Technology-Lawyer

Dennis Kennedy

Technology Law and Legal Technology. Dennis Kennedy is one of the few technology lawyers who is also an expert on the underlying technologies. Dennis an award-winning leader in the application of technology and the Internet to the practice of law. DennisKennedy.com gives you access to a wide variety of Dennis Kennedy's resources on legal technology, his writings, his well-known blog, DennisKennedy.Blog, and information about how you can have Dennis speak to your organization or group.

Dennis Kennedy is one of the most knowledgeable legal technologists you will find. - Michael Arkfeld.

Dennis Kennedy, a lawyer and legal technology expert in St. Louis, Mo., has been a significant influence in the ever-evolving relationship between lawyers and the Web. - Robert Ambrogi

Archive for June, 2006

Lawyers Continue to Move Toward the “Papermore” Office?

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

At least ten years ago, Nicholas Negroponte was talking about the move from a world of atoms (stuff) to a world of bits (data or electrons). In the world of electronic discovery, speakers constantly refer to a study that suggests that 93% of documents created today will never be printed on paper. You see concern everywhere about the amount of trees being cut down to produce paper.
On the other hand, lawyers love their paper. In that context, it was a little sad to run across this item on the ABA’s Site-Tation that says, well, just let me quote this:

According to the 2006 Legal Technology Survey Report, 61% of attorneys save email related to a case or client matter by printing out a hard copy.

As John McEnroe might say, “you cannot be serious.” Actually, it’s probably a good thing that we didn’t find the percentage of lawyers who later scan those printouts of emails as TIFFs to reconvert them to digital form.
In fairness, the ABA’s Legal Technology Survey is decidedly not a scientific survey and these results should not be taken as pure fact. However . . . lawyers do seem to be swimming against the side.
Given that experts like Ross Kodner have been talking about the “Paper LESS” office to large audiences for many years, these numbers are a little distressing. It looks like Ross and others have more work to do to get the message across. This isn’t even a step toward a paperless office – it’s a move toward a “papermore” office.
When people outside the legal profession ask me, as they routinely do, why lawyers are not moving into electronic discovery, this story and statistic may be “Exhibit A” in my answer. If you are looking to hire a lawyer for a litigation matter that requires electronic discovery, asking whether they use this approach might be an eye-opener.
By the way, one of the major lessons from the Katrina and Rita disasters was the vulnerability of paper records in disasters.
Why do many think that lawyers are slow adopters of technology? Now you have an idea.
This item did give me an idea for a potential killer app for lawyers – a portable printer for Blackberries. Think about it.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
Learn more about electronic discovery at Dennis Kennedy’s Electronic Discovery Resources page.
Technorati tags:

Bridging the Widening Communications Gap Between Lawyers and IT Departments – Article

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

[Note: This is another in a continuing series in which I am reposting some of my original drafts of published articles.]
Over past couple of years, I’ve found that the parts of my presentations that get the most response and generate the most questions are the parts where I talk about ways that lawyers and IT staff can better talk with each other. I’ve gotten the clear impression that there is a lot of pain and misunderstanding out there. The following article addresses the IT/lawyer communication divide from the point of view of the legal administrator and focuses on the role legal administrators might play in improving this dynamic. The article originally appeared in the March/April 2006 issue of the ALA’s Legal Management magazine.

