- As we welcome the new year, use this as an opportunity to clean up your current tech stack and assess the features being used and not used.
Defined in the urban dictionary nary as “a mental, physical and emotional transformation for the better,” “glow up” originated from the common phrase “grow up,” implying a gradual evolution over time. It is now frequently used in the context of personal appearance to imply that a person glows brighter or shines due to a metamorphosis. This phrase has arguably gained cultural fame through the Netflix series bearing the same name, a British competition show where aspiring makeup artists seek to make a name for themselves in the beauty industry and show off their talents.
Let us take a moment to contemplate how we can apply these concepts to the practice of law. Have you ever sat in front of your computer ready to start the day, yet not quite sure which program to open first? Or by the end of the day, you find yourself buried in countless open windows on your computer and other mobile devices. The average law firm “tech stack,” or the combination of programs used to run a law firm, has arguably grown larger than necessary. Programs perform duplicative functions, and features are not used to their fullest extent. The pandemic exacerbated this problem, with firms quickly adding programs to accommodate remote work needs without first fully assessing their current capabilities. With inflation and the cost of living pushing budgets to the max, use this as an opportunity to grow into your technology and enhance the use of programs you already have.
The glow-up process requires taking certain steps before you reach your enhancement goals. First, make a list of the functions in each program in your current tech stack. Second, determine whether your current tech stack has features that are not being used. Third, are there any add-ons or integrations with other existing programs? Fourth, are you using duplicative features across different programs? Fifth, discuss with your team any bottlenecks or issues that can be solved by better utilizing features from certain programs, implementing add-ons or integrations, or discontinuing certain features or programs. Sixth, analyze your current programs to decide what to keep and how best to use those programs to meet your needs.
Below is an overview of programs commonly used by law firms, with suggestions for how to take advantage of features that attorneys often overlook.
The Microsoft 365 Business Standard plan is $12.50 per user per month on an annual subscription. It comes with the Office suite of programs, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote on up to five mobile devices and five tablets on Windows or Mac, and online via a web browser. Even if you are not using the Standard plan and do not plan to make the switch or upgrade, many of these programs are available in the Basic plan at $6 per user per month, and the Apps for Business plan at $8.25 per user per month, or as stand-alone products. Below are some of the available features in the Business Standard plan that many firms will find to be helpful practice management tools:
Scheduling. FindTime and Bookings are free add-ins for Outlook designed to make scheduling meetings easier. FindTime sends out a survey with a selection of dates and times from which to choose. Bookings requires you to create a separate calendar that integrates with your Outlook calendar and allows others to see your available time slots and choose which dates and times work best for them. Bookings also allows for creating template meeting options for reuse later.
File storage and sharing. OneDrive is a cloud file storage service, providing up to 1 TB of cloud storage per user. OneDrive is by default private, but you can choose to share links to files and folders with other people both inside and outside of your organization by adjusting your permission settings. You can securely send files to clients or other third parties for communication or collaboration, and they can edit or comment on documents even if they do not have Microsoft Office or a Microsoft 365 subscription. Real-time co-authoring lets multiple users work on the same document simultaneously. You can also request that someone upload a file by sending them a secure link.
Collaboration. Microsoft Teams is an amazing resource for hosting videoconferencing inside and outside your organization, and for internal collaborative work.
Videoconferencing. You can host up to 300 people in online audio and video meetings for up to 30 hours. Teams allows for screen and document sharing, interaction on whiteboards, breakout rooms, virtual backgrounds and unlimited chatting. Other features include the ability to create meeting action item lists in the chat during the meeting with due dates and trigger notifications. The recording is automatically emailed to all invitees afterwards.
Teams and channels. You can create teams within the application for more focused work on cases, projects or practice areas. Within the teams, you can create separate channels for specific clients or matters. You can continue to take advantage of the audio and video meeting features, collaborate in real time on documents, and chat with your colleagues in general or project-specific channels.
Task management. Microsoft To Do is a free application in the Microsoft 365 suite and is available as a stand-alone product, both as a desktop and a mobile application. It is best for personal task management and truly lives up to its name. You can add details and subtasks to each task, assign deadlines and create reminders. It also integrates with your Outlook Tasks for the management of tasks in fewer applications.
