Practice Management

Law Firms That Don’t Invest in Technology Will Be Left Behind

For almost 20 years, my law firm and I have utilized the most advanced technology and continue to upgrade our systems as technology advances. I do this partially because I love technology and how it has revolutionized society. I also do this because it enables my firm and I to provide the best and fastest service possible to all of our clients. Other law firms refuse to embrace technology. I can find no legitimate reason refusing to utilize the most advanced technology. Of course, there are reasons to fail to do so, but none of them are good reasons and none justify the failure to invest in the firm and thus, invest in the best interests of the client.

I remember the days when there was virtually no law firm technology. 20 years ago, a lawyer had to find the hard file, review the paper documents in the file, which were typically a mess and out of order, hope notes from other lawyer who worked on the case were contained therein and if so, try to decipher the handwriting of each lawyer and then figure out the status of a case and what needed to be done. This was time consuming and a huge waste of time. At the time, most lawyers didn’t care because when they bill by the hour, all this wasted time is still billable. I hated it because I always hated billable hours and always knew there had to be a better way to maximize my time for my benefit and the benefit of my clients. 20 years ago, I used to think that technology was not embraced by law firm management because it was simply not part of their culture. When someone practices law and runs a law office a certain way for 40 years, change does not come easily.

When I started my own firm, law office technology was starting to develop. A colleague of mine gave me a tip and said invest in technology at an early stage. He guaranteed that I would not regret it. Since that day I have always invested in the latest technology. It has made me work more efficiently and made my law firm more productive. It allows coordination and collaboration with other lawyers and support staff in an easier and time efficient manner. In essence, why would a lawyer perform legal research in an antiquated manner by going to the law library and using hardcover books when you can use Westlaw at your desk. I know Westlaw can be expensive, but it will enable legal research to be performed at a fraction of the time. Why use paper files when scanners are cheap, and a paperless office is a better way to organize files and documents? The reasons for the lack of some law firms to utilize 21stcentury technology is the billable hour disincentive to increase productivity, the cost of technology or simply the fear of change/desire to adhere to antiquated methods of running a law firm. All reasons are not acceptable. Unless a law firm uses modern day technology, it is the clients that suffer. If the lawyer bills by the hour, then the lack of technology means the client pays more. If a client pays a flat fee or blended fee, the lack of technology prevents a lawyer from being most effective to meet the needs of the client. If a client calls me, they want an answer ASAP. If I had to find a file, comb through it and figure out what the status is, I would be wasting my own time and delaying answering a question for a client. No client wants to wait around for hours or days to her answers to questions that can and should be answered very easily and quickly. 

It’s estimated that up to 40 percent of small law firms don’t use practice management software.I find this to be an astounding percent as well as an unacceptable practice. While cost can be a consideration, any law firm that does not utilize up to date practice management software is not doing a service to themselves or their clients. The right practice management program can save you as much as 40-50 percent of the time you presently waste doing manual menial tasks. That’s 40-50 percent of your time that could be used working on existing cases, seeking out new clients, or even getting home earlier. 

Additionally, it is important for law firms to put productivity on the top of their docket not just to save time but so you can be more productive for the client. Billable hours provide a disincentive to be productive. I have been advocating alternate fee arrangements for years. Many of my clients have agreed and love them. What my clients love the most is the fact that when they call and have a question or issue, their case, documents, internal notes, billing and all necessary case information is at my fingertips. We have been paperless for years and I love it. My clients don’t know what software we utilize, and they really don’t care because they know I know all of their cases like the back of my hand and can address their legal issues sometimes on the spot. Technology has enabled me to do this. 

The speed of the legal business today is unprecedented. The pace of change, demands on lawyers’ time, and breadth of knowledge that you need to access, process and manage are reaching new levels. Technology is constantly changing. But in most respects, the basic practice of law hasn’t. While the pace of work is accelerating, the law firm with the newest technology can and will allow them to handle the oldest tasks more efficiently. Law firms that do not utilize the most up to date technologies are doing their clients a disservice because they are putting their own profits above the needs and interests of their clients and because they are encouraging wasted time. It can take the average lawyer 1-2 hours to review the documents in a hard file, review handwritten notes to get up to date on the status of a case and then create a simple letter from scratch. With technology, I have been able to easily cut the time to do such tasks by 70%. Since I typically do not bill by the hour, or prefer not to, my incentive is to get the job done as fast as possible, without sacrificing quality. Technology enables me to do the work of 5 lawyers. When you will bill by the hour you have no incentive to invest in technology because if it takes a lawyer 2 hours to perform a task that could have been done in 45 minutes, it does not matter to them because they will bill for their time. This does a total disservice not only to the client but is a blight on the legal profession. Sometimes it embarrasses me that law firms still use billable hours as a benchmark because it is those same law firms that refuse to embrace technology because it will seemingly hurt their bottom line. What client wants to use a firm like this? 

No matter what size the firm, lawyers face an increasing demand on their time from billable hours, client satisfaction, and maintaining compliance — combined with everyday administrative tasks, it can seem like there’s never enough time in the day. Using available technology is the key to getting the most out of your resources, getting back time to devote to client matters, and maximizing your law firm’s profits

Leveraging technology and implementing changes to improve efficiency should not be a difficult task in your law firm.Although full-fledged robot lawyers are still a thing of the future, there is real technology available today to help your law firm grow. The recent boom in legal tech means more solutions for improving efficiency, communication, and profit margins. 

Attorneys and staff can do their jobs more effectively with the right equipment. Internet speeds alone are an important expense for any business. A slow connection means time and energy wasted.If you’re creating documents manually, document management software should be added to your technology arsenal.

It probably goes without saying that you’re using a smartphone and at least one other mobile device such as a tablet. But as these devices are now just part of our personal and professional lives, and the options for boosting your productivity keep increasing at surprising rates. The most advanced practice management programs allow you to remotely access practically anything on your office server, or in the cloud (e.g., matter information, documents, calendars, notes, tasks, etc.) without having to get in touch with someone back at the office to send them to you.

Technology advances quickly and it’s not easy to keep up with it while also trying to practice law. But the reality is thattechnology can help lawyers in the following way:

·      improve client service; 

·      solve problems faster;

·      organize case information;

·      manage your practice more efficiently;

·      help you protect client confidentiality;

·      improve profitability;

·      and make life easier. 

Law Firms must use technology to:

·      electronically organize and store all documents (including electronic documents created in-house, documents your office has received, faxes, e-mail, and attachments) in a client/matter-centric manner. 

·      Enable access to all your documents at anytime, whether they are in or out of your office;

·      Enable searching your files by any imaginable criteria and therefore, not lose anything and not waste time.

Over time, law firms that don’t invest in technology will be left behind.