How Technology is Creating a Better Law Firm

Sponsored by PracticePanther. Written by Eddy Bermudez, Content Marketer & Chief Imaginist at PracticePanther

Speaking in Davos in 2015, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said, “…technology empowers humans to do great things. You have to be optimistic about what technology can do in the hands of humans.” It is easy to see the impact technology has had on us and our society in such a short time. Apart from the conveniences we enjoy, technology is revolutionizing our economy and the way we do business. Yet, law firms have been slow to adopt new technology.

I have previously written about the brave new world legal technology is opening up for solo and small law firms. Law technology has changed every part of the legal field. The paperless, virtual office is becoming the new normal. Lawyers, paralegals, and legal secretaries are starting to realize how much of their work is simplified and automated with technology. Solo and small firms need to adopt new legal technology to keep up with larger firms.

At one time, the impulse is to say “I don’t really need it” to legal technology might have been correct. Those days are behind us. Once you realize the benefits technology can have on your practice you will wonder why you waited so long. Here are some actionable steps you can take to improve your firm’s efficiency.

Time + Efficiency = Money

A lawyer’s job is to practice the law. Yet, many lawyers are spending too many billable hours on administrative/clerical duties. Outsourcing these tasks to paralegals creates extra work for them and keeps them from focusing on the client and their legal duties. A secretary could handle these responsibilities. However, not all solo and small firms can afford to hire an extra staff member just for clerical work.

So, the problem becomes how to complete these menial tasks faster and get back to practicing the law. The answer is to start using case management software, like PracticePanther, to easily automate many of the menial tasks that take away time from billable work. First, automate the repetitive tasks you do every day. In the software, use document automation to create prefilled document information for frequently used documents.

Document Automation

In a Microsoft Word document, you would typically need to manually fill in all the information for an engagement letter. However, the software will show you the different fields that you can add into a template, like a contact’s name and case number, and you can copy these fields into your Word document. Next, save the document as a .docx file and go back into the software.

Click the New Document Template button, name your document, and select the file you just created from your computer and save it to the software. So, now whenever you want to apply this template to any of your matters, simply go to that matter and click the “New” button. Click “Apply Template” at the bottom, and apply the template. A document will be automatically generated for you with all the client information filled in for you. You never have to waste time manually writing these documents again.

Time Tracking

Time tracking is another task that can be automated so every billable hour is recorded and charged to the client. You can set an hourly rate for yourself as well as all other users, create convenient time entries, track time from any device, generate invoices, and compare time entries across users and matters.

Lawyers should use the timer in the software to easily track every second spent on a billable task. Stop the timer once the task is done, then convert those hours into an invoice so you can accurately bill your client for the work you have done. You should not guess how much to charge a client.

First, set your default hourly rate in your settings menu. Find the hourly rate box and simply enter your going rate.

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Each user can set their own default rate. Alternatively, the owner of the account can go to the ‘More’ tab on the left-hand side, select ‘Users’, and select the user for whom you want to set the default rate.

Next, create a time entry by clicking the ‘+New’ button on top and select ‘Time Entry’. Select the Contact and Matter for which you want to create a Time Entry. You can then use our built-in timer to track time with your client, or manually input the amount of time spent with your client. You can even pause the timer and resume.

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Once the task is complete, stop the timer and generate an invoice for that billable time. Go to ‘Matters’ and select the ‘Invoice’ option on the Matter for which you want to generate an invoice. After you’ve selected ‘Invoice’, simply click the ‘Generate Invoice’ button. This way, you will never lose a billable second or have to spend a lot of time creating spreadsheets and calculating amounts.

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Greater Communication

Technology has made legal work vastly more cooperative. Attorneys can now reach out to other attorneys and clients from anywhere and in any part of the world through a client portal. The client portal offered by PracticePanther’s software improves transparency and trust, leading to happier and more profitable clients.

Additionally, you can continue to run your firm efficiently by assigning tasks to your clients, invite them to meetings or court dates, send them invoices, share files, and send secure messages. This way you eliminate the hassle of spending hours playing email tag with clients and hoping your staff is on track with their work.

