With the majority of U.S. lawyers practicing in a solo or small-firm setting, providing practical guidance to your members on how to successfully run a law office using today’s technology can’t be overlooked. At the 2018 Midyear Meeting of the National Association of Bar Executives, we heard from two experts, each of whose bars are approaching this field in very different, but equally effective ways.
A local bar approach: Catherine Sanders Reach, director of law practice management and technology, Chicago Bar Association
With a background in library science, Reach originated the CBA’s Law Practice Management & Technology Center, which now also includes a training coordinator position. Prior to working at the CBA, she was the director of the ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center.
When it comes to practice management help, the CBA provides its members with a variety of options, from free to fee-based services. Serving a membership in a concentrated metro area allows them to offer many in-person training programs, which take place in a dedicated tech center room in their building. This room permanently houses 20 computer stations loaded with legal tech software. Classes cover a wide range of topics, with some programs lasting just a few hours and others meeting weekly on an ongoing basis.
Additionally, Reach produces practice-related CLE webcasts and quick training videos housed on YouTube. For members who need personalized help, she also provides fee-based consulting services ($75 an hour) in areas such as website review and strategic technology planning.
Some of the CBA’s most popular endeavors include:
- How to Text with Clients (one-hour live training);
- Build Your Own Website (three-hour live training);
- guest lectures at local law schools (through which Reach trades her expertise for visibility); and
- the Technology & Business Expo (featuring software and services for law firms).
Here are a few tricks of the trade that Reach shared:
- Never do anything just once, and never do anything you can’t reuse.
- Repurpose your content on both a macro and micro level.
- Ask vendors to provide free software to load onto your training computers.
- Provide advice in a gentle manner; technology can be frustrating, especially for aging members.
A state bar approach: Erik Mazzone, senior director of membership experience, North Carolina Bar Association
Before taking on his current position in 2017, Mazzone served as the director of the NCBA’s Center for Practice Management for nine years. For the NCBA, serving a lawyer population spread out over a large geographical area means producing programs and services that scale well (i.e., mostly online). Their program is focused primarily on education, instead of consultations.
Identifying and collaborating with tech-savvy members has enabled the NCBA to create programs and events, from CLE programs to reports. Working with a think tank made up of members, the bar has undertaken such futuristic issues as blockchain and artificial intelligence, putting together presentations about what members should be thinking about for the future with regard to running their law practice.
This collaborative work has extended beyond lawyers to also include experts in complementary fields and those who work at law firms but are not lawyers themselves. For example, a marketing director at a large firm recently taught a program aimed at helping solo and small-firm lawyers better market their practices.
In addition to online training programs, the NCBA’s center also hosts meetups that facilitate member engagement and learning. Two of their most successful meetups are “Starting up Solo” and “Legal Geeks.” At Starting up Solo, interested members convene once a month over pizza while listening to a presentation about running a solo practice. The Legal Geeks meetup, which is geared toward more tech-advanced lawyers, gathers regularly at breweries for casual conversation about legal tech over beer.
A couple more of the NCBA’s most popular endeavors are the Alt J.D. Conference (increasingly popular with younger lawyers), and Meet the Author (at which ABA Law Practice Division book authors speak for free about their areas of expertise).
Here are a few tips from Mazzone:
- Get out of the office and go meet with your members at their offices to get a feel for the areas where they need help.
- Hiring a new practice management advisor? Send them to ABA TechShow to meet and learn from other PMAs—there’s no better training, Mazzone believes.
- Don’t know where to start? Have one staff person look through legal tech news and pick the top five stories every week to feature in a new weekly opt-in e-newsletter.
- Customer service is key. Don’t make the member feel embarrassed for asking a question.
Now, make it your own
In applying some of these ideas at your bar, start with the question, “What problem are we solving?” Then think about how you can best provide help for that problem given your bar’s makeup (local, state, national) and resources. Choose one thing to do well and build from there, Reach and Mazzone suggested—and don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things.