ABA Techshow

Can small firms compete with BigLaw for a fraction of the cost? Yes, if you save on tech, solos say

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Michael Lewis’s influential book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game has spawned a hit movie and launched a statistical revolution that has forever changed the way people analyze sports. Before that, however, it was a blueprint for the financially disadvantaged Oakland Athletics to compete with their rich counterparts.

By utilizing many of the same techniques the Athletics did, lawyers from small firms and even solo practices can get similar results as their big-budget rivals at a fraction of the cost. During a session at ABA Techshow on Thursday, solo practitioner litigators Marc Matheny of Indianapolis and Mark Unger of San Antonio and Austin, Texas, stepped up to the plate to deliver tips and statistical analysis supporting the idea that utilizing affordable technology could allow financially strapped practices to compete against large firms.

“Judicious use of legal technology will save you money in the long run,” Matheny said. “[Unger and I] are both solo practitioners, so we handle the money at our firms. We’ve had to learn how to run our offices on a limited budget so that we can compete with the Yankees and Red Sox of law.”

Like a pitching machine throwing nothing but fastballs, Matheny and Unger reeled off 10 areas where technological costs could be curtailed, such as productivity software, legal research databases, accounting programs and security protocols. One place to find big savings is to replace name-brand programs like Microsoft Office with free or inexpensive open-sourced software such as OpenOffice.org. Doing this can save attorneys nearly 50 percent off their software budget, they noted.

Other affordable programs for lawyers include Dropbox, Box and Hotdocs, as well as cloud storage sites like Amazon. Matheny and Unger maintained that utilizing these tools can significantly cut a lawyer’s budget—in some cases by up to 90 percent. Even traditionally expensive services such as legal research databases and virtual public networking can be done on a budget. “Westlaw can be inexpensive if you limit it to your state,” Matheny said. He noted that VPN service can be very expensive but recommended sharing it with other solo practitioners. “I split my VPN with nine other solos,” Matheny said.

A separate session at Techshow looked at additional tech tools for lawyers hoping to improve their practices. Titled “Leveraging Technology for Practice Efficiency,” solo practitioners Victor Medina of Pennington, N.J. and Bryan Sims of Naperville, Ill., recommended that law offices go paperless in order to boost productivity. “Oftentimes, lawyers determine how much work they’re getting done based on how much paper they have strewn around the office,” Sims said. “We need to change our attitude. Work is not generating paper or working with paper. It’s generating documents or information. Unless you use a typewriter, you don’t generate documents on paper anymore because it’ll be on computer.”

Sims and Medina recommended that lawyers automate as much work as possible, particularly when it comes to document generation. Sims noted that there are inexpensive programs out there that can perform document automation, including TheFormTool, which can be purchased for $89. “I want integration in my practice,” Sims said. “I don’t want to enter the same information multiple times. I could screw it up, plus it’s waste of time.” And for lawyers of all sizes, time is money.

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