To start with, create events or tasks for employees and clients from PracticePanther. Under the ‘+New’ tab, select ‘Event’ or ‘Task’.

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From there, fill out the form with all information relevant to the Event or Task, and click ‘Save’. You can invite a Contact or another User to an Event you have created. On the Event or Task page, type any User or Contact you wish to be included as an attendee under the ‘Attendees’ tab. Assign multiple users and contacts to the event and send them an email reminder.

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Moreover, you can remind your staff and clients about important deadlines with SMS & email reminders. After you select ‘Event’ or ‘Task’ under the ‘+New’ tab and have filled out all the information for the given event/task, click the ‘+Add a reminder’ button and select the method (Email, Popup, or Text Message) and time of the reminder. Then just click save and the reminder will be sent when you requested.

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The client portal also saves time by allowing clients to electronically sign documents. You can eliminate the time it takes to coordinate your schedule with the client’s by uploading their documents to the client portal and sending them an encrypted email. The client can sign the document and send it back to you without ever having to take time off work to visit your office. You save time and can dedicate your efforts to advancing the client’s case.

These are just a few of the automation features you can adopt to make your firm more efficient. Whether you are a Baby Boomer, Gen Xer or Millennial attorney technology makes your job easier. Law practices can only benefit from the changes the tech revolution offers.

PracticePanther is a member discount of the Chicago Bar. Sign up with PracticePanther and use the code 10off4cba to get 10% off the monthly plan.

Article sponsored and written by Practice Panther

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Improve Your Website with Google’s Test My Site

Having a modern website doesn’t just mean good design. Today it means being mobile friendly and quick to load. If your website doesn’t look good on a smartphone, Google pushes it down in page ranks. If your website is slow, a potential client may take their eyeballs elsewhere out of impatience. Make sure that your website is up to snuff by going to Think with Google’s tool, “Test My Site” testmysite.thinkwithgoogle.com.  Type in your website’s URL in the bar and you’ll get statistics on mobile friendliness and loading speed on both a phone and a desktop.

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If you click “Get My Report,” you’ll receive a more detailed analysis of your website in your inbox that will tell you what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. Common problems such as needing to optimize images or leverage browser caching can be a little complicated to tackle on your own, but the report does give you even more detailed guides on how to fix the problem yourself. You can give the report to a webmaster to fix any troubled spots you might have.

Think With Google, Google’s trends and marketing insights arm, says that people are five times more likely to leave a website if it isn’t mobile-friendly, and almost half of all users will leave if your site takes longer than three seconds to load. Don’t lose potential clients and referrals because of short attention spans. Find out your website’s potential weaknesses at testmysite.thinkwithgoogle.com

 

Want more information on SEO? Check out our video, Make SEO Work For Your Law Firm on our BRAND NEW HOW TO LIBRARY hosted by Vimeo. You can even watch your phone or tablet! https://vimeo.com/213885271/ec347df759

 

What Lawyers Need To Know About Accepting Credit Card Payments

You should be accepting credit card payments. Clio’s 2015 Legal Trends Report observed a 35% reduction in the time it took to receive payment compared to waiting for a check. You may think that the way you process payments now is just fine so why fix it? Because the way we pay for things have changed. A little over 10 years ago, checks were the biggest form of noncash payments in the US, but in 2007, according to the Federal Reserve, the combination of debit cards, credit cards, and ACH payments overtook checks. Many of your clients are already paying online in other places. Four out of five households with internet access opt to online bank, and this isn’t only millennials– more than 70% of online or mobile bill payers are 35 years of age or older. By not collecting on invoices immediately, you’re effectively extending your client’s credit.

Every credit card processor will provide you with a “payment gateway.” A “payment gateway” is what clients use to submit their credit/debit information. It can be a physical swiper or an electronic form. Which type of account you have then determines where that information from that gateway goes. A merchant account is a one-to-one relationship. It will briefly hold the client’s money and then transfer it to your firm’s bank account. Processors made specifically for attorneys are usually merchant accounts. In fact, some legal-specific credit card processors handle trust accounting, depositing the transaction the correct account right away and only deducting fees from your operating account. Examples of these types of processors include LawPay, LawCharge, and MyCase Payments (only available with the MyCase practice management software).

