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. But we bet you’re wondering if you’re doing enough. Not to mention 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 aim to answer all of 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 technology in your office. Then, we’ll take a look at what sorts 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.
Technology without purpose is a waste of time and money. Yes, it can be tempting to purchase technology that the law firm down the street uses and then find a place for it in your office. However, this generally leaves 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:
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 of streamlining your files. But your preferences will drive the exact size and shape of this solution. What one office may do with Microsoft 365, 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 likely 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, consult 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. These tasks can be thought of 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, it’s prudent to keep in mind 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?
Once you have your information access and task management mapped out, it’s time to think about your clients.
With one-click checkouts on big-name stores and instant responses from customer service reps, your clients may expect an easy and quick communication experience. While you can manage their expectations, you’ll want to make sure each part of the client’s journey is stress-free. After all, their case might be stressful enough.
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 for your purposes. 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.
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.
The broadest category of technology in your practice is that which helps you automate tasks. Not only can automation save you time, but it can also reduce errors by limiting human interaction. After you have documented 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. Whether you’re searching for a specific citation, shepardizing opposing counsel’s brief, or researching potential heirs of an estate, access to quick and trustworthy information can make or break your 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 your legal tech stack, start with an idea of what specific problems you want to solve.