|Oregon State Bar Bulletin APRIL 2012|
Technology matters for lawyers whether they want to admit it or not. It can make a lawyer more efficient at everything he or she does. As I always say, “Computers will never replace lawyers, but lawyers with computers will.” More lawyers should think seriously about this. The typical legal professional has been slow in adopting new technology and even slower to update it on a regular basis.
Technology is an ever-changing environment, and every law office should be looking at new improvements and how they can benefit the firm’s work. As Mark Hansen, a senior writer with the ABA Journal, so aptly states, “In today’s world, lawyers who don’t embrace the latest technology are not only shortchanging their clients and themselves, they may soon run afoul of their ethical obligations as well.”
These themes took center stage in March at the 2012 ABA TechShow in Chicago. Changing technology and how these new changes can make people better lawyers to better serve their clients was prominent throughout the event.
What’s Hot in Document Assembly
Cloud-based practice management applications were a big hit this year, as were new document assembly applications. Clio, MyCase, RocketMatter and Total Attorneys were some of the software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers highlighted. Each has just released application programming interfaces (APIs). With APIs, SaaS-based practice management program tools allow third-party developers to integrate with their cloud-based services. For example, Clio now integrates with ZenCash, a cloud-based program for automating accounts receivable for law firms, and both Clio and RocketMatter integrate with Chrometa, an Outlook add-on that captures and categorizes your time. With the release of APIs, legal professionals will benefit from more features and functionality in cloud-based services for their practice management needs.
HotDocs, a document assembly and automation program that has been around since 1993, is being challenged by both Pathagoras and TheFormTool, add-ons to Microsoft Word that use your current forms to generate document templates. Document assembly software automates the creation of legal documents that are used repeatedly, such as wills, leases, contracts and letters.
Think of document assembly as templates that can be used over and over. This shortens the time for document preparation and increases the efficiency of your practice. It also ensures document consistency for all staff members. But while document assembly software can make a lawyer highly efficient, document assembly software has a learning curve. You will need to invest time and resources to identify, review and create documents for the system. Dedication to staff training will help ensure a return on investment.
Tools, Toys, Gadgets and Gizmos
One of the most popular programs presented this year was “The Gear Report — Tools, Toys, Gadgets and Gizmos.” Some of the highlights of this session include:
Tablets. Lawyers who want a better way to take notes on the iPad should consider SoundNote ($4.99 at the App Store). This app takes a recording as you write and then syncs the two together. If you have not bought an iPad yet, take a look at the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet ($350). Although the iPad dominates tablets, its function as a writing tablet is a bit limited. You can improve this function with a rubber pen, but it still does not match the traditional paper and pen. For this, try the Lenovo Tablet, which is an Android product that is less expensive than the iPad and comes with a digitizing surface, digital pen and handwriting recognition software. For those who are not mobile but want to capture their note-taking directly into a PC or laptop, the Wacom Bamboo line of digitizing tablets might be worth a look. They work elegantly with current and next generation operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows 8 (Windows 7, Vista and Windows XP), as well as Mac OS 10.5 and above. ($199).
Remote Controls. For lawyers who do presentations, check out wireless remote controls such as the Rii Mini Wireless Keyboard ($30), which operates as a USB 2.5 GHz wireless QWERTY backlit keyboard that comes with an integrated touchpad and laser pointer. Another option for those who do presentations is Slideshare.net, where you can also share your slideshows and videos with clients and colleagues. IPad users should give Keynote a try ($9.99 at the App Store). This application makes it easy to create, deliver and share stunning presentations, and, if you connect your device with a video output cable, you can project your presentations on a large screen from anywhere in the room using the Keynote Remote application. ($0.99).
Cloud Storage. For those using DropBox or other cloud storage who are concerned about security, Boxcryptor (2GB of data free, unlimited personal option for $39.99) does for cloud storage what TrueCrypt does for desktop storage. It provides on-the-fly encryption for your data stored in the cloud and supports Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, IOS and Android. If you are looking for an easy-to-use backup system for a small office, CrashPlan.com (free) was recommended. It is based on the idea that you probably have a friend with an Internet connection, so why not back up each other’s data. That is CrashPlan in a nutshell. This program is ideal for solos who operate out of an office, since an account can be created for both home and office, creating a simple backup solution. For an additional fee based on storage amounts, you can store a copy on CrashPlan’s service network for an extra sense of security for as low as $3 per computer.
60 in 60. Two of the hottest presentations, “60 Tips in 60 Minutes” and “60 Sites in 60 Minutes,” are presented every year and are always a big hit. (To see the hall of fame of past presentations, go to www.techshow.com and click on Hot Pages, 60 Sites in 60 Minutes.) Many educational sessions addressed topics changing the future of law practice: mobile and smartphone technologies, e-discovery, cloud computing, going paperless, litigation, collaboration, Mac users and advanced IT. Sessions for solos/small firms and large firms were also part of the program, as well as a great vendor hall with vendors who have the leading products and services to help you and your firm practice efficiently. Attendees also had an opportunity to meet with authors of ABA Law Practice Management Section publications.
The Future of Law
Jim Calloway of the Oklahoma Bar Association addressed the future of law practice and how it will impact every lawyer, with his presentation “The Future of Law: Dark Clouds or Silver Linings?” According to Calloway, there will be 10 to 40 percent fewer lawyers in the next decade than there are today, a trend that some say will affect mostly solos and small firms. The growing number of venture capitalists investing millions of dollars in startups that are automating basic legal services cannot be ignored by lawyers, Calloway said. However, lawyers can use some of those same systems, tools and techniques to boost their own law practices to attract clients.
“If we could magically remove LegalZoom from our universe, all that would do is slow this trend,” Calloway said. “LegalZoom isn’t about some innovative model; it’s about recognizing tools that now exist in society.” (LegalZoom is a California-based company that offers online paralegal document preparation services on a nationwide basis.)
“Lawyers process information, and information technology is a huge part of our future,” Calloway said. “Those who don’t ‘get it’ may soon no longer be doing it.”
Calloway’s plan for successful lawyering includes:
Exceptional client service in addition to exceptional legal work means no more emails with bulky attachments. Client portals permit lawyers to upload and organize documents that can be easily viewed. Emails should be reserved for alerts to let clients know when documents in the portal have been added or updated.
“Get your conflict checking fine-tuned,” Calloway said. “If the future will be about teaming with other lawyers for specific matters, you cannot do that without easy, automated conflict checking procedures when a matter is tendered or an offer received.”
Efficiency includes utilizing better document assembly methods. “You’ve got to do document assembly,” Calloway said. “The technology is out there and other people will implement it.”
Calloway also challenged attendees to not just prepare documents, but include other services, such as a first-year business support plan that includes longer-term advising to accompany the documents needed to start a business.
“Alternative fee arrangements are a critical part of the re-invention of the law office.” Calloway said. “Especially, if you put a lot of time and money into systems to assemble documents in minutes, you don’t want to charge by the hour.” Lawyers need to be flexible with fee structures in order to acknowledge the cost-savings of technology and account for the experience and training behind the work — and in this case, by-the-hour won’t cut it, Calloway said.
ABA TechShow is an educational and entertaining experience, with plenty of opportunities to network with hundreds of attorneys from around the world. It’s not too early to begin planning to attend next year’s ABA TechShow, to be held April 4-6, 2013, at the Hilton Chicago.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dee Crocker is a practice management adviser for the OSB Professional Liability Fund. She can be reached by email email@example.com.
© 2012 Dee Crocker