Bridging the Widening Communications Gap Between Lawyers and IT Departments: Some Simple Starting Strategies
We are finding that moving technology projects forward in law firms is not as much about hardware and software as it is about trying to get lawyers and IT departments to communicate in ways they can each understand.
Lawyers and IT people will universally agree that there is a wide communication gap between them. As firms try to bridge that gap, they may well find that the key to getting lawyers and IT departments together in the role legal administrators can play in the process because they have learned, sometimes painfully, to communicate with both groups.
A Question of Language?
The gap between lawyers and IT people is based on language. Both groups are known for using jargon excessively. More precisely, both will lapse into jargon when unsure of themselves or nervous. Lawyers speak in jargon, but use words precisely, both in their work and in general conversation. IT people also speak in jargon, but are not as precise with words in general conversation. However, IT people are quite precise with words within their discipline.
In both cases, the imprecise use of words may lead to statements and conversations that do not make sense. This annoys both lawyers and IT people, and members of both groups tend to get frustrated quickly. Things go downhill from there.
Lawyers with the most helpful and effective secretaries and the best relations with other staff members invariably have one thing in common. They spend time explaining the whys and providing the bigger context to others. I cannot count the number of IT people who have told me that they wished they knew more about what lawyers did so they could implement the most useful technology for them.
What Are the Hurdles?
There are three traits most lawyers share that make solving the communications problems difficult.
1. Lawyers really do work hard. The law is a high stress profession that places huge demands on lawyers. Every lawyer has developed techniques to deal with these demands. If a new technology project doesn’t work well, they get further behind the eight-ball, and you may have disrupted their coping mechanism, putting even more stress on them.
2. Although all lawyers are certainly capable of learning technology, the fear of technology is common among lawyers. Although lawyers do not like to look bad or foolish, there is also a genuine fear of technology out there.
3. Lawyers, by training, are critical and, at the same time, they are comfortable working with drafts. Even if they like something, their natural reaction is to find some flaws and comment only on negative aspects. They will change their minds as they see ways to improve the final project and often will criticize exactly what they told you to do earlier, because they see it as a draft in progress.
Strategies and Tactics for Bridging the Gap.
Legal administrators play a unique role in this process for a number of reasons. First, they have already had years of experience bridging the gap between lawyers and staff and, probably, between IT departments and staff. Second, based on my experience, legal administrators have the ability to schedule mandatory meetings that lawyers actually had to attend. Third, legal administrators know how to make meetings work, even if it’s just seeing that there is food there.
Here are my best tips on helping this process:
1. The Communication that Matters Most is Lawyer to IT Staff. The best thing a firm can do is to help the IT department understand the business of the law firm and the nature of the practice and work that lawyers do. Part of this process is to make it clear that lawyers in the same firm may do very different work. IT people can be surprised to learn that not all lawyers try cases. Set up a series of lunches where lawyers talk about and answer questions about their work.
2. Do Some Project Reviews. The military evaluates engagements in detail after they occur to see what lessons can be learned about what went right and wrong. Law firms rarely do that with IT projects. Schedule some review sessions after completing IT projects to get lawyers and IT people talking about what worked, what didn’t and how the next project might be improved, in an objective, rather than a crisis, setting.
3. Encourage Regular Conversations at Times Other than Crises. Consider this example. A lawyer waits until the last minute before printing 5,000 pages of documents due in two hours. An IT staffer simply calculates that, at ten pages per minute, it will take at least nine hours, and tells the lawyer it cannot be done. An argument ensues until someone intervenes and figures out a work-around. Both lawyer and IT staffer form low opinions of each other and vow never to speak to each other again. Getting conversations to happen outside of crisis settings must be a priority.
4. Take Advantage of the Natural Go-betweens. There are lawyers, usually young lawyers, who really “get” technology and can talk easily with IT people. There can also be IT staffers who talk easily with lawyers. Those people should be encouraged to be go-betweens and to survey and communicate the wishes and concerns of each group.
5. Use Food as Bait. I am hesitant to draw general conclusions about groups of people, but my experience with lawyers and IT people is that both groups cannot pass by a conference room with free food on a table. A spread of coffee, juice, bagels and donuts to start a day will work wonders at bridging the gap between lawyers and IT departments and getting the ball rolling.
Conclusion.
There should be no higher priority in legal technology at law firms today than getting lawyers and IT staff talking with each other on a regular, meaningful basis. Legal administrators have the best shot of being able to talk in the language of both groups and bringing them together. The job is not an easy one. I recommend looking for small victories based on the ideas in this article and your own experience, and then building on them. It is an effort that is well worth making.
+++
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
Learn more about legal technology at Dennis Kennedy’s Legal Technology Central page.
Technorati tags:

Podcast: A Web 2.0 Primer for Lawyers

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

A Web 2.0 Primer for Lawyers” is the name of the newest episode of The Kennedy-Mighell Report podcast. In the podcast, Tom Mighell and I introduce the concept of Web 2.0, give some examples, discuss what Web 2.0 might mean for lawyers and give you some reasons we are excited about this technology. The show notes also contain an extensive list of links to our favorite Web 2.0 resources.
A Web 2.0 Primer for Lawyers” is episode #4 of The Kennedy-Mighell Report – a podcast on legal technology with an Internet focus.
Here are links to our previous podcast episodes:
Episode #3 – ABA TECHSHOW Wrap-up
Episode #2 – Podcasting for Lawyers, Live from ABA TECHSHOW (a recording of our podcast presentation)
Episode #1 – ABA TECHSHOW Preview
Thanks to Evan Schaeffer for inspiring me to finish editing this episode and get it posted and to Adriana Linares for taking the picture of Tom and me you’ll find with the show notes.
Download or subscribe to the podcast, or get more info about it, here. The Kennedy-Mighell Report podcast is also available through iTunes.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
Learn more about legal technology at Dennis Kennedy’s Legal Technology Central page.
Technorati tags:

