ABA introduces Blueprint service to help lawyers operate their practices more efficiently
For many lawyers in small firms and solo practices, legal technology represents the ultimate catch-22.
Technology can help lawyers operate more efficiently by streamlining many of the routine administrative tasks vital to the operation of a law practice. But that also can be mind-numbing and time-consuming to carry out. In many cases, lawyers find that dealing with these administrative chores becomes a barrier to engaging in the substantive practice of law.
Meanwhile, combing through the myriad available technological tools and services can be an even more time-consuming endeavor. As a result, many lawyers feel stuck in the status quo, unable to carve out time to determine how to save time.
That was a common complaint lawyers voiced when they met with Linda Klein of Atlanta, whose listening tour during her year as ABA president-elect featured meetings with small groups of lawyers throughout the United States. Her travels took her to big cities and rural outposts, and she heard from ABA members, nonmembers, and state and local bar leaders.
“Lawyers in small firms were especially worried that they had so many other burdens they couldn’t operate their practices as efficiently and successfully as possible,” says Klein, who began serving a one-year term as ABA president in August.
She remembers speaking to a solo practitioner in Denver who had almost no time to practice law because he was drowning in a sea of routine administrative tasks, such as billing and collecting. “I took that to heart,” Klein says. “I used to be a managing partner of a medium-size firm, and I remember all those administrative burdens. But I had help. When you’re at a small firm or solo practice, then it’s all on you.”
ROOM TO GROW
Klein has moved quickly to mobilize the ABA to help lawyers address these problems. She created the Working Group on Emerging Member Benefits, which developed a project called ABA Blueprint. The project, launched Nov. 3, is a one-stop source of information to help lawyers determine what programs or services would best fit their needs.
Developed in conjunction with CuroLegal, Blueprint has two options. The first, a “universal solutions” model, is a one-size-fits-all option for problems most solo and small-firm practitioners face. The second is a more individualized option in which lawyers answer questions via an automated chatbot-style interface about their practices and what kind of help they’re seeking to enable Blueprint to suggest more customized solutions.
“There’s a strong demand for a tool like this,” says Chad Burton, CEO of CuroLegal, which describes itself as a next-generation legal technology consulting and software firm that is owned and operated by lawyers. “We work with firms all the time looking for this type of help—especially in the smaller-firm world. When you are trying to actually practice law, it’s not your job to keep up-to-date with each and every vendor.”
In addition to technology, Blueprint provides services that relate to marketing, retirement and insurance, with more on the way. “We have a good list of potential future concepts and features, but we’re going to get feedback first and see what our users are looking for,” Burton says. “This will be a truly agile project.”
Thomas Grella, a shareholder at McGuire, Wood & Bissette in Asheville, North Carolina, chairs the member benefits group. He identifies several areas for possible Blueprint expansion.
“We want to expand our services to include encryption, email organization and cybersecurity,” says Grella, a member of the ABA House of Delegates representing the Law Practice Division. “We’re also developing a pro bono resource area where people can find out more about what kinds of work in that area they can do.”
Grella emphasizes the interactive nature of Blueprint. “If you want to see if there are CLEs out there for you, it doesn’t just direct you to the ABA CLE center,” he says. “It will actually ask you things, like what kind of law you practice, how much time do you have and whatnot, and then direct you to specific CLEs to fill up your commitment.”
SOLVING THE TECH CONUNDRUM
Grella also understands the plight of small-firm or solo lawyers caught in the tech conundrum, and he thinks a tool such as Blueprint can help. With a background in computer programming, Grella has played a major role in all tech-related decisions at his firm, especially during his 12-year stint as managing partner.
“We dealt with the same problems as small firms do,” says Grella of his 24-lawyer firm. “I understand the experience of having to educate myself in order for the firm to make correct decisions on technology. It’s difficult when you’re trying to run a practice.”
Blueprint is a web-based tool that works on mobile devices as well as desktop computers. On top of being an ABA member benefit, it is a recruitment tool. And while nonmembers may use Blueprint, certain services and discounts are available only to ABA members. Nonmembers have to sign up if they wish to get customized, individualized solutions to their problems. “The discounts in Blueprint are significant,” Klein says. “The more you choose, the more you save. You might even cover your ABA dues.”
Klein thinks Blueprint has the potential to help improve access to justice. “If lawyers were relieved of some of these administrative burdens, then they would have more time to do pro bono projects,” she says. “They could even charge less and be more accessible to modest-income individuals. Most lawyers I spoke with told me they wanted to be able to devote more time to do pro bono or low bono projects. Most people went to law school to help people.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: "The Time Is Right: ABA introduces Blueprint service to help lawyers operate their practices more efficiently."
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