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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Google Drive Collaboration Cheat Sheet

Even if you have been using Google Drive for multi-user collaboration since the day it came out, there is always more to learn. Below are a few tips and tricks I learned while researching the topic for a complete (but quick) guide to Google Drive Collaboration for Attorney at Work:

Using an Existing File to Share

If you upload a Microsoft Office document to Google Drive it automatically converts to a Google document,  sheet or slides (unless you are using the Office Editing for Docs, Sheets & Slides Chrome extension), but it can be downloaded to a .docx format when you are finished editing (go to the File menu and select “Download as” to see all of the options).  If you have a Microsoft Office document that is heavily styled or formatted, though, you will likely lose some or all of the formatting.

Turn on Sharing: The Invitations

If the invitee does not have a Google account she will be invited to create one. One wrinkle: If the invitee does have a Google account, but you used a different email address when inviting her to collaborate, she will need to request access to the document from the email associated with her Google account.

You might not want everyone to have editing rights. You can choose to give invitees edit capability, comment-only, or view-only rights. No matter what level of editing rights they have, they must log in to access the documents. If you click on the (tiny) “Advanced” link in the sharing dialog box you will see more options, such as “Prevent editors from changing access and adding new people” and “Disable options to download, print, and copy for commenters and viewers.” Toggle these on and click “Save changes” to further refine user rights.

Multi-User Editing

Once you have established permissions and invited collaborators, invitees can open the document and begin typing. If several people are in the document at the same time you will notice that their identities will appear at the top of the document as avatars. You can have real-time chat by clicking on the speech bubble icon next to their avatars. You can follow changes made by other users in real time, too, because each user is associated with a color. You can see a colored cursor with their name hovering over it, as their edits appear. If you want to see the last place another user edited, just click on their avatar and to jump to their last edit.

Comments and Suggestions

Like MS Word, comments are preserved with the document. Clicking on a comment in the comment pane will take you to the place in the document the comment references. Users in the document can respond to comments by clicking on the comment box and typing in the “reply.” Once a comment has been responded to and users want to dismiss the comment, simply mouse over the comment box and click the “Resolve” button that appears there to remove the comment thread and archive it. Resolved too soon? Click on “Comments” at the top of the screen, scroll to the closed thread and click to “re-open”.

Much like the Review features in Microsoft Word, Google has “Suggesting” (equivalent to Word’s Track Changes feature).  In the upper right, in the same toolbar as the editing features (like bold, italics, etc.) click on the arrow next to the pen icon and choose “suggestions”. Now, changes will show inline on the document, color coded to the user and also appear in the Comments pane on the right side of the document. There is no accept all/reject all workflow, instead users must accept or reject each change. Users with Comment-only permissions can make suggested changes to the document as well, though only users with edit rights can accept changes.

If you upload a Word document that already has tracked changes, those tracked changes will be converted to suggestions in the Google document. Likewise, suggestions in a Google Doc saved back to .docx and opened in Word will appear as tracked changes.

Version History

One last useful feature to mention in Google docs collaboration is the Revision history. Go to File – See revision history to open a panel that shows all edits and revisions to the document and who made them. You can click on the timestamp in the right panel to see previous version of the file and revert (restore) to previous versions. Restoring to a previous version doesn’t eliminate any versions, but merely moves it to the top of your revision history.

If you want to just see new changes since you last opened a document click on “See new changes” from the File menu. Like versions, added text is highlighted, and deleted text has a strikethrough. This feature is only available for docs.

Conclusion

Google Drive for collaboration with multiple people is as simple or as sophisticated as you need it to be. It reduces reliance on email, addresses version control and is a great way to get a project started.

How to Securely Use Dropbox in a Legal Environment

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Your Dropbox Questions Answered

During the recent program “How to… Use Dropbox for File Management” (now available for free in the archives for CBA members) I received a number of great followup questions. Here they are, with my answers.

Q: My opposing counsel sent some documents to me in (I think) Dropbox and the email notice said access would expire after 48 hours. Is this common?

