Management Assistance Program
Using Technology Tools to Build Financial Security
By Julie Bays
Businesses exist to make a profit. Lawyers often go into practice with the goal of helping their clients with their legal needs. Profits often aren’t the first thing a lawyer thinks about daily, but it should be a primary goal every day.
Practicing law can be stressful, and lawyers have enormous responsibilities. As a business owner, a small firm lawyer wears many hats acting as CEO, CIO, director of marketing, quality control and labor. Some lawyers do not have practical training in business planning, accounting, bookkeeping or finance. If a lawyer wants to be successful and the goal is to make a profit, they need to have a basic understanding of their financial condition. Technology can enhance a law firm’s ability to develop, understand and maintain financial security.
Planning is the key to a successful practice. Law firms should start with a broad outline and fill in the details as they figure out what processes they will use going forward. A broad outline could start with attracting potential clients, retaining the client, managing the client file and closing the file.
Today it is imperative that a solo or small law firm have an attractive website that is put together professionally and looks good on a phone or tablet. Consumers depend on their phones to search for businesses, and lawyers are lagging in this regard. There are products that can help build a professional-looking website. Companies such as Squarespace and GoDaddy Website Builder are easy to use and will host a website for less than $20 a month. For more support and at a higher cost, companies like LawLytics and Omnizant specifically design websites for lawyers and offer hosting and analytics.
Besides a website, law firms need to claim their Google My Business profile. This is a free service Google offers, and it is the way for a firm to show up in a Google search. It also gives the firm the ability to change the hours of service and make other announcements. For instance, a lawyer who decides to work regular evening hours may attract more clientele.
Social media is another way to attract clients. Whether a firm uses Facebook, Twitter or another platform, the goal should be to create enough interest that it steers a client to the lawyer’s website. Using short how-to videos is an effective way to get started. Giving out free legal tips helps a law firm engage potential clients.
Creating and editing videos has never been easier. Over the last couple of years, companies have made improvements to their products, making them simpler for everyone to use. By now, most lawyers are familiar with Zoom and how to record on that platform. Late last year, Microsoft 365 updated its PowerPoint features when recording. It now offers a broader array of features such as editing each slide separately or removing the speaker’s cameo and easily exporting the videos. Loom is another product that offers an easy way to record and publish a video. If a firm wants to get creative, video editors such as Descript and Camtasia are more robust in these capabilities.
RETAINING THE CLIENT
For solo and small law firms, individual clients usually have something traumatic happening in their life. These potential clients need to communicate with someone immediately. In a recent study, the Legal Services Corporation’s 2022 The Justice Gap report found that a shocking 80% of individuals across income lines did not seek legal help for legal issues they faced. Cost, or perceived cost, is a frequent barrier. Just 59% of moderate-income individuals were confident in their ability to find a lawyer they could afford. Additionally, people reported not being confident that a lawyer could help them in their situation.
Prompt communication with a potential client makes it easier to retain that client. Traditionally, law firms used receptionists to communicate with potential clients and schedule consultations. Today, there are multiple ways to communicate using technology. One way is to use a virtual receptionist such as Ruby or SmithAI. These services offer live people to communicate with the potential client, but they also offer live chat and chatbots that can give instant answers to basic questions on a website.
Another way to communicate is through automated intake forms and calendaring. Most of the practice management software for law firms now offers automated intake forms. Some of these products keep innovating with recent updates and are adding customer (client) relationship management (CRM) software. CRM software offers automated email campaigns and marketing, lead follow-up reminders and statistical reports. In a study last year, only 25% of law firms use CRM software. However, it should be easier now for many who do use practice management software. MyCase, PracticePanther and Clio all have CRM that works within their software. Lawmatics and Lawcus are stand-alone products that integrate with many practice management solutions.
MANAGING THE CLIENT FILE
Using a practice management software solution is the only way to efficiently manage the client file. When used to their potential, these products save time and money. For one thing, lawyers getting paid for their work is important. In a recent survey, 65% of consumers prefer to make payments electronically. Most of the practice management software companies offer credit card payment processing either using their own brand or integrating with one of the OBA’s member benefits, LawPay.
Law practice solutions also help lawyers with easy timekeeping and billing. For example, Clio and Smokeball are two solutions that integrate with Microsoft Outlook and Word, so a timer is readily available when working on a client file. They can track communications, reduce redundancy and run reports for business health checkups. They make it easier to check for conflicts. Most of them now offer client text messaging and client portals. Practice management solutions integrate with Google and Microsoft Outlook calendars.
Lawyers should try out these products before they commit to one of them. They all offer great features, but the user experience is important. If lawyers and staff are not going to really learn and use the product, it is a waste of everyone’s time and money. Clio, MyCase, PracticePanther, Cosmolex and Rocket Matter are practice management software solutions that offer short free trials and provide OBA members discounts. Lawyers need to log in to their MyOKBar account and click on Practice Management Software Benefits on the right side of the page. Some companies are also offering free data migration from another product.
Law firms can increase efficiency and their bottom line by taking the time to invest in legal technology. The staff with the OBA Management Assistance Program constantly reviews and tests new and updated products. We are here to assist with your technology needs.
Ms. Bays is a practice management advisor in the OBA Management Assistance Program, aiding attorneys in using technology and other tools to efficiently manage their offices.
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal — November, 2022 — Vol. 93, No. 9