can add virtually unlimited amounts and kinds of functionality to your browser. A few I always have installed are my password manager, an ad blocker, the Zoom extension, my Calendly extension and an extension that checks and notifies me when I have new email. There is no end to the options available, though from handy little things like an extension that removes ads from YouTube videos to hooks in for your to do list of choice to options that make it easier and faster to grab screen shots.


Your Browser is Your Outlook

The day is coming when Microsoft stops making Outlook (and Word and Excel) as a separate standalone program and starts making it something that you use primarily through your browser. And that day is a lot closer than you might think. When Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that Microsoft was become a mobile first, cloud first (leaving aside the brain mangling logic of two different things both coming “first”) this is what he was referring to. 

I encourage you to give it a try now. Log in to your Microsoft 365 account through Chrome (or better yet Edge, where the integration is even tighter) and pull up Outlook. You will be surprised by how incredibly close it is getting to the same experience using Outlook through a webpage in your browser to using a standalone piece of software on your computer. Anybody who remembers doing remote log ins to Outlook 10 or more years ago and still has PTSD from how awful that experience was should give it a try again.

It's not just Outlook; OneDrive, To Do, OneNote, and all your Microsoft apps are available through the browser. I will note that most lawyers will find that Word through the browser is not quite there yet. Lawyers tend to be power users of Word and the many options buried deep in the menus for formatting and so on have not yet made their way to the browser version. But they assuredly will, so keep an eye out.

Why should you care that you can do all this through your browser when you already have perfectly good Outlook downloaded on your computer? Well, a few reasons. If your computer dies or gets left behind at an airport or is otherwise out of commission, you can grab any machine and log in and have a full-blown version of your Outlook available. That alone, as a business continuity and fail-safe, makes it worth figuring out.

Beyond that, if you are among that certain sub-species of lawyer who like to get every possible day of use out of their technology before retiring it, you will have doubtless noticed that the computer (or phone or whatever) tends to get slower and clunkier as it gets older. 

The more software you can get off your machine and the more you can make the browser do your work for you, the more time you can wring out of that 6-year-old computer. Plus, having everything saved and accessed in the cloud means the day your beloved Dell from the second term of the Obama administration shuffles off this mortal coil, you can lay it to rest and grab a new machine without missing a beat. Just log into your browser and you are good to go.


A Few Extensions to Try 

I would be remiss to wrap up this article without giving you a few extensions to check out and dip your toes in the water of customizing your browser. So, here are a few of my favorites (all Chrome links): 


Checker Plus for Gmail

AdBlock Plus 

Speedtest by Ookla 

Google Translate 

Enhancer for YouTube



Okay, that gives you a few to start with. Good luck in your browser explorations and don’t hesitate to reach out if I can help.



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