Management Assistance Program
10 Top Technology Tools for the Small Firm Lawyer
By Jim Calloway
2020 certainly gave us all a lot to digest.
My personal observation working with small to medium-sized law firms was those with digital client files securely available online had a better working experience than those with critical information trapped only in paper files.
The most significant observation I have distilled from the past year is the practice of law has bifurcated into two “branches,” if you will: people law and business/corporate law. With each passing year, each branch looks a bit less like the other in terms of the operations and business processes. We will be exploring those distinctions more throughout 2021. This month’s article focuses on tools for those in smaller firms primarily doing people law.
Note: While readers love top 10 lists, this is a “10 top” list, which means the entries are not ranked in any particular order. The goal is to provide lawyers an opportunity to review some significant technology tools and then set their own priorities as to what needs to be implemented next (although I will note, number one is number one). The subjects will be covered briefly. Oklahoma lawyers should know they can contact the OBA Management Assistance Program lawyers for more specific advice about any of these topics and tools.
1) PRACTICE MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE SOLUTIONS
I’ve been advocating for solo and small firm lawyers to use practice management solutions for many years. While it’s possible for a larger law firm with dedicated IT staff to craft their own “homegrown” practice management solutions, for most lawyers without those resources, it is far better to take advantage of the years of development done on the various available practice management software solutions. Practice management solutions also typically provide unlimited storage, and they all include online client portals so you can securely share documents with your client. Using a cloud-based practice management solution means you will have the same interface when working on your client matters, whether you are working in the office, from home or on the road.
2) MICROSOFT 365 (FORMERLY OFFICE 365)
The tools in Microsoft 365 continue to improve, and there is an amazing number of tools available when one logs in to the online Microsoft 365 account. OneDrive provides one terabyte of secure cloud storage with the ability to share files like many have grown accustomed to using services like Dropbox. Teams provides coordination and videoconferencing. Subscribers receive the desktop versions of Office apps: Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote (plus Access and Publisher for PC only), in addition to the online tools. Lawyers will want to choose between Microsoft 365 Business Standard $12.50 user/month or Microsoft 365 Business Premium $20 user/month.
3) GOOGLE MY BUSINESS
You have seen the results of Google My Business when searching for a business in Google on a phone. Instead of the usual Google search results, you get a result with a picture of the business, the phone number, hours of operation and more. This is a Google My Business result. You can claim that profile, and if your firm has a unique street address (as opposed to being in Suite 800 of an office building), you should claim your address so you can edit and add to your Google My Business. There is no charge. This will also mean your business appears in Google Maps. Google will be happy to provide you the details on how to set that up.
4) DIGITAL LEGAL RESEARCH TOOLS
Oklahoma lawyers have a Fastcase account supplied by the OBA. Fastcase just announced a merger with its chief rival, Casemaker. Nothing will change for OBA members in 2021, but we should see improvements because of this merger. One logs into the OBA Fastcase subscription via MyOKBar. But many readers also need to go to Fastcase.com and sign up for one of many free training opportunities to learn more about Fastcase research techniques. A discounted subscription to CaseText with its artificial intelligence tools is also available to OBA members via MyOKBar.
5) SECURE CLOUD STORAGE
OneDrive will be the tool of choice for many for secure cloud storage. Microsoft is already protecting many millions of dollars worth of companies’ data in OneDrive. Subscribers to Microsoft 365 have OneDrive. There are several other secure data storage providers. We have seen an evolution from the time when lawyers were very concerned about storing items in the cloud to the generally accepted appreciation that secure cloud storage is safer than the digital security measures you can do on your own. Having duplicate copies of every important digital document stored in two places is a 21st-century business continuity practice. With cloud storage, as opposed to a compressed full backup of everything, you can have a usable copy of the documents you need if there is a problem with accessing the originals (like a power outage at your physical office).
6) SCANNING TOOLS
As we move from paper-based client files to digital client files, the scanner is the tool we use to convert paper into digital documents. The Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 desktop scanner is a long-term favorite of ours (up to 25 color pages per minute), and the Fujitsu fi-5530C2 scanner is for law firms needing a higher volume scanner (50 color pages per minute). Every lawyer should know how to create a PDF file from a piece of paper using their mobile phone. There are many apps to assist with this for both mobile platforms.
7) SPEECH TOOLS
I have been a user of Dragon NaturallySpeaking for many years, and it has saved countless hours, including in drafting this article. Word in Microsoft 365 now has a built-in speech recognition dictation tool. If you type 50 or 60 words per minute, you may not need speech recognition. But many lawyers will find it is a great productivity tool and also a great personal well-being tool to take a break from pounding a keyboard. Hopefully, you’re not still typing out all your text messages when it is often easier to dictate the reply into the phone. Although sometimes, confidentiality concerns dictate that you type instead of talk. Cortana and other tools are favored by some.
8) ONLINE SCHEDULING FOR CLIENT APPOINTMENTS
This is something most law firms are likely not yet doing, but dentists, salons and many other businesses provide this service. Individual consumers are used to instant gratification as they search online. If a firm allows a new client to schedule an appointment online from the website while other firms in the area just list their phone number and address, it is likely there will be a business advantage to the firm that provides online appointment scheduling 24/7. Calendly is one tool that handles this, and another, Microsoft Bookings, is included in Microsoft 365.
9) VIDEOCONFERENCING TOOLS
One permanent change because of the pandemic is that videoconferencing will be a continuing part of service delivery for most businesses and most law firms. You need a good webcam, good lighting and a good microphone, and you need to practice with the videoconferencing tools if you haven’t had enough of that already. If you missed my August 2020 Oklahoma Bar Journal article, “A Videoconferencing Guide for Oklahoma Lawyers,” it might be a good time to read it. In particular, your business clients have been and will be doing much videoconferencing. Many individuals have had many FaceTime or other videoconferences on their phones. If both of you are set up for videoconferencing, why should someone drive across town for a face-to-face meeting about some routine decisions?
10) ONLINE MARKETING TOOLS
While some lawyers with an established clientele and a healthy group of regular client referrers may not need to be extremely concerned about their law firm website and other online presences, the vast majority of law firms, particularly solo practitioners, need to be very visible on the web and to also appreciate that many of their new clients will come as a result of the prospective client searching on the internet for the answer to their legal problem and locating you and your law firm.
If you are an Oklahoma lawyer who already has all these 10 areas covered, congratulations! But if you are ready for some upgrades, this month’s article gives you a list from which to pick your next technology improvement project. Oklahoma lawyers can contact the OBA Management Assistance Program to discuss any of these subjects or any other law office technology questions.
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, 800-522-8060, jimcatokbar.org. It’s a free member benefit.
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal — February, 2021 — Vol. 92, No. 2