A Primer on Proper PDF Redaction

Friday, June 23rd, 2006

I see that once again material that someone thought they had redacted in a PDF file has been easily exposed (story here). This happens with enough frequency that it’s good to remind people that you really need to understand and follow specific directions if you want to redact materials in PDF files.
Fortunately, Adobe’s Rick Borstein has done an excellent job of explaining exactly what you need to do if you want to do this type of redaction in posts here (be sure to read the comments) and here. Rick has done a great job of explaining how best to use Adobe Acrobat in the legal profession on his blog and elsewhere.
If you do any kind of redaction, you must read Rick’s blog posts. There’s no need for you to be featured in the next newspaper article on this type of mistake.
By the way, since a reasonable first step to take before attemting to redact a PDF would be to Google “redacting PDFs” and the first result there at the time of this post is one of Rick’s posts, and you’ll also find some other good resources, it is surprising that these stories are still occurring.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
Learn more about electronic discovery at Dennis Kennedy’s Electronic Discovery Resources page.
Technorati tags:

Is There a Digital Dashboard in Your Future? – Article

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

[Note: This is another in a continuing series in which I am reposting some of my original drafts of published articles.]
You see a lot of discussion these days about digital dashboards and their potential. For examples in the legal profession, see the stories here, here and here. Another good overview is here. It’s not a complicated idea.
Anyway, I mention the dashboard concept because back in 2000, Microsoft was talking about a Digital Dashboard approach that excited me as much as any technology innovation I had seen to that point. And I wasn’t the only one. I wrote the following column, one of my favorites, back in May 2000. It was even reprinted on the Microsoft website for a time. Then, Microsoft dropped the initiative. I mean, it all but disappeared off the face of the earth.
I still like the article. With the idea of dashboards making a comeback (and justifiably so), I thought I’d reprint the article, even though the references are out of date. The concepts are still valid, and it’s a window, if you will, on an interestiing approach to technology that once burned bright, then faded away, and seems to be reappearing.The title question is still a valid one. I also think that today’s approach to using Outlook interfaces in law firms confirms my prescience about that issue, even if I was 5 or 6 years ahead of time.

