At the end of 2015, I laid out tasks to undertake at year-end to clear the way for a smooth ride into an ethics-complaint-free new year. As we start 2017, here are some suggestions for how technology can be employed for the same purpose, with added bonuses like streamlining tasks that take too much time and clearing the way for business growth.
Whether these specific ideas work for you or they simply trigger your thinking, get creative on how you can integrate technology to solve your practice’s inefficiencies.
How often do you blow deadlines? Miss client appointments? Ever miss any potential new client consultations? Considering that virtually all of us walk around with a phone attached to our hip or in our hand, there is no excuse for missing appointments anymore.
If your issue is with internal scheduling, like deadlines to file papers, goals to complete tasks by a certain date, etc., look for task management apps on your phone. Many integrate into online systems as well, so they can be used on your computer and sync to the phone. If you use Gmail for your email, click the Tasks tab and list out your to-dos with due dates. If you use an app like GTasks, you can get reminders on your phone. Never find yourself scrambling to explain to a judge why you missed a filing deadline or begging for forgiveness from the state bar for failing to perform competently because you blew a statute of limitations.
Link your calendar to your phone and computer using software (like Google Calendar) that syncs to your phone. That way, you will also get reminders as you need them. If you tend to forget to prep for meetings, set a reminder for a number of hours ahead of your appointments to prep. If it’s the travel time you tend to underestimate, set a reminder for that. If you have to get somewhere by a specific time for your meetings and you use Uber, you can now even schedule an Uber ride in advance. There’s nothing like having a driver on your doorstep to get you out the door on time. Business bonus: If you have any clients who have difficulty keeping their appointments, you can set calendar software to send them reminders of your meetings, too.
Have you ever had an appointment set up with a potentially lucrative new client and then missed it? That is inexcusable with today’s technology. Whether you set up the meetings yourself, potential clients set it up online with you, or your receptionist/answering service does it, use an online booking system that syncs directly to your calendar. TimeTrade offers a free version if you book 5 or fewer appointments per month, or a $49 per year pro version for unlimited appointments. Acuity Scheduling offers a $10/month plan among its options. If you set it up correctly (and it’s easy to do), any appointment scheduled through your booking system will trigger a calendar entry and automatic reminders to both you and your new client. Business bonus: If you charge for your consultations, Acuity Scheduling can be set up to accept credit card payments at the time of booking. Never miss a payment again!
Integrate Self-Promotion Tasks
If you are struggling to keep up with self-promotion, such as blog post writing, re-posting your blog to LinkedIn and Facebook, and similar tasks, look for tech tools to help. For example, if you use WordPress for your website or blog, it can be integrated with your social media accounts so that each time you post on your blog, it automatically re-posts to your chosen social media. Instead of letting these tasks fall by the wayside, you can use technology tools to increase business without any extra effort. Applications like HootSuite or Buffer can help you automate your social media sharing as well.
Bills should not be sent to clients without you taking a look at them, but if you are not using the capabilities of your practice management software to their fullest, you are probably spending too much time on invoicing. Whether you are using something like Clio with LawPay, MyCase with PayPros Legal, or some other combination of practice management software and credit card processing, you should be sending your bills electronically and receiving payments online.
If you reduce the effort needed to send invoices, you can spend half the time but do twice the job of reviewing bills and making sure you are fulfilling your obligations to your clients. Plus, if billing is automated, it will actually go out every month, meaning you will be keeping clients up to date on their cases as required by the ethics rules.
Communicate with Clients Online
Failure to keep clients informed of the status of their cases leads to many ethics complaints. A client who feels that they are kept in the dark is likely to file a bar complaint. While sometimes the only “update” you have to deliver is that you are still waiting on a third party, that update speaks volumes to your client. It tells them you are paying attention to what is important to them, even if you are unable to move ahead until someone else acts. While you likely do not want to make phone calls to all of your clients every month, especially in a high-volume practice, you can use technology to bridge the divide and keep clients posted.
How exactly this regular communication works for you will depend on your client base and methods of communication, but some ideas are:
- Send out a monthly email (say on the last day of the month), with a standard format to all clients. If you have an up-to-date case status list, an assistant should be able to help send this out without much oversight.
- Keep a client portal where clients can log in and see the status of their case. Check your case management software for that capability.
- If you collaborate online with clients already, such as through a shared Dropbox folder or Google Docs, you can keep a shared document for each client where you continuously update their status. Be sure to keep on top of it so that the client can trust the information is the most up-to-date.
Use Form Software to Implement Routine Systems
If you followed last year’s advice to set up streamlined office procedures like client intake forms, be sure to get some tech involved to make this simple. Tools like Google Forms and JotForm can make creating a form and filling it out very easy. Plus, these tools are free! JotForm integrates with Dropbox, so if you send a link to a form and the recipient fills out the requested information, you will receive their completed document in a designated Dropbox folder. You can even use it to receive attachments, which also migrate directly into Dropbox.
Project and Task Management Goes Tech
Most solos and smalls are not just practicing law. They are also marketing, blogging, building their business, and evolving their practice all at once. However you manage these multiple hats offline, be it butcher paper with arrows all over it or a Beautiful Mind-style board of post-it notes, there is a tech solution that could augment or replace it.
One is Trello, which uses Kanban in its approach to project management. Another is Basecamp 3 which uses multiple platforms to organize your plans. Online solutions can be shared with your support team too, which makes them great tools for building your firm while still practicing law.
Explore Techniques to Link Software Solutions
If you are using multiple tech tools and you wish they would talk to each other, try out Zapier to try to get your tools to integrate.
In a simple example from Zapier, it can do things like take an attachment from a new email you receive in Gmail, save it to Dropbox, and alert you in Slack that you have a new Dropbox file. The possibilities are endless.
Seek Tech Solutions to Other Problems You May Face
If you have a hole in your practice, chances are there is a tech solution for it. Identify any problem areas and ask around, Google it, or look through Lawyerist for ideas on how technology may address your issue. It is likely that there are solutions to your problems—and to problems you never knew existed.