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.

pp image 1

 

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.

pp image 2

 

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.

pp image 3

 

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’.

pp image 4

 

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.

pp image 5

 

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.

pp image 6

 

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

practice panther

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.”

windows 10
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.

windows 7

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.

 

Expand Your Practice with Client Centric Strategies

Preserving the old ways from being abused.
Protecting the new ways, for me and for you.
What more can we do?
- The Kinks, Village Green Preservation Society

Lawyers in Chicago can look forward to Spring for change and renewal – and the Client Centric Strategies conference on 4/15 at the Chicago Bar Association! The headlines in the legal news consistently speak of the changing legal marketplace, whether meeting the needs of the modest means client or learning to solve problems for clients with the help of automation, artificial intelligence, and expert systems. Have you heard about the need for change, but haven’t done it yet because you are waiting for guidance, help, or to see who goes first? Well, there are lawyers who have taken the opportunities to expand their client base and embrace change by leveraging alternative fees, proactive legal services, unconventional law firm business entities, document automation and more to provide quality services and help close the justice gap. On April 15 at the Chicago Bar Association we have invited some of these lawyers – from Chicago and beyond – to talk about what they have done and what they have learned. Then we will invite you to discuss ideas and concerns to help move the conversation from thought to finish, focusing on building resources and tool kits to provide lawyers the guidance they need to move forward. You will leave with practical and ready to use resources to help you get out in front of the changes happening around the profession in a way that is good for both you and your clients.

Sessions will have breakout discussions and include:

  • Lessons from the Client Perspective: Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services
  • Redefining the Role of the Lawyer through Preventive Lawyering, Legal Health Checks and Group/Prepaid Legal Plans
  • Compensation Models
  • Emerging Delivery Models
  • and more!

SPEAKERS:
Trevor Clarke, The Chicago Bar Foundation
Margaret Duval, Domestic Violence Legal Clinic
Eleanor “Nora” Endzel, Endzel Law, LLC
Bob Glaves, The Chicago Bar Foundation
Karin Galldin, Canadian Bar Association
Will Hornsby, American Bar Association
Fred Headon, Canadian Bar Association; Air Canada
Conor Malloy, SMNP Law, LLP
Catherine Sanders Reach, The Chicago Bar Association
Nicolle L. Schippers, ARAG North America, Inc.
Sara Smith, American Bar Association
Bert “Tiger” Whitehead, Access Legal Care, PLLC

Learn more and register now at the Chicago Bar Association website

Looking for some immediate guidance?  See the Chicago Bar Foundation’s Pricing Toolkit:

And some food for thought:

Let’s go beyond the discussion and move to action, learning from leaders who have started forging the path to change.

 

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.

Customize Chrome Start Pages

If you are using Google’s Chrome browser for the desktop (and why wouldn’t you?) did you know you can have it open to whatever page – or pages – you want? If you like to see your Gmail when opening the browser in the morning or headlines from Crain’s or the weather for the day you can set Chrome to open one or many pages to get you going. Or, perhaps you would like to continue where you left off from the previous browsing session? Read on to learn how!

By default the Chrome start page (the page Chrome shows you when you launch the browser) shows the Google search bar and thumbnails of the websites you most frequently visit. However, you can change that to open any page or pages that you want.

Click to Expand

Open Pages on Start in Chrome

 

To set the browser to open a specific page or pages when you launch you will need to be signed into Chrome. Then in the top right corner click on the Chrome menu (three horizontal lines stacked on each other). Click Settings – On Startup – Open a specific page or set of pages. Then click “Set pages” and enter the web address of the page(s) you want to see when you open Chrome. Then click “OK”.

 

Click to Expand

Continue Where You Left Off in Chrome

If you would like to see the last tabs you had open before you closed the browser click on the Chrome menu in the top right and then click “Settings”. Under “On Startup” select “Continue” where you left off.  If you allow cookies to be saved you will still be logged into any websites you were visiting before. If you do NOT want to be automatically signed into these pages in “Settings” go to “Show Advanced Settings” and under “Privacy” click “Content Settings”. Under the “Cookies” section choose “keep local data only until you quit your browser” and then click “Done”. When you close your browser you will be logged out of all the sites you were logged into. This is a good security measure, especially if you share you computer.

In addition to the start page, Google’s Chrome also has a Home page you can enable and customize. This is located next to the left of the address bar. In “Settings” go to “Appearance” and check “Show Home button” and below that click “Change” to choose your homepage.

Finally, the Bookmarks Bar in Chrome will link you directly to your favorite sites. When adding bookmarks click on the star icon in the address bar then choose “Bookmarks Bar” from the drop-down menu. You can add folders (and subfolders) to the bookmarks bar too! If you want to add a bookmark or folder of bookmarks just go to the Bookmark Manager (CTRL + Shift + O in Windows; CMMD + Shift + 0 in Mac) and drag and drop the icon or folder into Bookmarks Bar.  Be aware you have limited space in the Bookmarks Bar so choose wisely. If you can’t see the Bookmarks Bar go into “Settings” and under “Appearance” choose “Always show the bookmarks bar”.

Bookmarks Bar in Chrome

Bookmarks Bar in Chrome

Use Ctrl+F to Search Data with Ease

If you’re confused about what CTRL+F is, you are not alone – according to Dan Russell, a search anthropologist at Google, 90% of people do not know how to properly use CTRL+F to locate a word in a document or on a webpage. This tool will save you time and the embarrassment of missing a keyword or phrase that should’ve been replaced. Whether you are using your browser or your word processor, CTRL+F will speed your work up immensely.

