Let’s say you’re preparing a huge brief or research paper. You research, craft and dictate it. Then you pass it on to your assistant for word processing with instructions to include a detailed table of contents. When the document’s returned a week later, you promptly set about editing it and return it to your assistant. Another week later, when you ask how it’s coming, your assistant informs you that it’s taking an extra long time to redo the table of contents because your edits caused so many page changes: “That kind of editing and double-checking takes time.”
You might think that is a perfectly reasonable response. It’s not. But you have no way of knowing that, of course, because all you know about the software (in this case, Microsoft Word) are its most basic functions. After all, that’s all you need to know to make it efficiently through your workday, right? Wrong.
Here’s the problem. Because you believe you “don’t need to know that stuff,” you don’t know the table of contents could have been produced in minutes, at most, and then updated in a matter of seconds. Let’s be clear: We’re talking about hours and days versus minutes—time that could have been spent on other essential work.
It’s important—vitally important—to understand the full capabilities of the software used in your practice, even if you don’t actually use it yourself. That means you need to know the “what” even if you never learn the “how.” Otherwise, you’ll never really know if the people assisting you are working efficiently. If it takes days to complete a task that could be completed in a very short time, that’s a problem. So, what’s to be done?
Swallow That Bitter Pill and Get Some Training
- If your firm has an in-house trainer, ask for some specialized training sessions geared toward showing you what the software you use daily can do to increase efficiency.
- Search out some paid training resources for commonly used software such as Microsoft Office. Google is your friend for finding such local training resources.
- If someone at your office, in your family or in your circle of friends or colleagues is unusually adept with software, arrange for an ongoing knowledge swap—trade yours for theirs!
- Add some basic software books to your library. (The “For Dummies” series are a great starting point, as are the ABA Law Practice Management Section’s “Lawyer’s Guide to …” series). Commit to reading one chapter a week. Skip over the “how to do it” and concentrate on the “what it can do” if you’d like.
- Get help online. The Internet is filled with tech blogs and websites devoted to (free!) software tips (again, Google is your friend).
- Attend CLE seminars and webinars devoted to technology use for lawyers. These are great knowledge and people resources.
Who knows, from there you might discover that if it means increasing your own efficiency, you’re not too busy for more training. You may even be ready to move past the “what” and on to the “how.”
The ABA Law Practice Management Section publishes a number of how-to technology books, including The Lawyer’s Guide to Microsoft Outlook and The Lawyer’s Guide to Microsoft Word, both by Ben M. Schorr, which are excellent resources for self-training.
Vivian Manning is the IT Manager at Burgar Rowe PC in Barrie, Bracebridge and Cookstown, Ontario. Prior to moving into IT, Vivian practiced law at Burgar Rowe primarily in the area of municipal land development, with a total of 17 years in private practice before switching to the IT end of the law office. She currently indulges her love of teaching tech through her blog Small City Law Firm Tech.