My co-author for this series is Billie Tarascio, owner of Modern Law, a family law firm serving the greater Phoenix area, and Access Legal, a legal technology company that provides cloud based legal document automation for law firms and the public. She uses technology within her firm to automate processes and increase profitability while driving down costs for consumers. She is a frequent speaker on law firm practice management and alternative billing, including the use of technology and limited scope legal services. She lives with her husband and their three boys in Mesa, Arizona.
In our last two installments, we discussed technology and the unethical practice of law, and examined some of the ethical hurdles and fee challenges associated with legal technology use. Here, we’ll discuss how lawyers can actually leverage legal technology.
Implementation within Firms
Technology implementation within law firms is not really optional with the newest model ethical obligations stating that competent attorneys must be reasonably informed regarding relevant technology. In order to be competent, lawyers must keep abreast of the changes in law and the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.
Lawyers have been using technology to one degree or another for decades. They just haven’t realized it. After all, IT firewalls and email systems aren’t the most alluring or involved. Practice management and document automation software, on the other hand, can save clients’ money while increasing law firms’ profitability. Time management and billing software help attorneys collect information and efficiently bill and communicate with clients.
Secure client portals within practice management software allow for secure communications like email, document uploading, and sharing with collaborators both inside and outside the firm. And that’s possible thanks to the cloud, which is web-based data storage. Thanks to cloud computing, clients and attorneys alike can easily access legal tech solutions anywhere, anytime. Cloud-based document automation software, like Access Legal or Traklight, allow clients to fill out an online questionnaire, which saves the information and populates documents.
From an attorney point of view, one of the biggest challenges of moving to the cloud is that there are so many different solutions to suit their practice. Practically speaking, you could end up with multiple systems all handling different aspects of your business, including client interactions. To ensure all of these systems communicate, many legal tech software systems are integrating. For example, Clio, the practice management solution, has come out with integrations for various partners, including Traklight. Weaving these solutions together allows clients and lawyers to use multiple platforms seamlessly.
Malpractice Insurance Benefits
Using technology to interview clients, gather information for documents, or review documents decreases the risk of errors or omissions. Several malpractice insurance companies offer discounts to firms that use legal technology.
Strategic Alliances with Tech Companies or Non-Lawyers
People are looking for legal information online. Software providers like LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer, or Upcounsel provide consumers with legal information, resources, and documents. As lawyers, we know that information online may not be enough to solve a person’s legal problem. They still need lawyers. A lawyer’s education, experience, and training are essential to the outcome of many cases. Lawyers are left with a decision to make: compete with legal tech companies or strategically align with them. By working with tech companies, customers of the tech companies and potential clients of lawyers both receive a more complete and comprehensive solution than by relying solely on one or the other.
Because they better understand their legal needs, clients can reduce their overall budget and use lawyers more efficiently. Meanwhile, lawyers can tap into a larger market of potential clients who may have never found the lawyer without the legal tech company facilitating the exchange. Think back to the four out of five Americans not using a lawyer to solve their issues.
Education and Inbound Marketing
As discussed in our first article, lawyers have fallen prey to the idea that tons of eager clients will beat a path to their door when they set up their practices. Lawyer advertising works for some issues, like DUI charges and divorce, when the need or demand is known. But what about those people who do not understand their rights or legal needs?
The inbound marketing movement suggests leading with education rather than advertising, and this is where lawyers can learn from some of the successful technology companies. Produce great content in your area of expertise and volunteer to present or create webinars. Provide the content for free of charge—or maybe in exchange for an email address—and embrace the opportunity to establish yourself as a legal expert.
Commoditization or Flat Fees Model
Time to discuss the dreaded billable hour, legal outsourcing, and commoditization of legal services. Legal tech companies facilitate the commoditization of legal services by selling a defined product. LegalZoom sells business documents and the ability to secure a trademark. Traklight sells the ability to identify your business risk and legal matters, while tracking your intellectual property. Access Legal sells documents and legal document preparation services specific to Arizona family law. Avvo and LawDingo provide consultations for a fixed amount and time period. Each of these providers has taken a portion of “legal services” and distilled it into a commodity. These companies sell the commodity for a flat fee—rather than billing an hourly rate in 10-minute increments. This is yet another reason why consumers are drawn to online legal services.
As we mentioned previously, we are in an era of sharing, crowdsourcing, and collaborating online. Lawyers who resist will be left behind.