My Recent 5 by 5 Post on Legal Technology

Matt “the ]non]billable hour” Homann periodically runs a feature on his blog called “Five by Five” that features five experts answering a thought-provoking question. I recently participated with legal tech experts Ron Friedmann, Jerry Lawson, Jeff Beard and Kevin Heller in a Five by Five on “What five new technologies should all lawyers incorpoate into their practices, but probably won’t?”
I’ve reproduced my answer below:
There is a certain sense of resignation in the question that, as the eternal technology optimist, I�m unwilling to accept. On the other hand, lawyers are notoriously late adopters of technology. I put together my first document assembly application for drafting wills in 1990 and document assembly is still treated as a new development by many lawyers.
Technology implementation should be considered in terms of portfolio management, just as you would do with your financial investments. Diversification should be your bedrock principle, mixing together low, medium and high risks and low, medium and high returns across your �technology portfolio.� Lawyers, conservative by nature, tend to stick solely to the low risk, low return approach, which will be as devastating over the long run as will a solely low risk, low return investment policy be as it gets hammered by cycles of inflation.
�Safe� and �prudent� approaches require that you direct some of your investment, in technology or otherwise, in higher risk, innovative approaches that may pay off extraordinarily well or may cost you your shirt, but make sense in terms of a diversified portfolio. The one approach that I believe all lawyers and law firms should incorporate into their practices, but probably won�t, is the application of modern portfolio theory to technology.
I�ve provided two sets of answers, a detailed set for individual lawyers and a quick list for law firms, because many times the interests of firms and lawyers are quite different. What the two should have in common today, however, is that technology should be implemented on an �lawyers first� priority, meaning that the needs of the lawyers in their practices should be given the highest consideration, rather than the traditional �secretaries and staff first� approach or today�s common �IT Department first� approach. My opinion on this point has proven to be more controversial than I ever expected.
Five For Individual Lawyers
I have a simple three-step approach for technology decision-making for individual lawyers. First, honestly and courageously identify your existing system that will be affected by the technology you are considering and clearly spell it out in writing � no matter how wacky it may be (e.g., �certain pieces of paper are stacked on my desk, others are on a chair, others are on a credenza and others are on the floor, but I (or my secretary) usually know where everything is�). Second, ask yourself whether the technology you are considering either (1) replaces the existing system with something better or (2) improves or enhances the existing system. If the answer is �no� in both cases, either forget about the technology or admit to yourself that you will buy it only because you �want� it. Finally, if your answer is �yes,� make your decision about how the costs and benefits balance out for you.
1. Technology to Help You Manage Your Time and Priorities. How many balls do you have in the air? There is nothing that would help any lawyer more, yet gets considered less, than something that will truly help manage time and priorities. The big problem is that every one is different, so there is no single answer. In a firm setting, you will get a one-size-fits-all-that-actually-works-well-for-nobody approach. The fact is that many lawyers have their own �DayTimer� or other system. They then create (or are forced to create) a parallel system on their computer. The result: the worst of all possible worlds � multiple calendars and to do lists and ensuing chaos.
You must find a technological solution that takes the place of the paper system to have any chance of success. There are solutions that may work well for you � The MasterList, Outlook with David Allen�s Getting Things Done add-in, case management programs, mind mapping programs. This is so important that, in a firm setting, you should be willing to spend your own money to get a solution that works for you. That�s how important this issue is.
2. Technology to Help You Find Things That You Need When You Need Them. Lawyers spend a stunning proportion of their time trying to find things that are hidden in piles, files and even in the ceiling tiles. The reasons relate to the problems I mentioned in category #1, the steady stream of interruptions and crises in the average lawyer�s day, and to their own failings at personal organization. �A place for everything and everything in its place� makes perfect sense, but the notion gets blown away when people drop off files, your mail arrives and you get fifty emails all while you are on a telephone call with a crisis that has interrupted what you were in the middle of working on.
Computers where supposed to help with this, but papers and voicemail still don�t make it into our digital systems and our computer world consists of separate and unconnected �silos� of information � documents, email, bookmarks, RSS feeds, and the list goes on and on. Our document management system does not do the trick. It doesn�t cover everything and we never bothered to fill in the field that would have helped us.
Interestingly, solos and small firm lawyers may be in the best position in this area. They can use a simpler document management program like Worldox, which includes a great local search capability, or get great results from a general case management tool. Both local search engine tools and the �enterprise search� category of tools also show some promise.
3. Technology to Help You �Remember� What You Already Know When You Need to Know It. This category is different from category #2. It�s what you can focus on only after you get a handle on the �finding things� problem. Because of your experience, there are many things that you �know.� There are also many things you (or someone in your firm) have researched, found an answer for, done before, found the appropriate resource person or created something that can be reused. It might be a document. It might be a note about a client�s birthday, a recommended expert, a recent case, a good article, an important URL or some handwritten notes. Unfortunately, there�s no personal search engine for your brain yet.
We need to capture, store, be able to retrieve, and, ideally, to incorporate into our existing forms and processes all of this knowledge and know-how. The phrase to remember is �personal knowledge management.� Unfortunately, the key word is �personal.� Again, this something we all do differently and there�s no single solution.
However, we need to work on finding a tool or set of tool. I advocate a �do-it-yourself knowledge management� approach. Start finding all of the tools you already have that you can use. You can use more features of some of the tools I mention in category #2 as a start. If you have document assembly applications, you can begin to incorporate experience, expertise and knowledge into your forms on a routine basis. In the litigation context, CaseMap is a perfect tool for getting results in this area. Another example Outlook 2003 users might consider is the suite of tools included in the �Business Contact Manager� component of Outlook.