Is There A Digital Dashboard in Your Future?
[NOTE: This article was originally written in 2000 and the specific product discussed in the article no longer exists.]
Microsoft’s Digital Dashboard points to the use of Outlook as a major development tool in the integrated Microsoft environment. And, in some ways, Digital Dashboard gives a glimpse of how Outlook might be used in the case management context using custom programming.
That said, there are two issues worth noting. First, Digital Dashboard is a high-end, sophisticated technique (although the actual dashboards can, if well-executed, be both powerful and simple, a combination that always attracts my attention) and requires the newest versions and most likely outside consultants. Second, there are the security issues that have been plaguing Outlook lately, which have to be addressed.
On the other hand, for those of you who live in your e-mail program, this approach, rather than the browser-based intranet, may be especially appealing because it recognizes that e-mail is the killer application of the Internet rather than “surfing.” As I say in the article, Digital Dashboard may give you a chance to get your own personal view of your information realm. By the way, for those of you who have programmed yourself to hate everything Microsoft, think in terms of the PIM or e-mail program you use rather than Outlook and see if the idea has any traction for you. I’m really intrigued by it.
A few months ago, I saw a demo of an application that gave me a glimpse of the computer desktop of the future, one in which incorporation of the Internet, personalization, integration of applications, and knowledge management appear at our fingertips. More important, at least to me, it showed a way to get some control over the tidal wave of information that seems to wash over us every day
The application is called “Digital Dashboard” from Microsoft.
In simplest terms, a Digital Dashboard is an entry screen or starting page built into Microsoft’s Outlook 2000, the e-mail and personal information manager that comes with Office 2000. Many people are using Outlook these days for e-mail, address books and calendars. If you are one of them and you are familiar with the “Outlook Today” screen, you will quickly understand the Digital Dashboard concept. For the rest of you, here’s a little background.
For several years, people have talked about intranets. Intranets are web sites accessible by members of a single organization. Intranet advocates have long championed intranets as a way to use the browser interface (typically Internet Explorer or Netscape’s Navigator) to provide easy access to information within an organization. Especially as people got used to full-time access of the Internet, the thinking went, the browser would be the program that people used most frequently and, therefore, the browser would become the primary tool to access all information.
A funny thing has happened on the way to this intranet vision: e-mail. It is not uncommon these days for attorneys to receive over 100 e-mails a day. Increasingly, the program we “live” in everyday is our e-mail program, especially when, as in the case of Outlook, it also contains our calendar and address book. The last several versions of Outlook have contained a feature called Outlook Today, a simple start page that gives you summary information about and access to your e-mail inbox, a week’s view of your calendar and a list of today’s tasks. Generally, the reaction of Outlook Today users is positive, but they wish it could do more.
Digital Dashboard takes the Outlook Today concept to the next level. You can think of a Digital Dashboard as an infinitely customizable version of Outlook Today or you can see it as the “dashboard” that gives you a view of and control over your information domain.
Here’s the trick Rather than use the browser as your primary access tool, Digital Dashboard uses Outlook and takes advantage of Internet functionality and features as well as the programming and integration underlying Outlook.
Digital Dashboards allow you to do two important things. The first is that they allow you to customize and personalize your view of “your” information, whether locally or on the Internet. The second is that they also allow you to pull key information out of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, databases and other applications and make that information available to you at your fingertips.
Think of your Digital Dashboard as your own personal web site (like http://my.findlaw.com – a site every lawyer should know). But it’s better than a web site because it also gives you access to your inbox, calendar and contacts, as well as every other feature of Outlook, including the powerful “public folders” for collaborative efforts. You can set up the views of those features you like and size them and move them where you want. You can add links to favorite Internet sites, stock or news tickers and even audio or video (a current camera view of your commute anyone?)
In addition, you can pull information from other applications, such as spreadsheets, PowerPoint slides and database reports, and make them available from your Digital Dashboard. Even better, you can place a chart tied to a spreadsheet or database on your Digital Dashboard and have the chart adjust to reflect the current figures in the underlying program. If using, for example, a time and billing program that is compliant with standards Microsoft uses, a managing partner could track at a glance work in progress, accounts receivable and the status of collections in the form of a chart that is always viewable right on the Digital Dashboard.
Each Digital Dashboard may be customized and personalized for each individual or you might roll out a firm-wide template. I have only touched the surface of the possibilities of Digital Dashboards, but I see a lot of potential.
The drawbacks? A Digital Dashboard is a high-end application that probably makes the most sense in large and medium-sized firms, although it certainly can be used by a small firm looking for an edge in technology. It is a strictly Microsoft application and requires Outlook 2000 and Office 2000. Powerful desktop computers and full-time high-speed Internet access are a must, but these are increasingly commonplace. Outlook users must also pay attention to outstanding security issues.
Although Digital Dashboards are based on HTML and other common web programming techniques, I think it will be rare where you will not want bring in an outside Digital Dashboard developer. The good news, though, is that I’ve talked with a number of Microsoft developers who like the potential of Digital Dashboards and can’t wait to get to work on development projects.
Are Digital Dashboards the solution for you? Those of you on an up-to-date Microsoft platform or planning to move there should take a hard look at the Digital Dashboard. You can get more information and examples at [Note: Link has been dead for many years].
The Digital Dashboard is an idea that had an immediate appeal to me and one that has stayed with me and become increasingly interesting. I like the idea of a development that focuses on the primary screen I live in everyday in a way that makes it more organized and more useful while giving me access at my fingertips to the information I need to use. And that is where the promise of Digital Dashboard lies.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
Learn more about legal technology at Dennis Kennedy’s Legal Technology Central page.
Technorati tags:

Using Technology to Increase Profitability: Moving into Alternative Billing Via Technology – Article

