This is a guest post by Chelsey Lambert, founder and CEO of Lex Tech Review.
As a legal technology specialist, I see a lot of solutions built to solve the challenges of today’s law firm. What’s more important, and the focus of this article, are the law firms who routinely contact me for help and guidance.
Over the years, city after city, state by state, the same patterns appear: Law firms and their staff who want to invest in technology...but something is holding them back. I’d like to take a moment to discuss the patterns and methodologies that hold so many of us back from fully committing to tools that can dramatically improve our businesses and lives.
1. Let Go
Well established attorneys reach out to me who are still running on a legacy system, asking for guidance. For most, the deadline for renewal has long passed and the server running their business is on its last leg.
So often we get caught up in the investments we made years ago. I recognized that tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees, software licenses, hardware, IT support and more have been paid.
The process of change is hard, migrations usually cause an increase in stress, but in the end upgrading to a tool that can support you for years to come is the best choice for the business. By delaying the investment, you create an unnecessary handicap. One that impacts morale, threatens client service and your reputation.
Consider the cost of operating in a less than efficient environment, not the cost of what you have previously spent on the hardware and technology that helped the practice grow to what it is today.
2. Decide to Delegate
Delegation is the stranglehold of running a solo or small law firm. We call delegation a people powered option, when in fact you can also delegate to technology. Here are some examples:
- Create a public calendar link so clients can book an appointment with you online. Calendly, Acuity Scheduling, and ScheduleOnce are all great options. These tools can also make it easy to work with a virtual receptionist provider as a way to give them access to your calendar without exposing details.
- Accept online payments! Check fraud is on the rise, and it’s more important than ever to offer your clients both the convenience and security that accepting online payments offers. In my own business over 30% of our check payments get lost in the mail. The amount of administrative hassle and friction this causes with our customers is maddening. Be more secure, offer convenient payment options and trust in providers who specialize in processing legal payments such as: LawPay, Jubilee Payments, Payment Tree, and EasyPayJD.
3. Invest in Automation
Every law firm has a core set of documents and processes that guide a potential new client through intake, scheduling the appointment, and retaining the law firm. Invest in technology or services that automate the small tasks involved in each step of the process. While they take time to set up, and some result in frustrations of trial and error, you will find that afterwards your workload will feel lighter every time you witness the benefit of these tools. Give one or more of these a try:
- Create an electronic signature template for your retainer agreement. HelloSign is an inexpensive signature tool that includes one template in its basic plan. Simply add blank fields where your clients information and signature will go. Many of the case management platforms offer electronic signature tool integrations, which removes one more step by populating your client’s information for you right from the contact or case file. Then with every new retainer agreement have them sign the document electronically, from their computer, mobile device, or a tablet in your office. The time saved creating new agreements adds up quickly!
- Leverage automated text message appointment reminders! You know those fancy updates you get via text message from your doctor, dentist, salon, restaurant or other professional service about your appointment? Your law firm can send them, too! You can use a standalone service such as Zipwhip or Pinger to send individual text message confirmations, or an automated tool built into your case management platform, such as PracticePanther.
- Make the most of your marketing hours with marketing automation tools. Simple solutions such as Dlvr.it automatically post your website blog posts to all of your social media platforms. To take it a step further, set up "autoresponders" for anyone who fills out a form, downloads a piece of content, or sends you a message. Staying top of mind is critical to turning a potential lead into a paying client.
- Use document assembly and form tools. Similar to the retainer agreement example above, document automation and assembly extends into the case-delivery cycle. Intelligently transform a document by populating your client’s case details, while also adjusting grammar, pronouns, plurals, and other contextual language. Providers leading the way in this space include: LawYaw, Smokeball, LEAP, and DirectLaw.
4. Seek out Specialty Products
Do you practice exclusively in one area of law? The level of customization now available with cloud software, such as case or practice management platforms, is astounding. A major turning point for these providers was the ability to integrate with practice area-specific tools. Here are a few noteworthy options for law firms who focus on a niche.
- Practice area-specific platforms: CASEPeer, SmartAdvocate, WealthCounsel, Best Case, Jubilee, and NextChapter are all providers of case management and case delivery solutions.
- CRM and marketing platforms: Lexicata, Law Ruler, and Lawmatics all focus on front-of-the-house operations.
- Products that augment client service: Separate.Pro is a service created for consumers filing for divorce in California. They are provided with a login by the law firm, and receive support through one of the most difficult portions of paperwork, the initial Preliminary Disclosure Process. This saves law firms who use the software up to six hours of client support per case. Another example is Qualia, the first real estate law platform that has been awarded TRID compliance, and streamlines the home-buying cycle while protecting consumers, thanks to their integration with both lenders and title companies.
5. Text Messaging is the New Email
Whether we like it or not, text messaging is the new dominant form of consumer communication. Consider how your own conversations have moved from fax and phone to email and text. A trend that cannot be ignored, clients now expect case updates, meeting reminders, and the ability to message their law firm’s team over text message.
The key to adapting to this need while maintaining ethical compliance is to use technology built to securely handle the job. Practice Management platforms now offer built-in text message templates, or integrate with solutions such as Zipwhip to extend and document secure communications over text.
A best practice is to use a legal-specific and web-based system that multiple staff members can access. Confidential case-related information should not be shared on employees' personal cell phones. Instead, send a link via text that takes the client into a client portal where they can discuss your case securely through a service like Zipwhip or Pinger, so an audit trail of your communication is documented.
New tools are also available to extract evidence and billable time from text messages on your phone. Two all-star newcomers featured in this year’s ABA TECHSHOW Startup Alley are: Time Miner, which pulls text message data from your phone and turns it into time records, and Evichat, which extracts text message evidence from clients' mobile devices for use in litigation.
Expect to see the list of legal-specific text message services and integrations explode in the coming year. I’m very excited to see growth in this category.
While the above list of shiny software and cool new integrations sounds great, there’s one missing piece that defines the success of any technology investment: your commitment.
You can spend all the money in the world on technology and services, but if you don’t fully commit to, or participate in, the onboarding and training process you will not achieve the full value of your purchase. Every organization mentioned offers world-class training and support. Do not blame the product or service provider; it is your responsibility to own the outcome of your investment. If things aren’t going right, or you need help, speak up! Then, if it doesn’t work out, you know that you did everything you could, and will feel much better about making progress instead of staying where you were.
Motivate your team to try new things, encourage yourself and them to adapt. There is no limit to the positive impact a well-trained, technology-equipped, and properly motivated employee can have on your business. Have faith and invest in yourself and your team, just as much as you do the technology you buy.
About Chelsey Lambert
Chelsey Lambert is a legal technology specialist, published author, and CLE speaker, and the founder and CEO of Lex Tech Review, which provides legal technology and marketing education. At Lex Tech Review, Chelsey helps attorneys and legal professionals understand the technology that is available to them and how to use it. She is a strong advocate for the positive impacts the right technologies can have on business growth, client relationships, and quality of life for the business owner. You can email Chelsey at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on Twitter @ChelseyLambert.