Automate your law practice

David Sparks is famous for being a successful lawyer and a technology geek. He explains how he mixes both law and technology to make a unique practice. “I use technology to make my practice run faster and more smoothly. Nothing that I do is impossible for another lawyer to do and everything I do can be accomplished using either technology or manpower. Technology doesn’t give me something no one else has — but because of it my practice is much more lean, and, among other things, gives me an edge in terms of pricing.”

To keep his law practice running lean, automation is the answer. When asked why he automated his law firm he replied, “First, there’s efficiency—it’s much faster. When you have the computer doing something for you, you no longer have to type out words or take time to manually file documents on your computer. Second, it’s more accurate. The computer is doing the task, so for example, as long as you set up the rules correctly, the computer is always going to name files properly.”

Here are some of the tools that he uses to automate his workflow:

Hazel

Hazel is software for mac that is designed to clean and organize files in the background while you work.

I automate my firm’s documents using Hazel. So when I scan a document into my computer, the document is automatically saved in OCT format and then Hazel reads it and can identify clients, dates, etc., and will name the file and file it away for me in my system,” he says.

TextExpander for Mac

TextExpander allows you to create custom abbreviations that, once typed, will expand to full words or images.

“With TextExpander, when I’m drafting discovery documents — for example the list of 5 contention questions we use in California — I have created text expanders so I can type in the bits that are different in each case and TextExpander automatically creates and generates the questions for me. I was going to hire a paralegal to do this for me, but realized it’d be more efficient and more cost effective for the client to accomplish this task using automation.”

Sparks ends with some advice about bringing more technology into your practice. “My standard advice to lawyers is don’t be afraid of technology. It can make you a better lawyer and can save you a lot of money.”

Article via Above the Law, 23 July 2015

Photo: The Lawyer by Ard van der Leeuw [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Legaltech trade show tips

Legaltech is the most important legal tech trade show of the year.  It is the number 1 resource for law firms and professionals to get the latest information for law practice management. The next show is scheduled for February 2-4 2016 in New York City. If you plan on attending, this post is meant to give you a few tips to get the most out of the conference. These are tips coming from Legal tech marketers on having a great experience at Legaltech this year.

1. Get started early

Get in touch with your contacts before you get to the conference. Make appointments now so that you will have an agenda of people to meet with when you arrive.

2. Start updating your social media feeds

Social media can be a powerful way to make connections with those that you know and those that you don’t yet know. When it comes to big events like this, it is inevitable that those within your industry will be abuzz with information leading up to the show. Use this as an opportunity to bring attention to your legal business and yourself.

3. Attend editors’ and bloggers’ breakfast

These are free events so there is nothing to lose. It will also give you the chance to be exposed to thought leaders in the industry as well as learn about what is coming next. You will get access to dynamic editorial and leadership teams, as well as entrepreneurs working in your industry.

4. Write about your experience

You can write anything from a blog post on your company site to a series of tweets. What is important is sharing your experience. This will not only give you the chance to attract an audience of curious colleagues, but this will also give you another chance to bring attention to your own practice or firm.

Article via LegalTechNews, 14 January 2016

Photo: Tech cocktail conference crowd by Frank Gruber [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Handshake software integrates with Ravel

Handshake Software, a provider of SharePoint-based products and services to the legal market, announced its tech integration Ravel Law, a legal search, analytics, and visualization platform. The move is based on the need to provide a legal search product to law firms that will allow them to be more efficient in their practice.

Glenn LaForce, vice president of global sales & marketing at Handshake Software stated, ““Attorneys are under tremendous pressure from their clients with regards to the billable hour, so bringing together as many data sources as possible into one universal search is paramount for their practice,” he said. “To be able to perform legal research while seeing key financials, internal documents, contacts and internal expertise helps the attorneys become more efficient and effective.

This move is a strategic integration between the two companies products. By combining these technologies, the users Sharepoint experience will include search that allows for all knowledge to be in one place. LaForce confirms this by saying, “Lawyers, CIOs and knowledge management professionals tell us they want one system to deliver one-stop [knowledge management] information to their users. Our integration with Ravel Law is another important aspect of the Handshake Software’s all-encompassing solution that includes integration to online legal research and other major legal applications.”

The goal is to provide and environment where users will have access to critical firm data as well as online law research materials. This allows attorneys to more effectively manage the business and practice of law. We’re excited to bring these technologies to lawyers in one easy-to-find location,” said Nik Reed, co-founder and chief operating officer at Ravel Law.

 

Article via LegalTechNews, 12 January 2016

Photo:Assignments by Ryan Hyde [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


How WordPress is affecting law firm websites

WordPress is identified as the best software in terms of digital publishing and managing content. As of November, the popular management system has reached a notable milestone: it powers about 25% of the internet. Statistically, 1 in 4 websites run on WordPress.

