YourABA March 2013 Masthead

Software tools help lawyers generate more business, happier clients

A panel during the 2013 Midyear Meeting in Dallas, “Utilizing Technology to Avoid Malpractice and Generate Business,” instructed on how lawyers can use technology to prevent missteps, and provide efficiencies and opportunities where lawyers most need them throughout the client cycle. The program was sponsored by the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.

The most common reasons for malpractice, as panelist Chelsey Lambert explained, are the following: delay or neglect, misrepresentation, mishandling of money, conflicts of interest and fee disputes. And the underlying themes of those issues revolve around communication lapses and lack of processes or organization. Software that automatically generates communications to clients during a representation allows a lawyer to proactively answer client questions and leads to a rapport with a client. As panelist Tiffany Denlinger said, clients are more likely to say, “Yeah, my lawyer gets it,” when the client hears early and often from her lawyer and has her questions answered before she has to ask them.

The session provided tips to improve communications and organizational processes throughout the client cycle, which consists of interest, qualification, commitment, delivery and completion. Outside consultants can often help a firm answer the question, as panelists put it, of “Where does it hurt?” That is, where are the areas for improving efficiencies within your office?

The “interest” point in the client cycle is basically the marketing phase. It’s how lawyers attract potential clients, whether it be via online traffic or through a storefront window. Questions to consider in this area include “Are you receiving enough [interest]?” and “Where do a majority of clients first meet you?” Answering these questions will help a firm optimize its marketing dollars. A highly targeted social media strategy is one means through which technology can help.

A firm can use technology to track where business leads come from, and its return on investment, pointed out Denlinger, and this helps determine where you should spend your time in terms of marketing and also what type of client to serve. Constant Contact, Total Attorneys and the use of email templates can help a lawyer harness technology.

The intake, fee quotes and determination of conflicts of interest are part of the “qualification” phase. “Where and when does this take place?” and “Are most of your quotes and pricing the same?” are two questions whose answers can improve efficiencies. Sending out an “Amber Alert” when a firm needs to find a paper file, for example, is hugely inefficient, panelists pointed out. Hot Docs, Pro Doc and TheFormTool are three tools that can help with the qualification tasks.

The “commitment” segment of the client cycle includes the retainer agreement, deposit and payment plan. “How long is it after a client says ‘yes’ before you are properly retained and charged?” “How many touch points are required before you can start [your work on behalf of that client]?” were questions raised for consideration by lawyers. An electronic link in an email can make the process of accepting a quote and hiring a firm painless and quick. Contrast this to mailing documents, waiting for a prospective client to review, sign them and get them back in the mail to you. Credit card and automated check processing, and automated payment plans are also systems to consider.

Answering the questions “Does each case follow the same steps?” and “Do you use a document template for cases that are similar?” during the “delivery” phase of work for a client — at which time a lawyer is collecting documents, drafting, editing and filing required paperwork — can lead to scalability. Panelist Kevin Chern strongly recommended integrated software for organization, saying that disparate technologies can increase the risk of malpractice. Clio, ProLaw and Dialawg were mentioned by the speakers as possible software solutions.

The final invoice and closure of a case during the “completion” phase provides an opportunity for the lawyer to “strike while the iron is hot” to get referrals or feedback. Easy-to-click links in electronic communications are an easy tool to get that feedback or referral from your clients. Aweber, along with the earlier mentioned Constant Contact and Total Attorneys, were suggestions from the panelists.

In summation, technology can benefit lawyers by allowing them to communicate with their clients quickly and frequently; establish easy processes for both lawyer and client; and provide reminders, alerts and notification of deadlines that can keep lawyer and client on track.

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