Where will you focus your technology spending in the next months? Our experts have advice.
During the past two years, the pace of tech adoption quickened as firms moved to automate their practices for remote work and virtual practice. We wondered what tools or initiatives small firms might open their wallets for this coming year.
So we asked our experts: What do you think small law firms should (or should not) be spending their technology dollars on in 2022?
Here’s some excellent new year advice from Julie Bays, Brett Burney, Tom Lambotte, Sharon Nelson and John Simek, Catherine Sanders Reach, Camille Stell and Juda Strawczynski.
Catherine Sanders Reach: First, Review What’s Working and What Is Not
In 2020 and 2021, your firm may have had to make quite a lot of changes quickly to meet the new remote normal. For 2022, it is time to review: What works, and what doesn’t?
Are you still using a file server and having people access it with a VPN? Are you using old versions of Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat? Upgrade to Microsoft 365 to get a cloud-based file server, plus updated versions of the Office suite. Yes, you will be paying per user per month, but you won’t be paying for maintenance and upgrades (or ignoring those at your security peril).
How about your phone system? Still using a PBX or hybrid PBX, and not in love with the clumsiness and lack of modern features your phone system affords? Time to move to a cloud-based PBX. There are lots of choices from RingCentral and 8×8. Or choose ZoomPhone or Microsoft 365 Business Voice. You will get far more phone functionality, plus videoconferencing, business texting, e-fax and more.
The thing is to start thinking about how you can leverage the cloud for basic day-to-day operations and do more with less (hardware).
Catherine Sanders Reach (@catherinereach) is Director of the Center for Practice Management for the North Carolina Bar Association, providing practice technology and management assistance. She was Co-Chair of the 2020 ABA TECHSHOW Planning Board. She was previously Director of the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center for over 10 years and was one of the inaugural Fastcase 50.
Juda Strawczynski: Finish the Shift to Online, and Spend on Stabilizing Your Systems
For 2022, attorneys and law firms should take a careful look at where they are at on their tech journey, and set a reasonable budget to get to their next level.
Attorneys and firms need to have a sufficient online presence and tech-enabled practice to serve clients, who generally expect to work with their attorney online. The goal is to ensure you have the tools to effectively take a client from onboarding to ending the retainer all online. This means making sure your tech deck enables you to communicate, share information and documents, sign documents, bill, accept payments and say goodbye, all online.
Those who have not started their digital transformations should do so in 2022. Those who shifted to hybrid or online systems in 2020 and 2021 should refine their systems to get to their next level.
What does this mean in practice and for your budget?
Focus on people first, then processes, then technology. Don’t let tech (and tech spend) lead you to expensive products that may not solve your needs. Start with your clients and your staff to identify current pain points, and envision what you’d like to see for a seamless workflow. Work with your team (or if you’re a true solo, talk to your peers) to identify the must-haves to run your practice from your laptop, with documents at the ready.
Start with what you have, then consider what you need:
- Your physical needs and hardware. If you’re still working with a makeshift office setup and cobbled-together hardware from the COVID-19 first wave, consider upgrades that will bring comfort and enhanced productivity. Whether it’s a standing desk, new headset, laptop, scanner or new monitor, consider these relatively lower-cost pieces as investments in your practice and yourself (or your team).
- Existing features. For many lawyers, you may already have technology solutions you need within your existing suite of services, or that are relatively easy and low-cost add-ons. For example, if you’re a Microsoft user looking to develop checklists and workflows, explore Teams. If you want a client portal, explore SharePoint.
Bottom line, start with who and what you have. Your biggest investment in 2022 will likely be spent on time and training. Your incremental new tech solutions can get you to your next level, without breaking the bank. Good luck!
Juda Strawczynski (@JStrawczynski) is Director of practicePRO, Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Co.’s innovative claims and risk management initiative. Prior to joining LAWPRO, he was a policy lawyer at the Law Society of Ontario and practiced litigation with a focus on professional liability, public law and civil disputes.
Brett Burney: Invest in Training and More Efficient Equipment
Regardless of how you feel about masks, vaxxes or taxes, we’re not done with it all yet — but we still need to get profitable work done. Spend your hard-earned dough on equipment that will keep your practice running remotely and looking brilliant. Here are ideas.
