May/June 2021

Tech From the Trenches: Keep It Simple—Seriously!

Patrick M. Patino

2020 was difficult. Being an attorney was hard enough already. Wouldn’t it be nice if 2021 could bring some ease to your practice? Implementation of technology doesn’t have to involve complex overhauls of systems. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It can be simple, and I am being serious by sharing this sentiment with you. What follows are easy tech tools and tips that any lawyer can start using today to simplify their lives and bring ease to their practice.

Use “out of office” (even when you’re working).

In law school, I had a professor who encouraged us to never use our out of office when we started practicing as attorneys. After all, the belief was that clients consummately despise knowing that you’re on vaca­tion and may question your dedication to their case or matter. Contrary to that belief, I have found it very useful to signal to clients and opposing counsel that I am unavailable and will get back to them as soon as I am able. I’ve used this when prepar­ing for trial or when I have stepped away from working for the afternoon to celebrate my son’s birthday. I’ve learned that clients rely heavily on expectations. If they send you an email that goes unanswered for 24 hours, then they will almost certainly send a follow-up email along with at least one phone call. Better to come back to your desk with fewer emails and missed calls than more. The out of office lets them know that you are focused on another case or are out of the office for a personal reason. It clearly sets expectations that you are not always available. In an era of constant connection, it is a welcome reprieve. 

Use a calendar tool.

Nothing is more frustrating than the ping-pong of going back and forth via email to get something sched­uled. It is a huge waste of time and quite frankly annoying. I’ve had numerous situations where, by the time a person finally got back to me, the available time slots I had initially provided were filled up with other obligations. The life of an attorney is dynamic, meaning our calendars can fill up swiftly. Using a cal­endar tool like Calendly or Acuity can save you time and energy because there is no more back and forth. You send a link in an email, and the other person picks a day and time that works for them. If they need to reschedule, they can simply go back to the calendar tool and choose a different day and time. The system automatically keeps track of your availability so that nothing is double-booked. Getting that client meeting scheduled has never been easier.

Use text messaging to send a payment link.

If you are still receiving most of your retainers and invoice payments via check or cash, you’re doing it wrong. Using a web-based payment system like LawPay or Headnote makes accepting payments a breeze. During a remote consultation, I routinely text the potential client the payment link to pay my retainer or set fee. Save the link along with a short standard blurb to make sending the text seem natural and seamless. Instead of having them tell me their card information over the phone, I empower the potential client to do the work for me. This accomplishes two things. First, I don’t have to spend time chasing them down for the payment. Second, the money goes straight into my trust account. Most clients are comfortable making payments this way. Making money should be as simple as sending a text.

Use branded digital handouts.

In any practice, clients will need certain information pertaining to the case or matter you are handling for them. Choose the three most crucial steps of the process. For each, create a list of the top 10 bits of infor­mation the client needs to know to understand what is going on, to be able to assist with the legal process or to address the most commonly asked questions. The handouts shouldn’t be more than two pages long. Slap your firm’s logo on the handout and be ready to distribute to clients via email or secured portal during the course of representation.

Chances are you have the pertinent information for these handouts scattered among thousands of emails. You’ve already done the work countless times. Now take the time to consolidate it, and you will reap the benefits of not having to type up that same email you’ve sent hundreds of times from scratch any longer. All my clients receive a branded PDF handout at the onset of the case that sets forth what they can expect from me and what I am going to expect of them at various stages of rep­resentation. Instead of parsing through all my emails, I can go back and reference that one email where I sent the handout. It’s a great way to have a consistent easy-to-find touch point for each case. Creating and disseminating digital handouts costs nothing because all of us currently have some kind of word processing software that allows you to save as or print to PDF.

Use a scanning app.

Your smartphone is probably more pow­erful than your computer, and you can easily take it anywhere. Adobe Scan and Scannable are two free apps that I use reg­ularly in my practice when I am on the go. When the client brings you that document you’ve been hounding them about to court, you can bust out your smartphone and quickly scan it. You have some options from there. My favorite is to email it to my paralegal for processing and to take immediate action if necessary. There is no lag time for support staff having to wait for you to return from court to complete the work associated with the document. By the time you are back from court, the work could be done. That is technological efficiency at its finest. If it is a document that does not require immediate action, I save it to Google Drive to be referenced later. I have the peace of mind knowing that the physical document is safely stored in the cloud. The client can also see that I’ve taken immedi­ate action, which instills confidence in the client that you take things seriously.

The way in which we work has changed and shifted over the last year in big, often stressful ways, but now is the time to look forward, to bring some ease to your life and practice. Here’s to setting the intention that technology can simplify your life in small yet meaningful ways.

Patrick M. Patino

Owner

Patrick M. Patino owns and operates Patino Law Office, a boutique bankruptcy firm located in Omaha, Nebraska. He provides Chapter 7, 11, 12 and 13 bankruptcy services for both consumer and business debtors and creditors and has a passion for technology, law practice management and change management. patrick@omahaBKlaw.com

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