Management Assistance Program
The Lawyer’s Tools of the Trade
By Jim Calloway
What are a lawyer’s tools of the trade? Many years ago, as a consumer bankruptcy lawyer, I had to research the meaning of “tools of the trade” as applied to lawyers under Oklahoma law. Oklahoma has opted out of the federal bankruptcy exemptions and instead uses the exemptions under 31 Okla. Stat. §1. The state statute exemptions reflect Oklahoma’s agricultural traditions and include such things as five milk cows and their calves under six months old, 100 chickens, two horses, two bridles and two saddles. They also allow one to exempt tools of the trade. Now the exemptions are a bit broader, but at the time I had to research just to make certain that a lawyer’s law books would qualify as tools of the trade.
While there are still many law books on shelves in law firms today, with the advent of digital research, few would dispute that a lawyer’s personal computer or phone is a more frequently used tool of the trade than law books. Many of our most important tools today are software products.
In October 2012, I wrote a Law Practice Tips column called “Equipping the Law Office 2012” In that article, I discussed the lawyer’s computer (I still prefer laptops or desktops for lawyers), the importance of a scanner at every workstation, the importance of backup tools, PDF manipulation tools, practice management software, smartphones, document management systems and the like.
This month, I thought I’d update that article with tools that were omitted from that column due to the space limitations and lawyer tools that didn’t really exist for general use six years ago.
I do most of my document drafting using Dragon Professional Individual (version 15 costs $300) and still don’t understand why most slow-typing lawyers don’t use this tool. Most lawyers can talk faster than they can type. This is a tool that allows me to generate more work product much faster than I could without it.
Now we have other speech tools including Google Assistant, Amazon Echo, Dragon Anywhere and Cortana. The idea of verbally entering time and billing records catches the attention of almost every lawyer. Tali is one product that addresses that desire. As we mentioned in our column “Brief Recap of ABA TECHSHOW 2018”:
Tali works with Alexa, Cortana and Google Assistant to allow you to record your time. Tali allows you to review your activities in the Tali dashboard and then sync with several time and billing products. Tali originally integrated only with Clio, but it also recently announced integrations with Rocket Matter and PracticePanther.3
There are many great external speakers and similar devices. As I shared with the attendees at the OBA Solo & Small Firm Conference, I recently was in a meeting where everyone was having trouble hearing over the supplied speakerphone. Someone pulled out their Jabra SPEAK510 USB/BT Speakerphone. The result was a much higher quality experience with all the remote attendees remarking that the sound was much better on their end. This small portable speakerphone is affordable and connects to a computer with a USB connection or a mobile device with Bluetooth.
The Oklahoma Bar Association provides Fastcase as a free member benefit. It still surprises me when I talk to a lawyer who not has tried Fastcase. Fastcase is a mature and fully developed legal research tool that can be accessed at no charge by logging in through MyOKBar. OBA members who have not done so should visit Fastcase.com and click on the Support tab for the many free video tutorials and scheduled online CLE programs offered there.
Legal research may now mean artificial intelligence review of briefs and other legal documents. Casetext’s CARA allows lawyers to upload their briefs for review. CARA can find potential missing arguments or case law and supply them to you. Now we are hearing reports of lawyers who upload their opponent’s brief into CARA to begin their legal research for a reply brief. This summer Casetext announced “Casetext for Small Law” with lower pricing and new features. Casetext does offer a 14-day free trial, so bear that in mind the next time you are working on a significant brief or reply to one.
My computer bag is quite heavy when I travel, as it is stuffed with spare cords, many USB flash drives, portable batteries, phone and other device chargers, my portable hot spot for secure online computing on the road, portable microphone for dictation on the road and more. I also carry a small notepad and extra pens.
This is why I always buy a computer bag with wheels. Unless I’m in a location where I cannot get either a cell signal or internet access for my computer, I can do everything on the road that I can do in my office because all the files I might need are stored in the cloud or can be accessed by using the VPN to connect to my office network.
Whether you prefer a backpack or a rolling bag, I suggest most lawyers would be well served to buy a computer bag with more capacity and features than the one that came with their laptop and to give some thought to what else they need to carry. For example, I keep an extra iPhone charger and cord in my bag just in case.
If you add a portable scanner and printer to your traveling equipment list, you have complete law office capacity on the road. Even if you do not travel with a portable scanner, today’s phones can take a pretty good picture of a document, and there are many apps to convert the picture to a PDF file.
There are lots of amazing apps available today for mobile devices. I note that some “road warriors” now brag about not taking any computer on the road because they have full access to what they need with either a phone or tablet, but if I’m going to work on documents, I want a laptop with a real keyboard. You’re never sure when you may have to unexpectedly work on a long document when traveling.
Most lawyers have either transitioned or will transition to an Office 365 subscription. This is just a reminder that while Word, Outlook and Excel may look the same with your Office 365 subscription, if you log into your Office 365 account, (depending on which version you purchased) you will find online versions of these tools plus many other features like Teams, Groups, Skype for Business, automation tool Flow, MileIQ to track mileage and more.
You may be paying for great tools that you have not yet tried.
PRACTICE MANAGEMENT SOLUTIONS
For a practicing lawyer, the most comprehensive and important software tool today is a practice management solution. Having quick digital access
to every document and every note in every client file is an important tool.
Most Oklahoma lawyers have read or heard me discuss the importance of this class of tool. These are critically important for organizing the digital client file. I want to reiterate that this year the OBA added six practice management tools as member benefits. Oklahoma lawyers trying one of these tools for the first time can obtain a discount.
I’d also remind readers that the Oklahoma bar has added TrustBooks as a member benefit. This tool allows you to simplify your trust accounting and to make sure your records are completely accurate. You can contact the OBA Management Assistance Program for the Trustbooks discount code. Of the six tools mentioned previously, CosmoLex and Zola Suite also provide trust accounting. In my view, it simply makes no sense to do trust account management manually. There are too many opportunities for mistakes.
These are just a few of the useful tools available to today’s lawyers. We are just seeing the first emergence of artificial intelligence-based tools. More are coming. The important thing to remember is that if you can think of a tool that you need, it may be available now. Just do a quick internet search to see if you can find it or contact the OBA Management Assistance Program.
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, 800-522-8065, firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s a free member benefit!
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal — Sept., 2018 — Vol. 89, No. 23