Hot Topics at the ABA Solo and Small Firm Conference
Every year, the American Bar Association’s Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division hosts a conference jam-packed with programs covering the latest legal trends. We asked Houston solo practitioner Ashley Hallene, known for delivering hot practice management and technology tips herself, to fill us in on some of the top topics discussed at the 2012 conference, held October 11-13 in Seattle.
This year, programs at the Seventh Annual National Solo and Small Firm Conference followed these main tracks: practice empowerment, technology, and practice skills. Notably, however, the conference also addressed malpractice and global issues. Here are a few things I picked up from the sessions:
- The cloud keeps popping up. With more and more attorneys are steering their practice toward the cloud, multiple technology presentations brought up the rapidly expanding cloud-based service market. Chris Anderson, Project Manager for LexisNexis Firm Manager, and Chris Avis, Technical Evangelist at Microsoft Corporation, presented the “Future of Technology and the Practice of Law.” They touched on the plethora of options for cloud storage and sharing, but cautioned users to carefully review the terms of service. For example, be sure to look for the terms on how and under what circumstances your cloud service provider can use the data stored in the clouds. Jack Newton, Co-founder and President of Clio, offered helpful advice on a variety of security aspects—encryption, password protection and server security. SSL encryption is the standard for banks and e-commerce sites and is an especially good tool to look for when selecting a cloud service provider. As an added precaution, software like TrueCrypt can be used to encrypt data before you store it in the clouds.
- Use your voice. With Siri, Vlingo and Dragon NaturallySpeaking you should have almost no need for typing in your law practice. While the task hasn’t been eliminated altogether, these tools can increase your efficiency. Siri is Apple’s voice-recognition assistant on the iPhone. It allows you to use your voice to send messages, schedule meetings and place phone calls, along with many other tasks. Vlingo is a Siri-like application that runs on Apple, Android, BlackBerry, Nokia and Windows smartphones. It allows you to update your Facebook status, send a text message, or open applications and more in response to your voice command. Dragon NaturallySpeaking is a workhorse in the office. With the proper setup and training, it will have you “typing” documents as fast as you can talk. The latest version has an improved ability to navigate through Gmail and Hotmail accounts on the web.
- Nearly 70 percent of malpractice claims are brought against firms of five or fewer attorneys. According to a 2008 study by the ABA Standing Committee on Lawyers’ Professional Responsibility, nearly 37 percent of malpractice claims filed were against solo practitioners—and 33 percent were against firms of two to five attorneys. The largest bulk of claims were made for substantive errors (46.61 percent), followed by administrative errors (28.63 percent)—and small firm lawyers practicing in the areas of criminal, family or personal injury law received the most client complaint letters. Communication-related complaints remain the most frequent. Under the rules of professional conduct, attorneys have a duty to keep clients reasonably informed about their matters and to comply with reasonable requests from the client for information. If you are unable to return your client’s call, have your staff call to let the client know when you will be calling, or to provide information addressing their concerns.
- Human trafficking is the second largest illegal industry, and the fastest growing in the world. The 2012 Northwest Human Trafficking Summit was held in conjunction with the conference, providing an overview of the growing presence of illegal human trafficking and ways lawyers can help. The International Labor Organization estimates that 20.9 million victims of modern slavery are being exploited at any time. Panelists explained the importance of recognizing cultural differences when representing clients in this area. One interesting observation was that some cultures—such as U.S., British or Canadian cultures—tend to have an individualistic self-perception and be more self-protective and ego-invested. Venezuelan, Columbian or Peruvian cultures, on the other hand, tend to have a collective self-perception and to focus more on problem-solving and saving face. Understanding these differences can influence the remedies you seek, your approach to the judge and jury, or policy arguments.
Most of the resources available at the conference, along with slides from the various presentations, will soon be available to ABA members through the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division’s Solo and Small Firm Resource Center.
Ashley Hallene is a solo practitioner specializing in Oil and Gas Law, Title Examination, and Oil and Gas Leasing in Houston. She blogs about technology practice tips at www.hallenelaw.com and is an active member of the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division. She writes on technology and practice management for GPSolo Magazine, the GPSOLO eReport, Young Lawyer Newsletter and TechnoLawyer.