By Joan Feldman, Attorney At Work
What’s on your tech to-do list for next year? Maybe you’ve resolved to get more organized, go paperless once and for all, or move all of your practice systems to the cloud. Could be you’re dreaming of a new website — or a better laptop and new headphones would make you happy. What’s worthy of your technology investment next year?
We asked the practice management technology pros to recommend one good way for lawyers to upgrade their tech in 2018. Here’s wise advice from Heidi Alexander, Sheila Blackford, Joyce Brafford, Jared Correia, Tom Lambotte, Sharon Nelson and John Simek, and Lee Rosen.
(Tip: Consider Nehal Madhani’s advice on using “process mapping” to identify which areas of your legal workflow are ripe for automation — and where to invest in technology.)
HEIDI ALEXANDER: TAKING CARE OF YOU, FIRST
Quality client service is essential for a successful law practice. Indeed, elevating the needs of your clients will lead to more consistent collections, return clients and referrals. However, while there is no doubt that focusing on client service has its time and place, the only way you can provide real value and efficacy to clients is by putting yourself first.
Something accurate underlies that annoying recitation to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. The reality is that practice is stressful and if you ignore your own needs, you will burn out. If you are so busy that you can’t stop to take a breath, it’s time to take a step back from your practice and focus on you.
What does this have to do with upgrading your legal tech? Well, legal tech solutions are no longer a scarcity; you can find a product to suit any one of your practice needs. Most importantly, though, implementing a legal tech solution requires thoughtful research, vetting, planning, training and more — not to mention budgetary considerations. If you don’t have the mental bandwidth or proper mindset to adequately implement legal tech, it will lead to frustration, increased costs and ultimately failure.
So, before you dive headlong into system upgrades, work on first taking care of you. Schedule time for yourself every day, try exercising regularly, and learn about mindfulness. Test out mediation using an app such as Headspace or Calm, or just take a moment to breathe. (Try setting a timer or use Apple Watch’s Breathe app.)
If you can make these activities a habit, you’ll reduce stress and approach your practice with a clear head, thus enabling you to effectively implement whatever tech your practice needs in 2018.
Heidi S. Alexander (@heidialexander) is Deputy Director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, where she also leads the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program (LOMAP). She is the author of “Evernote as a Law Practice Tool” and serves on the ABA TECHSHOW Planning Board. In 2017, Heidi was appointed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s Standing Advisory Committee on Professionalism.
SHARON NELSON AND JOHN SIMEK: CONSIDER THE CLIENT PORTAL
If you don’t already have one, consider implementing a client portal. Client portals will help you solve all sorts of problems. Clients can access documents pertaining to their matters. They’ll know the status of their matter whenever they want to check on it. Clients will be able to “follow the money” and know how much the matter is costing, how much may be left in the retainer and even pay their invoice online if needed. Client communications is much improved as well. Client portals can allow document collaboration and even facilitate secure, encrypted communications.
The good news is that many case management platforms provide client portals as part of the offering. Having a client portal integrate with your practice management is an excellent way to improve the client experience (clients adore client portals) and make your practice much more efficient, profitable and attractive to prospective clients.
Sharon D. Nelson (@SharonNelsonEsq) and John W. Simek (@SenseiEnt) are the President and Vice President of Sensei Enterprises, Inc., a digital forensics, legal technology and information security firm based in Fairfax, Va. They have written several books, including “The Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guides” and “Encryption Made Simple for Lawyers.” Sharon blogs at Ride the Lightning and together they co-host of the Digital Detectives podcast.
JARED CORREIA: INTELLIGENT CLIENT INTAKE
It’s finally happening. The robot apocalypse is upon us — but, the robots are not what you thought they were. These are not walking, talking robots. These are intelligent machines, or software — and they’re not something you need to fear. In fact, if you embrace them, you’ll be another step ahead of your competitors. One place where law firms need to clean up their act is in terms of client intake. Lawyers generally waste time and money and lose business by using antiquated intake systems (read: the office-based telephone). But new options are coming down the pipe, including Gideon, an intelligent messaging system and data analytics tool built specifically for law firms.