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In 2011, a new type of account came on the market – the aggregator account, making way for all sorts of new processors you may have heard of: PayPal, Stripe, Square, and Authorize.net. Aggregator accounts merge the money from your transaction with the money from transactions of other businesses and then move it to their own merchant account. This process reduces their fees from the credit card companies that they then theoretically pass on to you with lower transaction fees. In my comparison chart, however, you can see that merchant accounts have lower fees per transaction, with LawPay having the lowest published transaction fee (see column M for a test of running a $1K transaction). Double click the image to see all the data in Google Sheets.

If you decide to accept credit card payments, it’s important that you remain PCI compliant by following the PCI guidelines for protecting credit card data: 1. Build and maintain a secure network; 2. Protect cardholder data; 3. Maintain a vulnerability management program; 4. Implement strong access control measures; 5. Regularly monitor and test networks; 6. Maintain an information security policy. Every year you should submit a self-assessment of your compliance to your acquirer bank. To make the process easier on yourself, select a processor that is PCI Compliant on their end as well as yours. LawPay actually includes a free guide and support through the assessment. Other processors are PCI compliant but do not offer the same level of support LawPay does. PayPal Payments Pro actually puts the onus on the merchant in order to take on higher risk merchants. Consider if the benefits of using PayPal Payments Pro outweigh the headache of maintaining PCI Compliance. You can learn more about PCI and take a look at sample self-assessments, check out PCI Security Standards Council’s Document Library: https://www.pcisecuritystandards.org/document_library?document=pci_dss

For more information, see our CLE “Accepting Online Payments Ethically and Securely” at http://bit.ly/2mpiCcB

 

*Bankruptcy attorneys and debt collectors: be diligent in reading the fine print when selecting a credit card processor. Stripe considers your practice too high risk, but there are plenty that don’t.

Does your Windows computer take forever to start up? Disable unnecessary programs at startup.

Do you avoid shutting down your machine because of how long it will take to get running again? You could have too many programs launching at startup. We often have these programs running in the background all day, slowing us down, even though we only use them for five minutes.

 

You can determine which programs really must begin at startup and disable those that don’t by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Esc to open the TaskManager, and going to the Startup tab in Windows 10. Right click on the program you want to disable and select “Disable.”

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If you’re still running Windows 7, open the Start menu, type msconfig, and press enter. The System Configuration window will appear. Select the Start Up tab.

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After you have unchecked the programs you want to disable, click Apply and then OK.

Saving little bits of time may not seem like much but it can add up to something big, and it’s something you can do right now.

 

Did You Know Google Docs has OCR Technology?

You may already be storing PDFs in Google Drive, but did you know that you can use it to turn them into searchable and editable documents? Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology,the ability to convert PDFs and images into malleable text is usually a part of your PDF program, but if you’re storing documents in Google Drive, you don’t have to open your PDF program to
take advantage of it. In Google Drive, right-click on the file you want to convert and select Open with > Google Docs.

 

OCR Google Docs

A new browser tab will open with PDF converted to editable/searchable text. You can then download it to Word, save it as a new PDF, or keep it as a Google Document.

Create a LinkedIn Company Page

You may be on LinkedIn, but is your firm? Separate from your personal LinkedIn profile, a LinkedIn company page lets you showcase your firm as a whole, publish news, and highlight your services as a brand. Firms of any size can benefit, but there is criteria in creating one:

  • You must have a personal LinkedIn profile set up with your true first and last name.
  • Your profile is at least 7 days old.
  • Your profile strength must be listed as Intermediate or All Star.
  • You must have several connections on your profile.
  • You’re a current company employee and your position is listed in the Experience section on your profile.
  • You have a company email address (e.g. john@companyname.com) added and confirmed on your LinkedIn account.
  • Your company’s email domain is unique to the company.

