General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

A service of the ABA General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

Law Trends & News

Practice Area Newsletter

American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice

SUMMER 2011

Vol. 7, No. 4

 

PRACTICE MANAGEMENT

 

An Uncivil Union: Where Lawyers and Technology Marry

By Jason Volmut, CPU Rx, Inc.

As law firms are some of the slowest to adopt new technologies, the average attorney can be left feeling a little like Fred Flintstone waiting on some prehistoric bird to deliver him a stone tablet. In the ever-changing paperless office landscape we find our relationship with tangible work materials and the archaic means in which we manage them coming to an end. As all manner of information is transferred through a variety of networks invisible to the eye, it has become paramount for attorneys to be able to identify which technology will help, which technology will not, and how to align with IT specialists who know both so that their firms may evolve and grow. My time as a technologist in a small law firm showed me that the dynamic that exists between attorneys and burgeoning technologies is best described as strenuous (as growing pains often are), yet their demand for technology built around their needs has given life to a number of options for managing various facets of their firms. All they need is someone to help realize the potential of these new technologies.

To understand how technology can improve your business by improving efficiency and in turn increasing profits, one must analyze the flow of information through the various strata of your firm. There’s a reason why IT or information technology is one of the most commonly used acronyms in the twenty-first century and that is because every aspect of your business will be driven by the efficient exchange of information. Traditionally, attorneys have been slow to warm up to new technologies, but we have entered a new era where cell phones, computers, PDAs, and the networks they interact with are now necessary items within a lawyer’s toolbox. Each year new and affordable technology solutions empower solo and small law offices with big-firm efficiencies. As the “Boomers” move closer to retirement, young tech-dependent graduates are replacing them, changing the way in which attorneys interact with each other, members of their office, and work materials. These changing dynamics are the reason it is time to begin thinking about the inclusion of an IT consultant as part of your team (not as an employee) to help navigate and integrate these new technologies that have, and will continue, to become available.

A primary function of any firm, legal or otherwise, is marketing. The rapid adoption of Internet-based marketing services has excited many about using their computers to attract new business. The problem with everyone simultaneously adopting these methods is that your specific message will be lost among your competition and everyone else who thought they have found a unique vehicle for their marketing voice. Although common in today’s professional ecosystem, the creative management of your social networking portals will help you define yourself from your competition. Take time to cultivate your presence on LinkedIn, as your customer feedback ratings are crucial to defining your worth to potential new clients. An online rapport with both existing and new customers is important because it allows you to control the perception of your firm. Do not underestimate the power of a blog or any digital medium that allows you to inundate your audience with expert information. The regular addition of this information to your online presence will position you to be perceived within your community and by potential clients as an industry leader. As an aside, all of this information assumes you have already spent time generating a website which, in today’s world, is something that you need to have.

Business continuity solutions are a prime example of how law firms can increase the efficiency of daily office operations. There are free services that allow you to sync files between multiple PCs without having to carry a thumb drive or log in remotely, simplifying the way you interact with your pertinent work documents from any location. Secure remote backup services also allow you to back up your work, ensuring your files will always be available for restorations after the most unexpected problems, which is fundamental in recovering from unforeseen technology hurdles and allowing daily operations to continue.

Client management is the most complex function of any law practice. It is critical to understand the logic of the in(puts) and out(puts); specifically, the information they produce and which manual processes can be automated. Most of the software developed over the years has been focused on the automation of common tasks that clerks, paralegals, and lawyers perform; time and billing being the most popular followed by practice management suites, document generation, and document management systems. It is important to fully understand the features, advantages, and benefits of each, as some are more effective in certain practice areas than others. Something as simple as standardizing a client intake sheet can lend to less chaos overall.

As a general rule, lawyers tend to not be the most organized bunch. Efficiency-enhancing document management software unifies scanned documents, file folders, and email into one simple search. This solution saves hours and hours of lost productivity by eliminating the need to click through subfolder after subfolder both within emails and client file folders to uniquely identify and organize each document by client, case, or some other system.

Some of the most creative lawyers log calls directly to their computer with the click of a mouse. Data storage is very inexpensive, which is why companies can offer service that will not only email voicemails received but also transcribe them in a preview before you listen. Your voicemails are stored indefinitely, similar to the way an e-mailbox works, allowing you easy access to documented phone exchanges.

At the end of the day all businesses grow with the acquisition of new clients and customers. The means in which you engage new clients is an art that is not easy to master as it is constantly evolving, much like the people with whom you are speaking. Quick refreshers for a manner of sales and service-related issues are available in a variety of online resources from webinars to video chats providing a plethora of readily available information to help you sharpen your sales skills.

Most of these services are free or very cheap, but understanding the evolving nature of them is what involves time and attention, which are the two things an attorney has the least of. Hiring an IT consultant with experience working with law firms and the specific personalities and protocols that exist within them is a cost effective way for your firm to navigate, implement, and utilize these various services, thus keeping your firm at the cutting edge of IT developments at a reasonable cost.

Jason Volmut is a consulting technologist with more than 10 years’ experience helping small and midsize businesses optimize their IT operations with process-driven solutions tailored to their specific needs and budgets.

© Copyright 2011, American Bar Association.