In 2020, firms faced a clear choice: adopt new technology to support remote work, video calling and paperless transactions, or become obsolete. Today, legal software is much more than a short-term workaround – it empowers firms to thrive.
Nearly 90% of firms in Smokeball’s Law + The Great Resignation survey adopted at least one piece of new legal software in response to the challenges of 2020. Almost half of that group said their new technology helped them take on new clients, and 31% reported an increase in billable hours.
Mark O’Mara, founder of the O’Mara Law Group in Florida, says he and his staff used cloud-based legal software and matter management systems prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, so 2020 was an opportunity to grow even more efficient. The criminal, family law and mass tort firm adopted a hybrid schedule, transitioned to a paperless office and dramatically reduced its physical footprint.
Read on for a few tips on how legal software helps firms adapt to remote work.
1. Taking on more clients
Clients look to attorneys for help with their most pressing questions. Meeting a potential client Arming yourself with relevant information, like a potential client’s digital docket and the date of their next hearing, at your first meeting. inspires confidence and puts them at ease, O’Mara says. Preparedness increases the likelihood a client will hire you as their attorney.
“That level of efficiency increases your reputation, not only with your clients, but with opposing counsel and with the courts,” O’Mara says. “And you can get the information to the client much more quickly.”
Once you acquire information from a potential client, entering those details into Smokeballs cloud-based legal case management software ensures you won’t misplace it. Thanks to Smokeball’s online-offline capabilities, every client matter is available to every member of your firm, whether they’re in the office, working from home, meeting with a client or in the courtroom.
2. Safeguarding client data to safeguard confidentiality
Historically, law firms were reluctant to shift to cloud-based computing due to the presumption that it could compromise client confidentiality. But “we now know that the security on the cloud is good, if not better, than what security you might have on a server,” O’Mara says.
Law firms migrated their file management systems to the cloud in record numbers during the pandemic – and have since found many reasons to stay. Unlike onsite servers, the cloud offers automatic updates, flexible storage that adapts alongside your firm and considerable savings compared to hardware. What’s more, cloud-based security offers several layers of protection and constant monitoring against data breaches.
Smokeball’s legal software is installed locally on your computer, all your data is stored to the cloud, pairing airtight security with work-from-anywhere access. Read more about Smokeball’s data security protocols here.
3. Increasing billable hours
Billing for every minute spent working on a case is critical to your firm’s success. But how can you accurately capture small increments of time without continuously interrupting your workflow?
Smokeball’s Automatic Lawyer Time-Tracking Software takes the guesswork out of billing, automatically tracking your activity and linking it with the relevant matter while integrating with Microsoft Word and Outlook. O’Mara says the time tracking feature is one of the main reasons he started using Smokeball about 10 years ago.
“Smokeball keeps track of your appointments, keeps track of your documents that you interact with, keeps track of phone calls if you set it up that way, keeps track of emails,” he says. “That’s where a lot of billable time is lost. You get on a phone or you look at a document, you kick back an email, but if you don’t remember to bill it at that moment, we all know that it’s gone forever.”
Over time, the loss of profit can really add up. But with the right legal software, you can maximize both your time and your profit.
4. Operating more efficiently and decreasing your office footprint
O’Mara’s law firm used digital tools prior to 2020, but the flexibly of remote work gave his team the opportunity to work more efficiently. Now, instead of spending 90 minutes traveling to a courthouse for an in-person client hearing, he can attend virtually and spend the downtime working on other cases.
Working more efficiently also means eliminating waste.
“We are now 99% paperless, meaning that we don’t create any paper unless a judge requires us to,” O’Mara says. The O’Mara Group formerly purchased 15,000 sheets of paper per month; that number shrank to 1,000 thanks to Smokeball’s digital case management software. In addition, the firm repurpsed a file room as a new office and eliminated a storage facility for newly digitized files.
“Everything is now digital rather than paper,” O’Mara says. “So, discovery comes in and never gets printed, from police reports to bank statements. It all comes in digitally, stays digitally and goes back out digitally.”
5. Cultivating a digital-first culture
After more than two years in a remote/hybrid environment, many firms and their staff are comfortable with a whole new way of working. But your firm’s technology doesn’t just benefit the people who work there. Technology is built into your clients’ everyday lives too, priming them for digital interaction with your firm.
With Smokeball’s Communicate feature, attorneys can easily and securely message clients and share files, while saving all communication to the appropriate matter and tracking billable time. “Using the Communicate function of Smokeball has been really efficient for us,” O’Mara says. And while there is an understandable learning curve with any new system, in the end it’s a win-win scenario for both you and your clients.
And thanks to Smokeball integrations with tools like LawPay, clients can be set up on payment plans; receive invoices and pay electronically; sign documents; and more. It’s one more reason O’Mara was able to reduce his office footprint — when most client interactions happen online, there’s less need for in-person meetings to move the case forward.
Surviving the current legal landscape will require lawyers to adapt to new legal software, O’Mara adds. His parting words of advice? “You should spend more money on tech than anything else.”