Wednesday, June 21st, 2006

[Note: This is another in a continuing series in which I am reposting some of my original drafts of published articles.]
In a recent post on the Between Lawyers blog, I linked to a post on the subject of value billing and the post seemed to generate a bit of discussion about the topic. It also reminded me that I wrote an article that includes my most extensive writing about the subject of value billing in an article that was originally published in the April/May 2006 issue of Law Office Computing magazine. Not surprisingly, I focused on the impact that technology might and should have in the area of alternative billing. Sharp readers will note that my real topic was profitability and not so much alternative or value billing, which was a bit of a side issue in the article. Nonetheless, I thought I’d republish my original draft of the article (that means there may be a few typos) on my blog and see if people think that it adds anything to the discussion. I really liked the way this article turned out and it contained some original ideas and approaches that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. I hope you enjoy the article.
Using Technology to Increase Profitability: Moving into Alternative Billing Via Technology
Better. Faster. Cheaper. These three words have long made up the mantra for the benefits of legal technology, at least for those trying to sell new technologies to lawyers.
However, these three words, even if proven, have never been quite enough to close the sale with many lawyers, especially for technologies that promise to change the nature of the practice or substantially alter the ways legal services are delivered.
The final barrier is often concern about the impact of technology in a system where fees are based solely on the number of billable hours worked. Simply put, if you can use technology to do what is now a twenty-hour project in four hours, haven’t you just cut your earnings by eighty percent?
This article is not going to be another manifesto about how lawyers need to end the tyranny of the billable hours system. However, I do want to make you think critically about your current approach to pricing your services.
This article, in fact, is about supplying the missing part of the legal technology equation: how will new technologies or better uses of technology improve profitability, client satisfaction and make your life better? In other words, how does the mantra of better, faster and cheaper actually help you make good decisions about alternative billing methods?
The Billable Hours Dilemma.
Let’s assume that your practice includes drafting a legal document that takes you six hours to produce a solid draft, and that you draft one hundred of these documents a year. You find that you can implement a document assembly application that will reduce the time to create that solid draft to six minutes per document.
Forget about the cost of the software and developing the document assembly application. What have you done to your practice? In a billable hours system, you have reduced six hundred billable (and collectable) hours down to ten hours! In addition to software and development costs, you have lost 590 hours of earnings. However, you definitely have achieved the goal of better, faster and cheaper with your technology.
Of course, this simple analysis is just the starting point. Perhaps not all of the hours are “lost.” You might be routinely writing off some of this time. You might “replace” the hours with higher value hours doing something else.
When you implement any technology, you must rethink your approach to the use of your time and how you bill your clients.
I chose this example for two reasons. First, it is a great example of a place technology has a negative impact in an hourly billing approach and almost drives you to consider an alternative billing model. Second, clients increasingly think that lawyers have these capabilities.
In today’s world of computerized forms, what does a client think if they see that you spent six hours producing a first draft of a will? Your client will believe that you chose the method that maximizes your billable hours.
Here’s one of my favorite analogies. You contract with a builder to build you a new house on an hourly billing basis. The workers show up with no power tools, only hand tools. How do you react?
That brings us to the great billable hours dilemma. If there are strong pressures from clients to reduce the number of hours spent on projects and strong resistance to rate increases, what will the impact be on your practice? In general, the answer will be that you simply have to go out and find more hours (new clients and new projects) each year.
Alternative Billing Primer.
For a growing number of lawyers, technology is one of the drivers toward alternative billing methods. There is a list of good resources for learning about alternative billing in the sidebar.
For our purposes, I want to divide alternative billing into three categories: (1) value billing, (2) enhanced or blended hourly billing, and (3) other innovative approaches.
Think of value billing as flat fee billing. You and the client agree in advance to a fee for the project based on the perceived value of the work to the client. Implementing the document assembly application I mentioned earlier definitely makes sense here.
There are many examples of enhanced or blended billing approaches. You might have one rate for drafting and a higher rate for tax planning, for example. The document assembly application might make sense if your clients pay you more for you tax planning time.
We are also seeing a large number of innovative approaches, Bonus pools and incentives for meeting budget targets are examples in this category. Typically, these are used by large corporations or where there is a high volume of work. Technology might enhance your profitability in these settings.
Billable Hours Not Going Away – Ethics and Other Concerns.
Experts have been predicting the death of the billable hours system for many years. It’s still going strong. In many cases, both clients and lawyers are comfortable with the approach and believe it achieves fair results. Changing your existing billing approaches may take time and negotiation and involve changing systems. There is also a vocal group who believe that any type of billing other than hourly billing is unethical, and innovative billing approaches can raise issues under applicable ethical rules.
