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Proposed Agenda for Your Law Office Retreat

By Jim Calloway

This probably seems like a presumptuous title. Every law firm is a little bit different, so there are different items they may want to focus on during a law firm planning retreat.

But many law firms also have reinvention and repurposing challenges they need to consider. It seems like an agenda on these topics might be helpful.
 
At the risk of competing for a captain attorney obvious title, there is no doubt today’s practice of law is different than the practice of law was decades ago. Future lawyers will likely have practices that by necessity are managed differently. This difference may be so radical that the practice of law will be almost unrecognizable to many in the profession. Many of the differences are spurred by the introduction of today’s technology tools.

The following list is not necessarily intended to be exclusive, and hopefully there will be some sections on which your firm is already moving in the right direction. Where possible, I have included links to some online resources for your perusal.

DIGITAL CLIENT FILES

How much progress have you made on conversion to digital client files? Law firms everywhere are converting to digital client information management. While it is challenging to convert a law firm from paper client files to digital ones, the benefits cannot be overstated. These include remote access to the entire client file, the ability to do data backup of the entire client file rather than just a backup of the documents the firm has created, the ability to make up-to-date billing information easily accessible and not being tied to a paper client file. In my opinion, for conversion to digital files to work, the process must be powered by a practice management software tool.
 
Suggested Reading:

“‘Paperless’ Office Doesn’t Really Mean Paperless — It Does Mean New Processes and Procedures” (OBJ — Sept. 12, 2015)
 
“Is It Possible to Go Completely Paperless In A Law Office?” 

“Step Right Up to the Paperless Law Office” 
  
PRACTICE MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE

Have you invested in a practice management software tool? If so, how efficiently are you using it? The paperless law office is powered by practice management software tools. Today many of these tools are cloud-based, making it very easy for the small law firm with no dedicated IT staff to easily manage. I recognize some readers will dismiss this advice as “not the way we work,” but digital client files powered by practice management software tools is the way many law firms are working today and almost all law firms will work in the future. We have 10 practice management software tools as sponsors of the OBA Solo & Small Firm Conference (June 23-25 at the Choctaw Casino Resort in Durant). Each of these law practice solutions will have staff available to show you the features of their services. No matter what your firm size you won’t find a better shopping opportunity for practice management solutions than this year’s OBA Solo & Small Firm Conference. So, why not register now?
  
Suggested Shopping Expedition

2016 OBA Solo & Small Firm Conference (Conference held June, 2016)
   
Suggested Reading

“Why Your Clients Will Thank You for Investing in Law Practice Management Software”
  
CLIENT COMMUNICATIONS

How are you handling client communications and are your communications meeting your clients’ expectations? As with most professional services firms, the client of a lawyer does not receive a tangible product to examine. Instead, the client learns of the value of the representation through communication from the firm and legal documents that may be created and delivered. You are encouraged to read (or reread) the following article and examine how well your firm does on topics such as the initial client interview, the attorney-client agreement, communications during the representation and setting and fulfilling client expectations.

Suggested Reading:
 
“Care and Feeding of the Law Firm Client” (OBJ — May 16, 2015) (Note: This article has links to other online articles and a link to download “The Ten Commandments of Good Client Relations,” which you might consider printing out and posting in the law firm break room.)
   
SECURITY AND CONFIDENTIALITY CONCERNS

An ad attached to the cover of the May 2016 issue of Legaltech News contained the following quote by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, “There are only two types of companies: those that have been hacked and those that will be.” As lawyers, we have an obligation to protect our client’s confidential and privileged information. Not disclosing your client’s confidential matters to others is the easy part of that equation. But in today’s world the challenge, of course, is that we are lawyers and not digital security experts. We can probably best start by educating ourselves on email encryption and security of our office network.

Suggested Reading:
 
Texas Center for Legal Ethics Opinion Number 648 on communicating confidential information by email.

Free trial of Citrix ShareFile encryption solution for OBA members.

“Client Portals: The Solution to The Email Security Problem” 

“Encryption Made Easier” 

“Law Firm Data Security: Experts on How to Protect Legal Clients’ Confidential Data” 
  
AUTOMATED DOCUMENT ASSEMBLY

What progress are you making on automated document assembly? From templates to macros to quick parts to full-blown document assembly tools, there are many ways to make your document creation more efficient. In some circumstances, document automation can remove some of the drudgery of your day-to-day work and allow you to provide better work products for your clients. Of course, this concept also goes hand-in-hand with alternative fee agreements.

Suggested Reading:

“Document Assembly for Lawyers” (OBJ — April 14, 2012)
  
Also, attend the session titled “The Dirty Dozen: 12 Pervasive Document Errors Banished by Document Automation” at the OBA Solo & Small Firm Conference.

ONLINE MARKETING PLAN

What’s your online marketing plan? Every law firm’s marketing plan should be less about print and more about online marketing. This does not mean all traditional marketing efforts should be abandoned, but in today’s environment people search for all sorts of consumer goods and services online, including legal services. It is particularly important that most solo and small firm lawyers have an online presence. The minimum presence would include a traditional website that has pictures of all of the attorneys in the firm.

Traditional graphic images like gavels and bookshelves full of law books should be minimized, if not banished, in favor of more interesting graphic elements. The bare minimum is that the website is reviewed and updated at least twice a year and the best practice is that it be updated much more frequently. Other personal social media that should be linked to the website include LinkedIn profiles for all of the lawyers and a law firm Facebook page. Ideally the Facebook page would be updated at least several times per month.

Suggested Reading:
 
“Thoughts on Social Media: Risks, Rewards and Uncertainties” (OBJ — Jan. 16, 2016)
 
“Getting Noticed Online” (OBJ — Aug. 7, 2012)
 
TRUST ACCOUNTING

How are you managing your trust accounting? The concept of trust accounting is one that hasn’t changed much over the years, but there are different tools to help you manage your trust accounting. Many of these tools allow you to automatically generate client ledgers, which can be a significant timesaver.

Suggested Reading:
 
“Tips for Handling Client Funds” 

“Capterra’s Best Trust Accounting Software for 2016” 

CONCLUSION
  
One thing we can say for certain is that this agenda looks nothing like the agenda for a law firm retreat a few decades (or even a few years) ago. But that’s true for many different aspects of business in society. There is certainly no doubt that more changes are ahead. But certain things will never change in the legal profession like our commitment to deliver the best possible legal services and advice to our clients.

If the above agenda looks a little intimidating for your law firm retreat, then maybe the solution is to schedule your law firm retreat in a really nice and stress-free setting, away from the office and maybe even in a fun out-of-state location.

Mr. Calloway is OBA Management Assistance Program Director.  Need a quick answer to a tech problem or help solving a management dilemma?  Contact him at 405-416-7008, 1-800-522-8065 or jimc@okbar.org.  It's a free member benefit!

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- May 21, 2016 -- Vol. 87, No. 14