A: I can’t find any way to make a file expire via a link or shared folder in Dropbox. It must have been another service. I know in Hightail (fka YouSendIt) you can set a file to expire, as well as Acrobat SendNow – both popular services to share large files.

Q: Is it possible to use Dropbox to backup e-mail correspondence and folders, say from Outlook? I have been using Dropbox for a few months already but cannot figure out how could I achieve that. Thanks!

A: In MS Outlook you can set an automatic archive to save the .pst file to Dropbox. See these instructions: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/830119. You can do this for all folders, or just specific folders.

Another option is to use Adobe Acrobat Pro to save emails and/or folders to PDF and then save them to a local drive or to Dropbox. In MS Outlook 2010, if you have Adobe Acrobat X Pro installed, right click on an individual email or on a folder. In the resulting drop down menu you should see the option to “convert to PDF”. Just follow the instructions on the screen and set the save location as a Dropbox folder. Or click on the Adobe PDF tab in MS Outlook to set automatic archives for folders.

I prefer the PDF format to .pst because you can open a PDF with any PDF reader, whereas you can only open .pst folders with MS Outlook (or a third party viewer).

Q: Can we limit a shared file with a client to “read only”?

A: Whether providing a link to a file with a client, or sharing a folder of documents with a client, Dropbox does not offer a “read only” function. You can send a client a link to a file – versus sharing a folder with a client – and they can view the file OR download it. So, if they download it they can edit it – if you don’t protect it first. You can accomplish that by restricting the original file before you make it available to clients via Dropbox.

Before sharing a MS Word file in Dropbox:

In MS Word 2010 go to the “Review” tab and choose “restrict editing” and then choose “no changes (read only)” from the drop down menu, like this:

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Before sharing a PDF in Dropbox:

In Adobe Acrobat X go to File – Properties and choose the “security” tab. Choose “password security” from the drop down menu and you will get this screen:

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Under Permissions check “restrict editing…” and create a password (which will allow you to make changes, but not anyone else). Then choose if you want to allow printing or not, and keep the default “Changes Allowed: None”.

If you have older versions of these software applications you still can modify permissions, they are just in a slightly different place.

Q: I set up my own Dropbox account, and then my boss shared some doc’s with me via Dropbox. However, I can only access the doc’s he shared with me via a link in the e-mail he sent me. I cannot access them through my own Dropbox account. Does this make sense, and do you know how this may have happened?

A: This issue points to the difference between sharing a link and inviting collaborators to a folder in Dropbox. In order for you to see the files he puts in his Dropbox folder that he wants you to have access to in your Dropbox he must go to Dropbox (screenshots are from the web interface) and right click on the folder he wants to share with you. He will see this menu:

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Then instead of choosing “share link” choose “invite to folder”. He will get a dialog box and will put in your email address and a note (if he likes). Then you will both have access to that folder. If he makes a change to any of the documents on his hard drive, and the folder is synchronized, then you will have access to the latest versions of the documents.

Do you have a question about Dropbox or another technology? Got something to add to the answers above? Let me know in the comments!

Power up the free Google Calendar

There’s plenty to take advantage of in the free Google Calendar—features like creating and sharing multiple calendars, “quick add” smart appointments and the ability to make calendars public. In this article I dig in to unearth a few neat tricks to integrate your Calendar more tightly with Gmail and Tasks. With some exploring and clicking, you will find the free Google Calendar and productivity tools are quite robust, and with a little know-how, have more integration than meets the eye. Check it out … 

Want more? Watch the training video from the Chicago Bar Association and check out these articles and resources:

Lawyers Moving to Windows 8?

Microsoft’s newest operating system, Windows 8, released on October 26, 2012.  It is optimized for touch screen computing and completely revamps the user interface. Recently a CBA member asked me if I was aware if law firms were switching to Windows 8.  My response, in part:

“I haven’t heard of any firms switching to Windows 8, though it will become more difficult to order new computers, especially from big box retail stores, without the new OS. I would recommend against it until we know how the software that lawyers tend to use (practice management, PDF creation, etc.) works with it. I haven’t heard of any compatibility issues, but that is likely because few have made the move.”

