- Decide which practice management software to rely on.
- Make sure you are constantly synched.
- Get a virtual receptionist.
I’m passionate about my work. I was a prosecuting attorney for almost 7 years—up until the summer of 2010—with a specialization in domestic violence cases. In the summer of 2010, my then precocious three-year-old son asked me if I was ever going to be done working so I could play with him. Well, I’m passionate about him, too. I made a decision right then and there: I decided to open my own solo practice to bring flexibility into my life.
I knew there would be many challenges opening my own office, not the least of which were the tremendous start-up costs. It’s not unheard of for a solo practitioner to spend between $60–80K between the necessary hardware, furniture, office space, etc. As a young attorney, I didn’t have such resources on hand, so I relied heavily on technology to find cost efficiencies.
Practice Management Software: The Cloud Brings Portability
Practice management software drives the work in any law practice, and this is particularly true when you are flying solo. When you are a solo practitioner, you are only as good as your tools. You don’t have an assistant to keep track of your calendar, for example, but you simply cannot miss court appointments or motion deadlines.
Other than calendaring, I wanted my practice management software to do at least two other things as well: I wanted to be able to bill, and I wanted everything to be integrated. That narrowed my options. But more than that, I also wanted unfettered access to my practice: I wanted my documents when I wanted them—wherever I happened to be, whether that be waiting in the hall at a pediatrician’s office, or in the hallways of the courts. When I threw in my need to have a portable practice, however, that sealed the deal: I needed the cloud.
I did have some initial concerns about security in the cloud, but realized that there was probably more risk that someone would break into my office and hack into my hardware than that they would do this over the Internet—and my office likely has less security than the cloud service providers I researched.
Clio and Rocket Matter are two dominant, cloud-based practice management software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers. I started my search with the American Bar Association, which provides a massive grid of practice management software and SaaS providers. I decided to experiment with both Clio and Rocket Matter, trying each for their 30-day trial periods.
I also attended a presentation at the , Illinois, Solo Conference given by Jack Newton, President of Clio, at which he addressed concerns about the cloud, noting that Clio has, at a minimum, four backup data centers. Clio is at the forefront of all the cloud-based-security inquiries and is helping forge security standards with the ABA 20/20 Ethics Commission. After hearing Jack’s presentation on the cloud, any remaining concerns I had about cloud security and privacy were put to rest.
At the end of my 30-day trial periods with both Clio and Rocket Matter, Clio won the case. I felt much more at ease with the user interface, and I was impressed with the high degree of responsiveness from the Clio team. Every time I had a question, or even if I found something that I wanted Clio to do for me but didn’t yet, I would fire off an email to the Clio team—and it would get done. That degree of responsiveness tells me that Clio plans to be here for the long haul—just like me.
Insurance Through Syncing
Despite the fact that I use a cloud-based practice management that provides me with 24/7 access to my documents from anywhere, there’s that one, tiny little extra step that needs to happen when using the cloud: you have to actually press “enter,” and wait three seconds or less for your documents to upload.
I worried, perhaps needlessly: what if my WiFi goes down right before I’ve uploaded a document to the cloud? My most recent technology adoption—insurance against this—was Mac Sync software. Mac Sync makes sure that my desktop and laptop are synchronized and share all of my drafts of my documents, so that as long as I have either my laptop or desktop, I have my most recent version of a brief.
Another major cost-saving technology choice I made: a virtual receptionist via Total Attorneys. There are a lot of answering services out there for professionals to choose from, but one of the main reasons I selected Total Attorneys was because they deal exclusively with law firms. My virtual receptionist at Total Attorneys has access to my Google calendar and, 24/7, is able to answer basic questions about my schedule, office location, driving directions, and court appointments. Outsourcing this service is much more affordable than hiring a full-time receptionist or burdening my paralegal with this type of work. Additionally, the accessibility and professionalism makes me look like a big firm.
The End Results
Watson Law celebrated its one-year anniversary in September of 2011. I have a cloud-based practice management software, a virtual assistant, and an Android phone. My practice is thriving—and so is my family. Now, while I’m waiting for my son at a playdate or other activity, I can make notes on my cases, work on my to-dos, track billable hours. It’s no longer lost time and productivity, and no longer accompanied by 20 lbs. of case files—and when we get home, I can relax with my family, knowing I’ve dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s. That’s a cost-benefit analysis I can certainly live with.