Five Ways the Best Law Firms Use Technology

Do you remember what the first laptops looked like? Big, bulky, beige, terrible battery life and user interface. A portable computer solution seemed like a pipe dream.

In 1985, the New York Times even put out a think-piece about the future of laptops. They predicted that the unwieldy machines would prove ultimately unattractive to anyone but the most specialized users.

But we know how the future of laptops panned out. We’re still watching the technological trend it pioneered evolve and diverge into new products, new possibilities and new ways of doing things—shrinking hardware, mobile broadband evolution, and even the smartphone in your pocket.

Similarly, legal technology is quickly evolving. The best law firms dig deep and see past the face-value of innovations like document generation, cloud-based case management or reporting engines. They see the potential waiting just below the surface.

If you’re not yet using tech to the best of its ability, the good news is that you can learn from the ways other firms are using technology. Here are the 5 ways the best law firms use technology (that you probably aren’t).

1. They Use a Lot of Document Generation

Most law firms only use document generation to create simple forms, like retainers, welcome letters or records requests. But the best law firms use document generation as much as possible. They use it to generate any document they might need, however complex or nuanced.

Is your firm regularly generating these kinds of documents with a single click?

  • Settlement Statements
  • Demands
  • Deposition Notices
  • Pre-trial Disclosures
  • Service Lists
  • Medical Chronologies

If your answer is no, why are you being held back?

Your case management system shouldn’t be a passive receptacle where you store your work, but an active partner in co-creation. This is especially true with document generation. Attorneys hunting down document templates, manually inputting new information and (hopefully) saving them into the correct case file, is a waste of your time and your client’s time.

But how much time are we really talking about here? Think of it this way – there are law firms who don’t deal with this problem. At all. And they’re using those saved hours to sign more clients and move more cases.

2. They Know Who Their Good (and Bad) Employees Are

Our industry is being touched by technology in drastic ways. Legal work can be done from anywhere. This autonomy can make it difficult to achieve a high level of accountability.

When your “best” attorney turns down an assignment because they “just can’t spare the bandwidth,” and your “worst” attorney is idly twiddling their thumbs and awaiting direction, what’s really going on?

The best law firms know that a team’s overall efficiency depends on the individual performance of its members. They have a reliable system to measure the performance of team members, and they look at what matters: How many assignments are being completed by each person per day? What percentage of deadlines are being extended and by whom? How are tasks and assignments being distributed across team members? What is the average number of actions needed to bring a case to a successful close?

3. They Keep Their Data Clean

We all know that a physical file can’t exist in two places at once. If you have information about a client for a medical tort case, you can’t store that in the client’s case file, and in a general file about the malfunctioning medical device, and in a file for the opposing counsel you’re up against. It would be impossible to keep all those duplicate files up-to-date, and it could lead to inaccuracy and redundancy.

But keeping important data siloed causes its own problems. Team members need to be able to access all of the information relevant to their cases.

Receptionists need a way to quickly pull up recent activity in order to serve their callers. Firm partners need an efficient way of reviewing new motions or pleadings drafted by their teams.

Going paperless and switching to digital file-keeping solutions is an important step in meeting these demands, but it isn’t the only step you need to take. The best law firms heavily emphasize file-keeping hygiene, and they take it to an extreme that’s only possible with the right processes.

Adding identifying hashtags or markers to cases that meet certain criteria is an effective way of keeping your caseload organized. These markers can help you identify cases with unsustainable costs, matters involving certain opposing counsel members or specific adjusters or clients who haven’t heard from you in a while.

4. They Dump Email for Internal Communications

How does your law firm communicate?

If your answer is email, I have bad news for you: email is dead. And relying on email means trusting an inherently disorganized and easily manipulated system.

I’m sure you’ve heard the trigger words before. Things like “hacking,” “spoofing” or “phishing.” The average lawyer probably doesn’t fully understand the operative definitions of any of these terms. But there is a word that means the same thing to every lawyer everywhere. That word is “malpractice.”

You can reduce your malpractice risk by ensuring every piece of firm communication is contained in one tightly-controlled system, instead of being spread out across several inboxes. Even better, using the right software to consolidate all communication lets you increase your team’s efficiency by reducing their need to work outside of the system.

Your employees should log in once, to one trusted system, and be able to access any information, communications or announcements relevant to them. Without centralized communication, you’ll never reach peak efficiency. Your emails will bog you down, and malpractice claims may be waiting for you if you don’t stay on your toes.

5. They Use Intake Services

A recent ABA Benchmark Study found that most law firms are performing intake processes at shockingly low levels—50% of all calls and filled-out web forms are not returned within two days. 42% of calls remain unanswered after three days; some never receive a response at all.

What these numbers describe is an industry-wide crisis. Lawyers increasingly have access to better, more powerful client-facing tools, but they still struggle to keep their phones properly staffed. It’s a problem with many potential causes, but the most likely explanation is multi-specialization—becoming proficient in multiple fields of work or roles.

It’s hard to train your team members to be the best paralegals and attorneys around while they’re also doubling as a professional answering team. Luckily, no law firm needs to do everything on their own. Professional answering services are a great way to keep your phones staffed 24/7 without sacrificing productivity on behalf of your team members.

But the best law firms know that the ideal solution is a professionally trained answering and intake team, paired with direct integration into your case management system. Being a successful lawyer means learning how to multitask, but there are some things you just shouldn’t have to put up with. Organizing and delivering new intake information is one of them.

So, what should you do if your firm is stuck in older routines?

If you find yourself falling short in any area covered by this article, there are steps you can take to make your law firm more modern.

  • Host a team meeting to discuss re-designing firm processes. Your team can offer powerful insights into potential bottlenecks they’re experiencing. They can also validate existing processes that really do work and don’t need further optimization.
  • Schedule annual or semi-annual retreats, where you treat your team members to something special; a stay in a mountain cabin or a trip to the beach. And after the fun has been had and the figurative tanks have been recharged, meet to discuss your team’s habits, processes, and goals.
  • Promote growth and innovation at your law firm, including webinar training program participation.

Building a legal practice that can keep up with the speed of modern law is a daunting task, but it is possible. Analyze your own practice, and ask yourself: How many of these areas have you mastered? What is holding you back from mastering more?

It’s not about what these tools and innovations were designed to do—it’s about what you can make them do, and it’s about how powerful these tools can become.

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