Project management. Microsoft Planner is a task management tool best suited for team projects. It is available as a browser-based application within Microsoft 365 using the Business or Enterprise plan. A new plan is created as a Kanban board, organized as vertical columns usually with tabs moved from left to right as the tasks are completed. Each board can have a checklist with the ability to prioritize and assign tasks; create deadlines; and add notes, comments and attachments.
Document automation. Many built-in automation tools in Microsoft Word and Outlook go unused. Use the Quick Parts Gallery in Word and Outlook to create, store and find reusable content for documents and emails. In Microsoft Word, Fields is another form of Quick Parts that uses codes to automatically update document information such as addresses, page numbers and dates.
Notetaking. Microsoft OneNote functions like a digital notebook that looks like a binder holding multiple notebooks. It allows you to create horizontal rows of sections at the top and then add additional pages and subpages within each vertical tab. If using a tablet, you can take free-form notes, as well as audio or video recordings that can later sync with your notes.
Firm intranet. Another application included in the Business Standard plan is SharePoint. The purpose of SharePoint is to create “intranets,” or internal company websites to connect colleagues and share information. An intranet becomes a secure location to share newsfeeds, collaborate on documents in shared libraries, create to-do lists and assign tasks to team members. You are provided up to 1 TB of cloud storage on the SharePoint hosted server, plus 10 GB per license.
Adobe Acrobat is an inclusive PDF tool with many overlooked features. The Standard version of Adobe Acrobat DC costs $12.99 per user per month with an annual subscription and allows you to convert PDFs to Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents and create fillable forms and password-protect documents.
Standard versus Pro. Standard is only for Windows users, while Pro is for Windows and Mac. The Pro version, at $19.99 per user per month with an annual subscription, allows you to redact, Bates stamp and turn scanned documents into instantly searchable and editable PDFs with fonts that match the original document.
Electronic signature. There is no need for a separate electronic signature application; both Adobe Acrobat Standard and Pro include Adobe Sign. This means you can collect signatures from others, sign agreements, scan and sign on the mobile app, track and manage agreements, add a business stamp, maintain audit trails and create reusable templates. It also integrates with Microsoft 365 as an add-on to send documents for signature through Outlook and allows you to track the status of the request.
Legal practice management (LPM) software is often underutilized by attorneys for purposes of storing contacts, conflict checking and simple matter management. Many of these programs contain features that attorneys do not know exist and are worth exploring and building into your firm procedures.
Client relationship management (CRM). This feature allows firms to track potential clients from leads to conversions and provides firms with the ability to determine their return on investment for their marketing campaigns and improve their intake functionality. Most LPM software has narrowed the focus to “lead management” rather than a full CRM program. These tools help to streamline the intake process by providing practice area-specific template intake forms, pushing the intake data into a new matter, and managing appointments and communications with potential clients.
Reporting. Some LPM software includes reporting functionality to pull and analyze firm data regarding various issues to better understand your firm’s efficiency and productivity (e.g., most profitable case types, highest income producers for the firm, etc.) and assess accounts receivables to adjust retainers and expenses.
Text messaging. LPM software has built-in text messaging or integrates with stand-alone products to allow you to text your clients directly from the application rather than your cellphone. The application records and attaches the message to the matter for file retention purposes.
Client portals. Client portals are incredibly helpful tools to maintain regular communication with your clients, exchange documents, and keep a centralized and easily accessible record of the communication attached to each matter.
Online payments. LPM software either has built-in online payment processing or integrates with a stand-alone payment processing program. Accepting payments online can ensure you are paid faster and reduce the time and money spent on collections. Programs built for use by law firms also often include safeguards to prevent trust account compliance violations.
Accounting. Some LPM software has built-in accounting features. Just be sure you understand what functionality is and is not included. Typically, LPM software that includes accounting functions only handles recordkeeping for standard operating accounts. If you need trust accounting features, additional records and a monthly three-way reconciliation are required for proper management of the trust account. You will need to understand the functionality available to determine if proper management of a trust account is possible, whether that is built in to the practice management program or through integration with a stand-alone accounting program.
As we welcome the new year, use this as an opportunity to clean up your current tech stack and assess the features being used and not used. Determine if there are duplicative features across different programs and whether there are add-ons or integrations with other existing programs. Afterwards, discuss with your team what to keep, and learn how to enhance your use of each program and feature so that you not only take full advantage of each program, but they are all interconnected to maximize your efficiency, organization and overall glow up.