3 Goals For A Better Law Office In The New Year

January 5, 2016

By Jeff Bennion 

technology 2016 new yearEvery week, I try to write about things that lawyers can incorporate into their practices to work better, be it marketing, trial work, or case management tools. There are probably two categories of readers: (1) those who learn something new and try to work it into their practice, and (2) those who think “that sounds neat,” but never do anything about it. This article is targeted to the latter category.

Think about how the mechanics of practicing law have changed in the last 10 years – cloud storage, e-discovery, mobile devices, iPads, touchscreen devices, etc. You should, at least slowly, begin to look at the way businesses, including law firms, are changing to incorporate technology and evaluate if you can possibly do the same. You can either incorporate it slowly and reap the benefits along the way, or you can play catch up every few years. We’ve documented before how not staying current on technology can be disruptive, even at big firms.

Legal technology is not about having transparent touchscreen monitors or algorithms that write our briefs for us or one-click solutions to problems. Legal technology is simply about finding ways to work more efficiently so that we can spend more time focusing on substantive things and less time doing mundane tasks like copying, Bates labeling, retyping pleading templates, or whatever. Since the new year is upon us, here are three goals that you can set to work better:

1. Go Paperless.

Using paper is simply inefficient. It is time-consuming and expensive. On top of paper and copier costs, you are also looking at storage costs for all of that paper. I remember when I started out as a file clerk in a big law firm’s real estate transaction department 11 years ago. We would have purchase agreement drafts that were several inches thick, and we would have multiple drafts and multiple attorney working copy sets. Think about the amount of time someone had to spend just printing that document, two-hole drilling it, and organizing each set.

How to do it: Get a good PDF program like Adobe Acrobat Professional. That lets you OCR (convert scanned pages to text-searchable pages) your documents. That has the added benefit of reducing the file size and straightening out skewed pages. Use the highlight tool or the red rectangle tool to highlight or draw boxes around crucial parts of documents. Use “actions” to make certain tasks automated. For example, when I have a large set of medical records, I highlight the key text (the red rectangle tool is good because the highlight tool only works on searchable text and not handwritten text). In a 400-page set of records, I might have 30 or 40 highlights. I use an action to extract all of the pages that have highlights and I am stuck with a just the key records. I can use the Bates Stamp tool to stamp the file name on the document and then combine all of my key records files from all sources into one file with the source of each file on the bottom of each page in the Bates label. Then, instead of having thousands of pages of records to go through, I have one 100-page document that is fully annotated. It’s extremely useful for creating timelines, or to take to deposition to find something fast to catch someone in a lie, or to have at trial for that same reason. 

2. Learn Something New.

People ask me all the time, “But how does that apply to [family law/bankruptcy law/tax law/animal adoption law]?” If you do corporate formations, you probably do not need to know about trial prep software. The answer is not every tool applies to every area of law, but there is probably some advancement in your area that you can use – practice management software, billing software, client contact management software. Someone in IP told me one time that he feels like he is missing the boat on legal technology because he just doesn’t think that there is any need for it in his practice. I said, what about Zama, the software tool that lets you aggregate information from a variety of sources on various industries in seconds a day, so that you can at least follow the news in your clients’ field to have intelligent conversations with them about their industry. Whatever you do, there are tools that you plug in that can help you do it better.

Here’s how you figure out what you need. During your work day, identify tasks that you either don’t have time to do or that take up too much of your time. Are you filling out a lot of court forms? Are you stopping every few minutes to document your billables? Do you want to find out the areas of marketing that brought the most ROI, but don’t know where to start? If you are struggling with that problem, chances are that someone else has already thought of a solution.

3. Increase Your Online Presence.

No matter where you are in your online presence, make it a goal this year to be better. Buff up your website. Get a business Facebook page. Fill out your LinkedIn profile. Tweet something. Fill out your damn Avvo profile. I was talking to a friend the other day and he said he’s on a class action case against an attorney from a large firm whom he had never heard of. He did a Google search for that attorney and saw that he had only a 6.7 on Avvo, so he must not be that good, even though he’s a 20-year practicing lawyer, who has spent most of his career in class action defense. That class action attorney probably didn’t even know he had an Avvo account. If he had gone in and added just a few things, he could have easily bumped it up to an 8 or a 9. So, adding a few details about yourself can greatly increase your Avvo score. Now, imagine a client narrowing his or her search down to 3 potential attorneys. The client googles you and sees that you have a 6.7 Avvo and assumes it’s because you are a D+ attorney and does not know that it means you just haven’t claimed your profile and added your successes. Imagine how many times that has happened to you in the last year. Take about 20 minutes a month to do online presence stuff.

So those are some of the biggest return on investment things I think you can do for yourself in 2016. Have a Happy New Year and drive safe.

Jeff Bennion is Of Counsel at Etsey & Bomberger LLP, a plaintiffs’ law firm specializing in mass torts and catastrophic injuries. Although he serves on the Executive Commitee for the State Bar of California’s Law Practice Management and Technology section, the thoughts and opinions in this column are his own and are not made on behalf of the State Bar of California.

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