Laptops. If a laptop is three or four years old, it’s time to upgrade. You’ll be more efficient because you won’t be waiting on software to load or respond. (Your time is valuable.) There’s also the intangible benefit of a “new shiny thing” that gets people excited.
Video tools. Get a better webcam like the Logitech C920x ($60), a better microphone like the Blue Snowball iCE ($40), and a light like the Bekada LED ($19) so you don’t look like a zombie in a Zoom box.
365. If you don’t already have a subscription to Microsoft 365 Business, stop avoiding it and accept the reality of how we all use Microsoft Office software today. I usually recommend the “Business Standard” subscription for most law offices ($150 per user per year).
Password protection. Make it mandatory for everyone in your office to use a password manager. This isn’t to “help” you remember passwords, it’s so you can quickly change passwords when accounts are compromised. Top recommendations include 1Password and LastPass ($72 to $96 per user per year for business accounts).
And be sure to invest in the “people” part. Spend time and money on mandatory training for everyone in your office to learn how better to use Zoom, be more efficient with Microsoft Office, and be more secure with your password manager of choice.
Brett Burney (@BBurney) is Principal of Burney Consultants LLC, an independent legal technology consulting practice. He is also a sought-after trainer and presenter for lawyers who seek to integrate Macs and iPads into their practice. Brett is a past ABA TECHSHOW Planning Board Chair and a popular speaker on legal technology.
Camille Stell: Add a Time-Saving CRM to Your Toolkit
Tech spending is like marketing spending: I know I get results, but from which application?
My go-to recommendation for your 2022 tech toolkit is a client relationship management tool, or CRM.
CRMs help lawyers organize current clients, as well as target clients and referral sources — allowing you to regularly nurture these valuable relationships. With a CRM, there is no more wasted time creating mailing lists, building a current client list, or remembering who attended your open house pre-Covid-19. You can easily schedule and send alerts and newsletters, as well as build a strategic plan for in-person or virtual meetups.
Using a CRM can save time by eliminating redundancies such as entering the same information in multiple places for client intake versus client billing.
What tool to choose?
If you are a Clio user, investigate Clio Grow, which allows you to automate your intake process, schedule consults and accept payments online. Other legal-specific products that get positive reviews include Lawmatics, Litify and PracticePanther.
CRM tech tools outside of legal, like Hubspot or Salesforce, may require a little more effort to set up and to eliminate redundancies. However, by using a product such as Zapier, which allows integration of various web applications, you can have your Hubspot CRM talking to your practice management software in no time.
Camille Stell (firstname.lastname@example.org) is President of Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services and a specialist in working with lawyers and firms on building modern law practices, as well as retirement and succession planning.
Julie Bays: Put More Technology Dollars Toward Protecting the Firm
Earlier this year, I reviewed the 2021 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report so that I could write a tech report for the ABA on Budgeting and Planning. I focused mostly on solo and small firms because, as the ABA survey made clear, smaller firms trail larger firms with their technology budgets. Here are some crucial takeaways.
Small firms need to spend more of their 2022 tech budget on security!
One issue that is constant every year is that small firms do not spend enough on security. According to the 2021 Legal Technology Survey, small firms only plan to spend around 10% of their technology budget on security. Every day we hear another horror story of a business or government entity being hit with ransomware. Small law firms need to take this threat seriously to protect themselves and their clients’ confidential information. I encourage firms to take the time to review all their security protocols.
Most of the time ransomware, spyware or malware infects systems through simple human error. So, the best way for firms to protect themselves is to invest some of their budget in training. If you firm doesn’t have the technological expertise, you need to hire an outside source to do this. Because, as the ABA survey made clear, small firm data security is usually handled by the assigned attorney.
Firms also need to invest in password managers, use products that securely transfer files, and make sure they are using two-factor authentication.
Small firms need to spend more of their 2022 tech budget on client portals too.
Small firms need to realize that many clients prefer to interact with them electronically. The most cost-efficient, secure way to do this is through client portals. Good news: Many practice management solutions now offer client portals as part of the package.
Julie Bays (@juliebays) is the Practice Management Advisor for the Oklahoma Bar Association. She works with the OBA Management Assistance Program to provide assistance to attorneys in using technology and other tools to efficiently manage their offices and teaches a variety of Continuing Legal Education classes. Bays is also involved with the Access to Justice initiatives of the OBA such as Oklahoma Free Legal Answers.
