May 01, 2018 TECHNOLOGY

TAPAs: Law Office Systems

Jeffrey Allen and Ashley Hallene

Image courtesy of unsplash.com

 

A bad system is the downfall of far too many lawyers, and there are a handful of systems you should already have in place if you are practicing. If you don’t have them in place already, stop what you are doing and get this worked out now. If you do have them in place, then take time to see if you are up-to-date on the technologies that can improve your system. These systems should be evaluated from time to time for effectiveness and efficiency.

Tip 1: Check your conflicts-checking system. Failing to identify and prevent conflicts of interest can bring on both ethical and malpractice complaints. No matter how sharp your legal mind is, your memory is not an acceptable conflicts-checking system. In the past, a conflicts-checking system was paper based, often utilizing index cards to alphabetically list clients and individuals associated with matters. Computer-based systems are substantially more efficient at checking, and we advise you to employ a digital checking system if you have not done so already.

Tip 2: Clear your calendaring system. More than just scheduling client meetings, a calendaring system’s primary role is tickling and docketing. Tickling is the systematic process where a lawyer regularly pulls and reviews or works on a file. Docketing deals with specific court deadlines and upcoming dates of importance. Your calendaring system should also take into account non-work-related events such as vacations, personal appointments, etc. This is another system that was paper based in the past but can (and should) be digital today. A good calendaring system will have:

  1. Easy accessibility for others (ideally, cloud-based systems)
  2. Daily backup
  3. Reminders that can be scheduled sufficiently in advance
  4. Easily adjustable entries.

You are ultimately responsible for the calendaring system, no matter if you delegate this task to someone else in your office. Make sure you keep this in mind as you are setting up your process.

Tip 3: Spend some time on your accounting and billing systems. Your accounting and billing systems are among the most important systems you will put in place in your office. Your accounting system includes your practice’s financial records; it needs to maintain accurate information for tax as well as regulatory purposes. If you have employees, your system should be set up to support accounting for them, including their payroll, taxes, benefits, etc.

Your billing system focuses on your clients. On some level, time is the product that lawyers are selling. Your billing system manages the inventory of that product. It should accurately document your time and allow you to generate bills in regular, timely intervals. It needs to have measures in place to protect against mistakes or fraud. Your system should allow you to manage your trust accounting, keeping funds that are the client’s separate from funds that are earned by the practice.

Tip 4: Straighten out your filing system. There is an art to filing, and its value often goes overlooked. As mentioned above, time is the product that lawyers are selling; how much of it are you wasting when you cannot find the documents or papers you need, when you need them? You owe it to your clients to have a consistent and effective system. Some key points for setting up your filing system:

  1. Separate administrative files from client/matter files.
  2. Establish a logical file numbering system. This can be alphabetical or numerical or a combination of the two.
  3. Filing should be kept up-to-date; you need to avoid letting it pile up. If you have important documents buried in a stack “to be filed” someday, then pulling a file to review will not help you. You will still waste time (yours and your client’s) if you are looking through a stack of papers searching for any matter-related documents before you can call or meet with your client. Ideally, your filing should be done daily.

Tip 5: Master your marketing system. All matters—and all attorney-client relationships—eventually end. If you are not routinely and effectively marketing your services to potential new clients, you will not maintain or grow your workload. An effective marketing system will generate quality leads. Having a plan in place minimizes the cost of acquiring these leads. Marketing systems include your digital presence (website, social media, blog contributions, etc.) and real-world networking and interactions, as well as your repeat business and client referrals.

 

A good system is a safety net for your law practice. Even if you have had one in place for years, it is worth the time to look it over regularly and check if there are improvements you can make. In the coming months we will revisit each of these systems with Technology and Practice Advice (TAPAs) for each.

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Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California, where he has practiced since 1973. He is active in the ABA (particularly in the GPSolo and Senior Lawyers Divisions), the California State Bar Association and the Alameda County Bar Association. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is Editor-in-Chief of GPSolo magazine and GPSolo eReport. He serves as an editor and the technology columnist for Experience Magazine and has served on the Board of Editors of the ABA Journal. He also serves on the ABA’s Standing Committee on Information Technology. Recently, he coauthored (with Ashley Hallene) Technology Solutions for Today's Lawyer and iPad for Lawyers: The Tools You Need at Your Fingertips. In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, he has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He teaches at California State University of the East Bay. He may be reached at jallenlawtek@aol.com.

 

Ashley Hallene is a petroleum landman at Alta Mesa Holdings, LP, and practices Oil and Gas law, Title Examination, Due Diligence, Acquisitions and Oil and Gas Leasing in Houston, Texas. She maintains a diverse solo practice on the side. Ashley is the coauthor of the technology overview Making Technology Work for You (A Guide for Solo and Small Firm Attorneys) along with attorney Jeffrey Allen. She has published articles on legal technology in GPSolo Magazine, GPSolo eReport, and the TechnoLawyer Newsletter. Ashley is an active member of the American Bar Association’s General Practice Solo & Small Firm Division, ABA’s Young Lawyers Division, the Texas Young Lawyers Association, the Houston Young Lawyers Association, and the Houston Association of Petroleum Landmen. She frequently speaks in technology CLEs and is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Technology and Reviews Department of the GPSolo eReport. She may be reached at ahallene@hallenelaw.com.