You will find both a growing momentum for alternative billing approaches and receptivity on the part of clients to these approaches. If you want to see what lawyers really think of hourly billing, watch a lawyer’s reaction when any other service provider suggests hourly billing.
For purposes of this article, I am going to assume that hourly billing remains the dominant approach to billing, with a small, but increasing, number of alternative experiments going on in many law practices.
My first rule is that you must think carefully about how technology might help make any alternative billing approach more profitable.
My second rule, which I will now turn to, is that, whatever your billing method, you must always consider the impact of technology on profitability. The vendors may be telling you better, faster, cheaper, but your response should be to ask about and understand the impact on profitability.
Profitability – The Key Measure.
Profitability is the key factor in technology decisions today. I had two recent conversations that brought home this point to me. First, I talked with a partner at a large law firm that is looking at its practice, staffing, technology and much else all in the context of how each item contributes to profits per partner. Second, I spoke with a lawyer in a small firm who made a large commitment to modernizing technology, with the result of a 50% increase in profit on the same annual revenues as the prior year.
Profit, classically, is the result of subtracting costs from revenues. In the short term, we can increase profits by decreasing costs and/or increasing revenues. In the long term, improving customer service also plays a key role in keeping profits strong.
I often find that lawyers underestimate the role technology can play in cutting costs, increasing revenue and improving customer services. Let’s look at each of them in turn.
Using Technology to Cut Costs – The Cheaper of Better, Faster, Cheaper.
My wife’s brother, Kevin Ford, started a solo law practice with a notebook computer, speech recognition software and no secretary. His calculation was that the technology would cost him $4,000. A good secretary would cost him $4,000 per month and need to be paid before he earned anything. His belief was that the technology investment would help him become profitable more quickly and that the savings each month would accrue to his benefit until he determined whether he needed a full-time secretary.
He was able to wait nine months before hiring a secretary. He saw the technology had a real-world payoff of $32,000. However, more importantly, it had a profound impact on the profitability (and cash flow) of his practice and helped him get his practice off the ground.
Here’s another example. Lately, there has been much interest in Internet telephony or Voice over IP (VoIP). It’s sold as a way to save money on your telephone bills. Annual call savings might be hard to calculate, but, if as a consultant recently told me, it would cost a law firm that was moving offices more to move the PBX and phones to the new office than to switch to VoIP, then I can easily see the bottom-line benefits.
I recommend taking a much more careful look at real cost savings as part of making your technology decisions. Notice that “better, faster, cheaper” benefits of technology may well offer you cost cutting opportunities. Some of these can be subtle and require that you think about your business model.
For example, outsourced technology services and even hosted software services may help you avoid large investments in hardware and software, reduce staffing needs and provide other savings. Similarly, you might use technology to let you hire part-time employees rather than full-time employees.
There are almost no end to the ways you can look at new technologies as potentially cost-cutters. Keeping documents in electronic form will save you on paper and printer ink or toner costs. Making documents available to clients on secure, private websites might save you postage and overnight shipping costs.
Cost-cutting uses of technology will work for you no matter whether you use hourly billing or alternative approaches. If you are realistic and think carefully about the economics, using technology will help you increase your profit margins on projects and run your office more cheaply, and that’s a recipe for having a better year than last year.
Improved Revenues – the Faster of “Better, Faster, Cheaper.”
Many variables come into play in determining a law firm’s revenues. Projections involve assumptions that may or may not prove true. However, let’s cautiously take a look at how technology might improve revenues in both hourly billing and alternative billing settings.
As a general matter, the case for technology improving revenues is easiest to make in the alternative billing approach. Client happily agrees to a price of $1,000 for a will. Rather than taking you ten hours at $100 an hour, you use document assembly to reduce the amount of time you spend to four hours. Assuming you do the same number of wills in the year and use the six hours you “saved” in other fee-generating work, you will increase revenues for the years. By comparison, in the billable hours world, you simply have reduced your fee for the will to $400.
While this example shows how technology can lead you to alternative billing, it’s important to see that alternative billing models may not be realistic without the use of technology.
What is the biggest untapped information source in any law practice? It’s the time records.
If you start to process and analyze those records, you will learn many important things, not the least of which is how to price flat-fee projects. If you don’t know how long it takes you, on average, to do projects, how can you set a flat-fee that works for you? You’ve been forced to enter your time every day; why not use that information for something that benefits you?
In hourly billing, one of the hidden problems is time write-offs. Let’s go back to my example of the document that takes six hours to draft. If you routinely write off half of that time for clients on every bill, then you are not making an accurate calculation of the economics of the impact of technology. Any process where you consistently write off time is an invitation to consider technology alternatives.
