Organizing aficionados advise that when you add something to your space, you should remove one thing, too. That’s a great rule for T-shirts and Tupperware, but what about your technology?
With the “one thing in, one thing out” idea in mind, we asked the practice management technology experts: What’s one new thing lawyers should add to their practice to be more efficient and profitable — and what should they let go? Here’s good advice from Heidi Alexander, Sheila Blackford, Natalie Kelly, Sharon Nelson and John Simek, and Lee Rosen.
Sharon Nelson and John Simek:
Add Encryption, Give Up Fax Machines
One thing all lawyers should have is the ability to encrypt their electronic communications. ABA Formal Opinion 477R, issued in May 2017, says that if client information is of sufficient sensitivity, a lawyer should encrypt the transmission and determine how to do so to protect it sufficiently. But we still see many solo and small firms that don’t use encryption — ever.
These days encryption is cheap, simple, fast to use — and it no longer slows your machine down. Here are some of the products you should be looking at:
Proofpoint is an excellent encrypted email solution for solo and small firm lawyers. It is very affordable and there are options for Office 365 as well.
- If you are an Office 365 user, check your subscription level to see if encrypted email is included in your plan. (It’s included with the E3 plan.) Most likely you will need to add Azure Information Protection to your subscription. It’s only $2 per user per month.
- If you have a need for secure, encrypted group, text, voice, video, document and picture messages, install the free Signal messaging app.
As for letting one thing go, let go of your fax machine. This dinosaur doesn’t seem to know that its time to die has come and many small law practices still have them. Here are our recommendations for electronic fax solutions whereby the fax is delivered to your email:
- HelloFax is a top-rated service for as little as $9.99 per month.
- Ring Central Fax is another highly rated service starting at $12.99 per month.
- MyFax has plans starting at $10 per month.
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 16 books published by the ABA, including “The Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guides” and “Encryption Made Simple for Lawyers.”
In With the Personal, Out With the Impersonal
Mostly we pretend that artificial intelligence isn’t coming to our profession. That’s a mistake. But ignorance is bliss so we delude ourselves into a comfortable stupor. Soon, though, any occupational role lacking an important interpersonal component will be replaced.
What to add to your practice? More interpersonal interactions: communication, listening, empathy, understanding, and personal connection. Yes, it’s time-consuming and expensive. But it’s what those who are willing to pay our fees want to buy. Everyone else will happily interact with their keyboards and screens.
What to let go? Impersonal processes involving online forms, automation, and detached communication done via technology. Let go of automated intake forms, sequenced follow-up emails and preprogrammed text messages. Be present, be yourself, be real. You are your only competitive advantage.
You may prefer a different approach. You might be the entrepreneur developing the AI to solve your clients’ legal problems. Awesome. If that’s you, then simply flip my instructions, bring the technology to market, and serve the folks who prefer that approach.
Say Yes to More Breaks, Say No to Burnout
The one new thing lawyers must add to their practices to be more efficient is breaks. Seems counterintuitive, right? How can we be more productive and profitable if we are not working? In fact, loads of evidence shows that occasional breaks will increase productivity and concentration, and reduce burnout. Most people can only truly concentrate for 15- to 25-minute periods of time. When you work nonstop and disregard your well-being, you will burn out. Then, not only are you unable to bill, but you could jeopardize your entire practice and possibly your license.
Taking a break is easier said than done. As a profession of smart, motivated individuals who work hard to achieve results and make an impact, we don’t want to let up. But we now know all too well that those internal pressures combined with external pressures from clients create a stressful profession that has had serious consequences on lawyer well-being over time, including high rates of problem drinking, depression and anxiety. (See the American Bar Association’s National Task Force Report on Lawyer Well-Being.)
Let go of 24/7 work and intentionally build breaks into your day — and no, not breaks to check email. During those breaks, get out of your space, move around, or consider practicing deep breathing. Research suggests that controlled deep breathing can help you relax, reduce stress, boost self-esteem and increase overall health. All those things will improve your efficiency and, as a result, your ability to bring in business, bill and collect. Try using your calendar, a timer, an app or your smartwatch to notify you when it is time to take a break. Start small, with mini-breaks such as a one-minute breathing exercise. If you own an Apple Watch, use the “Breathe” feature to notify you at prescribed intervals to just breathe.
Build up this habit and you’ll be on your way toward a full-fledged vacation. Now isn’t that a nice thought!
Heidi S. Alexander (@heidialexander) is Deputy Director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, where she also leads the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program (LOMAP). She is the author of “Evernote as a Law Practice Tool” and serves on the ABA TECHSHOW Planning Board and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s Standing Advisory Committee on Professionalism.
Add True Practice Management Functionality, Let Go of Thinking You Don’t Need Training
Add the goal of really using your practice management system in your practice. What? No practice management system? Well, start there.
Adding a practice manager will make you more efficient, and ultimately, more profitable. But it’s not just adding it, or doing what you have typically done with it — using it as a glorified calendar or making it the home for only your more tedious cases. It’s for everything! The more you feed these databases, the better off you will be when it comes to readily accessing information, handling clients’ requests and knowing what’s going on in their cases. For goodness’ sake, these programs have client portals, which can be the gateway for your firm to keep the representation fruitful from the marketing perspective, too. And you are likely to be paid sooner because bills can be provided instantly via clients’ portal pages.
Adding practice management may mean your firm focuses on the information appearing when logging into the systems — dashboards display what’s coming up, how much people owe you, and more! It may mean adding the advanced features like document template generation for easy document assembly functionality. Or creating workflows to capture repetitive steps in your work. Or adding on integrations that expand the functionality of your program — for example, automated intake, docketing, legal research or general ledger accounting. Your goal will be to add what you need to make the system work efficiently and work like you work.
As you ADD true practice management functionality, LET GO of thinking you don’t need training. Even if it’s the shorter help videos that accompany almost any system you encounter these days, avail yourself of training. My mother says, “You learn something new every day!” And, in my yearslong quest just to prove her wrong and attempt to prove she’s human, and not a superwoman, I have only been able to find she’s 100 percent correct. Training on systems you need, and even the ones you think you know inside out, will lead to insights you never realized. Explore the help files, click on that button you somehow ignored, and even start a chat session about that feature that aggravates you all the time, but you felt you never had time to explore.
Get training — let go of thinking you don’t need it. Learn something new every day!
Natalie R. Kelly (@NatalieRKelly) is Director of the Georgia State Bar’s Law Practice Management Program and a past ABA TECHSHOW chair. Natalie is an attorney and certified consultant for multiple legal software applications and speaks and writes extensively on law office management and technology.
Let Go of Shiny Object Syndrome, Adopt These Four Questions
We all love the newest product and novel gizmo. Unfortunately, we tend to hurry up and buy or download without asking ourselves anything beyond, “Can I afford it?” This leads us to make purchases or adoption decisions like a blue jay captivated by something shiny on the ground.
Here are four questions you can adopt or adapt to your law practice:
1. Do I have a problem that must be addressed?
2. Is this the solution to that problem?
3. Am I ready to commit to the program of action necessary to utilize this solution?
4. Will implementing this program of action enable me to eliminate any inefficiency?
Sheila M. Blackford (@SheilaBlackford) is an attorney and Practice Management Advisor for the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund. She is the author of the ABA book “Trust Accounting in One Hour For Lawyers,” co-author of “Paperless in One Hour for Lawyers,” and a past Editor-in-Chief of the ABA’s Law Practice magazine. She writes the Just Oregon Lawyers Blog.