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Access to Justice and Productivity Gains for All Lawyers

By Jim Calloway

Access to justice is the theme of this issue of the Oklahoma Bar Journal. I’ve had the opportunity to review many of the articles in advance and this is a very thought-provoking collection. Its content ranges from issues directly impacting the practicing lawyer like delivering limited scope legal services, the need for more court reporters and the credentials of courtroom interpreters to big picture subjects outside of an individual lawyer’s control such as adopting online dispute resolution (ODR) for some matters and the courts providing simplified court forms for use by pro se parties.

Professor William Henderson holds the Stephen F. Burns Chair on the Legal Profession at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, and he has studied and written about the future of the legal profession and the current challenges of improving access to justice. He has opined that there is ample evidence the legal profession is now divided into two segments, one serving individuals (people law) and the other serving businesses (organizational clients), with these two segments having very different economic drivers and evolving in very different ways. He has concluded the primary market problem for legal is one of lagging productivity that, over time, increases the price of traditional consultative legal services relative to other goods and services.

From my perch as a state bar practice management advisor, I interpret “lagging productivity” as referring, at least in part, to the impact of technology advances in other fields and businesses compared to the legal profession.

Whether you are practicing people law or business law, the challenge for the future is to improve productivity.

As the volunteers from Lawyers Helping Lawyers and others involved with our profession will tell you, these productivity gains should not, and likely cannot, be accomplished by attempting to persuade or force lawyers – at whatever their career level – to work even longer hours. Many members of our profession are already at an unhealthy level of professional time commitment.

So, productivity gains will largely be a function of time-saving, technology-based tools, automation and supervised delegation to others.

Many Oklahoma lawyers are already utilizing different types of technology/productivity tools. Many more have yet to implement them. Let’s check off a few examples.

  • Automated document assembly. Many tools exist to automate creation of legal documents. Oklahoma lawyers have a great new tool with Oklahoma Bar Intellidrafts. Oklahoma lawyers can sign up at intellidrafts.com. The cost is $299 per year and, if you cancel within the first 30 days, your credit card will not be charged. Automating creation of routine legal documents frees up lawyer and staff time for other tasks, notably higher-value, higher-level legal complex work. Even where a document requires heavy customization and a significant investment of the lawyer’s drafting skill, the quick creation of the first draft with an automation tool may benefit both lawyer and client.
  • Speech recognition. I’ve written many times in these pages about my use of Dragon NaturallySpeaking. (I use DNS Individual Professional Edition V15 which sells for $300. The Legal Edition V15 is $392.26 from Amazon and $500 from Nuance.com.) However, Office 365 includes speech recognition at no charge. When I first wrote this for the Oklahoma Bar Journal, you needed to log in to the online version of Word to use speech recognition, but it is now in the desktop version. When you have a document open and are on the Home tab, you will see a microphone icon and the word “dictate” in the Ribbon. If you have a microphone attached to your computer and turned on, you will be able to dictate into documents. This works well, but it is not as fully featured as Dragon.
  • Text messaging. My dentist’s office sends me a reminder text message the day before an appointment. Appointment show rates improve by 50 percent on average for businesses when this is done, according to Chelsey Lambert, CEO of the Lex Tech Review, who spoke on text messaging for lawyers at the 2019 OBA Solo & Small Firm Conference. There are some great tools to manage enterprise texting for businesses. One self-described “country lawyer” told me her simple solution for clients who want to text the lawyer was to buy the office a cheap mobile phone with an inexpensive data plan. That phone “lives” at the reception desk always plugged into the charger and the receptionist handles texts just like she answers phone calls. How simple would it be to have the receptionist use that phone to send out appointment reminders every day?
  • Practice management software tools. Efficient law office operations begin with digital client files powered by practice management software tools. Smaller firms and solo practitioners will prefer cloud-based tools where the tech support is included in the monthly fee and there is easy access to client files working from home or on the road. Don’t forget OBA members can get member discount information on six of these tools. That information is available in MYOKBar.
  • Dual monitors. Multitasking is largely a myth. To do quality work, do one thing at a time. However, having multiple workspaces by using multiple monitors is a huge help. Your legal research can be located on one monitor while the brief you are writing is on another. I know most readers have already done this, but it is a simple, easy and relatively inexpensive productivity boost. I use three monitors in my office. Just saying.
  • Documenting processes. More automation is coming to many different types of businesses in the future. You cannot automate what you have not fully documented. Even if your firm never intends to automate certain processes, checklists allow individuals working on projects to proceed more confidently and quickly through a series of tasks.
  • Automation tools. Many law offices have long used macros to automate some document creation tasks in word processing. Now Microsoft Flow allows one to automate many tasks within all the tools of Office 365. It’s probably best to explain how these work by citing examples. When I log into Flow, two of the featured flows that one could add were “Save Office 365 email attachments to OneDrive for Business” and “Get a push notification every time you receive an email from your boss.” There are many other flows available from Microsoft or you can design your own. It should also be noted that Zapier is another popular automation tool that is not limited to working just within the Office 365 environment. The annual Big Ideas issue of ABA’s Law Practice Magazine (July/August 2019) is available to read online and its theme is “Saying Hello to Automation.” It contains many interesting articles covering topics from
    artificial intelligence-powered contract review to automating client intake to other lawyer workflow automation.
  • Automating scheduling. Scheduling via email when more than two individuals are involved can be a frustrating time sink. Tools like Doodle allow you to create “polls” where all participants can indicate their availability. Office 365 has an add-on called FindTime that uses Outlook to do this by comparing calendars. Some lawyers use tools like Calendy to let clients choose between times the lawyer has designated as being available. Calendy integrates with Zapier to trigger responsive actions.

Improving productivity is a challenge, but hopefully the above examples can be instructive and the Law Practice Magazine issue I’ve cited contains many more ideas. Whether planning to make the delivery of limited scope representation as efficient as possible or being better prepared to deal with a large corporate client’s legal bill review auditors, productivity improvements are good for both lawyer and client.

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, jimc@okbar.org. It’s a free member benefit!

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal — August, 2019 — Vol. 90, No. 6