Today’s guest post was written by Alexia Pittas, a litigation consultant. You can learn more about her at the end of this post.
As a litigation consultant and legal research/writing provider for small-firm and solo lawyers. I work mostly with solo and small firm attorneys in a variety of practice areas including civil rights, family law, and personal injury litigation. Being involved in much of my clients’ work, but not directly employed by them, gives me a rather unique perspective on matters related to their business practices. I’ve learned about what works and what doesn’t.
Fortunately, we live in an age of technological abundance, which makes it much easier to solve problems that can cost a lawyer dearly in terms of money, time, and aggravation.
And quite often, it doesn’t take massive change. It may only take small tweaks, consistently applied.
Tweak #1: Use Your Existing Technology to its Full Capabilities
The vast majority of my clients are smart enough to invest in case management technology. Many use MyCase, while others use similar platforms. That’s great, right?
Not necessarily. You have to actually use the software you’re paying for. If you don’t learn how to use your software and actually use it, you’re throwing money away. You’re also creating additional problems for yourself.
In my experience, many lawyers aren’t using their case management and other software systems fully. Many don’t bother to use the free training offered by their providers or they don’t take the time to insist their staff learns to use the programs fully.
This is deeply unfortunate. For instance, when I’m assisting a busy solo lawyer with drafting a settlement agreement in a divorce and custody action, I can only be my most effective if I have ready access to all the documents the case has produced so far – client intake notes, draft and final financial reports, the complaint and answer, etc. In a civil rights case, if you’re asking me to draft a response to summary judgment, you know I am going to need all of the pleadings, the discovery, and the deposition transcripts. If you’ve consistently uploaded those documents to your case management software, all you have to do is give me access. If you haven’t, then your staff is going to spend several hours scanning and e-mailing those documents to me.
Other problems include:
- Not using existing client portals because you’re afraid clients will see something before it’s in final form
- Not integrating your email into the system
- Not giving accountants and bookkeepers sufficient access to the backend functions so they can see invoices and timesheets and advise you better on the state of your cash flow
Most vendors happily provide training material or hands-on assistance if you ask. Spending time and energy upfront to learn how to use all of your case management system’s features actually saves substantial time and money later on.
Tweak #2: Be Proactive, Instead of Reactive
This isn’t so much a technological tweak as a psychological one. But it’s one that’s reached epidemic proportions in the legal profession.
Far too many lawyers can’t ever get ahead of their schedules because they’re far too busy trying to respond to urgent matters. The sad irony is that most of today’s urgent matters were yesterday’s ordinary tasks.
Here’s what I’ve learned: Racing around putting out fires all day will only ever lead to more fires.
Schedule regular team meetings to get a look at all your calendared deadlines for the week ahead, and then plan accordingly. Consider including outside service providers (like me) in these meetings, as well. When my clients loop me in, I can be more helpful to them and they can assign me tasks at the same time they’re delegating work to the rest of their team.
Another aspect of proactivity is mastering the workflows and systems you’ve purchased or set up ahead of time, instead of waiting until you have a critical problem. Most case management programs have workflows or other automated calendaring and scheduling functions that can be set up to help you stay on top of your cases. When you’re out of the office, your contract providers like me or your in-house staff can simply click on a case and see what’s next. Production continues even without your direct supervision.
If you haven’t been using those systems, you are losing valuable productive time. The most successful of my client always return to the office to find a stack of draft documents waiting for their review. Automated systems and regular staff meetings mean every member of your team knows what’s next and what they should be doing even when you’re at deposition or in court.
Similarly, many of my clients do not give their clients access to their files in the case management programs. These client portals are designed to allow clients to scan and upload documents directly to their case files and to allow clients to check the status of their cases. If you’re not allowing your clients access, you are adding needless work to your staff who must then receive, label, and upload documents for the clients and who must answer all of the client calls and emails asking when the next event is scheduled or if you’ve heard back on the latest offer from the other side. While many of my clients fear the clients seeing “the sausage being made,” giving your client access allows them the comfort of knowing what’s being done on their behalf and you allow them to partner with you to deliver the most efficient legal services possible. Most of the good case management programs allow you to control what portions of the file and what documents your client can access so stop being afraid of the clients seeing what you’re doing for them.
Finally, if you know you’ll be out of the office – perhaps on that long-overdue vacation – plan ahead of time and make arrangements with substitute counsel and all impacted providers well in advance. This will save you from having to pay emergency rates to put out those last minute fires.
Tweak #3: Invest in Your Business Appropriately
Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Far too many small business owners are feeling the pinch these days, and their impulse is to pinch pennies.
There’s being budget-conscious, and then there’s being short-sighted. If you didn’t get a handle on your technology when you first bought it, then you’ll end up spending a lot more down the line – and probably when you can least afford it.
Not taking advantage of the features you already paid for means you often get rushed into decisions later, and your time crunch can all too easily result in a higher price tag. It can also mean that you lose sight of what your real needs are, and ultimately end up paying twice for the same thing.
For instance, a number of my clients use MyCase. They add me as a team member, so I have access to the case documents, the master calendar, and other files I’ll need to do a good job for them. Yet some of these same clients pay extra for Google Drive storage or huge Dropbox accounts, instead of taking advantage of the unlimited storage they’ve already paid for with MyCase.
Make smart investments in yourself and in your practice, know what your existing software can do, and you’ll reap the rewards later.
Alexia Pittas is a legal strategist and consultant. She graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1996, and now owns and operates Lawyer Rescue.