Gone are the days when a firm could thrive with pen, paper, filing cabinets, and books. Running a legal firm today requires having an eye toward the future and a proactive mindset.
The legal industry, like many other industries, is being forced to adapt as new, more efficient technology solutions are created. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this new technology is also the key to meeting the 24/7 demands of clients while also increasing client satisfaction and growing the practice.
One question to consider, especially in light of events like global pandemics, is whether you could continue to operate your business if you and the team had to leave the office and head home. Could you do it in an instant?
If your firm already has team members traveling around the country (or globe), then it’s likely that you’ve begun to embrace technology. You might not, however, be to the point where remote collaboration is as efficient, or as designed for success, as the traditional office.
Firms that are stuck in the analog past will get left behind— we’d like to prevent that from happening to you. The good news: the tech needed to help your firm go remote is already here.
For existing firms trying to wrangle a dispersed team, or those looking to start out, adopting the right tech solutions now will undoubtedly help to future-proof your business. Now let’s get you ahead of the curve.
Typically, making massive system changes all at once won’t go over well with your team (it’s likely to create more confusion than solutions). But the current state of work isolation is an excellent opportunity to do just that, or at least make incremental improvements. Established systems are currently being challenged, and teams don’t have a choice but to adapt.
Apart from the software itself, legal firms have a lot to consider—security concerns, internal communication, client communication, remote signatures, file management, and more. There are lots of questions to ask and plenty of viable solutions.
Although software is an important part of what most legal teams out there need, there are a few critical pieces of hardware that a remote legal office can’t do without either: quality computers, monitors, and scanners for paperless filing. The software won’t work if your team is missing the proper hardware.
To get started, cut through the noise by asking this question: which tools will best maintain trust and security with your clients? Considering client needs before your own can help narrow the field of options.
Now, let’s take a look at the basic legal kit that remote teams need to operate:
- Practice management software
- A communications platform
- An eDiscovery tool
- Billing and timekeeping tools
The backbone of your tech: practice management software
Putting your clients first means choosing a technology that’ll help you manage ongoing client communications. You need a reliable tool that’s within your budget, improves efficiency, and can meet the vital, non-negotiable requirement of having strong data security.
In this case, most firms begin by choosing a law practice management software, the backbone to a strong tech portfolio. Popular options include Clio, MyCase, and PracticePanther.
Law practice management software can help in managing firms, cases, clients, documents, and even making electronic payments, all in one. There are several popular solutions on the market today, which can make choosing the correct one for your business a tough decision.
When beginning your search, consider your business goals first, not the software features. More features can make software stand out in a crowd of options, but if your business won’t make use of them, frivolous features shouldn’t factor into your decision. Think about how you intend to operate your firm—in-office versus remote, solo operation versus small staff. Each of these models have different business needs.
Cloud-based software solutions are instrumental to a remote-capable firm that’s built for the future. The software used should also be made to last for the next five to ten years. Frequently changing your law practice management software, or any critical software for that matter, is expensive and inefficient.
After identifying a few potential software solutions that match your business needs, try them out by starting a free trial. Most available practice management tools offer a trial period before you even have to commit with a credit card.
The last thing you want to do is purchase a software without trying it out, only to realize that it doesn’t suit your needs, or that it has a confusing user interface. Trial periods are a great way to get a real feel for each option.
When testing software, consider the following criteria for determining whether it’s the right solution for you and your firm.
- Software security (encryption, standards, audits)
- Mobile access
- Design, interface, and ease of use
- The vendor’s demonstrated commitment to ongoing development
- The likelihood of the vendor’s longevity and support
- Ease of shifting info in or out of the software
- Full initial cost and likely future cost (setup, consulting, training, additional users)
- Ability to add additional features (APIs, third-party integrations, paid up-sells)
Pro-tip: While the above criteria focus on your practice management software, they can also be used to assess any other solutions that your firm is considering adding to its tech stack.
Your practice management software will be the hub of your business and external communications, so make sure you’ve considered your needs carefully.
Want to streamline tedious time-tracking and billing?
Learn about software integrations that can improve your bottom line.
Communicating with your team
After choosing a practice management software, it’s time to take a look at your internal business needs. How does your firm communicate and collaborate? How do they research and share findings? How does your team track case hours and billing?
Once again, there are many software solutions on the market. Let’s walk through some of the basic ones needed for a firm to operate, along with more ideas on how to choose the right solution for you.
Maintaining ongoing team communications, regardless of where everyone happens to physically be, is paramount to modern firms. Your team should have a fast, reliable service that makes remote collaboration easy.
