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We all know that we need to use technology in our law practices—even if it’s just Microsoft Office.
And, no matter how well we’re using it, all of us could use it better, so there’s never an end to our search for better software tips, tricks, and methods.
Additionally, there’s a maddening amount of information out there. How can we ever be sure we even have enough information to start building or changing our legal tech stack?
In this chapter, you’ll learn what categories of legal tech software are available. You’ll also discover how to assess your particular needs, and how those needs can help you start building your legal tech stack.
Before you can build anything, you need a basic understanding of the tech you’re working with. Although there are many potential taxonomies for legal tech, the following structure should help you when thinking about your own business.
Your firm’s productivity software is the backbone of your legal tech stack. This type of software helps your law firm run smoothly. It may not be the most important software decision you make, but it will likely have a significant impact.
Here, we’re talking about suites of software that handle an array of business technology. This is your email software, calendar, word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation software. In more advanced forms, this includes task management, inter-office communication, and even video conferencing.
The largest players in this area are Microsoft Office, and GSuite—or Google Workspace. Your law firm needs to use at least one of these. Once a lawyer chooses a product like Google Docs, this will influence many of their decisions down the legal tech line—once you choose a side (Google or Microsoft, for instance), you tend to stay with the same brand.
The bulk of a lawyer’s work is the creation and management of documents. This means storing, sharing, and keeping documents safe from prying eyes. Many times, it also means connecting documents to other information about a case.
Many law firms will seamlessly manage their digital files in much the same way they would in physical form using something like Google Docs, Microsoft Office OneDrive, or even DropBox. These tools will work wonderfully for smaller offices or ones that don’t need advanced features.
Some law practices, however, need more advanced products like Microsoft Office Sharepoint, or NetDocuments. These products allow for much more data, greater access control, advanced searching, and even simultaneous editing.
Client management software is often overlooked by lawyers because other software claims to handle the task. Matter managers keep track of client information, while Gsuite and Microsoft Office have a “contacts” area that can help your law firm organize contact information in a basic way. But these platforms don’t generally go as far as to help you manage your clients.
Happy clients lead to new business and running a client-centric firm means keeping track of what makes them happy. Client management software can help you track important dates, provide relevant educational information, or, more importantly, build better communication with your clients.
Often, the first piece of software a lawyer buys (after business productivity software) is something to manage the information in their cases. This software is essentially your physical case file on steroids. As a digital asset, your matter file can track important dates, contact information, and even handle individual trust accounting for a case. More importantly, your matter management software can help you do this more efficiently through automation and easy collaboration.
Once an attorney gets started, they quickly understand the need for a process to manage their tasks, whether they are tasks of the firm or tasks for an individual matter. Project management software can help you organize these tasks in a way that makes sense to you.
Although matter management software may seem like it already does this, it generally doesn’t. Not only is it difficult to manage firm-wide projects with matter management software, but it is also difficult to manage matters in bulk. Good project management software will help you stay on top of jobs and tasks, no matter the type.
You already practice document assembly—even if it’s just copy and paste in a Google Doc. When we use templates, or our office reuses an old Microsoft Word document, we’re practicing document assembly. Software that is built for this task just does it better.
There are, however, levels of need in the document assembly space. Much of the software above will have built-in document creators, and these may serve your needs perfectly.
Lawyers deal in information, and communicating that information is integral to the job. To do this, law firms need phones, fax machines, email, text messaging, video conferencing, and internal messaging systems. There are very few attorneys who can get away with leaving any of these out.
Some law firms may be able to run their offices with a spreadsheet and a ledger. Most, however, are more complex than that.
Modern firms keep track of much more information. Software can help you determine your return on your marketing investments, what types of cases are most lucrative, or even whether or not you can make money by setting a flat fee for your services.
Knowing what tools are available is only part of the equation. Next, you’ll have to determine which kinds of software your law office needs. After all, complex client management software may not be helpful to a firm that has only one large client.
We’ll discuss this in more detail in Chapter 4. But, when you’re trying to determine your legal tech needs, you’ll start by looking at your documented systems and processes.