Over the last several months (actually, since the inception of the firm), I have frequently been asked about what we do. I have also been asked about the name of the firm. This blog is a little long but by the end, you’ll know exactly what the name means and what we can do for you.
Techaerus: This is entirely my daughter’s fault…but I still like the name. Caerus is the Greek god of opportunity. Tech…well that’s kind of obvious. I believe that, when properly implemented, technology represents enormous opportunities for most offices. Training, process design, and integration are all required to get the most out of technology and most businesses fail on one or more of these fronts. We fix that.
The best way to describe what we do is to walk you through our process and the best way to do that is via a real case study. So, let’s take our favorite law firm, Dewey Cheetum and Howe, as an example.
Mr. Cheetum is a highly regarded and distinguished attorney. He’s also the managing partner of the law firm. That said, he’s been run over on the information highway and his favorite young associate (not to mention his office manager and the janitor) are concerned. The fact of the matter is that he isn’t alone. Most of the senior attorneys at the firm have limited technological skills and rely on their secretaries and paralegals.
While this provides some job security for those secretaries and paralegals, it also puts the firm at a competitive disadvantage. In steps our hero (that favorite young associate) who suggests that Mr. Cheetum meet with Techaerus (this is where you should hear some French horns, I think). He promises Mr. Cheetum that it won’t cost a penny and that the meeting will be ‘life changing’ (OK, a bit much but I get to write this thing).
The following Wednesday, our hero ushers me into Mr. Cheetum’s office. On the way in, I notice that the firm is using a case management software platform with which I’m familiar. I also notice that Mr. Cheetum’s secretary has a single monitor and is constantly switching between his email account, her email account, a pleading she’s working on, and a particularly interesting site about patchwork quilting. I also notice that she hasn’t even launched the case management software. Hmmm. (keep in mind, this is all a true story although names and details have been changed to protect the innocent)
Mr. Cheetum is a bit skeptical, to say the least. After I explain that I practiced law for 25 years for Fortune 500 companies, he’s a bit more receptive. But…I need to really explain what I can do. I ask him to call his secretary into his office. She is clearly a skilled paralegal and knows precisely how to keep Mr. Cheetum happy. That means he wants to keep her happy.
I’ve prepared for the meeting and ask our hero to grab that extra monitor he had set aside for me in advance. Moving a few things around her desk, I set up the new monitor, plug it in, and ask her if I may sit at her desk for a moment. A few mouse clicks later, she now has two screens, one of which is displaying Mr. Cheetum’s pleading and the other a fascinating site on patchwork quilts…I mean Mr. Cheetum’s email. I’m guessing anyone who has worked with dual screens understands the value of this simple $100 fix and it’s a freebee.
Mr. Cheetum is impressed and his secretary is smiling (she never does that). I’m an observant guy and our hero is feeding me information so I tell him that this is just the beginning. I’m pretty sure I can save his firm a few hundred thousand dollars each year if he lets me perform a free (this seems to be an important word) audit of his operations. I’ll need about five to ten minutes with each of his employees and some time getting details on his hardware, software and processes. I’ll then prepare a report that lays out, in detail, what can be done to achieve the aforementioned results.
Cheetum agrees (after getting kicked under the table by his secretary) and I start my audit. The first thing I notice is that he has four very expensive copiers and a large room for files. He also has two full time filing clerks whose primary purpose is to pull files and deliver them to someone’s desk or to pick up files from someone’s desk and return them to the filing room. I decide to start my employee interviews here. In addition to getting a feel for their jobs, I am able to evaluate both of their technical skills. I discover one is an avid gamer who builds gaming computers as a hobby. I learn that the other clerk is an aspiring paralegal who hopes this job is a ‘foot in the door’.
I run through the interview process with each of the employees and learn several interesting tidbits. The highly capable office manager has to provide several reports to the partners, the firm’s lender, and several clients. Most of these reports need to be generated in Excel but her skills are quite limited. I also learn that the firm has certain practice areas, specifically bankruptcy and estate planning, that use numerous standardized forms where only client specific information needs to be changed. Currently, the paralegals either manually type the information onto forms they’ve obtained from various clerks’ offices or overtype information into previously generated Word documents.
When I sit down with the office manager (Ida Organizer), I ask her who is the ‘go to’ power user of their case management software (CMS). That’s when I’m introduced to Cranky Cramer. It turns out that Cranky is a pretty nice guy whose primary purpose is to input new clients into the firm’s CMS. He’s also responsible for closing files in the CMS and for answering any questions that arise about how to do something with the CMS. As it turns out, he knows quite a bit more about the CMS system and that it can do so much more but he is routinely rebuffed by the office manager (perhaps because he comes off as cranky). After chatting with the Ida, I discover that she is simply too busy to listen to Cranky’s ideas. There’s much more but by now you get the picture.
I return the next day and complete an audit of the firm’s software and hardware. While the firm’s hardware is competent to handle the existing workload (albeit, there will be many new monitors in the firm’s future), their software is problematic. The CMS is several versions from current as is their Microsoft Office suite on several systems. In fact, they are running several different versions of Office based upon the age of the computer on which it is running. Roughly half of the computers are not running antivirus or antimalware software and of those that are, most have not updated virus definitions in some time. The firm does not own a copy of Adobe Acrobat and uses a free pdf creator when they need to convert a document to a pdf. Moreover, only a few people in the office know how to convert a document. Again, there’s much more.
Finally, I spend an afternoon with the office manager and Mr. Cheetum’s secretary discussing the firm’s processes. I note that the firm does have processes for all important functions but that the documentation of those processes is both limited and dispersed among those responsible for those processes. In addition, I find that each of the important processes is limited to a single individual and that nobody else is really familiar with those processes. The last, and most important thing I uncover is that many of these processes involve workarounds for something that isn’t quite right.