The biggest area to consider using technology to improve revenues is to improve your staffing. If using speech recognition allows you to avoid hiring a full-time secretary and hire a paralegal instead, or other technologies allow a secretary to do paralegal work, you’ve turned a cost into a revenue producer.
Another good area from increasing revenues through technology is to see whether you can automate documentation or other processes to create fees for “annual corporate maintenance” or other legal support or service packages as annual subscriptions.
Client Satisfaction – The Better of “Better, Faster, Cheaper.”
The notion of “better” rarely resonates with lawyers. In most cases, the “better” is something that benefits clients more than lawyers. Although you might perceive few immediate benefits, the benefits over the long term can be substantial.
Let me give you two examples of ways to use technology to improve client satisfaction.
First, after developing a document assembly application to generate first drafts of complex estate planning documents, I realized that the same process could routinely generate document summaries and charts of the estate plan for clients with little additional time or effort. For almost no additional cost, clients received a package that helped them really understand the contents of complex legal documents.
Second, with just a couple of mouse clicks, the ReportBooks feature of CaseMap 5 generates a handy client summary of the main facts, issues and cast of characters in a litigation matter, along with an assessment of some of the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence. That’s something that clients will appreciate and will keep them coming back to you.
In each example, you are looking to use some aspect of technology, small or large, to improve your client’s experience in working with you. It might be as simple as using a color printer or enlarging the font size for elderly clients.
You want to look at technology with an eye for how it might improve client service, which will help tie your clients to you for the long-term. Study after study shows that it is better and easier to land new business from existing clients than it is to go out and land new clients.
Making the Turn to Alternative Billing.
Better use of technology will help you build an environment where alternate billing approaches make sense and may even thrive. I am not, however, trying to convince you, that you must switch to alternative billing methods. I do want to suggest that experimenting with alternative billing is advisable. You can expect to see it from your competitors and be asked about it by clients.
Five essentials for using technology to move toward better billing practices and enhanced profitability are:
1. Understand the Facts and Do Not Rely on Assumptions. If a project takes ten hours of time at $100 an hour, then charging a $500 flat fee will never make economic sense. Similarly, if you do not know the costs per page of printers and copiers, you can’t evaluate whether it makes sense to buy a new one. Knowing the total costs of hiring an employee is essential when evaluating outsourcing or technology alternatives.
2. Use Your Facts, Not Anyone Else’s Facts. People always give me examples of cost savings from technology for a litigation practice. I do not have a litigation practice. The examples simply do not apply to me. Keep the focus directly on you and what’s going on at your firm.
3. Cheaper Will Help You the Most Now, But Faster Will Be the Key in Alternative Billing. Keep your eye on profitability. The benefit of technology today is in how you can use it creatively to cut costs. Cutting costs will help you increase profits, which will give you the flexibility and capital to try new technologies and new approaches to billing. However, cutting costs is only one step. Almost every alternative billing approach makes the most sense when you reduce the time it takes to perform services and become more productive.
4. Look for Billing Inefficiencies as Indicators Where to Experiment with Alternative Billing. I’d be surprised if you cannot use your existing software to analyze your time, billing and collection records to generate useful business information. Are you doing that? You should be. Do some analysis with those programs or a spreadsheet and then use the information. Tasks that are consistently written off, expenses that are not billed and similar facts may show you areas where technology can help you or provide fertile ground for alternative billing experiments.
5. Look for Happy Clients You Can Make Happier. My informal surveys suggest that lawyers often use new clients to test alternative billing approaches. I suggest that you might get better results and feedback by approaching your happy clients. If you’ve used technology in the past to improve client service, they may be even more receptive.
Conclusion.
It will be a while before we see a massive shift away from hourly billing. However, do not make the assumption that productivity gains from technology are always at odds with the hourly billing system. Instead, focus on the contributions that technology can make to improving profitability – cutting costs, increasing revenues and improving client service – and then use a hard-headed realistic approach to looking at whether your technology helps you in these areas. Then, apply some of the ideas I discuss in this article to begin to experiment with alternative billing models where they make sense for you.
____________
Useful Resources on Alternative Billing Methods
Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell, Alternative Billing Requires Alternative Resources, Law Practice Today, September 2004 (http://www.abanet.org/lpm/lpt/articles/slc09041.html).
Jim Calloway and Mark Robertson, http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1590311175/Winning Alternatives to the Billable Hour, 2nd Edition: Strategies That Work, ABA Publishing.
Ron Baker, Professional’s Guide To Value Pricing, CCH.
Alan Weiss, Value-Based Fees: How to Charge—and Get—What You’re Worth, Pfeiffer.
The [Non]billable Hour Blog – http://www.nonbillablehour.com
Other Helpful Books on Value Billing
_________
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
Learn more about legal technology at Dennis Kennedy’s Legal Technology Central page. More information on the “Second Pair of Eyes” packages for legal technology audits and strategic planning may be found here (PDF).
Technorati tags:

A Practical Confidential Information Protection Primer

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

Almost every law firm and lawyer can benefit from paying greater attention to the most basic and practical aspects of protecting information from prying eyes. If you want a good place to start, you simply can’t beat Reg Adkins’ post called “10 Spy Tips” on the Elemental Truths blog.
Reg lists ten top sources of data leakage and makes it clear that we are often “guarding the air conditioner duct instead of the front door.”
The money quote:

If I wanted to know about a corporations business, I go to the snack bar at lunch and read the paper over coffee. You won’t believe the things you hear (if you’re in education, teacher lounges are hair raising!).

I remember once standing in line to order lunch behind a lawyer who was reading a document prominently labeled “CONFIDENTIAL” and oblivious that everyone in the line was reading over his shoulder.
Read the post and think about some of your habits and practices.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
Like what you are reading? Check out the other blogs where I post – Between Lawyers (feed) and the LexThink Blog (feed).
Technorati tags:

Great Advice on Public Speaking

Monday, June 19th, 2006

If you do any public speaking, or ever want to do some, you must read Dave Pollard’s excellent blog post about public speaking, blogging and comunicating called “As Long As You Believe It.”
There is a ton of indispensable practical advice in this post. You’ll also find a great summary of lessons long-time speakers will have observed and learned over the years. It’s essential reading.
The money quote gives you three key lessons:

1. Know your stuff,
2. Focus on what’s really important, really novel or really interesting, and
3. Only speak on subjects you care about to audiences you care about.

I agree with Pollard that point #3 is the big one. He says, “As important as knowledge and focus are, passion is even more important. I’ve seen nervous, tongue-tied speakers muddle through presentations extraordinarily well simply because they obviously felt very strongly and deeply about what they were saying — so the audience made allowances. When people sense that you really care about and believe in something passionately, and want to convey that passion to them, they will go out of their way to pay attention.”
He concludes with some words that you will want to keep in mind: “In writing, as much as in oral discourse, what you know and what you can tell are interesting and useful, but what you really believe in, what you instill with every ounce of passion in your heart and soul, is what people remember, what changes them. And what can save the world.” The name of his blog, of course, is “How to Save the World,” and I thoroughly recommend that you spend some time there.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
This post brought to you by LexThink!(R) – The Legal Unconference. Ask us about private LexThink retreats and conferences for your firm, business or organization.
Technorati tags:

ILTA KM White Paper

Thursday, June 15th, 2006

Is there still life in knowledge management in the legal profession? I think so. Ron Friedman points to a new ILTA white paper on KM. Give it a read and see what you conclude about the current state of legal KM.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
Learn more about legal technology at Dennis Kennedy’s Legal Technology Central page.
Technorati tags:

Blogging is Local – St. Louis Blog List

Tuesday, June 13th, 2006

While blogging definitely transcends geographic barriers, one of the most fun aspects of blogging is meeting and getting to know the other bloggers in your town. Don’t ignore the local aspects of your blogging efforts.
It’s nice when bloggers make it easy to find other local bloggers. In St. Louis, finding other local bloggers just got easier with a handy starter list of St. Louis blogs from Jim Durbin of StlRecruiting,com.
It’d be great to have a complete list of St. Louis blogs in one place (and all of the feeds available in one OPML file), so I encourage you to let Jim know about the blogs that are missing from his list. If your locale doesn’t have such a list, I encourage you to start one.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
Technorati tags:
Special offers for readers of DennisKennedy.Blog from Conference Calls Unlimited:
CCU120x120.gif