This is due to the ease-of-use. It’s great for people that have blogs, small businesses, personal portfolio sites, and basic retailers. Pool all of that together and it entails a great portion of the Internet.

A recent post by Lauren Nguyen of Pantheon, a website management platform, highlights the broadening applicability of WordPress, drawing on a survey of thousands of agencies in their partner network. “We see a trend of enterprise customers across all industries turning to WordPress. Historically, big companies have relied on proprietary enterprise CMS solutions. However, many are getting wise to the fact that open source CMS can give marketing teams the flexibility and agility they need to iterate and improve faster.”

WordPress is known to be simple to use and navigate through but people still list some issues. It isn’t ideal for complex websites, which characterizes law firm websites. However, earlier this year, WordPress announced that what it calls its “JSON REST API” will be part of its core. This allows the WordPress CMS to interact with basically everything — other sites, other software, other interfaces. Opening up with new possibilities will give WordPress the ability to connect with the more complex website and gain even more popularity.

For law firms, this means that:

1. They would be able to better integrate their publishing efforts.

Large law firms agree that publishing independent digital publications is ideal. They run on building reputations and audiences around that specific niche. Using WordPress API, publishers can pull their blogs onto the main website, and run the blog on a separate website. Using WordPress as an underlying CMS will remain a viable choice.

2. Website development companies can lay a custom background over the top of WordPress. 

In the future, as WordPress advances from being a simple CMS and into a full-featured platform, the traditional interface becomes optional. If a company wants to build a custom interface geared towards elaborate law firm websites over the top of WordPress, they can do so.

Article via Above the Law, December 16, 2015

Photo: W for WordPress via Kristina Alexanderson [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Legal firms remain concerned about cloud privacy

Lawyers are a conservative group when it comes to adopting new technology. This continue to hold true for the ever popular cloud technologies. Concerns about privacy and security related to data breaches are holding some firms back from transitioning over to cloud storage and services. In a 2015 Cloud Security Survey released Netwrix reveals the concerns around cloud adoption among lawyers include: security and privacy of data (26 percent), migration costs (22 percent) and loss of physical controls (17 percent). Moreover, security risks include unauthorized access (32 percent), insider misuse (18 percent) and account hijacking (18 percent.)

Alex Vovk, CEO and co-founder of Netwrix, told Legaltech News “Legal departments will be reluctant to entrust their valuable data and customers’ sensitive information, until they are absolutely sure that cloud providers can offer better security than the company can ensure on-premises.” Although data security is a privacy issue for all industries, legal departments are less likely to adopt technologies that do not guarantee full protection for their data.

Law firms may be cautious, but that doesn’t mean that they are uninterested in cloud technologies. According to the survey, 44 percent of the respondents indicated they their firms were in a stage of evaluation and discovery concerning cloud services. “This indicates that [law firms] are potentially ready to invest more in additional cloud security and consider various cloud options,” Vovk said. In fact, when it comes to hybrid cloud models, legal entities have the same interest in making the transition as private companies. In addtion, 37 percent of those surveyed favor a private cloud model.

Vovk summed up by stating that “… as soon as cloud providers are ready to provide additional security measures and to some extent ease the compliance burden …lawyers would become less skeptic[al] about cloud adoption.”

Article via Legaltech News, 3 December 2015

Photo: Cloud Solutions via NEC Corporation of America [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Private Capital for Funding Law Firms Serving Low and Moderate Income Clients

By Richard Granat

One of the obstacles to the development of innovative software solutions that automate part of the legal service delivery process resulting in lower, more affordable legal fees is the absence of capital. Traditional methods of legal service delivery based on hourly billing rates out of reach for low and moderate income clients.  Capital investment is required to create innovative web-based software solutions that can enable low and moderate income clients to either solve legal problems on their own as pro-se litigants, or to enable law firms to offer legal solutions at a more affordable price point.

The major obstacle to making more capital available to law firms, is the prohibition on investment in law firms by nonlawyers enshrined in the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Responsibility and replicated in the state rules of professional responsibility that regulate lawyers in their state. [ See Rule 5.4 – Professional Independence of a Lawyer ].

There has been little innovation within solo and smaller law firms to develop client-centered, web-based applications that provide a low cost solution to low and moderate income clients. Instead innovation is centered in the vendor community that provides tools to law firms, usually as a SaaS service for a monthly subscription fee. A good example is our own DirectLaw virtual law firm platform that provides a client-centered document automation application, and other tools that enables a law firm to unbundled legal services for a fixed fee to clients online. While the value of innovation outside of the law firm, within the vendor sector of the legal industry, is not to be minimized, it is the lawyer within the law firm that has the most nuanced view about what their clients need and want. The lawyer within the law firm also has the primary interest in figuring out how to develop and manage the delivery of legal services so that for certain kinds of legal problems a scalable, volume-based business model can be implemented.

