Growing Your Law Firm with Videoconferencing

By Harold German

 With so many efficiency-boosting technologies available today to help you manage and grow your law firm, it is sometimes difficult to identify the right ones to implement. Given recent trends, it is abundantly clear that law firms will focus their investments on technologies that can have the greatest impact on growing their bottom line. Due to its numerous benefits, including significant productivity gains, cost savings, and employee safety, videoconferencing tops the list. Law firms have used videoconferencing for many years. Recent developments have made it affordable for even the smallest firms. You can purchase equipment that cost tens of thousands of dollars only a few years ago for a fraction of that cost today. The products have become more reliable, easier to use, more compact, even portable, and manufacturers have greatly enhanced their capabilities and features. Popular thinking seems to indicate that now is the time to get your firm started with videoconferencing, but not surprisingly, many firms encounter unnecessary technical obstacles and setbacks due to poor planning.

Here are some questions you should ask before getting started with videoconferencing:

How will you be utilizing videoconferencing? Can video depositions and video-based communications help grow my practice?
For many law firms, videoconferencing is first used as a way to reduce traveling for internal meetings between practices located in different cities. But there are other factors to consider. How far are the courthouses your firm serves? Do they allow video depositions or other video-based communication for legal procedures? Are some of the firm’s clients equipped with videoconferencing?

If the addition of videoconferencing will save many, or all, of your lawyers significant time in commuting and improve their productivity, then videoconferencing can definitely help to grow your practice and improve your bottom line.

What kind of resources will you need?
With respect to network considerations, although many firms still use ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network), for optimal business quality videoconferencing you should use an IP (Internet Protocol) network. If you have 384 kilobytes of bandwidth available to and from each videoconferencing device, you should be able to enjoy a high-quality video call. Realize, however, that if your network is shared with other resources, it may compromise the quality of your conferences. A dedicated network specifically for videoconferencing, or a managed IP video network, would ensure the best user experience.

Once you define your network, you need someone to manage it. Will you do it yourself? Does your firm have an IT department? If so, will the IT department handle it? Although, your firm’s technical staff may have the ability to manage your conferencing network, you can find more efficient ways to ensure steady and healthy performance of your videoconferences. Some conferencing providers perform “managed services” that take all of the work out of your hands. Such a service provider, allows you to reap all of the benefits of videoconferencing and eliminates the need to purchase expensive network equipment and, perhaps, to hire additional support staff.

How many of your lawyers have used the technology before and are ready to implement it into their work day?
Talk with your lawyers and identify those individuals who are ready to reap immediate benefits from the technology—those who would be ready and willing to start using videoconferencing right away.

How much ROI can I expect?
Once you define the extent of usage, you can calculate the amount of time that your lawyers will be freed up to work on other cases. In many instances, the time saved adds up to dozens of hours per month, per lawyer. With more time available, they can work on additional cases, thus growing the practice.

Have I created the right budget?
As with most technology implementations, videoconferencing is best executed in phases. You should implement those features that satisfy the office’s most important needs in the first phase. Define what you need, find out what it costs, and budget for that phase. As need and demand grow, you can budget for future implementations as they arise. Always work with conferencing providers that create scalable solutions.

Can I afford videoconferencing?
Do some simple math. Once you define how much usage your firm will have, you can compare that figure to your budget.

A User’s Perspective

User: Hal M. Stewart
Firm: Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker LLP
Title: Chief Executive Officer
Size : 21 U.S.-based offices
Headquarters : New York, NY

It’s amazing how some of the most basic things can be so critical when it comes to laying out a plan for videoconferencing. Things like security, a simple and friendly user interface, and preprogrammed intrafirm conference numbers all help to create comfort and ease-of-use, which is key when you are starting out. Of course, probably the most important thing is to make sure you select the right vendor. We use Polycom products throughout our nationwide network of offices, and the units work very well for us. We use them primarily as a way to avoid costs related to traveling, which, without videoconferencing, would reach into the hundreds of thousands per year. Having recouped our investment in the technology, we also use videoconferencing to perform depositions, firm training, and mandatory continuing legal education. We have even used it to interview candidates that are out of state, which eliminates the need to send our employees on the road. Our usage continues to increase, which improves our firm’s efficiencies.

