It’s hard to believe that another year has come and gone. And what a year it was! Now that 2016 has drawn to a close it’s time to look forward and make plans to position your law firm for success in 2017.
Of course, sometimes it’s hard to make decisions about the coming year if you don’t know what to expect. That’s why we asked the experts to tell us about their predictions for solo and small firm attorneys in 2017. Here’s what they had to say.
Mary Juetten, founder and CEO of Traklight:
Cloud technology, as opposed to legal technology, will make the most headway as lawyers evolve from being tech-savvy to cyber-savvy. Due to concerns about preserving client confidentiality, lawyers will look for cloud-based solutions with high security, with the goal being to improve the client experience and generate additional revenue through efficiencies from technology. Thus, adopting a mainstream client relationship management system, online storage, or electronic signature program with proven efficiency and security will be a trend.
Emerging technology that can help solo and small law firms will not be advanced (ie. artificial intelligence), but instead will be simple integrated or interoperable workflow solutions that free up the attorneys to practice law. As firms shift to the cloud and adopt software as a service (SaaS) for administration, there will be an increase in the bundled or all-in-one platforms versus those that require multiple logins.
Mitch Kowalski, Gowling WLG Visiting Professor in Legal Innovation at the University of Calgary Law School:
The use of document assembly systems has been hit and miss in most law firms of any size. For 2017, solos and smalls should focus on (a) automating all documents in their practice areas, and (b) creating workflows that can “skill up” all team members with reduced risk. This investment will pay enormous dividends in a competitive and price-conscious market.
Expert systems tied to document assembly will have a huge impact on solo and small practices. The key to success for solos and smalls is to minimize the number of touches to every file. The more work that can be done directly by the client, the better. Imagine, clients routinely logging into your client portal to answer questions about their matter; then technology creates first drafts of all documents automatically for your review!
Rick Georges, lawyer and legal technology blogger:
The most advances in solo and small firm computer use will be in the mobile computer area. This includes smartphones, wearable devices, tablets, and ultralight notebook computers. All of these devices will be used to keep the solo in touch via the Internet, and will work together to create a truly mobile lawyer. The same technology that will make lawyers more mobile will create more efficiency in the practice. The increasing strength and range of Bluetooth devices, and the Internet of Things will make more and more devices lawyers carry connected to everything. From voice control of the devices, to communication among devices, the lawyer will be in touch with clients, courts, colleagues, and others all the time.
iOT (The Internet of Things) will also proliferate to include clothing, wearable devices, office machines, phones, tracking devices, and everything will be connected to everything else. Just as mobile phones and notebook computers enabled the lawyer to work anywhere, so also, the devices she carries all the time will increase the efficiency with which she does her work.
Jim Calloway, Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association Management Assistance
Program and law practice management blogger:
We will continue to see increasing adoption of digital client files powered by practice management software solutions. Digital client files are a great way to increase efficiency by having instant access to all information and documents in the client file. Similarly, we’ve just had an intense national focus on the impact of disclosure of hacked emails. But emails themselves are insecure because they go across the Internet as plain text that anyone who intercepts them can read. One answer is to set up secure online repositories so clients can log into to review their documents and read other confidential information. Many practice management solutions provide these and for a solo or small firm, that is an easy solution. In addition to being able to enjoy the efficiencies of these tools and minimize misplacing important documents, the repositories provide a simple and affordable way to secure confidential client communications and provide a better client service by providing the client an online filing cabinet with instant access to all of their important documents on their legal matter.
Automation is also critical for small firms. My most important efficiency tool is speech recognition software. I write a lot of content each year and could never accomplish that if I had to type it all or even by using the old method of dictating and then waiting for someone else to transcribe before I can proof and edit.
My best advice about maximizing and adopting emerging technology doesn’t sound like a technology tip at all. Solos and small firm lawyers must spend more time thinking and planning like they are the CEO of their business, because they are. Adapting to changes in your marketplace and incorporating new technology tools into your business workflows is the domain of the business leader. Today, every law firm is a technology business. The tool with the greatest potential for success is a forward-looking business plan incorporating today’s technology for greater efficiency and better client service.
Monica Bay, journalist, analyst, and provocateur:
Lawyers aren’t the only ones who have embraced Siri and her cousins. I was a late bloomer: my 89-year-old mother was using it before I tried it—and now I can’t work without it. Siri (and the dictation tool) are great examples of low-level tools that can really streamline work. Siri also can be deliciously imperfect, generating great laughs.
In 2017 we’ll see a lot of startups that are streamlining legal processes, saving tons of time and money — and adding accuracy. See, for example, software that provides contract checking, automated case search, and litigation intelligence.
Jared Correia, attorney and CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting:
If 2017 is anything like 2016, there may not be a celebrity alive come the end of the year. (Pray for Betty White.) But, one thing’s for sure: solo and small firm lawyers will adopt CRM solutions in record numbers.
Marketing is the #1 concern for most solo and small firm lawyers, whether they like to talk about it or not. They’re always more concerned about priming the pump for future work, than with almost anything else. This is especially true for solos, who live and die upon their ability to generate new clients. There’s never enough work in the pipeline. Yet, much of law firm marketing is done in the dark. Attorneys continue to navigate their marketing efforts with a blindfold and the equivalent of a whale oil lamp. Inputting data respecting marketing campaigns and analyzing its effectiveness is something that solo and small firm lawyers rarely do in any coherent way; but, that is, in part, because there have not existed viable, legal-specific software for doing so.
Jobst Elster, Head of Content at InsideLegal:
It might not be the sexy ‘AI answer’ but I firmly believe cloud applications will continue to pick up steam headed into 2017. The ABA LTRC’s 2016 Legal Technology Survey Report indicates that a significant number of lawyers’ and firms’ use of cloud services are already part of the ‘new normal’. Cloud usage in 2016 grew more than 20% from 2015 with solos and small firms leading the charge. Continued cloud adoption/cloud growth will largely depend on vendors’ and legal IT experts/consultants’ ability to put firms’ cloud fears to rest.
Compared to their large(r) firm counterparts, solos and small firms can sometimes be rather nonchalant when it comes to confidentiality, security, and due diligence issues related to cloud/mobile apps and services. Treating security/privacy and information governance as a large firm issue is simply naïve and mighty reactionary. Firm clients can use all the help they can get from outside counsel when it comes to document/file/collaboration space security and governance so as a solo, why not step in and differentiate yourselves in this arena. Funnily enough, firms that adopt native cloud applications developed for law firms are automatically ticking many of the security and compliance boxes already …without ever attending a security awareness training class. This looks to be where the biggest weakness (cloud computing-related security concerns) can easily be flipped into a strength and competitive advantage.