 

If you fit this criteria, create your LinkedIn company page today at https://www.linkedin.com/company/add/show

Control Your LinkedIn Profile

If you have avoided creating a LinkedIn profile because you are in a practice (prosecutor, judge, advocacy, healthcare, etc.) that requires more personal privacy, or for you are hesitant to use social media, the good news is that with a little know-how you can have a LinkedIn profile for professional development and networking and keep it as open or closed as you want to.  If you already have a LinkedIn profile make sure you know what you are sharing, with whom and that you have some control over the settings with these tips below.

LinkedIn has organized the settings for your account, privacy and communications into a new and easier to use portal. To get there mouse over your avatar (your picture) in the upper right corner of LinkedIn on a browser (or the gear icon in your profile in the mobile app).  Click on “Manage” next to “Privacy and Settings” that appears in the drop down menu.

One thing to keep in mind as you adjust your settings – there are two levels of exposure to your LinkedIn profile – public (anyone can see) and connections (must be connected with you on LinkedIn and logged into their to see).

Public Exposure

Unless restricted, your full LinkedIn profile is available to search engines such as Google and Bing, as well as those searching LinkedIn. You can change what information is available to those who you are not connected with by going into Privacy and Settings – Manage – Privacy – Edit Your Public Profile. On the right hand side you can choose to make your profile visible to no one, or make certain portions visible by toggling the boxes on and off.  To maintain a high level of privacy, but still be found by friends and colleagues, choose “headline” and perhaps “summary” which provides your name, your location (Chicago, Greater Chicago Area) and your industry (law, etc.) and the summary you wrote.

Keep in mind, any time you add new information such as publications and organizations go back and make sure this information is left off your public profile.

Want to see what your profile looks like to the public? In LinkedIn through a browser go to Profile – Edit Profile and in the box with your name and picture click the blue button that says “View Profile As”.  On the resulting page look at the top and toggle to see how your page looks to connections versus the public.

You Looking At Me?

In LinkedIn if you look at another person’s profile they will be alerted and aware that you have done so. If you are researching a judge or juror, looking up opposing counsel or your client you may not want them to know you are looking at their LinkedIn profile. You can choose to look at people’s profiles in “private mode” which will show them that an “anonymous LinkedIn member” viewed their profile. The downside is that by choosing to be anonymous you do not get to see who is looking at your profile. To do this go to your privacy settings and click “Profile Viewing Options” and choose which mode you want to be in. You can toggle this setting on and off as desired.

 

Check Your Connections

LinkedIn is all about connections. You are connected to individual people, companies, organizations, groups, schools and other networks. This is why LinkedIn is such a powerful tool. However, you may not want to share information about who you are connected to, as well a list of other profiles people view when they look at yours.

In your privacy settings scroll to “who can see your connections” and then choose “only you” from the drop down list and no one else will see who you are connected with on LinkedIn.  Scroll a little further to “viewers of this profile also viewed” and toggle the switch to “no” so that people do not see a list of people in your profile.

Also, if you do not want people to send your connection requests just because they have your email or phone number in their contacts scroll down in Privacy to “Data privacy and advertising” and choose “Nobody” in the drop down options for “Suggesting you as a connection based on your email address” and “Suggesting you as a connection based on your phone number”.

TMI (Too Much Information)

You can control how much or how little information you put into your LinkedIn profile, and you can update your profile at any time. However, LinkedIn will share any updates you make with your connections. To be able to update your profile without notifications being sent out go into your settings and under “Privacy” toggle to “no” in “Sharing profile edits”.  Continue to scroll to the Data Privacy and advertising section to toggle off sharing data with third parties.

Finally, if you are newer to LinkedIn or not as active you can turn off “How You Rank”, which compares you to your connections and colleague in terms of profile views.

