by Deborah Savadra
Unless you’ve been in exile on a remote island the last few years, you’ve probably heard that technology and the practice of law are now inextricably linked.
In fact, to hear some people breathlessly tell it, the artificial intelligence robots are crashing the gates, looking to occupy your office and take away your livelihood.
Fortunately, cooler heads still prevail. But there’s no denying that more technology, rather than less, is the trend for the foreseeable future.
Think “tools” rather than “tech”
A lot of lawyers view this “ever-increasing technology” trend as an encroachment on the practice of law. “This used to be a dignified profession!” they howl. “‘A lawyer’s time and advice are his [or her] stock in trade,’ not all these gadgets.”
But are all these “gadgets” really devaluing law practice? If the detractors really think so, maybe they should surrender their dictation recorders. Or go back to typewriters. Or, take a walk down to the county law library the next time they need a legal question answered.
Of course, they won’t. That’s because those aren’t even thought of as “technology” anymore. Now, they’re simply tools, and essential ones that improve productivity at that.
The myth of the silver bullet
Embracing new tools doesn’t have to mean going bleeding edge. (So, no legal chatbot. Yet.) Instead, you’re better off leveraging the aggregation of incremental gains in everyday processes.
You see, your best shot at making your law practice more efficient and productive is not found in a single tech “silver bullet” with a big payoff. Rather, you’ll score bigger productivity gains overall by continually systematizing everyday processes. That’s what’ll get you more value in less time.
Do you want that document in 5 minutes, or 45?
For example, your staff probably spends a lot of time editing documents—motions, discovery, you name it. If they’re making revisions the “good enough” way, they’re likely missing time-saving features that could slash editing time.
If one staff member creates documents using more advanced features like text styles, automatic numbering, and field-driven cross-references, any subsequent changes to the document (e.g., removing a numbered paragraph or reformatting all the subheadings) will take far less time.
But that scenario depends on two factors:
- Better skills; and
- The willingness to use them intelligently and consistently
Systems can take the place of skills
Fortunately, you don’t have to depend on staff skill levels or their willingness to engage in kaizen to extract savings like these. You could, instead, set up everyday processes to ensure everyone in your office works the same way, every day, for consistent productive results.
For example, you’ve done your initial intake, and you’re ready to formalize your representation of a new client. A lot of tasks need to be done quickly:
- Get the client to sign an engagement letter
- Start requesting documents from various places—accident reports, medical records, employment records, etc.
- Draft a settlement demand or a complaint
So now you’re scrambling. Does anyone know where on the network the form engagement letter is? Where’s the list of medical providers? Is the accident report scanned in?
And if someone missed a step during intake, you’ve got to back up and fill in the gaps.
Instead, imagine a workflow like this:
- Whoever’s doing intake has a checklist. Nothing left to chance.
- All that intake information is stored in one place, easily accessible to the entire team.
- Time for the engagement letter? Select the predefined template, have it automatically fill in the name and other details, and—boom!—engagement letter done.
- And because every box was checked during intake, you’ve got all the elements for medical records requests within easy electronic reach: signed authorization from the client with date of birth and Social Security number and the provider names and addresses. Pick a letter template, and soon all those requests are out the door.
You could establish similar workflows for all the processes throughout the case: drafting discovery, tracking incoming documents, preparing for mediation or trial … you name it.
Replicating workflows throughout a matter
Here’s another scenario: putting together a settlement package. There’s a lot involved: gathering medical records, factoring in medical and other liens, figuring out how much you’ve spent on experts and other fees, writing the settlement offer letter … it’s exhausting to even think about! That’s because you’re pulling information from disconnected sources like your billing system and your document system and hauling out the calculator or a spreadsheet to put the numbers together.
And you’ve got to make sure nothing’s been missed, because that mistake’s coming out of your pocket.
But what if you could get that settlement package 90% complete just by running a report?
With standardized processes like these, you’re not at the mercy of everyone’s work habits or organizational quirks. Everybody’s singing from the same sheet of music, and everyone’s more productive because of it.
Systems = Freedom
Scott Adams probably said it most succinctly: “Losers have goals, winners have systems”. A bit harsh? Perhaps.
But countless people in other industries are using a systems mindset to drive very profitable returns.
Take, for example, the humble telephone answering service. (If there’s any industry being disrupted by technology, it’s that one.)
As voice mail technology gutted many live answering services, Sam Carpenter, owner of a mom and pop telephone answering service in the Pacific Northwest, had every reason to despair. He didn’t. Instead, he documented how his best workers were already doing things, tweaked and perfected these processes as systems, then rigorously applied them to daily operations.
The result? A business that spent 15 years continually on the brink of financial disaster became profitable in year 16. It’s since grown into one the largest live telephone answering services in the country. Now he’s spending less time putting out fires and more time on strategic goals or just plain enjoying his life.
Systems don’t have to become a second job
Carpenter, however, was creating all his systems from scratch. But you don’t have time to become a systems engineer. Your law practice keeps you plenty busy. So does that mean you can’t take advantage of a systems mindset?
No! The good news is, you don’t have to create all these processes yourself. As the industry leader in Legal Productivity Software, Smokeball has dozens of standard workflows customized to practice areas as diverse as personal injury, probate, family law, and business law. You can skip the whole “document what’s already happening” step and move straight to “reaping the rewards”.
No more dealing with everyone’s idiosyncratic work styles. Everyone’s working the same system, doing things the same way and using the same forms and checklists. That means anyone can step into a matter at any point to start or complete a task quickly and efficiently.
Bonus: when it comes time to hire someone new, very little training’s involved. Once you’ve stepped them through one Smokeball workflow, they can complete any other Smokeball workflow with very little additional instruction. It’s all laid out for them.
Interested in learning more about how Smokeball could be the legal productivity tool to leverage the power of systems in your law practice? Watch a quick demo customized to your practice area and see how Smokeball is the most logical next leap forward in your law firm’s technology progression. Don’t just “manage” your practice, make the leap forward with legal productivity software.
Deborah Savadra spends a lot of her time explaining technology to lawyers, both as editor and chief blogger at Legal Office Guru and as a copywriter for the legal tech industry. She’s worked with technology as both an end user in law firms and as an implementation consultant. Connect with her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/deborahsavadra/