Ctrl+ F works wherever you are: web browsers (Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.) word processing programs (Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, etc.), or  PDFs viewers like Acrobat Reader. Pressing the keyboard keys “CTRL” (“Command” on a Mac) and “F” at the same time will help you find any specific phrase, clause, or word you are looking for by typing them into a box that appears on your screen. The “find” box may appear in different locations on the screen depending on which program you are using – but it will always appear.

In A Web Browser

When searching through an online document or a webpage for specific mention of a word, phrase, or number, CTRL+F can save a lot of time. Simply press the keys CTRL and F and enter the desired term, phrase, number, word, or clause into the Find box that appears. In Internet Explorer your search term will be highlighted and each time you select “Find Next” the search will move through the document highlighting the usage of the designated word, number, or phrase.

1

Click to enlarge.

For instance, say you need to find the contact information for a specific judge in the Criminal Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County, but you only know that his first name is John. Go to the court’s website listing of judges in this division, and then you can use CTRL+F to accelerate your search. Enter “John” in the search bar and press <Enter>. The search will bring you directly to any mention of “John” on the page. Pressing <Enter> again will bring you to the next entry of “John” on the page if there is one.

In Microsoft Word

When working in Microsoft Word, CTRL+F opens the Navigation pane and you can search for a word, phrase or number. You will see all of the instances of your search term appear in the Navigation pane with the word in bold and can quickly jump to that portion of the document. Take it one step further and use the Navigation pane to find a word or phrase – and then replace it! From the Navigation pane click on the “carat” (arrow) to open a toolbar with more options, including Replace.

2

For example, the client’s total damages have increased and a complaint must be updated before filing suit. Rather than locating each time the initial damages are mentioned within the complaint by scrolling through the document, you can quickly make the corrections by using CTRL+F. Just key CTRL+F,  type in the original dollar amount, click on the carat to show Options and click on Replace. The original amount will appear in “Find What”. You can then add the updated amount in the “Replace With” field. If you want to replace any incident of the number, phrase, or word in the “Find What” field, select “Replace All.”

3

There may be cases where you do not want to “Replace All” but only “Replace” some. For example, a brief cites Wickard v. Filburn in several locations, however sometimes the citation is not as appropriate as that of say, Horne v. Dept. of Agriculture.

“Replace All” would not work in this example because the initial phrase of “Wickard v. Filburn” would still apply in many of its uses. Instead, select “Replace” and let the find feature bring you through the entire document. When you find items you would like to replace, select “Replace” again; when you find items you want to leave as is, select “Find Next” and move on.

4

Conclusion

Once you get comfortable using CTRL+F in your searches and writing, you’ll wonder what took you so long to learn this important skill.

Never Miss a Message with Outlook Search Folders

One of the biggest problems with email is that not everything that comes to your inbox is of equal importance. Email from certain clients needs to be addressed right away; messages from co-counsel need to be referred to repeatedly, yet all of this correspondence gets buried under a barrage of e-newsletters and less important correspondence. Outlook “Search Folders” solves this problem. With Outlook “Search Folders,” specified emails are always available no matter where the emails are located (folders, inbox, sent mail). Microsoft by default creates generic search folders such as “Unread mail” and “mail flagged for follow up”. Users can customized more search folders by following instructions to create “Mail from and to specific people,” or “Mail from specific people”. However, the most powerful and useful search folders are likely to be custom search folders. Here’s how to create them:

 

In Mail, click “Search Folders.”

1

Click New Search Folder, and a new window will appear. From the “Select a Search Folder” list, you can select several default options, like “Unread mail,” “Mail from and to specific people,” “Mail from specific people” and “Mail sent directly to me.” To create a Custom Search Folder scroll towards the bottom and select ” Create a custom search folder” and then select the “Choose” button.

2

 

In the window that appears, type a name for your custom Search Folder, and click Criteria, and then select the options that you want.

3

 

The Messages tab contains criteria on the message content or properties, such as sender, keywords, or recipients.

4

 

The More Choices tab contains criteria on other message conditions, such as importance, flags, attachments, or categorization.

5

 

Enter in your specific criteria, and then press “OK.” You’ll see the new Search Folder listed below “Search Folders,” but you can drag it under “Inbox” or add it to “Favorites” by right clicking and choosing “Show in Favorites” in the menu so that the search folder is always at the top of your screen.

Tech Tip: Create A Table Of Contents From PDF Bookmarks

Bookmarks in a PDF are very helpful for readers to navigate to different sections of a document. They also lets the document creator highlight areas for readers to “jump” to without having to page through the document. Whether you are using Adobe Acrobat or Nuance Power Converter Pro, the process to create bookmarks is nearly identical. You can add bookmarks manually  by selecting text in the document and press keys <ctrl+b> to add that text as a bookmark, or you can also have either program recognize Microsoft Word’s Styles and automatically add headers and subheaders as bookmarks. Microsoft Word Styles can also be used to generate a table of contents in the originating Word document and in the PDF version of the original document. However, there are many times where the source documents have no table of contents or several documents are combined into a single PDF.  Lawyers may want to also generate a hyperlinked and printable table of contents, and Nuance’s PowerPDF Advanced will easily create a hyperlinked table of contents from the PDF bookmarks you create.

Once you have created your bookmarks in Nuance PowerPDF Advanced, with the bookmarks view opened  click on the wrench icon in the Bookmarks tools menu.  Toward the bottom of the options that appear click to  create a “Table of Contents”. Use the settings to choose how it looks and how many levels deep to display. Once those decisions have been made click “ok” and then decided where you want the Table of Contents to be (first page, after the cover page, etc.). Voila a hyperlinked, automatically generated paginated table of contents will be inserted into your document.  Once you have created the TOC you have options to update it, or export it as a separate document in PDF.

Click to expand

Create Table of Contents from Bookmarks