In Case of Emergency

While you can control the information LinkedIn shares about you and with whom, you still need to apply best security practices.  Use a unique, strong password and change it occasionally (password managers like LastPass and Dashlane make that a lot easier). Also, turn on two factor authentication. You will need to enter your cell phone number and then when you log in you will also need a 6 digit code sent to your cell phone number, in addition to your password, to log in. You can choose to trust certain devices, like your smartphone and laptop, so you don’t have to add the code every time you login. What two factor authentication does is it keeps a third party who may know your email address and guess your password from logging into your account, since they don’t (hopefully) have your phone as well. To turn on two factor authentication go to settings, then to privacy then security and activate two-step verification.

Conclusion

Locking down your LinkedIn profile will help keep your privacy intact. Choose who you connect with carefully, as there is no granular permission for connections and they can see everything that you publish or add to your profile. As long as you know who you are linking with LinkedIn can be a great extension of networking in person, and often now people “meet” in cyberspace before they meet in person. So, tweak those settings and enjoy one of the biggest business communities in the world!

To learn more about LinkedIn you can set up a consultation with the LPMT team, watch a How To… video at www.chicagobar.org/howto or sign up for a hands on class.

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of the CBA Record.

Simplified eNewsletters with TinyLetter

tinyletter

If you find the prospect of setting up an eNewsletter to be daunting, you might consider the free-to-use TinyLetter, a subsidiary of MailChimp. With TinyLetter, it is more like sending a long email or blog post to subscribers, rather than “creating campaigns.” It’s very simple to use (there are no templates to set up), and it lets you read replies to your letter, unlike with traditional eNewsletters.  Though eNewsletters are still best practices for businesses because of their robust features such as surveys and ROI tracking, TinyLetter is a way to get your thoughts out, send holiday greetings, or position yourself as an expert in your practice area. You can archive your letters and make them accessible like a blog, or you can have them be email-only. Because of the intimate nature of email and the fact that it was sent by you the individual and not a business, Tinyletter can be a breath of fresh air in a cluttered inbox. There is a 5,000 subscriber limit, and you can add your contacts either through Gmail or a csv spreadsheet.

How Technology is Creating a Better Law Firm

Sponsored by PracticePanther. Written by Eddy Bermudez, Content Marketer & Chief Imaginist at PracticePanther Speaking in Davos in 2015, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said, “…technology empowers humans to do great things. You have to be optimistic … [Read more]

Improve Your Website with Google’s Test My Site

Having a modern website doesn’t just mean good design. Today it means being mobile friendly and quick to load. If your website doesn’t look good on a smartphone, Google pushes it down in page ranks. If your website is slow, a potential client may … [Read more]

What Lawyers Need To Know About Accepting Credit Card Payments

You should be accepting credit card payments. Clio’s 2015 Legal Trends Report observed a 35% reduction in the time it took to receive payment compared to waiting for a check. You may think that the way you process payments now is just fine so why fix … [Read more]

Does your Windows computer take forever to start up? Disable unnecessary programs at startup.

Do you avoid shutting down your machine because of how long it will take to get running again? You could have too many programs launching at startup. We often have these programs running in the background all day, slowing us down, even though we only … [Read more]

Did You Know Google Docs has OCR Technology?

You may already be storing PDFs in Google Drive, but did you know that you can use it to turn them into searchable and editable documents? Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology,the ability to convert PDFs and images into malleable text is … [Read more]

Create a LinkedIn Company Page

You may be on LinkedIn, but is your firm? Separate from your personal LinkedIn profile, a LinkedIn company page lets you showcase your firm as a whole, publish news, and highlight your services as a brand. Firms of any size can benefit, but there is … [Read more]

Control Your LinkedIn Profile

If you have avoided creating a LinkedIn profile because you are in a practice (prosecutor, judge, advocacy, healthcare, etc.) that requires more personal privacy, or for you are hesitant to use social media, the good news is that with a little … [Read more]

Simplified eNewsletters with TinyLetter

If you find the prospect of setting up an eNewsletter to be daunting, you might consider the free-to-use TinyLetter, a subsidiary of MailChimp. With TinyLetter, it is more like sending a long email or blog post to subscribers, rather than “creating … [Read more]