Management Assistance Program

Takeaways from the 2022 OBA Solo & Small Firm Conference

By Jim Calloway

The 2022 OBA Solo & Small Firm Conference came back strongly after its two-year hiatus. We had a great attendance and many sponsors supporting the event. Mainly, we all were happy to meet in person again.

The conference featured a blend of substantive law programs and practice management/legal technology education. There were programs on the implications of the McGirt decision, cannabis law, estate and succession planning for business owners, guardianships and Professor Robert Spector on recent developments in family law.

The opening session for the conference is always “60 Tips in 60 Minutes,” often noted as one of the high points of the conference in reviews. The 60 in 60 format originated at ABA TECHSHOW and soon spread to many legal technology conferences, as well as solo and small firm state bar conferences. With so many topics covered in a rapid-fire manner, it is hard to not learn something useful. In fact, one attendee came up to me after the session saying she had taken three pages of notes.

This year’s tipsters included Kenton Brice, director of technology innovation at the OU College of Law; Brett Burney, principal of Burney Consultants, an e-discovery consultancy and co-producer of the Apps in Law podcast; OBA MAP Director Jim Calloway; and OBA Practice Management Advisor Julie Bays.

In this month’s column, I thought I’d share a few takeaways from the conference, including several of the 60 tips.

Client development for lawyers used to focus on one-to-one meetings and in-person events. Today, with very few exceptions, solo and small firm lawyers should devote attention to having a good law firm web page and some appropriate social media outreach. Most of us were not trained for any of this. Video is very effective online. Julie Bays noted that www.descript.com is an easy-to-use video and editing tool. The company promotes it as “as easy as editing a doc,” and there seems to be some truth in that claim.

As the co-star of the Apps in Law podcast, Brett Burney was happy to share some of his favorite apps. Notability is an iOS app that makes it easy to save notes whether written or recorded. The app is optimized for use with the Apple Pencil. There is a free version, but Notability Plus may be worth the subscription fee because it includes handwriting recognition and math equation conversion. This app may be an excellent way to save random bits of information to your iPhone or iPad that you need to keep temporarily or permanently.

Brett also singled out the free Microsoft To Do as a simple list-keeping app that synchronizes across all your devices, and it allows you to set due dates and reminders. This functions on all three major phone platforms. Since it has the reminder function, this may be one way to keep personal items off the law office calendar.

Solo and small firm lawyers have a particular responsibility to make certain there is somebody to take care of their clients’ matters in the event of their death or disability. When was the last time your firm updated your succession plan? Log in to MyOkBar, and on the list at the lower right is the Attorney Transition Planning Guide. Download this free guide to help with your transition planning.

There is free Fastcase training available at www.fastcase.com/support. If you haven’t taken advantage of the free training associated with your bar-provided legal research member benefit, we encourage you to do so. The upgrade to Fastcase 7 changed the interface a bit, and a refresher is always helpful if you haven’t used Fastcase in a while.

In today’s world, when someone hands you an important document, you might take a picture of it with your phone. But for $3.99, iOS users can use the app Scanner Pro to take a picture of a document that is then converted to an OCR’d PDF file and stored on the cloud storage service you have designated. There are many scanning apps, but Brett Burney is not the only knowledgeable individual who gives Scanner Pro high marks. To me, having the documents off your iPhone and into a designated folder is part of the attraction.

Kenton Brice likes mechanical keyboards with their heavy-duty construction. He noted the MX Mechanical from Logitech ($169.99). This sturdy keyboard has received positive reviews.

Kenton also reminded iPhone users of the ability to set up a shortcut to either double-click or triple-click on the back of the phone to perform a function. A short, 45-second video on how to set this up on the iPhone is available.  One attendee commented that it was a great way to take phone screenshots without having to use both hands.

Kenton also shared some real wisdom in his program “Evaluating Technology Tools | A Toolkit for Legal Professionals.” He noted that prior to adopting any significant technology tool, it is very important to understand both the processes and the people involved. “Processes before purchases” is a great slogan for technology projects and upgrades. Thinking that a process is messed up and so you need some technology to fix it is often reverse thinking.

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency,” is Bill Gates’s oft-quoted observation.

But if you want to improve your client intake process, you must outline every step of the process of bringing in a new client, including how file opening and billing setup processes work. Then you ask all the people involved in the process what problems they see or improvements they suggest. Then ask a sampling of clients. Then the tech evaluation and, hopefully, purchase. It sounds time consuming, and potentially is, but not as expensive as a stalled or failed technology project or one that had a successful installation but didn’t address the two main problems with the system.

I updated my article titled “Client: ‘Can My Parents Pay for My Attorney Fees?’, Lawyer: ‘Yes, but…’” from several years ago and updated the language to include credit card refunds in my template agreement for use when parents are paying for their child’s divorce and similar situations. The template is a good starting place for you to draft your firm standard agreement. Some others suggest this language should be contained in the fee agreement. But I prefer a brief standalone agreement between attorney, client and litigation funder. If you don’t use one of these agreements and should or haven’t updated yours in a while, please review the article and template.

Do you use a VPN (virtual private network) for additional security either on the road or working from home? If you are looking for a VPN, Brett Burney suggests you check out TunnelBear. It is a VPN with a cute name and good rates. There is a free trial plan, and then unlimited plans start at $3.33 per month.

If you use PowerPoint, Julie Bays has a couple of tips for you. First, you may have already noticed the improved design feature of PowerPoint that automatically suggests designs for your PowerPoints. Julie was working on a slide that included the word “hat,” and when she looked for design suggestions, royalty-free images of hats were suggested. She also noted an improvement in the PowerPoint audio recording feature that now allows you to record your own voice narration with the audio saved slide-by-slide instead of one large continuous audio file.

One tip all the presenters agreed on was the need for the use of a password manager and multifactor authentication as an important security tool. MFA means even if someone learns your password, they still cannot get into your online account because they cannot access the other factor. Kenton suggested OnePassword as his password manager of choice. More sophisticated authentication and zero trust architecture will replace these tools over the next few years, but you should definitely now be using multifactor authentication on bank accounts, brokerage accounts and services containing client information.

Thanks to all who spoke at, worked at and attended this year’s conference. We will let you know the date of next year’s conference when it is scheduled.

Mr. Calloway is OBA Management Assistance Program director. Need a quick answer to a tech problem or help solving a management dilemma? Contact them at 405-416-7008, 800-522-8060 or jimc@okbar.org. It’s a free member benefit.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal — August, 2022 — Vol. 93, No. 6

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