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Law Firm Technology: A Guide for Solo and Small Practitioners

5 min read

Law Firm Technology: A Guide for Solo and Small Practitioners

Have you ever picked up a random pile of Legos, and tried to build something? Sure, it’s a creative endeavor; but the end result often looks like crap.  That’s why it’s far easier to just read the directions and go step-by-step – with the end result being a true celebration of Danish ingenuity. What you build may actually look like a house, not like . . . What is that?  A giraffe? 

It’s sort of the same thing when it comes to building or revising a technology platform for a solo or small law firm.  You could hack around and see what you come up with; and you might luck into some wins.  But, more often than not, you’ll have a disaster on your hands, that you’ll need to clean up after the fact.  

The good news is that there is a strategy that you can employ when adding or updating technology in your law firm. The bad news is that it doesn’t slide right out of the box for you, along with your pre-numbered Lego bags. That’s why we’ve devised this handy-dandy guide to crafting a law firm technology plan.  

Search Party: How to Choose Law Firm Software 

Picking software for your law firm is a lot like buying a house. The first step is to create your wish list. What features do you want? What features do you have to have?  Maybe you really want a big yard and you’ve got to get at least an acre in property. But perhaps you also want a two-car garage even if you can live with a one-car garage, parking your other vehicle in the driveway.  You see, there’s no perfect house – only the one that’s the best fit for you.  Similarly, there’s no perfect software – just the one that’s best suited for your law firm. 

Even if you’re starting a law firm for the first time, you’ve used software before, and you have some predilections about what you like. Maybe there’s a certain user interface style you appreciate. Perhaps you like your settings tab arrayed in a particular fashion. To give a specific example, you might prefer the threading of messages in Gmail to the stacking display in Outlook. To get a start on finding the software you want for your law firm, create your wish list. What are the features you need? What are the features you want?  

Now, if you’ve got software features you definitely do not like – or, if you’re currently using legal tech with features that grind your gears every time you have to use them – you should keep track of that as well.   

Your wish list = Your ‘pros’ 

Your gear-grinders = Your ‘cons’.   

Now you’re ready for the software demos 

If buying legal software is like purchasing a home, it’s also a little bit like buying a car. You’d never buy a house without doing a visual, physical inspection and you wouldn’t buy a car without test driving different models. It’s the same with legal software. For each category of tools you want to purchase, take a demo of three software options. You’ll use the pros and cons list that you have developed to explore specific software features. 

If you have staff, involve them in the process. Avoid the typical managing attorney process of buying new software. In other words, don’t purchase it sight unseen, on the recommendation of a friend, without ever vetting that tool with your team. Don’t pop out of the office like a groundhog on February 2nd, and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got some new tech today!’ This only leads to bad feelings.    

Security Blanket: The Other Way Law Firms Need to Vet Legal Software Vendors  

The major portion of testing the viability of software providers for a law firm centers around functionality, but there is another major component of the process that often gets overlooked by solo lawyers and managing attorneys. At this point, every state has a data security law of some kind, which, at the very least, requires businesses to report a breach. Also, the ethics rules for attorneys in almost every state reflect the need for lawyers to also be/become competent in managing data security via technology.  In that environment, it’s an inappropriate risk to forego vetting each technology tool you would adopt for data security applications. 

That’s why it’s important to review the service level agreement for each vendor you consider, including with respect to questions of data ownership and management, but also with reference to internal checks and audits that the vendor performs. In addition to discovering the vendor’s internal processes around data security, you will also want to understand, intimately, the security features available to users of the software, and how those work. This includes what’s available out of the box, as defaults, and which items you’ll need to apply, e.g. – adding a second factor of authentication for password security. 

Keep a record of your process 

Understand that some states may require a contract clause respecting the vendor’s adherence to its data security regulations. 

The Basics: Specific Software Choices  

Whether you’re starting a law firm or updating your technology platform, there are four types of software you’ve just got to have. 

Law Practice Management Software. Law practice management software, also referred to as ‘case management software’ is a relationship database for organizing client information.  With law practice management software, law firms can aggregate all case data in one place and view a timeline of events and information. Case management software can attach emails, documents, tasks, calendar appointments, time records, invoices, and more to each client file, allowing for lawyers to access a holistic overview of each case, with the click of a button.  The prevalence of cloud software and integrations means that more information than ever before can be effectively aggregated by law practice management software. 

Customer Relationship Management Software. If law practice management software organizes your clients, customer relationship management software (often abbreviated to ‘CRM’) organizes your leads.  CRMs allow users to create pipelines for converting leads to clients.  And, like case management software, CRMs are able to leverage the cloud and software integrations to attach all relevant data to each lead, managing that disparate information in a single platform.  With embedded automation tools, a CRM can also process most of the client journey on its own, with the lawyer only needing to step in for a conflict check, and to determine whether the firm will take on a client after an initial consultation meeting.  

Productivity Software. ‘Productivity software’ is shorthand for email and calendaring tools, which are combined, in most instances, and which every law firm needs.  The vast majority of lawyers (and business owners of all stripes) are either using Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace. These platforms are more robust, however, than you might have guessed. They include lots of embedded tools, like:  

  • Online document archived (replacing physical servers)  
  • Internal communication platforms 
  • Video conferencing and VoIP services.    

Cloud-based productivity software can also be integrated (connected) with practice management and CRM software. 

Accounting Software. While some case management software includes a full-scale accounting platform, most will require you to utilize and integrate a separate accounting program. And, while case management software tools will most often provide some level of trust account management and reporting, non-legal tools can also be set up for the same purpose, with minimal tweaking.  Successful law firms stick like glue to their financial metrics, and accounting software with custom reporting functionality is a necessity for doing so.  

Let’s Get Physical: Hardware for Modern Law Firms  

Most modern solo and small firm law practices look to thin their hardware applications by dumping servers and large, clunky devices of all sorts. In the present-day practice of law, it’s possible to practice on a small number of devices: smartphone, tablet and/or laptop – since cloud software, which is device-agnostic, can be accessed on almost any internet-ready device, using a secure connection.  

The challenge, in a world of hybrid work, and potentially a ‘bring your own device’ culture, is to effectively secure those devices. At a baseline law firms should implement a written information security program and remote work policy. 

Authored by:

Jared D. Correia, Esq. is the CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting and the COO of Gideon Software. Red Cave offers subscription-based law firm business management consulting for law firms and bar associations. Gideon provides end-to-end intake solutions for high-volume law firms, with included document assembly and esignature features. Correia is a former practicing attorney. He is an internationally-recognized legal technology expert, and frequent speaker for legal organizations. Find out more at www.redcavelegal.com and www.gideonlegal.com.

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