These blogs are usually generalist in nature but, in light of my previous life as an attorney, I thought a more focused entry might be helpful. That said, most of the lessons herein are applicable to almost all office settings. This blog post will also appear in the June, 2019 issue of the Maricopa Lawyer, a publication by the Maricopa County Bar Association.
Most law offices own a variety of technology including hardware (phone systems, copiers, PC’s, servers, etc.) and software (Microsoft Office, case management systems, etc.). These assets frequently represent among the largest investments made by the firm other than labor. This article asks and answers a few questions about whether you are receiving the best ROI on those investments.
Are you getting the most out of your case management system? Every good case management system from cloud-based services (eg. Clio) to full blown in-house systems (eg. ProLaw) can manage clients and calendars, track time, create and generate forms, store images, and in many instances, handle your firm’s accounting needs. If your firm is not using most of these features, you have a very expensive Rolodex.
Spend time reviewing your software’s capabilities (this is where the software vendor’s salespeople come in) and then determine the features that would most benefit your productivity. Next, create an implementation plan and have a single person in the firm take ownership of that implementation. Finally, ensure that all your employees are thoroughly trained on the software. Missing any of these steps will almost ensure reduced ROI. Simply put, you must think long term.
How do you manage paper? Attorneys, more than most businesses, are still tied to the need for paper documents thanks to the still archaic requirements of the courts and many clerks’ offices. That said, the need to maintain in-house paper files has largely disappeared. Other than perhaps wills, there is rarely a need to store paper documents and nearly all courts will admit electronic reproductions of documentary evidence with appropriate authenticating affidavits. With that in mind, the first thing you need to understand is that your very expensive copier is much more than meets the eye. In fact, your copier is a digital scanner attached to a laser printer. Add a phone line, and it is also a fax machine.
Assuming that your case management software can manage and store images, there should be very little need for you to retain paper documents. Instead, learn how to scan and import images into your software (eg. batch process and store bar coded documents, extract key data from digital images, etc.). A properly implemented imaging system is one of the easiest and highest ROI efforts made by a law firm. As a simple example, imagine having every piece of evidence and every document associated with every firm file available at the click of a mouse.
Does your staff really know how to use Microsoft Office or Google Docs? Every resume I’ve ever reviewed for paralegals has a variation of “Proficient in the use of Microsoft Office including Word, Outlook, and Excel”. It has been my experience that this statement is almost never true.
Find someone who is truly an expert in Office and ask them to devise a simple skills test for your employees on critical Office capabilities. In my case, if your employees don’t know how to perform a mail merge in Word, create a Pivot Table in Excel, and create a Group mailing list in Outlook, they are not proficient in Office. I have always been amazed by the productivity gains made when a law firm staff is properly trained in the use of Office. Learning how to use variables in Word documents alone creates huge efficiencies if you frequently generate complex contracts or pleadings. Excel skills can dramatically accelerate and simplify client reporting and becoming an Outlook power user can lead to vastly improved team management.
What are the ‘little big things’ that you are missing? Does your staff really know how to use the phone system? How much time is wasted trying to figure out how to add another party to a call? Does everyone know how to use the postage meter and to refill it when necessary? Can everyone make two-sided copies, change the toner, and send a fax from your copier? Each of these gaps in skills seem small but can add up to considerable wasted time and frustration. One approach to closing these gaps is regular bite-sized training with the staff. Often, your vendor will provide free in-person or online training sessions. Take advantage of them.
Finally, as the manager or owner, what don’t you know? If you are not inclined to technology, find someone who is and ask for help. You may be an expert attorney, but if your firm is hemorrhaging time and money, that won’t fix your bottom line. The legal industry is becoming increasingly competitive and firms that adopt and properly implement technology have an enormous advantage. Even more importantly, most of the above suggestions do not require significant investments in new technology. Rather, they simply require that you make the most of what you already own. In the end, that will provide the maximum return on your existing investment in technology.
Allen Friedman is the owner and CEO of Techaerus LLC, an office efficiency consulting firm. He is also a licensed attorney. Allen founded and managed one of the largest consumer collections law firms in the country and managed over 50 attorneys as well as hundreds of non-attorney staff. Prior to founding that firm, he opened and managed the New York and Michigan operations for the largest consumer collections firm in the United States. Throughout his career, Allen has always placed great emphasis on ensuring that investments in office technology provide the greatest possible returns. In order to achieve these returns, he focuses on three pillars of office management; asset management, training, and automation. His expertise includes document/image management, software and hardware integration, training, and process management and automation. Allen lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife Amy, his children Cassidy and Gideon, and two adorable dogs named Roxie (a labradoodle) and Bentley (an Old English Sheepdog).