Jared Correia (@JaredCorreia) is CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting, which offers subscription-based law firm business management consulting and technology services for solo and small law firms. A former practicing attorney, Jared is a popular presenter and regular contributor to legal publications (including his “Managing” column for Attorney at Work).
JOYCE BRAFFORD: EMBRACE SLACK
As an alternative channel for communication, Slack helps you be more responsive to conversations that really matter. It’s like a high-priority system for communication threads, tasks and calendars. Slack connects with many of the apps lawyers are already using, including Dropbox, Google Calendar, Box and Wunderlist. As a single platform to better communicate in the office and with clients, it’s a no-brainer.
Joyce Brafford (@Joyce_Brafford) is Distance Learning Manager for CLE at the North Carolina Bar Association.
LEE ROSEN: FOCUS ON BEST-OF-BREED APPS AND BRING THEM TOGETHER
Stop trying to find the magic bullet. There isn’t a single app that will properly manage your client information, track your time and billing, create your documents, control your calendar, and generate comprehensive management reports.
You’re asking for something that doesn’t exist and you wouldn’t really want it if it did. Software developers can be good at a bunch of things or great at one thing. Great always beats good, and you’re never going to be satisfied with the compromised software made by vendors trying to be all things to all lawyers.
Pick the best software for solving each of your specific problems. Then tie your best-of-breed applications together so that they share information. You won’t have to enter the same data twice, plus you’ll get applications built by specialists who completely understand your issues.
Pick the best document assembly system, integrate it with the best document management system. Tie both of those apps in with your client relationship management system and connect that to your time and billing product. Bring all that data together with your task management system and connect it to your phone system and your accounting application.
You’ll end up with the best software, minimal data entry, and solutions that keep you satisfied rather than always wishing for more.
Lee Rosen (@LeeRosen) grew his North Carolina family law practice and sold it. He travels full time while helping lawyers grow their practices. His blog at Rosen Institute is an ABA Blawg 100 Hall of Fame honoree. He is a recipient of the ABA James Keane Award for Excellence in eLawyering.
SHEILA BLACKFORD: LEVERAGE TECHNOLOGY TO REDUCE PRODUCTION TIME
Lawyers who are tech-savvy are taking this year-end time to evaluate their business processes to identify ways to leverage their production time. Clients are choosing efficient law firms that deliver high value at the most reasonable cost. This means upgrading to technology tools that can reduce production time, such as document automation and document assembly software Pathagorus, along with speech recognition software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Tools like this will help get the work done more efficiently.
Sheila M. Blackford (@SheilaBlackford) is an attorney and Practice Management Advisor for the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund. She is the author of the ABA book “Trust Accounting in One Hour For Lawyers,” co-author of “Paperless in One Hour for Lawyers,” and a past Editor-in-Chief of the ABA’s Law Practice magazine. She writes the Just Oregon Lawyers Blog.
TOM LAMBOTTE: SAFEGUARD YOUR DIGITAL CREDENTIALS
In 2018, something you need to do is find out if your digital credentials are for sale on the Dark Web. Digital credentials such as usernames and passwords connect you and your team to your critical business applications: case management software, banking, online file storage and much more. Unfortunately, criminals know this — and that’s why digital credentials are among the most valuable assets found on the Dark Web. Far too often, law firms that have had their credentials compromised and sold on the Dark Web don’t know it until they have been informed by law enforcement.
Dark Web ID, from ID Agent, will detect your compromised credentials in real-time on the Dark Web. It vigilantly searches the most secretive corners of the internet to find compromised credentials associated with your law firm and notifies you immediately when these critical assets are compromised before they are used for identity theft, data breaches or other crimes. Ask your IT provider if it offers this service.
Tom Lambotte (@LegalMacIT) is CEO of GlobalMacIT, a company specializing in providing IT support to Mac-based law firms. Tom is the author of “Hassle Free Mac IT Support for Law Firms” and “Legal Boost: Big Profits Through an IT Transformation.”