Luckily, the needs of a legal firm don’t differ too much from remote teams in other industries. Relying on internal emails is archaic, especially in terms of operating speed—most modern teams require moment-to-moment communication, file sharing, and project management all in a centralized hub.
There are lots of communication platforms, but if you’re looking for something that combines video meetings, phone calls, team messaging, and file sharing all in one app, RingCentral is a good option:
With RingCentral’s business phone system, attorneys can effectively shield their personal cell’ numbers with a separate business phone number and profile. Not only that, the app is also designed to make communication easy for legal practices and integrates with other apps like Time Miner to automatically help you keep better track of your billable hours.
For example, see how MHP&S Law increased their billable hours by using an app integration with Time Miner to look for not just phone calls with a client, but also SMS texts, internal team messages and file-sharing tasks regarding that client, and even video meetings held to discuss the case.
eDiscovery for remote collaboration
One of the more challenging processes to imitate remotely is the collaboration involved when researching and building a case. Luckily, tech wins here too. Clients likely won’t care whether your team is working together in-person or remotely, as long as you’re getting the job done.
And your firm could easily run into a host of problems (not to mention some serious headaches) if you don’t have reliable eDiscovery software when operating at a distance from one another.
eDiscovery platforms are cloud-based solutions for carrying out investigations, uncovering truths, and sharing findings among the team. Modern solutions like Everlaw offer powerful features, such as tremendous upload speeds for managing thousands of case documents, the ability to search through all of your documents with advanced keyword queries, and the ability to begin assembling a case strategy for litigation:
All of this can be done in one eDiscovery platform, which is incredible for small firms looking to minimize their technology to only the most essential, high-impact systems. Once again, like with the law practice management software, it would probably be wise to test a few different options before making a commitment.
Pro-tip: You should also consider whether the solutions in your tech kit can integrate with one another. When you’re working remotely, having tools that can seamlessly integrate lessens your workload and can help take repetitive tasks off your plate.
Billing and timekeeping tools
The last few pieces of tech needed for a legal team are, albeit less glamorous, every bit as critical to the success of a firm. For tracking client and case hours, teams should leverage a time tracking tool such as Time Miner, which can automatically mine your smartphone for billable hours:
These solutions can save your team admin time while also helping to create, organize, and reconcile outstanding invoices and timesheets.
Make sure that your billing and timekeeping software syncs with your practice management software, so that you can track hours directly to projects and gain a holistic view of the time spent actively working on a case.
What’s your backup plan?
By now you should have a well developed portfolio of tech to keep your remote legal firm running. Realize that you are now relying on software to accurately retain all of the info needed to run your business from anywhere. What you need to ponder now, with calm logic, is the potential worst-case scenario.
What happens if your tech fails? Or what happens if a team member accidentally downloads ransomware, a new email phishing technique that locks access to all of your documents unless you pay some unknown entity. A one-click accident such as this could bring your firm to an immediate and costly stand still.
Cloud storage isn’t the same thing as a backup service. Even though your team may be managing documents with a service such as Dropbox or Google Drive, your documents aren’t invulnerable to the types of disaster just described, especially if documents stored locally on your device are synced with your cloud storage. Backups can fail. That’s a potential that you need to plan for.
Backup solutions don’t have to be fancy; they just need to be effective. To ensure seamless business continuity, it’s best to have up-to-date backups at all times. When devising a backup plan for your firm, Law Technology Today suggests that “a good rule of thumb for any data that you do not want to lose is the Rule of Three.”
The Rule of Three: All of your files should be stored in three distinct locations. For example, back up your office data locally (on an external harddrive), on a cloud-based backup system, and on another physical backup that’s stored at an off-site location (in case your office bursts into flames).
Make sure that all of your backup storage locations are properly and holistically capturing data on a nightly basis. Test each system regularly to make sure they’re working, and remember not to neglect backing up non-case documentation like financial information, time and billing, and your practice management system.
With the above tech solutions in place, a modern legal firm can operate effectively from anywhere. For those just starting a legal firm, you can benefit by building a foundation for the future, now, with a strong tech-forward approach. Older firms that wish to succeed in the long term will need to adapt in order to remain competitive.
At times like these, in which global disruptions can challenge what were once well-functioning analog systems, agility is key. Businesses that are tech-forward and prepared to go remote at a moment’s notice will maintain business continuity and have the best chance for continued success.
When it comes to business technology, embracing the future is the only way forward.