Innovation requires capital. It is capital intensive to develop software applications and new delivery systems for legal services. Solos and small law firms that serve individuals and families do not have access to capital. Whatever innovation is taking place in the delivery of legal services is happening outside of the legal profession in organizations like LegalZoom financed by venture capital, or the within legal aid programs funded in part by the Technology grant program within the Legal Services Program, or outside of the United States. [See also, blog post from Lexicata – How Law Firms Can be More Like LegalZoom ].

There has been much controversial discussion with the legal profession on modifying the ownership rules that apply to law firms, with little result. For example, the American Bar Association created last year a Commission on the Future of Legal Services to address the access to justice problem, under the under the leadership of then ABA-President William C. Hubbard.   The Commission convened a National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services, in May 2015 where private investment in law firms as a prerequisite to innovation was on the agenda. But I have yet to see any progress on this issue within the American Bar Association. Unlike other countries, private investment in law firms as a way to develop new ways of serving a latent market for legal services is dead on arrival when it reaches the ABA’s House of Delegates, although 80% of the U.S. population can’t afford the cost of legal services and is unserved by the legal profession.

The evidence we have seen in the United Kingdom, where the legal profession has moved towards de-regulation, and where capital can flow freely into law firms, suggests that the United States will remain a laggard in innovation in the delivery of legal services until this problem can be fixed. In the UK, LegalZoom is taking advantage of this de-regulation by becoming an ABS [ Alternative Business Structure ].  As a private company, operating in the UK, LegalZoom can offer legal services directly to the public. LegalZoom plans to use this opportunity to develop and experiment with new end-to-end legal services for consumers with the idea that in the far distant future these innovations can be imported into the U.S. legal market.

The bottom line is that you can’t really innovate without access to capital – it is the fuel of innovation. For solo and small law firms that serve people, rather than large corporations, capital is not available for innovation unless the lawyer or law firm has generated capital from their practice and makes a conscious decision to invest in software automation and web-based solutions.

An example of a law firm that has accumulated capital (because of litigation against the mortgage servicing companies and the banks in the robo-signing scandal during the U.S foreclosure crisis) is IceLegal, P.A., a small law firm based in Florida. IceLegal, under the leadership of Thomas Ice, is launching its own access to justice initiative.  The firm has also created its own LegalYou video channel for educating pro-se litigants.  This is a project of the law firm (not of a private company), and will  provide low cost legal solutions to Florida residents. If LegalYou is a success it will serve a new latent market ignored by most of Florida’s law firms. LegalYou is the exception rather than the rule.

One would think that Internet-savvy, recent law school graduates would be motivated to serve a latent market for legal services by developing innovative solutions, but handicapped by large student loans they are forced into career roles that provide sufficient cash flow to amortize those loans. Risk-taking is not an option for them.

A Proposal: Safe Harbor for Law Firms Serving Low and Moderate Income Clients

To increase the flow of capital to law solos and small law firms who wish to serve only low and moderate income clients with automated legal solutions, I propose that:

  • The American Bar Association amend Rule 5.4 to permit private investment in just those law firms that serve low and moderate income clients exclusively.
  • Personal injury and other contingent fee practices would be excluded from this exception as capital is self-generating for successful firms in these practice areas.
  • To comfort those who are concerned that the independence of the lawyer is compromised by this proposal, the law firm must remain at least a 51% owner of the law firm. Private investors can be minority shareholders only.
  • It is relatively easy to create an income generation screen to capture just low and moderate income clients for the law firm, and exclude those of higher income. The data from this intake process can be archived and audited to comply with the exception to the rule.

Creating this exception opens up the opportunity for smaller law firms to take advantage of crowd-funding opportunities, the angel investor community, and the new SEC rules that permit crowd-funding investment. Further, the rich relatives and friends (if they exist) of a young lawyer could fund the new lawyer’s law firm, and get a return on investment, without the lawyer risking disbarment because of violation of the 5.4.

An argument can also be made that enabling law firms that serve primarily corporate entities can create capital on their own without additional incentives and should not be able to take advantage of this safe harbor. Most large law firms represent corporate entities (banks, insurance companies, health care organizations, drug companies,  manufacturers, financial organizations) whose legal positions are opposed to many consumer interests.  These firms should have to use their own capital to become more efficient so as not to tip the balances against the consumer even more than it is.

One would think that this modest proposal to enable innovation designed to increase access to the legal system for clients who can’t afford the high cost of legal fees would be an idea that that American Bar Association and state bar associations might entertain or even discuss.

However, given that the structure of regulation of the legal profession is controlled by the legal profession, this idea will probably be dead on arrival.

Article via eLawyering Blog, 4 December 2015

Photo: the shadow of justice via Jack [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]