In my last installment about getting your year off right, I mentioned tech in passing. Yes. Tech. Do not be afraid of tech. Some of the attorneys I work with are the younger, tech savvy types, excited about using all the great tools in cloud based computing; but others are among the paper preferring group that lets their assistant or paralegal take care of all that. It can be hard to find a middle ground to keep both groups interested.
You are ethically required to maintain technological competence
Regardless of where you fall — and that includes somewhere in the middle — you cannot ignore the influence of technology in your practice today. As of this writing, 34 states have added the technological competence rule to their ABA Model Rules. This means you are ethically required to take technology into consideration, even if that means paying someone else to handle that technology. What you cannot do, is ignore it and hope for the best.
While organizations such as My Case talk about 8 key technologies, I want to talk about 3. I’m skipping right on over such things as Office Suite, Adobe for creating and manipulating pdfs, and document assembly software. At the very least, the first two are mostly likely things you already use whether you are aware of them as key technology or not, because like smartphones, laptops, internet, and electronic filings/transactions, these are all the foundations of merely functioning in the modern world.
I want to focus on areas where technology is critical to your practice but which you may consider more advanced or more scary. I’m referring to tech tools that are legal practice oriented, tools that make you more efficient, more responsive, and work more powerfully for your clients. Tools that, in short, make you technologically competent.
Document Management Systems (DMS)
A Document Management System generally consists of software suites that help organize your files. These files should include your policies and procedures manual, your templates, and client files — including contracts, accounting documents, and documents. Keeping all these documents in one place keeps your practice organized and efficient. It allows you to easily share materials with your client, makes it easier to find what you need quickly, and gives you a look into the life cycle of a client. A DMS also allows you to organize discovery or any documents collected relevant to a matter easily. You can easily create copies, manipulate the documents, send them to where they need to go, all electronically.
Sharepoint, Dropbox, Netdocs, OneNote and Google Drive are examples of a DMS, so when deciding on a DMS, consider the technology you already have at your disposal. These are also often considered as part of the “office suite” package but are so grossly underutilized that they bear noting independently. OneNote, for example, is part of Microsoft Office Suite. It allows you to save emails, documents, and notes in one place, and allows for collaboration and document sharing. Google Drive is something probably everyone is familiar with and comes free with a Google account. Both store in the cloud and thus can be accessed from anywhere.
Case and Client Management Software, or Practice Management Systems (CMS/PMS)
Ready for the good news? DMS is often part of Practice Management Systems. Software such as Clio, Rocket Matter, Smokeball, Thomson Reuters, and the like are all good examples. These systems create onboarding guidance, link to accounting, create client and case files, and often include time and billing software. Some even include docketing systems and can automatically calculate due dates. They assist with running client conflicts, and create document templates based on the data entered. As always, a system is only as good as the data entered, but concentrating it in one place certainly allows increased efficiency and improved responsiveness for your clients, not mention the benefit for risk management.
The real question is which system
Some attorneys are ahead of the game and already have these systems. For those that don’t, it’s not whether you should have a practice management system, but which one. More and more clients are a part of the electronic world and they expect you to be as well. Ignoring this is poor business practice. It’s not just being available via email, clients expect to be able to pay their bills online, share documents electronically, and generally function in a digital world. If you can’t do it, you’ll lose a client at best, and be in violation of the technical competence rule at worst.
Do You Struggle With Technology?
If you are an attorney who happens to be overwhelmed by these questions, you do still have options. Your staff can be well versed in tech. You can outsource the search and work with legal technology firms that specialize in ferreting the best solutions for your needs and getting them implemented. And as a solo or small practice, this may well be the best place where you can step up your game. Maybe you don’t know which system to use, maybe you don’t have the budget for full time staff. This is where the virtual world, and the technology associated with it, is your golden ticket.
Virtual Talent can provide you with the added tech clout you need. A virtual receptionist can do client intake in your system. If you don’t have a system, they can help you pick one based on what they interface with; a virtual assistant can help you with document management; a virtual paralegal with all the electronic production, case management, and digital transacions; and a virtual lawyer can take on some of that work you’ve put on the back burner while you work on another priority.
A Few Points on Concerns
I consistently hear the same concerns about technology from those hesitant to use it, and while I will go more in depth on these later in February, I would be remiss if I failed to at least mention them.
No technology is perfect, it’s always evolving as the user needs change and gaps are identified. This is not only normal, it’s best practice, and it is no different than what happens in the practice of law. Changes in technology must not stop you from implementing systems that suit the majority of your needs now.
It’s important to consider security as well. Syncing your Google account across devices does mean that if one device is compromised, they all may be, so good security habits are important. They’re so important, in fact, that I’ll be talking about them in a post later this spring as well. For now, it’s important to make your passwords reflect a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 64 characters; do not share passwords or leave them lying about (by which I mean, don’t leave them available for people to see because you can’t remember them); be cautious of phishing scams, always check the sender details and, if you think it may not be legitimate NEVER click on a link inside the email. I make a habit of only opening links I’m expecting and only from people I know. ALWAYS log in separately and/or call to confirm if something arrives outside those parameters. If it’s not legitimate, report the email as a phishing scam. Finally, always keep your firewall and antivirus software up to date. ALWAYS.
When it comes down to it, technology is not a thing to be feared. Technology is meant to serve you. Make it do so.
Alison Pacuska is the president of Pacuska Professional Services, a boutique consulting firm focused on top-tier legal assistant services with a focus in Intellectual Property and Solo Practitioners.