We’ve been using videoconferencing for seven years and have seen it evolve from a technology that was bulky, expensive, and unreliable to an indispensable tool that is light, affordable, full of new features, and much more capable of delivering on its stated objectives. In a nutshell, it finally works. Without question, now is definitely the time to get started with videoconferencing.

User: Gary Peet 
Firm: Lewis and Roca, LLP
Title: Chief Information Officer 
Size : 4 U.S.-based offices
Headquarters : Phoenix, AZ

Law firms starting out with videoconferencing should keep things simple. Establish three or four basic configurations from which your lawyers can choose. Be sure your IT support staff knows those configurations inside and out. Resist last-minute changes; it’s great to have a “can do” attitude, but if it results in problems during a conference, it may not be worth it. Consider implementing a room control system to facilitate the setups of a conference. These systems handle all the physical layer connections and put all the variable options at your fingertips through a touch-screen monitor. They are very easy to use and take most of the guesswork out of a conference setup. 

We began using videoconferencing back in 1999, and we use it primarily for internal meetings, specifically partner, attorney, and practice group meetings. We also use it for internal training classes and less frequently for client meetings, depositions, and lawyer recruiting interviews. The technology has come a long way, and we especially like the flexibility we now have to do our own conference bridging between our remote offices. We really take advantage of many of the features and options that are available today. Things like picture-in-picture on your screen, dial-in telephone numbers for audio-only participants, content sharing with computers and document cameras, or recording conferences with VCRs or DVDs are all great and add that extra dimension to your set up.

A Pro Weighs In

Pro: Ira M. Weinstein
Organization: Wainhouse Research, LLC
Title: Senior Analyst and Consultant
Headquarters : Brookline, MA

Law firms interested in using videoconferencing to improve productivity, decrease costs, or increase revenue need to consider how they’ll be using the technology. Which meeting rooms (or offices/employee desks) will be video capable? What type of performance do you really need (higher performance often equates to higher cost)?

For example, for video sessions involving clients (perhaps a legal consultation or video deposition), a high-quality experience would be required. For internal training and continuing education sessions, however, that level of performance may not be necessary.

Law firms can avoid many videoconferencing project-related mistakes by performing a careful and accurate audit of their needs and requirements before signing the first purchase order. Here are some of the common faux-pas:

  • Implementing specialized/proprietary systems. These systems typically only support “like-to-like” video calls, which means that only internal video calls will be possible. For maximum flexibility, the use of standards-based systems that easily interoperate with standards-based systems, are recommended.
  • Going too big. We often stumble across firms that have “over-implemented”; firms whose actual usage doesn’t justify their initial (and recurring) investment. To avoid this problem, companies should limit their initial purchases and expand the deployment as necessary in the future. For example, if your firm’s usage of videoconferencing will be limited to a few executives holding one-on-one sessions, purchase only a few desktop systems. Similarly, if only a few users in a few locations expect to utilize the technology, video-enable only a single room in each of those locations and carefully watch the usage trends for a few months.
  • Going too small. We’ve also observed other organizations that “under-implement” solutions. These firms try to squeeze ten people into a small office for a videoconference call. Alternatively, they equip too few conferencing rooms with video, only to find that their users are frustrated by their lack of access to these resources.

Ideally, organizations should carefully evaluate their needs so they can make the appropriate purchases today while setting themselves up for an efficient, cost-effective expansion tomorrow.

The Law Firm of the Future

The law firm of the future will look very much like today’s wired enterprise of today. It will consist of a team of lawyers plugged into a collaborative network that allows them to share ideas, plans, and strategies, instantly and seamlessly. Each lawyer will have access to and the ability to leverage the firm’s global skills and knowledge at any time, regardless of the physical location of those resources. By properly leveraging conferencing solutions, lawyers could substantially increase the number of face-to-face (and billable) client sessions they hold each day, while potentially decreasing their time in the office. Interestingly, the technology to create the scenario above is already available and ready for deployment. In essence, the law firm of tomorrow is really today’s intelligent law firm.

For many years, Harold German has been recognized as a knowledgeable source for information on corporate branding methodologies. German is an established author and contributor, whose articles have appeared in noted international publications such as The Economist . German covers IP networks and the future of conferencing technologies. He is also a director of IVCI, a firm providing managed conferencing services ( http://www.ivci.com).

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