Legal bloggers advise caution before moving to the new OS. Here are some thoughts from the legal blogosphere:

As I mentioned, getting a new PC with an older (Windows 7) version of the operating system will be increasingly difficult. If you are in the market for a new PC and are not interested in Windows 8 this is a good time to buy while you still have choices.

Here are a few reviews of Windows 8 from technology publications:

Note that older machines may not have the computing power to run Windows 8 and all reviewers agree that users of the older Windows operating system will have to re-learn something they have been familiar with for years.

Change is often challenging. Microsoft’s new OS is attempting to bring the best of traditional computing and ease of use of tablet computing together. As with any major change to a familiar product there will be a time of (sometimes painful) transition. Add the increasing dominance of cloud computing options that make decisions about operating system de minimis and computer users should at least smile at the increased opportunity for choice in today’s technology market.

BYOD: iPad (Bring Your Own Device)

The iPad is quickly becoming a “must-have” for every lawyer. It’s more than a Smartphone but not quite a laptop…it’s more like an “electronic legal pad.” Lawyers are finding the iPad to be the perfect tool for reading books, annotating documents, taking notes, catching-up on news, surfing the Web, giving presentations, and a myriad of other tasks. Whether you’ve had an iPad for one week or one year, you’ll learn something new in this half day seminar. Bring your iPad for a hands-on environment as our expert and panelists walk you through the apps you need and how to use them.

Learn how the iPad can become an essential part of your daily workflow:

• Introduction and tour of the iPad
• Recommended settings for the iPad
• Uploading documents to the iPad
• The 10 “Must-Have” iPad apps for lawyers
• Presentations and the iPad in the courtroom
• iPad peripherals (case, keyboard, etc)
• And much more!

See demos of iPad apps for lawyers from sponsors:

TrialWorks Case Management Software app for litigators
Total Attorneys practice management app
Lexis Advance legal research app

Speaker:

Brett Burney, J.D., Burney Consultants LLC, Cleveland
Burney received his B.A. from the University of North Texas and his J.D. from the University of Dayton School of Law. He is the founder of his firm and provides professional consulting services for electronic discovery, litigation support and trial technology to corporate executives and legal professionals. Prior to establishing his firm, Burney spent five years at Thompson Hine LLP in Cleveland. He is a frequent speaker at numerous legal technology conferences and is a well-respected author on legal technology topics.

PLUS! ABA Law Practice Management Section will be on hand with the hugely popular “iPad in One Hour” book series including: iPad in One Hour (2nd edition), iPad Apps in One Hour and pre-sales of iPad in One Hour for Litigators.

This program will be at the Chicago Bar Association on Monday, November 19, 2013 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Sign up now before it fills up!

Asana vs. Trello: Checklist Collaboration Tools Compared

My new article in Attorney at Work: Asana vs. Trello: Checklist Collaboration Tools Compared

In his book The Checklist Manifesto, surgeon Atul Gawande asserts that checklists are a “cognitive net,” a mechanism that can help prevent experienced people from making errors due to flawed memory and attention, and ensure that teams work together. Or, as Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame put it, “the book’s main point is simple: no matter how expert you may be, well-designed checklists can improve outcomes.”

In a law office, checklists help reduce errors and increase efficiency. They ensure that work is done, and in an order that makes the most sense. They can also be used as part of a task management system, showing each person in the organization how her responsibilities on the checklist affect the entire procedure. Two collaboration tools that specifically focus on lists and tasks were recently launched online. One, Asana, created by former Facebook employees, provides a web-based “to do” list for up to 30 people to share. The other, Trello, lets users create shared boards with task cards. Both are free.

So which one is better for task and project management based on procedural checklists? Let’s compare.