By: Michael Peck | @mdpeck1 | mdpeck
You don’t know what you don’t know until you go to the Show”
That is the key takeaway from the recent ABA LawTech Show in Chicago.
Far too many of our attorney colleagues sit contentedly in their offices completely unaware of the many ways they could be saving save minutes, if not hours, each day. The increases in efficiency that modern technology can provide are astounding, and not only for attorneys, but for their staff as well. Simply put, with appropriate technology, everyone in your law practice can get a lot more done in less time. This is good for everyone, especially you, the (hopefully) smart business owner. Never forget that you run a business and the purpose is to make money, infuse happiness into your day-to-day life, and most importantly, keep the gnat-buzzing distractions and crap out of your consciousness!
Efficiency is the Ultimate Goal
I was reminded of this by an excellent presentation by Perlman/Flaherty at the ABA LawTech Show. They spoke to the daily ‘inefficiency magnitude’ as it applies in your office, day after day after day, to overall productivity and profitability.
How immune to change are you? Flaherty gave the statistic that only one in seven patients can change their lifestyle behavior when told by their doctor that they are in imminent danger of a heart attack and death. That is a compelling statistic that begs the question, “how many attorneys are immune to common sense and obvious managerial efficiencies when told their office practices are inefficient and antiquated?” It’s only money–your money–are you willing to find out if your office needs a change? If so, give the office audit to your staff, and yourself, and see how you can make more money, and have more spare quality time.
While you are thinking that over, here are 7 other observations I took away from the ABA LawTech Show on things you can do to make your practice more efficient and profitable:
1. If you can’t go all paperless, at least can that old fax machine
Imagine the furor if, ten years ago, an attorney had wanted to discuss a futuristic paperless law office and then had an entire day of discussion allocated exactly to that! The Paperless Office Track is the result of that need and was one of my favorites at this LawTech. It always is. One discussion point that I found mind-boggling was how many attorneys still use fax machines with dedicated hard phone lines in their offices (probably even ones with the roll of paper). Sign up with an eFax-type provider for an absolutely ridiculously small monthly amount; then, ditch the fax machine, the phone line for the fax machine, and the supplies and service agreement for the fax machine. We’re talking some serious dollars that we can save on a monthly basis with no complications.
2. There is a big push toward the Cloud, but don’t forget about the ethics issues
Discussions and presentations abounded on scanners, cloud document management, and PDF. It’s an Alvin Toffler Third Wave moment that third party vendors would be vying to become the ultimate custodians of all of your office’s legal product in the Cloud. And, notwithstanding the security issues, make you pay for the privilege! This is why there was an all day “The Cloud” track that included presentations such as “Ethics in Choosing Cloud Services”, “Cloud Architecture” and “Cloud Collaboration.” As Dylan once stated, “the times, they are a changin'” — and seemingly, on a daily basis.
3. Digital dictation tools — it’s time to cut loose of the tape
An interesting factoid disclosed to me by one of the many vendors is that micro-cassette tapes, that used to cost $2 each twenty years ago now sell for $50 each on EBay for die-hard ‘dictators’ because they are not being manufactured anymore, all because of digital technology. The gradual shift away from “dictation tape-to-secretary” to “dictation-to-automatic written text” on your computer has changed so many paradigms in the typical law office. Speed, efficiency, and cost cutting typists and transcription have been factored multiple times by the accuracy of digital dictation. And I might add, for you lawyers out there who have fantasized about writing your great novel, that is, if only you could escape the clutches of your law practice, digital dictation to automatic text is now here-to-stay for you to win your Nobel Prize for Literature.
Be aware of the several vendors who were selling pocket recorders with “Dragon Dictation Legal” software (at about $1500 per set with a pocket digital recorder) but which worked only with PCs, and not Macs, or vice-versa. There is no Dragon Dictation Legal for Macs per se, but there is MacSpeech Dictate Legal, which is made by Nuance, which coincidentally, also makes and sells Dragon Dictation Legal. There is, however, little if any marketing for MacSpeech Dictate Legal which sells for around $600. Does anyone use it and like it? If so, please let me know. A good source told me that he dictates quite a bit with the non-legal edition and he noticed no difference whatsoever between the legal and non-legal editions of the product.
For you Mac users, dictating into your computer (function key 2X) is easy enough and comes as part of your computer’s IOS software when you purchase. But, having to stop dictating mid-thought and wait for it to upload to the Cloud every thirty seconds is a buzz kill, especially when you’re ADD like I am and can’t remember my train of thought, much less an individual train car! So let’s just download the digital dictation software directly into my computer, dictate non-stop, or in my case, stream of unconsciousness, without any up-to-cloud interruptions and churn out the next best seller novel; or, at least be able to dictate 97% of a complete motion, or the responses to one, directly into text without the necessity of stopping every thirty seconds for the computer to upload, transcribe and return the text to your computer. Maybe it’s just me, but if efficiency is the goal (and it is), then it makes more sense to use the more efficient application.
4. Cybersecurity and protecting client data is vital
ABA Ethics Rule 1.05 seemed to be on everyone’s mind regarding the security of our client’s personal information and proprietary data. That’s because you are deemed knowledgeable (and hence become a prospective deep pocket defendant) of the multiple morphing technological changes in law office technology, specifically, “including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” M&A practices and PHI-intense practices such as personal injury and family law, may be feeling the heat of possible class actions against firms that have been hacked. Many firms have already been hacked, as have so many retail and financial institutions, though they often do not discover it until much later.
5. Paralegals and legal assistants are welcome at ABA LawTech Show
Another observation: many firms sent their paralegals and legal assistants to LawTech, only a few of whom were accompanied by their bosses, with most traveling solo. Seven out of ten attorneys are ignorant of many of the new technologies, especially the Cloud, and refuse to learn (or, perhaps are incapable of grasping the basic concepts) and thus default the learning requirements to their heavy lifters, the paralegals and legal assistants. If you are a paralegal or legal assistant reading this, this would be a tremendous learning opportunity for you; if you are an attorney, you should consider bringing your paralegal or legal assistant along with you next year.
6. Legal technology gap — generational, geographical, or both?
The younger attorneys seemed to be more plentiful than the more senior attorneys. Also, I saw a noticeable competency difference between the urban attorneys, who have more teaching resources to lean on and tend to be more technologically adept, and the more non-urban attorneys, who often find themselves in the technology hinterland.
What does this translate to? Simply put, you have non-urban attorneys and their staff probably spending two or three times the hours working on and billing for matters that their urban counterparts do, with the urban counterparts either passing the savings to their respective clients, or, more than likely, doubling or tripling their profit margins. The takeaway: technological office inefficiencies make the current practice of law difficult, unprofitable and disillusioning.
7. Practice management systems must easily integrate with other applications
When a case management system is able to work with 300+ API’s from other vendors and applications, it will be the most marketable to attorneys, even if it takes more time to master. I purchased Clio to determine the efficacy of having the choice of 300+ applications to integrate with Clio. An update on the API integrations as to which work and which do not will be following on this site, if I survive the testing process.
Plan Now to Attend Next Year!
In summary, you should have attended the ABA LawTech Show because you just don’t know, what you don’t know!
Next year will be the 30th Anniversary of the ABA Techshow and it will be held on March 17-19, 2016. More information on ABA Techshow can be found at www.abatechshow.com
about the author
Michael Peck is an attorney practicing in Flatonia, Texas. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @mdpeck1