A year-end roundup of law office technology
It’s hard to believe that 2019 is already drawing to a close. Even so, as the new year approaches, it’s a good time to reflect on the past year, draw on your learnings, and start laying the foundation for a prosperous 2020 for your law firm.
One way to ensure that the coming year is a successful one is to invest in law office technology that will streamline your law practice, reduce inefficiencies and increase profitability. Lucky for you, I’ve spent the past year writing about legal technology for small law firms in this very column, so there’s no need to start from scratch. Instead, here’s a round up of all of my columns from this past year, starting with January’s.
January: Law Practice Management Software
Legal practice management software consists of a suite of office tools that can help lawyers run their law firms effectively and efficiently. (Note that I am the legal technology evangelist with MyCase, a company that provides law practice management software.) Oftentimes, this type of software includes time-tracking, legal billing and payment processing, document assembly and document management, law office reporting, task management, lead intake and tracking, secure communication and collaboration, and calendar and contact management. There are a number of different products to choose from when it comes to law practice management software platforms, and the key to choosing the right one for your law firm is to carefully research each provider, ensure that you thoroughly understand the features available and the pricing structure of the product. Note that for many of the products, your firm will have to pay more than the base cost in order to have access to the specific features that are essential for your law firm’s needs.
February: Online Fax Services
The conventional wisdom is that faxes are passé, but they can still help lawyers tremendously. Unlike traditional fax machines, online fax services allow you to send and receive documents in digital form. Depending on the service, documents can be sent and received via email, an online portal, or via a smartphone app. Once you’ve digitized a document—see the month of April below to learn some ways to accomplish that—you simply send the digital document using your online fax service. Some services allow you to pay per use, while others require you to commit to a monthly or annual fee.
March: VoIP Phone Systems
Lawyers have more options than ever before when it comes to their law firm’s phone systems. Twenty-first-century voice over internet protocol technologies make it easier—and more affordable—than ever for lawyers to seamlessly and effortlessly communicate with their clients and colleagues. VoIP offers far greater flexibility and mobility than traditional phone systems at a variety of price points. With most VoIP systems, lawyers can make and receive unlimited phone calls (including international calls, in many cases), conduct conference calls, forward calls to mobile or home phones, receive (and store) messages in different formats, manage calls on the go, send and receive online faxes and much more. Although the idea of switching from a landline to a VoIP system may seem strange at first, you’ll quickly realize that the benefits far outweigh any misgivings you might have.
April: Scanning Tools
For those of you who wish to run a paperless practice, having a reliable scanning tool is a must. In 2019, a number of factors, including e-filing requirements and the many benefits of paperless law offices such as increased mobility and flexibility and online data backup, have convinced lawyers to make the switch. In part, this is because technology has improved, making it easier, more cost-effective and more appealing than ever to move to a digital law firm. However, if you’re like many lawyers, the idea of going paperless sounds like a good one, but the implementation can be daunting. It doesn’t have to be that way—the key to a smooth transition is to understand which tools will be best for your law firm’s needs, whether it’s low or high volume office scanners, mobile scanners or mobile device scanning apps.
This isn’t your father’s word processing. With the emergence of cloud computing tools a little over a decade ago, traditional word processing programs began to change. Affordable—and sometimes even free—word processing tools are now available that are accessible online, providing much-needed mobility and flexibility. And even better—there are collaboration tools built right into the software, allowing lawyers to work with others in real time.
With document assembly software lawyers can reduce the repetition and automate the more mundane aspects of document creation. This software makes it easy to create templates for frequently used documents, such as intake forms, retainer agreements, pleadings and more. Once document templates have been created, the document automation software does the rest by auto-populating documents. And, depending on the types of software you choose, relevant data, such as case numbers, client information, party names and necessary dates may be automatically input right into the document, saving time and increasing your firm’s productivity.
Videoconferencing has many applications in law firms and can be used for, among other things, client meetings, lawyer conferences and out-of-town depositions. Nowadays, lawyers have a plethora of options when it comes to videoconferencing, ranging from bare-bones free tools to more costly, and yet still affordable choices that include a vast array of features designed to streamline the videoconferencing experience. No matter your firm’s needs, there’s sure to be a videoconferencing option that fits the bill. The key is to choosing the right software for your law firm is to ensure that you fully understand the features, the encryption method(s) used and the pricing scheme. Once you’ve done so, you’ll be well on your way to hosting face-to-face video meetings and conferences right in your law firm!
August: Speech-to-Text Dictation Tools
Dictation has long been the bane of many lawyers’ existence. Thanks to speech-to-text dictation tools, it’s become one of the easiest ways to cut hours out of your workday and is especially useful for small firm lawyers who have moved toward a paperless office. The advent of voice-recognition dictation has ushered in an entirely new and streamlined way to dictate documents, and the best part is that it’s incredibly easy to use. You simply hit the record button and then start talking—the software does the rest by registering your words and inputting them right into the document. As I explain in my column, you have lots of options when it comes to speech-recognition software. By investing a bit of time up-front and carefully researching your options, you’re sure to find a speech-to-text tool that’s a good fit for your firm.
September: Website Design Tools
All law firms need a great website. After all, they’re your digital front door and are the first thing a potential client sees when searching for a lawyer. That being said, launching a new website or revamping an outdated one can often seem like a formidable endeavor. In this article, I discuss a number of website creation tools available to lawyers, including one do-it-yourself option, a few website design companies founded by lawyers, and the option of taking advantage of the website design services of companies that your firm may already have a working relationship with.
October: Law Blog Platforms
Once you have your website, you might want to publish content on it. Legal blogs are a great way for lawyers to showcase legal expertise while increasing their firms’ search engine optimization—all while helping them to stay on top of updates to their areas of practice by writing about the changes on their blog. At first blush, the idea of starting a law blog may seem like a complicated endeavor, but rest assured; it’s not as difficult as you might think. The first step is to decide whether you’d like a stand-alone blog or one that is part of your firm’s website, and then research and choose a suitable blogging platform. In this article I walk you through some of the options available and offer advice to help you choose a blogging platform that is the best fit for your firm’s needs.
November: AI-Enhanced Legal Research
Thanks to artificial intelligence, doing legal research has never been easier. Prior to the turn of the century, legal research was a cumbersome endeavor, and its cost was a significant part of overhead for most law firms. The good news is that legal research has changed significantly over the years and is now more intuitive and affordable than ever before. Machine learning and natural language processing have come of age, offering exciting, increasingly affordable and new ways to serve up precise and relevant legal research results. As you’ll learn in this article, no matter what your legal research needs are, there’s undoubtedly a modern, affordable and robust legal research platform available that’s a good fit.
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York, attorney, author, journalist and the legal technology evangelist at MyCase, legal practice management software for small firms. She is the nationally recognized author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers and is co-author of Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier, both published by the American Bar Association. She also is co-author of Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for ABAJournal.com, Above the Law and the Daily Record, has authored hundreds of articles for other publications, and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. Follow her on Twitter @nikiblack, or she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.