4. Technology to Help Your Clients in Ways They Will Appreciate. One of my pet topics is �client-driven technology.� Lawyers and law firms are notorious for not using (and, in some cases, refusing to use) software that is compatible with what their clients use. I�ve talked with many people who have complained vocally about their lawyers sending them documents in WordPerfect or in a format they can�t use. In one case that I remember especially well, the complaint ended with this: �They are working for us and they should give us the documents in the format we use.� It�s hard to argue with that point.
Other stories abound about lawyers unable to use email, create PDF files or pronounce the word �Pentium� correctly. To make the situation worse, your business clients already assume that you have state of the art technology. When they say that they think you can create their agreements with a push of the button, they really mean that. I�ve seen lawyers who will say �yes, we can do that� to clients on legal issues they have never heard of tell clients that there is �no way� they can adopt a technology that would help the client. I�ve seen that even when the client has offered to pay for the new technology.
This category is the easiest category to make positive changes and see positive benefits. The first step is preposterously easy. Ask your clients about what they use and their preferred ways of working with you. Legal tech consultant Adriana Linares has a simple technology survey that can be made part of the engagement letter or the client intake process. The second step is to evaluate your current technology and any contemplated changes in light of its �friendliness� to clients. The third step is to do a little research into all of the �low hanging fruit� projects you can do right now. Take the lead on providing your clients with metadata scrubbing guidelines and tools or ways to address security issues. Use extranets, deal rooms and electronic workspaces where you can clearly save your clients money. How many clients today tell their friends, �My lawyer just came up with a great new way for me to save money�? Consider electronic billing, electronic closing binders in PDF, and the new ReportBooks in CaseMap 5. It�s all part of showing clients that you care about their businesses and not just yours.
5. Technology to Help You Practice Law in the Way You�ve Always Envisioned. If you talked the best students at the best law schools who want to work for the best litigation firms, you probably would not find a single one whose vision of the practice of law includes finding themselves in a rodent-infested warehouse full of cardboard boxes of old files stamping numbers on pieces of paper for twelve hours a day for months at a time. Yet, that�s where they might find themselves. I think the vision would be more that they are using sophisticated search and visualization tools on a laptop computer to locate the fact no one else could have found that wins the case and instant partnership for them.
That�s one thing. What�s worse, though, is seeing the lawyers who have reached the holy grail of partnership only to find that they work harder and longer hours, have more pressures, and find that they have little, if any, enjoyment about what they do. Tom Davenport, a knowledge management expert, has written that we may now spend 40% of our work day fighting against the tools that were implemented to help us be more productive. In any law firm, there will be a lot of hardware, software and systems that are far more burden than benefit. Almost everyone learns to live with that, to their detriment.
A far better approach is to focus your technological change on ways to reduce your pain and increase both your ability and your time to do the work you love. There are endless ways to do this. For me, the answer might be a blog that allows me to talk about a subject I like and attract others interested in the same thing. For you, it might be a way to automate a time-consuming and tedious process so that you can spend more time talking with your clients and helping them do what they want rather than trying to talk them into taking approaches that better fit your existing forms. For someone else, it might be to get the Tablet PC that you know would really help you out. For others, it might be finding a way to automate the routine work you are doing for a great client and free up the time to do much higher-level work.
There�s never been a time where we have had more tools and capabilities available to us that could enable us to spend more time doing the things that brought us to the practice of law and the things we love the most. I don�t want to be one of those people who said I could have done that, but I didn�t. As the quote goes, �some ask why, but I ask why not?� I�m one the �why not� people.
A Quick Five for Law Firms.
1. Client-retaining Technologies. Compatible software and systems; extranets; electronic billing; document assembly applications; online education; creative file management; allowing clients to track their projects.
2. Client-pleasing Technologies. Technology that reduces cost or streamlines process and allows you to try alternative billing methods; telling clients about solutions that have worked for you that might work for them; collaborative projects where you adapt to their technologies; automated delivery of relevant news and developments; automating processes requiring them to pay for the same number of hours over and over again; coming to clients with HIPAA, Sarbanes Oxley and other solutions rather than waiting for clients to ask for them.
3. Client-focused Technologies. Technologies that make it easy for clients to work with you; extranets or other applications designed with clients in mind; facilitating access to your IT staff to resolve problems; fixing technology and communications issues; taking the initiative in technology projects with clients; handling document filing and management issue or tracking cases; IP filings or other matters; getting bills to clients in a way that fits their accounting systems.
4. Client-producing Technologies. Websites, blogs and feeds; creative uses of extranets for training and other purposes; business intelligence and customer relationship management tools; innovative billing arrangements enabled by technology; winning a high-profile case using state-of-the-art presentation and other litigation technologies; not sending your lawyers out to clients with aging technology.
5. Keeping Your Best People Technologies. Willingness to take individual approaches; generous replacement and acquisition policies for new technology; willingness to allow test projects; listening to young lawyers; rewarding creativity and results more than raw numbers of hours; helping people learn to use software better; resisting the urge to say �no� to every request for new technology; getting technology into the hands of the people who are most likely to use it best; give your people the tools they need, the respect they need and a little room so that they can fly.
The Product List.
I got to thinking that Matt might have meant products. Here are five that should be on every lawyer�s list in today�s legal world.
1. CaseMap 5 (if you are a litigator).
2. Microsoft Office 2003.
3. Adobe Acrobat 6.
4. Tablet PC (or notebook) with WiFi and OneNote.
5. FeedDemon or news aggregator of choice.