Technology Resolutions for 2019

The end of the year is the time for New Year’s resolutions for many of us. How successful are you with your resolutions? We thought so. One reason for not completing your resolutions is that they are too general (“lose weight”). What if you tried to make some of your resolutions more specific by focusing on a single topic? In this roundtable, our experts weigh in on the idea of setting technology resolutions for 2019.

Our Panelists

Dennis Kennedy (DK), John Loughnane (JL), Gyi Tsakalakis (GT), Allison Shields (AS), and Alexander Paykin (AP).

Have you tried the idea of setting New Year’s technology resolutions? Why or why not?

DK: Yes. In fact, Tom Mighell and I have been publicly revealing our tech resolutions on our podcast for the last several years. Going through the exercise has been very useful to me. It gives me a structure to think practically about my own use of technology and, by going public, makes me feel accountable. My success rate has been good, but not perfect, and I’ve noticed that some of the original resolutions might evolve or change during the year, which is not a bad thing.

JL: Not previously. For me (and I suspect many others), New Year’s resolutions have not proven to be an effective means of implementing sustained change.

GT: If by “New Year’s technology resolutions,” you mean “an annual assessment of our technology,” then yes! Every year we review what we currently have, how well it’s working (or being used), and whether there’s something better available.

AS: I am not the biggest fan of New Year’s resolutions in general, preferring to set specific goals with concrete plans of action instead (I seem to get more accomplished that way). I have set technology goals in the past and have been successful at reaching some and not so successful at others. I do have some technology goals on my list for this year.

AP: Absolutely. Every new year is an opportunity for improvement. The trick is to implement the resolutions for New Years and not just make them—make them well in advance. Make Thanksgiving resolutions, then spend December figuring out how implementation would work, then on 1/1, flip the switch.

What themes or specific areas do you target or would you like to target with tech resolutions?

DK: I’ve been using a three-part approach. First, is there a technology pain point that I’d like to alleviate or remove? Second, is there a new technology, a new skill, or a more advanced use of a technology that I’d like to learn? Third, is there something I can do to advance my career, accomplish more with technology, improve processes, or enhance client service?

JL: In lieu of “tech resolutions” I would advocate for “tech commitment” focused on three things: ethics, education, and evolution.

GT: The most recurrent theme is resolving to resist shiny object syndrome. There’s usually a ton of new shiny stuff to try every year. The trick is figuring out what actually delivers something better.

AS: My tech goals have centered on either learning to use technology I already have better, more efficiently, or more consistently; implementing new technology to help improve my practice or the delivery of services to my clients; learning about new technology in the legal space, and turning off technology or reminding myself to use non-tech tools sometimes to reduce information overload.

AP: Major changes. You can upgrade to the new printer anytime. New Year’s should be for big things. Like as of 1/1, we will not use paper files for any new incoming matters. Or as of 1/1, we are switching to a cloud-based practice management system.

What 2019 tech resolutions would you like to share with our readers?

DK: These might change before I finalize them, but here’s my tentative list. First, automate standard tasks and routines by using tools like TextExpander and scripting. Second, I want to dive deeply into idea creation, capture, and management tools. Third, I want to experiment with a niche social media/networking tool called MightyNetworks to try to do some online community creation.

JL: Because the model rules of professional conduct include the requirement of technical competency, I would share a reminder about the fundamental ethical imperative of keeping informed of various technology and associated benefits and risks.

GT: Resolve to avoid shiny objects. Resolve to set S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals through which to measure the value of technology. Resolve to implement technology to measure your client development investments from start to finish.

AS: My main technology goals for 2019 include continuing to learn about new technology and how it affects my clients and their practices (including more about AI, blockchain, and cybersecurity) and implementing some new technology in my consulting practice, specifically webinar or course creation technologies to deliver online presentations or courses.

AP: A few from prior years: 1) Create all new matters in the practice management system and digitize five old (but active) files per week until all are in the PDS. Then, repeat with closed matters until all files are digital. Then, get rid of filing cabinets. 2) Put all files in the cloud and no longer save things to the PC’s local hard drive—ever. 3) Implement a scan on arrival mail policy. 4) Log all digital stamps and maintain an electronic mail log. 5) Invoice all clients electronically. This year’s upcoming resolution: Completely automate the engagement letter process and stop hand-finalizing engagement letter templates.

What are your strategies for achieving your tech resolutions?

DK: I put my resolutions into my task manager, Omnifocus, so they appear to me on a regular basis and I am reminded of them. I also break resolutions down into component tasks so my actual work to move the resolution forward is simpler and more doable. Making them public also helps me stay motivated. The S.M.A.R.T. approach to goal setting can also be very helpful.

JL: Becoming or staying technologically competent can be achieved through many means including joining relevant bar association groups, reading topical articles, and listening to a myriad of podcasts. Clients in all industries are affected by the accelerating pace of technological change—so speaking with clients about their evolving technology challenges is an effective means of staying current on challenges and opportunities.

GT: Set goals. Create a plan to implement. Implement. Measure your implementation against your goals. Rinse and repeat every quarter.

AS: As I mentioned above, I think resolutions are too vague for me—I like to set specific goals and then create a plan to reach those goals by breaking the goals down into smaller, more achievable chunks, and then set deadlines for completing those smaller goals or tasks. For example, if I want to learn more about AI and blockchain in 2019, my first step would probably be to find some resources—books, podcasts, articles, etc. and then set aside time to consume that content. I might even make a plan to write an article or blog post about one or more of these topics since that will force me to have to learn about it.

AP: I am moving the Word versions of my engagement letter far far away and integrating the engagement letter template as an automated document form in my practice management system. To avoid temptation and remind myself to do it electronically, I am leaving a file that looks just like the engagement letter Word file in the original directory, but even though I set it to have Word icon when I click on it, it’s actually a link to my PDS URL. That way the muscle memory and habit of going into that directory will be changed—by force if need be.

What tech resolutions would you suggest might work for many readers?

DK: I like my thematic approach and encourage readers to try that. Buying a new piece of hardware that you really want or trying a new software program or cloud service is also a great starting point. Learning an advanced use of a program you use every day (Outlook, Adobe) is another productive approach. For most of our readers, putting more effort into cybersecurity will be a great resolution.

JL: At one point, a number of lawyers viewed technology as a distraction from their primary practice. At this point, technology is core to the very existence of most clients and fundamental to practicing law effectively. I recommend lawyers view the commitment to staying technologically competent as more than a resolution—but rather as the fulfillment of an ethical duty that should help fulfill client needs and drive practice development.

GT: See my response to question three.

AS: I think everyone is different and has a different level of comfort with technology, but one of the easiest goals would be to look at the technology you already use and identify one to three ways you want to learn how to use that technology better in 2019. That might mean learning how to create Rules in Outlook to better manage your email and then creating time in your schedule to learn how to do it. Or it could mean learning how to create a new report in your practice management or accounting software or developing templates in your document management system to deliver services more efficiently to clients. Sometimes it helps to look at the most time-consuming or frustrating or repetitive actions you undertake regularly and seek out ways that technology can make them easier or more effective.

AP: 1) Create all new matters in the practice management system and digitize five old (but active) files per week until all are in the PDS. Then, repeat with closed matters until all files are digital. Then, get rid of filing cabinets. 2) Put all files in the cloud and no longer save things to the PC’s local hard drive—ever.  3) Implement a scan on arrival mail policy. 4) Adopt an electronic signature policy and an account with a company like DocuSign. 5) Invest in a VOIP phone system which follows you wherever you go. 6) Engage an off-site receptionist service like Ruby, and integrate it into your PDS. There are so many others…

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