During the New York Knicks’ seven-game winning streak back in February, point guard Jeremy Lin impressed me by how well he could make lightning-fast decisions on the fly based on a quickly changing situation.
Often solo attorneys have to make decisions based on a changing situation, but not nearly as fast as in a New York Knicks basketball game. A lawyer’s work happens at a much slower pace and can often be looked at as a collection of projects, with a number of people involved, different tasks that the lawyer has to get done for a particular matter, and numerous issues and deadlines.
Thank goodness you don’t have to do this all in your head like Jeremy Lin does; there are any number of tools that can help you. One of these tools is project management software, and there are even some project management software programs written specifically for lawyers.
You could buy a project management software product for hundreds of dollars, but then solo attorneys typically don’t have hundreds of dollars lying around to spend on such a product.
Or you could go to trello.com and find all of the features you will need to manage your clients’ work in a simple online product—for free. Trello is designed to be used by a team of people working on a project, but it also works amazingly well for one person keeping track of various aspects of a project or projects, such as a litigation matter, business acquisition, or most other client matters. And even as a solo lawyer, you might use Trello to work with others, as I suggest further along in this column.
How simple is the Trello software? It took me five minutes to learn how to use it without ever having to look at the online guide. There also is an instructional videotape on YouTube.com.
How It Works
For each project you create a board by clicking on “Boards” on the upper right-hand corner of your screen, clicking on “New Board,” and then naming your board. So if you have a litigation case Richard Reason v. Charles Chaos, you could name the board Reason v. Chaos.
Next you populate the board with lists. When a board is first created, there are the default lists of “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done.” But you can rename these lists and add more lists. Let’s work with the “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done” lists, plus a list called “Calendar/Deadlines” and another called “Research.”
The next thing that you’ll want to do is fill up your lists with tasks. You do this by creating cards, which are the heart of Trello. Cards are created by clicking on “Add card” under the list title. Each card represents one task. For example, you might fill out one card with “Draft answer to complaint” and put it under the “To Do” list. (See screen shots below of sample Trello Boards and Card.)
Cards have a compact mode when they are displayed on a list, and in this mode they show certain information—such as the text of the task and a deadline. When you click on a card, it opens up to display various options, such as:
- Set a due date for the task. A pop-up monthly calendar assists you in choosing a date.
- Create checklists within the task. As you check off each item from the checklist, a progress bar advances to show how much of the checklist you have completed.
- Attach a file such as a document, photograph, or video. For litigation, you might want to attach a memo or a court decision. This is helpful because Trello is an online product, and you might be working on your client matter from different locations, making it convenient to have attachments available wherever you are.
- Add a label. You have a choice of six labels, each a different color, onto which you can type identifying text. You might want to have one label for court appearances, another for witnesses, and another for depositions. That way you can do a search for cards with a certain label or labels on a board, such as all witness-labeled cards.
When you want to move a card from one list to another, you simply drag it over with your mouse. So, if you are ready to start drafting that complaint, you drag the complaint task card from the “To Do” list to the “Doing” list.
For our lists, we included “Calendar/Deadlines” and “Research.” Under “Calendar/Deadlines” you would put a card for each court appearance or other deadline. Within a calendar date card you could include a checklist of everything that you have to bring to court. On each card under “Research” you could put a description of an important issue with comments and can attach to the card the full text of one or more court decisions relevant to your case.
You can set up a board that is accessible by others, such as clients, if you want them to see the progress on their matter or by a paralegal who is working with you on a matter. You give people access by inviting them via e-mail to join. This permission is only for the specific board or boards that you choose.
Because Trello is web based, you can access it from any computer, whether PC, Mac, or otherwise, and also from most smartphones and tablets. This gives you the opportunity to access clients’ work flow from anywhere, allowing you to update and modify the data from wherever you are.
Trello Around the Office
Trello can be used to record time and expenses when you are away from the office. There are programs for smartphones that do this, but not everyone has the latest thing, so this will suffice until you do. Set up a “Time & Expenses” board and create a card for each client that you are currently billing.
If you are in an office with a receptionist, you can give the receptionist access to a message board on Trello. Then the receptionist can take messages on the board, with each card representing a message, and you can see the messages when you get to your desk, neatly typed out instead of hand scribbled. Because changes on a Trello board on one computer appear instantly on any other computer, this could be especially helpful if you are away from your office. If you are at home and have your message board up on your computer screen, you would see the phone message right away. Also, with this system you will have an archive of all of your messages, which is better than saving books of old message slips.
I have shown you just a few ways of using Trello in your law practice. But Trello is a very malleable product that you can shape in any way that suits you and is simple to use, accessible from anywhere, and free. In other words, it is a perfect tool for solo attorneys.
And if as you are using Trello you want to imagine that you are Jeremy Lin leading the New York Knicks on to victory, that’s okay, too.