What Legal Tech Means for Your Law Firm
6 min read
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Using relevant law firm technology leads to a more productive and efficient law firm. You know this, so you already use a considerable amount of tech in your office. If you’re like most law firms, though, you’re constantly wondering if you’re doing enough. Then add decision fatigue: how do you choose the right tool, implement it quickly, and get buy-in from your team?
In the following six chapters, we address these questions for you—or, at least, teach you to answer them for yourself. As you read through, keep in mind that by ‘law firm technology,’ we mean hardware and software.
In Section I of this Guide, we’ll show you how to determine your firm’s technology needs. First, we’ll discuss the advantages of using legal technology tools in your office. Then, we’ll take a look at what types of technology a law firm will typically use. Finally, we’ll talk about competencies you’ll need to take advantage of these technologies.
Section II focuses on implementation. We’ll discuss how to select the right product that fits your organization’s needs. Then we’ll move to best practices for getting buy-in from your team. Finally, we’ll talk about maintaining your tech stack (the combination of tools and software you select to manage your firm) with systematic audits.
Once you get to Chapter 3, you can use this Legal Tech Guide in tandem with our Field Guide to Buying Legal Technology and our Product Reviews. These will help you determine whether a product has the right features for your needs and how it works with your other legal technology tools.
Technology without purpose is a waste of time and money. Yes, it can be tempting to purchase the same legal technology tools that the law firm down the street uses and then find a place for it in your office. However, this can leave you with a mess of tech in your firm that is hard to implement, understand, and optimize.
Instead, like any other purchase at your firm, technology purchases should stem from a need. They should solve a problem. And these purchases should either save you time or money. (Both, for the win!)
It’s not always easy to understand where your office benefits from technology. There’s a lot of tech out there, and it all seems to do something different. Or, more commonly, it all seems to do the same thing. You need to know where these options fit into your firm.
Think of tech this way: In your law office, technology will help you organize or automate.
A great tech platform could:
Generally though, you’re not going to use just one platform. No matter what your tool does, it needs to fit into the collection of software and tools used to manage your firm. This collection is your legal tech stack.
Let’s go a bit deeper into the advantages of tech. (And this is also a great section to reference for team buy-in.)
Easier access to files and faster access to information is key to running an efficient law firm.
Digitization of files (including the information inside those files) and remote access to office resources are the common ways to streamline your office’s information. But your preferences will drive the exact size and shape of this solution. What one office may do with document management, another will find law practice management software to be the best fit.
And remember—you can streamline with whatever tech you have right now. Organizing your files is more about systems within your technology than the technology itself. (Read that sentence again—it’s important.)
Once your law firm expands access to files and information, you’ll find you need to manage the tasks of your office more effectively. After all, increased access won’t help much if you don’t know what to do next.
Task management can take many forms and a treatise on how to manage your tasks and projects is beyond the scope of this guide. Generally, though, when we think of our tasks, we can group them into two categories: firm tasks and matter tasks. For more information on project management, listen Podcasts #353 and #385.
Firm tasks are tasks that keep your office running smoothly. Tasks like reconciling your accounts at month-end, purchasing coffee for the break room, or scheduling weekly leadership meetings. These are in a different cadence than matter tasks and, often, don’t need a traditional workflow.
Matter tasks are all the things that need to be done to move your client’s issue forward. We can think of these tasks in the context of project management, with each matter consisting of a separate job or project with many tasks (or workflows) nested within.
When you’re looking to optimize task management, it is important to keep in mind the types of tasks you have in your office. More importantly, however, is to think about how your office likes to organize and accomplish tasks. Does your law firm work well with task lists, or is a visual board more your speed? Do you prefer to plan out work in a waterfall method, or would you rather stay agile?
Often, your area of practice will dictate the style of project management that is more comfortable. Whichever you choose, however, it is important to have a plan and to document that plan. For more on planning and documenting your project management, check out Chapter 4 of our Managing a Small Law Firm Guide.
Once you have your information access and task management mapped out, it’s time to think about your clients. Client communication, as it relates to legal technology tools, can be broken into two basic categories: organization of information and execution of communication.
With one-click checkouts on big-name stores and instant responses from customer service reps, clients expect an easy and quick communication experience. In order to create this experience, your office will need to make organization of client information a priority. You’ll also need to make sure you have the capacity to follow-up on your communications. Tools like client relationship managers (CRMs) and services like virtual receptionists should help you along your way.
You’ll also want to consider security and ethics. It can be easy for your client to text you pictures for use as evidence, but it is likely not a secure enough method. Some client communication applications let you securely share documents, while others add real-time communication to your client’s experience. Make sure you know which platform fits your security needs. If you need help, you can always head over to our Field Guide to learn more.
Every firm has different needs for its finances. Some law practices can run their entire practice with an Excel spreadsheet and a checkbook ledger. Others, however, need to run reports on their marketing efforts or distribute commissions on a split contingency basis.
Timekeeping & billing, trust account reconciliation, and general business accounting all fit into the firm finances area of technology in your office. Ultimately, the goal here is to keep good records so you can take measure of your firm and serve your clients better.
Remember, we cover law firm finance topics like long-term financial strategies, law firm KPIs, business insurance, taxes and more in our Guide to Law Firm Finances.
The broadest category of technology in your practice is that which helps you automate tasks. Not only can automation save time, but it can also reduce errors by limiting human interaction. After documenting your systems and processes, you’ll get a sense of where you can automate.
The technology to manage this, however, is not generally one discrete piece of software. Automations usually live inside other applications. Examples of automations are the out-of-office response on your email, or even the keyboard shortcut you’ve programmed to make the § symbol.
Although it may not strike you as law firm technology, tools that enhance your legal research play a large role in the typical law practice. Efficiently finding relevant case law can save time and money. While, integrating docket information into practice management software can streamline calendaring systems. Either way, access to quick and trustworthy information can make or break a case.
Keep in mind that this is an area rife with innovation. It is easy to feel like you are drinking from a firehose when researching products. As with everything else in legal tech, start with an idea of what specific problems you want to solve.
Online research is a broad category, and your law firm likely has vastly different needs than the one next door. Our Field Guide to Buying Products and Services can help you determine what features you need and who has them.