It’s been an exhausting few days so I go back home and enjoy a few cocktails…I mean, I get right to work on my analysis. All of the information I’ve collected has been entered into my database and thanks to some nifty programming, it provides me with some very useful observations. Most importantly, it tells me what can be done that will have the greatest return on investment. By way of example, it tells me that if we properly utilize the firm’s very expensive copiers and even its existing mess of a client management system, we could not only eliminate the two filing clerk positions (about $60K per year) but also 2000 sq. ft. of space dedicated to the filing room. Since the firm wants to grow, that additional space would save them another $40,000 per year. So, we are at $100K per year and I haven’t broken a sweat.
Next, I look at how the firm generates documents. As I watched the document generation process, I noticed that they frequently referenced notes they had taken during client intake or comments made by the assigned attorneys. To put it succinctly, nertz to that process! The vast majority of the documents they were generating had few, if any, changes other than the client’s demographic information (eg. names, addresses, creditors lists, assets, beneficiaries, etc.). A few documents had some conditional language (wording needed to be changed, added, or omitted based upon fairly common and consistent circumstances). Based upon how long it currently takes the firm to generate documents, a proper use of macros and templates could save the firm at least two hundred man hours per month or about $50,000 per year.
This brings us to the case management system. While automating documents via Word templates would create significant savings, properly employing their CMS would have a dramatic multiplier effect. We have a rule at Techaerus. NEVER TYPE SOMETHING TWICE (we even capitalize the rule for dramatic effect). When a new matter is accepted by the firm, all of the relevant demographic information is entered into the CMS. The CMS has a seamless interface with Word. So, why are the paralegals typing that same information into every document they create. By further refining their use of the system, such as including specific case related information, we can even automate a wide variety of conditional clauses that need to be included in a given document. As an example, during the intake interview, the client has produced a specific list of bequests of jewelry that she wants included in her will. That list is entered into the CMS and will be automatically included in her will. NO RETYPING!
Now you can add another two to three hundred man hours per month to the savings. So, conservatively, we are up to a total savings of about $175,000 per year (still not breaking a sweat). The real fun starts with the benefits of training. While more difficult to quantify financially, the value becomes obvious rapidly.
Earlier, I mentioned the office manager (Ida Organizer). She’s great at ensuring that the staff shows up on time, that clients get what they want and that things, overall, run smoothly. But she spends half of her time creating reports. What would happen if those reports only required 5% of her time?
The client reports are all available in the CMS, but only if it’s used correctly. The same is true for the financials she needs to regularly provide to the firm’s lender. Finally, the CMS has the ability to export virtually all of its data to Excel. She just needs to learn how to export the data and use a few basic Excel features. How much better would the firm run if she could dedicate her time to operations as opposed to reports? Remember Cranky Cramer, the CMS geek. He’s about to get very popular.
Finally, my system suggests cross training on processes. In two months, Ida Organizer intends to take a two week trip to her family homeland in Eastern Idontknowwhereistan. Of course, Eastern Idontknowwhereistan has terrible phone service and WiFi is basically nonexistent. So, Cranky Cramer is going to take over her reporting duties (now he’s known as Super Cranky Cramer). How does he know which reports are to be run, when, and to whom they are supposed to be delivered? Techaerus suggests creating a clear, step-by-step process for Ida’s reporting duties (which are much easier now). Super CC (as he now likes to be called) would be then able to generate the reports following simple instructions.
At our next scheduled meeting, I present a complete set of written findings and recommendations. This document includes an executive summary (for those with short attention spans… squirrel …), a description of the client, an objective evaluation of the client’s hardware, software, processes and personnel, and recommendations sorted by likely return on investment. I also provide a schedule of flat fees to implement each recommendation.
Mr. Cheetum turns immediately to the section on fees (as expected) and seems to gag a bit. Having been to more than one rodeo, I immediately suggest he review the expected returns on this investment. By way of example, I ask him to turn to page seven which describes the proper implementation of his case management system and the anticipated annual manhour savings that are roughly ten times what I am charging. I do the same with a couple of the other higher priority recommendations and the color slowly returns to his usually cherubic visage.
Next, I explain our satisfaction guarantee. While the client will pay 50% of my fee up front, if they are not completely satisfied with the results, the other half is on me (I’m not really worried). Since I know how a lawyer’s mind works, I also remind him that reasonableness is written into every contract, a fact with which he is quite familiar. I answer all of his questions but put no pressure on him to sign (I don’t do pushy).
A week later, I receive a call from Ida Organizer indicating that I got the job (whoop whoop). We schedule an implementation meeting that includes Ida, SuperCC (like I said, he’s gonna be the man), and our young associate hero. We draw up a timeline for implementing each of the recommendations and agree that SuperCC will be my primary point of contact. He has the tech chops and enough bandwidth to help with the project.
Over the next six months, we steadily move forward with each item. Second monitors are installed at every desk where they would be helpful, the CMS is updated to the latest version and customized to meet the client’s needs, document templates are installed, an imaging system that is nearly hands free and incorporates bar codes with complete document identification is created, and employees are fully trained in all of the firm’s software and processes. Super CC is trained to create new document templates and nobody remembers what the CC stands for. Mr. Cheetum even learns to email (proof that the apocalypse is nigh).
When all of the recommendations are implemented, we set up a final meeting with Mr. Cheetum, SuperCC, and Ida Organizer. I explain that my work here is done but that they can call on me anytime with questions. We also calendar a meeting for three months in the future so I can ensure that they remain on track. Finally, Mr. Cheetum presents me with the other 50% of my fee (I’m not surprised).
Now for your homework assignment. Look at your office and ask yourself if Techaerus could rock your world.
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).