Will you be starting a law practice this year? Wondering what legal technology platforms you should invest in for optimizing your practice? I’ve been in your shoes. I started a practice with my partner a few years ago, after graduating from law school in 2009. While you might be inclined to add piecemeal tech functionality as you go, there are a few must-have platforms and programs that I would absolutely recommend, many of which simply weren’t in existence even a few years ago.
But before I get into the specifics, let’s start with the why—why technology isn’t the enemy of lawyers. In fact, if you look closely across the legal industry, you might find that the most successful lawyers are early adopters of technology.
The Why Before the What
Believe it or not, technology and personalized legal services can (and, I’d argue, should) peacefully co-exist. That’s because law firm clients are becoming more and more tech savvy as technology infiltrates our everyday lives in multiple ways. Law firms can leverage new and existing technology to connect with clients in a highly personalized way, stay abreast of the changing regulatory landscape, network with other lawyers, and instantly update legal forms and documents. In addition, current computer platforms and systems allow today’s lawyers to improve operational efficiency in a way that wasn’t previously available for solos and small firms. That often leaves more time for direct interaction with clients.
Many small, independent or sole proprietor law firms are finding themselves competing against large online law outlets, which are easy for individuals to access. Lawyers used to be the legal gatekeepers, but these sites provide an array of do-it-yourself legal services, contracts and filings. That can be enough for some individuals, and many have come to expect to do certain, more minor legal tasks online. But the truth is that no matter how grand technology is, it simply cannot replace the tailored guidance and experience-based counsel that live lawyers can offer.
For 2016, lawyers must make it a goal to find ways of differentiating their practice from others as well as from online legal services companies. That means encapsulating your services and core strengths. Then lawyers, taken as a whole profession, can adapt to the new online world that clients now live in.
Collaboration is Key in Our High Tech World
Collaboration can become more important than ever in a high technology world. For example, where a client seeks to quickly draft a trust document and asks if they can do this online, the lawyer can intervene and ask questions like, “What are your goals for the trust?”, “What do you want to accomplish?” Therein begins the dialogue with the client that can showcase the lawyer’s true value. The power of technology has actually helped transform the role of lawyer into a fully trusted and respected adviser and legal partner, not just a legal document paper-pusher.
The biggest marketing source for lawyers is often their existing base of clients. When you spend quality time with your clients, can answer their pressing questions, and can address their needs quickly and accurately, word of mouth recommendations to their friends and family members can rapidly grow your business.
Collaboration also extends to lawyers networking with other lawyers. You may be in practice for yourself, but you’re never really by yourself. There are many other lawyers just like you who are eager to share their knowledge and experience. Today’s technology makes them very accessible, so don’t be afraid to reach out. Today’s modern attorney can no longer rely solely on self-study. Just as it can take a village to raise a child, it often takes the collective law knowledge of a network to advise as to what’s new, what’s changed, and what to watch for. All of this, of course, is done for the benefit of the client.
Knowing why and how to piece together various technologies will allow your firm’s operations to be more efficient, more effective, free up time for the most important tasks including client relations, and add value to your practice. What’s more, by leveraging the right technology to assist you, you can make the time spent more profitable.
Securing and Deploying Technology
In my opinion, the most important thing to consider is deploying legal technology that can scale up as your law practice grows. There is nothing more frustrating than coming to love a software program that outlives its usefulness within a short period of time. Look for systems and processes that may appear to be a bit too big for your firm to grow into; they won’t be. Then, once you’ve found a great technology, embrace it and make it your own with the specific functionality you need for your particular practice.
Here are my recommendations for programs/technology to choose:
- A comprehensive practice management system: There are several you can choose from, depending on your firm’s needs. Ask other lawyers you trust what system they use, how long they have used it, and why they like it. Also ask what most frustrates them about that system.
- A website built with an interactive client portal: Static websites are a thing of the past. Today’s modern service firms, including law firms, should offer a designated client portal into which clients can enter and interact with your firm. Perhaps they have a legal concern at two o’clock in the morning, or have a question they want to pose after your office has closed. In today’s 24/7/365 world, a client portal offers secure, instant (and round-the-clock) access to you firm, even if you’re not there at that moment.
- A system that allows you to clearly define the client processes: A program that allows you to define many of the processes of how your law firm works with clients can be a valuable tool for those who work in your office (full-time, part-time, ad hoc). Every firm has its individualized style as to how it prefers to operate, and yours should deploy a system that best represents yours. Be sure to include very specific instructions, as that will make life easier for your staff.
- A document drafting system: Standard legal documents that are regularly used with clients can live anywhere including in a cloud-based software library. It should offer templates for a wide variety of documents. Such templates, however, must be automatically updated when rules and laws change so that they are always current when you need to pluck them and tailor them for a client’s situation.
- Video conferencing software: Explore the many options for utilizing an online videoconference solution. Adding a capability that, for example, allows you to video-conference live with your client in Los Angeles, while you are in New York, is just a smart use of technology to drive efficiencies. This does not mean you are running a “virtual” law firm. Instead it solves the challenge of having to meet with both spouses simultaneously to discuss certain matters, or having to fly across the country to meet with the trustee of an estate. Are you, or your clients, short on time? Who isn’t? Videoconferencing allows for a brief lunchtime chat without either of you leaving your office. These can be easily recorded for permanent retention.
As you start your new law practice, don’t skimp on those technologies which will become your go-to systems to drive revenue, free up your time, and make your clients love working with you.