chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
November 01, 2022

Tech From The Trenches: Tech Tips from Practice Management Leaders

Roberta Tepper and Laura L. Keeler
These practical tips can help to make your days and your practice run more smoothly.

These practical tips can help to make your days and your practice run more smoothly.

Microsoft / ABA Illustration

For this issue, we decided to offer tips from connoisseurs of and leaders in the world of law practice management. We turned to our colleagues who lead in innovation and adoption of technology from behind the scenes. Though titles may vary (e.g., practice management counsel, director of practice management assistance program), this type of professional is best known in the industry as a practice management advisor (PMA). Most typically found on staff at your state and local bar associations, PMAs also sometimes serve lawyers through national associations (such as the American Immigration Lawyers Association), select state lawyer assistance programs and, for our readers in Canada, some provinces’ law societies.

By providing advice on all aspects of practice management including technology, PMAs have led hundreds of thousands of lawyers to successfully adopt technology and to leverage its power to create new modes of practice and new efficiencies and to move the practice of law forward.

The advice given by PMAs is independent and almost always brand-agnostic. By this we mean that the PMA’s goal is not selling lawyers any specific product, service or line of products, but to lead them to technology and solutions that will respond to the lawyer’s or law firm’s needs and pain points. Advice from PMAs usually includes several options for the lawyer to explore. If you have a specific need, or if you are not using your existing technology as fully as you might, a PMA’s advice may also include some practical hacks or tips.

Rather than focusing on any specific type of products, we went to our peers and asked them for tips that the lawyers they serve have found particularly helpful.

To Do: A Microsoft Ecosystem Hub

Thanks to Catherine Sanders Reach, director of the Center for Practice Management at the North Carolina Bar Association, for this first tip. If you subscribe to Microsoft 365 Business Standard, Premium or another business subscription, you get a product called Microsoft To Do, formerly Wunderlist. Microsoft has made this product the hub for everything on your list of things to do by letting you not only add new tasks but also corral tasks from across the Microsoft 365 suite of products.

If you flag an email for follow-up, it appears in To Do. Create a task in OneNote? It appears in To Do. Did someone assign a task for you in Planner? Yes, it appears in To Do. Want to remind yourself to follow up on a message in a Teams chat? Click on the ellipses over the message and click “more,” then add it to To Do. Don’t ignore those Viva Insights daily emails—they remind you of what you said you would do and what you asked others to do—and, of course, you can add those to your To Do list.

You can add emails from the Outlook app for iPhone and Android to your To Do, too! To see all the To Do tasks in the application, go to All in the
To Do app/software. You can open a task from the list, and if the tasks originate from another app like Outlook or Planner or Teams chat, you can open the application to get more context. With To Do you can also create simple task lists with groupings and duplicate them to make a template. You can assign tasks to others in the firm from Lists. To get the full benefit of To Do, get the app for your smartphone and use the hosted Exchange that comes with the Microsoft 365 business subscription. To Do can help you track tasks from every application with ease!

By fully utilizing this tool, you can relieve items from your mental list, and transfer your paper to-do lists, onto the far more efficient Microsoft To Do tool. That’s a win both for time and stress management.

All PDFs Are Not Equal

Jim Calloway, director of the Management Assistance Program at the Oklahoma Bar Association, points out that there is a difference between saving something to PDF versus printing as PDF. That distinction between “save as PDF” or “print to PDF” is not colloquial; the choice creates significant differences in the way the file looks and behaves.

Saving as PDF preserves the functionality of the original. This choice will also carry metadata over from the original, so be aware of that. By contrast, print to PDF will create the digital equivalent of a printed page—it will look like the PDF, but if you wouldn’t be able to do something on a page printed on paper, it won’t work in a printed to PDF version. For example, if you print to PDF, you may lose the functionality of hyperlinks. By essentially printing digital paper, the look is the same, but you can’t click on what appears to be a link and have it open. On the bright side, though, others won’t be able to view the metadata from a PDF reader.

As with all things, the devil is in the details. The takeaway is that there are important differences in what you choose when creating a PDF. Neither is better or worse per se, but be sure you know which options you are choosing, or which you are declining.

Outlook Shortcuts

Thanks to Rachel Edwards, practice management attorney at the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund, for this pointer focusing on Outlook. Attorneys use their email inbox as one of the central repositories not only for communication but as a main factor in determining their daily activities. Unfortunately, your inbox may sometimes feel like a black hole from which you cannot escape. Utilize available shortcuts in Outlook to assist with creation of calendar entries or tasks to keep you on track by dragging and dropping emails from your inbox to the calendar icon to create an event, or to the task list icon to create a task. The event or task will automatically be titled with the subject line of the email, and the body of the email will populate the notes for reference. The email also remains in your inbox for

filing purposes. Regain control over your time by using emails in a more strategic way.

While you are exploring options in Outlook you may not have previously used, we would add that if you aren’t using the Rules in Outlook to organize the flow of email, you are surely missing a great tool. Rules—if you haven’t used this functionality—lets you automate many email functions. For instance, Rules lets you automatically route incoming emails to specific email folders, forward or copy emails from a specific source to someone else (think emails from the court with minute entries or calendaring orders), or move emails to another folder and more. The Rules Wizard makes creating new rules easy. Give it a try.

More Office Tips

Here are a couple of more hacks that the lawyers we assist have particularly enjoyed. Have you used Read Aloud in Microsoft Word? Are you the worst proofreader in the history of proofreading? Do you routinely overlook typos or incorrect words because you know what should be there? Use the Read Aloud function to not only read what you’ve written but to hear it read.

If you are working in PowerPoint, you can rehearse with Speaker Coach for real-time, on-screen guidance, as well as a Rehearsal Report. This guidance evaluates your pacing (both the overall length of your practiced speech and the words per minute), pitch, and use of filler words and informal speech. It also catches when you’re reading too much off the text on the slide. Each Rehearsal Report includes statistics and suggestions for improvement. To find this feature, open your presentation in PowerPoint for the web. On the Slide Show tab (or View tab), select Rehearse with Coach.

There you go—some practical tips and insights from practice management leaders, the folks who are in the trenches with you, helping to make your days and your practice run more smoothly.

Roberta Tepper

Chief Member Services Officer, State Bar of Arizona

Roberta Tepper is the chief member services officer at the State Bar of Arizona, where she supervises all aspects of member services including practice management, continuing legal education and more. She serves on the Law Practice Division Council and on Law Practice’s editorial board as features editor. [email protected]

Laura L. Keeler

Law Practice Advisor, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers

Laura L. Keeler serves as a law practice advisor for Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, through its Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program (LCL | Mass LOMAP). She enjoys exploring innovation and evolution in law practice management and technology, a passion fueled by ABA TECHSHOW. [email protected]

The material in all ABA publications is copyrighted and may be reprinted by permission only. Request reprint permission here.