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We’ve all seen how technology can help level the playing field, allowing smaller firms and solos to compete with larger rivals and scale quickly to meet clients’ needs. That’s good news for small firms and clients alike. But just because a firm is small doesn’t make it lean — or mighty. Too many lawyers stick with the old ways of doing things simply because it’s familiar.
Here are tips for running a lean law practice, rethinking how you can provide the most value to your clients in the most productive way.
1. Focus on the practice of law — not on IT. Of course, you’re focused on providing counsel and service, not on IT. But the trap many “would-be” lean lawyers fall into is overthinking the role technology should play in their practice. You probably already know you don’t need an expensive private data center to store and protect your information. But where’s the happy medium between the technology used by big firms and the stuff you use at home? The truth is, the tools you choose should be as simple (and inexpensive) as the ones you use for your personal life. Dropbox, for example, is a public cloud solution that can be used “out of the box,” meaning you don’t have to train yourself or spend hours retrofitting a solution that wasn’t designed for your needs in the first place. Of course, when using the public cloud, you’ll need to add an extra layer of security — but that’s pretty much it. And that’s the beauty of relying on cloud-based, or software as service (SaaS) tools. They’re easy to deploy, updates are seamless, and your monthly costs will be low.
2. Don’t sweat the lack of staff. How lean is lean? It may mean you don’t have a paralegal or executive assistant. Sometimes, that’s a good thing, assuring you’ll be personally up to speed on even the littlest details. One solo practitioner told me he relies on technology to compensate for his lack of staff. With three monitors, an internal server, desktop and laptop computers, and an iPad, he estimates that he’s 10 times more productive than he’d be if he had to go through an executive assistant or paralegal. Other solo and small-firm lawyers rely on freelance help, or virtual assistants, allowing them to bring in extra help when business ramps up without worrying about overhead. To keep your focus on clients, outsourcing business functions like accounting, call-answering and marketing services is an option, too.
3. Use tools that streamline collaboration. If you’re still relying on paper, you’re doing something wrong. Paper runs counter to many lean practice principles — it’s bulky and inherently non-collaborative. Maybe you’ve graduated to “track changes” in Word, but you’re still sending attachments back and forth via email — even though your associate occasionally works on the wrong version or something gets lost in the shuffle. Such annoyances might seem only occasional, or inadvertent. But these days, you shouldn’t tolerate them. Instead, you should be evaluating technologies that make things simpler and eliminate or reduce needless work (think scanning, faxing, printing and manually controlling versions).
The right tools will upend old workflows, by enhancing collaboration, keeping everyone in the loop and reducing duplication of effort. For example, imagine how much easier evidence turnover could be when parties share folders (and massive amounts of data) on Dropbox. When everyone’s sharing documents on Google Docs there can be no mistake about which version is the right one — the team can even collaborate on the same files in real-time. Also, don’t underestimate the efficiencies gained by using an easily searchable email account, such as Gmail, which can be branded for your firm. To make sure everyone’s on the same page without scheduling constant status meetings, I recommend Slack, a chat tool that integrates with Dropbox, Google Docs and a myriad of other services.
4. Take the time to eliminate waste. It’s important to pause and ask why certain systems are in place, or why you have been doing things a particular way. This will require an up-front investment of time and money to figure out ways you can be more efficient, but it’s time and money well spent. Processes shouldn’t be so fluid that you can’t map them out. Using web-based project and task management tools like Trello or Asana can help you develop documents and checklists, make decisions, and collaborate more efficiently with clients and co-counsel. In some instances, though, it’s worth bringing in a professional project manager.
5. Maximize mobility. More than ever, the delivery of legal services is on your clients’ terms. Wider adoption of technology means you need to be ready to respond to clients whenever and wherever. Delivering on such expectations means taking your office with you and leveraging the cloud wherever you are. Investing in tools like an iPad will pay dividends by reducing the mass of papers that take up room in your briefcase and elsewhere. And an efficient document filing system on a secured cloud service means no more worrying about having everything you need on hand ahead of an important client meeting or court appearance.
If doing things the old familiar way is weighing your practice down, it’s time to cut out your bad habits — and replace them with good technology and systems that make your practice leaner and more productive.
Asaf Cidon is CEO and co-founder of cloud security company Sookasa, which provides bank-grade encryption to files on Dropbox and across devices. Cidon earned his Ph.D. in cloud computing from Stanford. He founded Sookasa with the mission of allowing businesses to control their data securely via the cloud. Recently, Sookasa launched a breakthrough one-way File Delivery platform, which enables Sookasa users to send and receive sensitive encrypted files from people who don’t use Sookasa or Dropbox.
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