Sharon Nelson and John Simek: Dedicate Some Dollars to Endpoint Detection and Response
Cybersecurity should be top-of-mind for all attorneys no matter their firm’s size. Ransomware attacks have escalated at an alarming rate, especially since the beginning of the pandemic when lawyers were working on their insecure home networks. Some reports put ransomware growth at 150% or greater.
Traditional antivirus software is no longer sufficient to protect your computer systems from attack. Yes, you still need to keep your investment in your antivirus/malware applications, but there is another piece of security protection you should be implementing. Small firms should be investing in some form of endpoint detection and response, or EDR.
Think of EDR as being the next generation of antivirus and anti-malware.
It is extremely effective in combating ransomware. EDR uses sophisticated techniques such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and heuristics to determine what would be considered normal operations for your computer systems. Activity outside of normal would cause the EDR solution to take action. It might quarantine files, block activity, or even automatically disconnect the computer from the network.
Some EDR solutions work in conjunction with a SOC (security operations center), which adds a human element. Some have rollback ability as well, meaning your computer system can be rolled back to a known good state prior to the ransomware attack. This is invaluable. EDR solutions are generally very affordable, even for the solo attorney. Investing some 2022 technology dollars in an EDR solution is highly recommended.
Microsoft License Tip: Small firms should not be spending any technology dollars for perpetual Microsoft Office licenses. Purchasing a subscription for Microsoft 365 is a much better alternative. If you purchase a perpetual license, you only get the features that are available at the time of sale and support is limited to only a few years. The subscription model gets you constant updates (security and bug fixes) and any new features and functionality. No question that the subscription model is the better — and more secure — pathway.
Sharon D. Nelson (@SharonNelsonEsq) and John W. Simek (@SenseiEnt) are President and Vice President of Sensei Enterprises, Inc., a digital forensics, legal technology and cybersecurity firm based in Fairfax, Va. They have written 18 books published by the ABA, including “The Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guides” and “Encryption Made Simple for Lawyers.”
Tom Lambotte: Be More Proactive About Addressing Security Threats
In his Forbes article “Tips for Protecting Yourself Against Rising Cybercrime” (Sept. 13), author Jeff Bell says:
“In 2020, the FBI received a record number of cybercrime complaints in the U.S.: 791,790. That figure marks a 69% increase from 2019, resulting in total reported losses of $4.2 billion. The top three reported crimes were phishing scams, non-payment/non-delivery scams, and extortion.”
Backing up that statement of inherent threat is the 2021 ABA Legal Technology Report, which found 25% of responding law firms had experienced a security breach. That’s one of four — not good odds. And, as mentioned above, the report also shows that, over the next year, small and solo firms will invest only a tiny portion of their technology budget in security (10%-11%) compared with firms of 100-plus attorneys (20%-36%).
There’s a big disconnect between the perceived threats and the actions taken (think budget).
In addition to the basics, such as using full-disk encryption, two-factor authentication, and secure passwords, I recommend using these eight security layers to enhance your cybersecurity posture:
- Cybersecurity training
- Phishing simulation
- Dark web monitoring
- Establishing IT security policies
- Having protection for Microsoft 365 and Google workspace data
- Team-based password management
- Proactive monitoring, maintenance and patching for Mac and PCs with antivirus and web protection
- An automated phishing defense platform
Here’s the question you might be asking yourself: “Oh great, more advice from someone who identifies a problem without providing a solution! Do you know how much free time I have to devote to these things?”
I get it, and for total transparency, I am very biased here. I developed the first turnkey cybersecurity solution for solo and small firms. It integrates these security layers and was built specifically to be affordable and accessible to solo and small firm lawyers.
The truth is, solo and small firms must do more when it comes to addressing the threat of security breaches proactively, but the solutions most often touted in legal publications are built for midsize to BigLaw firms, leaving solo and small firms completely on their own.
Tom Lambotte (@GlobalMacIT) is a cybersecurity expert who has been in the tech support industry for over a decade. He founded BobaGuard in 2019, which offers a turnkey suite for solo lawyers and small to medium law firms that include a security suite customized just for them. He is also the founder and CEO of GlobalMac IT, a managed service provider specializing in serving lawyers who use Macs.
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