The holiday season has begun, and before you know it, 2018 will be behind us. If you’re like most people, the New Year seems far off, since you’re probably overwhelmed with end-of-year tasks both at work and at home.
Unfortunately, the reality couldn’t be farther from the truth! 2019 is just around the corner. Is your small law firm ready? What steps have you taken to set your law firm up for success in the coming year?
If you haven’t done much planning yet or aren’t sure where to start, then you’re in luck! This handy checklist is just what you need. Read on for lots of great tips to help you get your firm off to a strong start in 2019.
1) Assess your practice areas
It’s never too late to shift the focus of your law practice to incorporate new practice areas. 21st century lawyers seeking to take on new types of clients have more choices than ever, in large part because recent technological innovations have paved the way for new practice areas.
Carolyn Elefant recently shared this list of 40 cutting edge practice areas, and with a slight pivot and a little research and preparation, you can set your firm up to handle some of these emerging practice areas well ahead of the competition. So if, after assessing your firm’s performance this year you think it might be time for a change, then consider incorporating some of these emerging practice areas into your law firm to help position your firm for growth in 2019 and beyond:
2) Archive Current Files and Go Paperless
E-filing is on the rise and as a result lawyers are increasingly realizing the benefits of a paperless law firm. Is your firm on board yet? If not, 2019 is the year to do it. That’s because digital documents give you more flexibility and 24/7 accessibility. Once you’ve moved all or most of your law firm’s documents and files to the cloud, you’ll have the convenience of being able to access your firm’s data 24/7. No matter where you are, as long as you have an Internet-enabled device, your law firm data will be at your fingertips.
The key to a successful transition to a paperless law firm is to plan ahead. Come up with a strategy before starting the process, and make sure to draft clear written policies and procedures for everyone in your firm who will be part of the move to a paperless office. And make sure to set a hard transition date. Doing so will give you a workable roadmap and deadline, ensuring that everyone is on the same page.
3) Assess Your CLE credits
With 2019 right around the corner, it’s a perfect time to determine how many CLE credits you’ve acquired – and how many you’re missing. Assess how close you are to meeting the benchmarks, and then create a plan for the upcoming year. Save time and money by taking CLE courses online. You can even obtain free CLE credits if you plan carefully by attending free online webinars.
Depending on where you practice, you might even be eligible for free CLE credits through MyCase’s live webinars. There’s a new webinar each month, so make sure to check back regularly to see what’s coming up next!
4) Automate your law firm
One of the keys to being a productive lawyer is to streamline your law firm’s processes. Although artificial intelligence (AI) has been all the rage this year and offers lots of potential for lawyers seeking to automate certain aspects of their law practices, you don’t need AI to automate your law firm.
There are already lots of automation features built into readily available legal software programs. Using this software you can quickly and easily automate: 1) billing, invoicing, and collections, 2) tasks and deadlines, and 3) document assembly. You can learn even more information about how one type of legal software – law practice management software – can help you automate your law firm, including tips on batch billing and creating repeatable workflows here.
5) Ditch unsecure email
Did you know that email is inherently unsecure? It’s like sending a postcard written in pencil through the post office. The American Bar Association acknowledged this email security issue when it issued Opinion 477 in 2017. The Committee explained that due to “cyber-threats…it is not always reasonable to rely on the use of unencrypted email…(and lawyers should consider) a variety of options to safeguard communications including…(a) secure internet portal.”
Not only are client portals a more secure way to communicate, they also offer a host of benefits. That’s why, according to a recent survey, more lawyers than ever are using client portals to interact and collaborate with clients, experts, co-counsel and more. The good news is that it’s not just lawyers who appreciate the convenience and security offered by client portals – clients do, too. After all, having all case-related information easily accessible 24/7 benefits your clients just as much as it benefits you!
6) Incorporate technology learning into your daily routine
One of your top goals in 2019 should be to ensure that all lawyers in your firm are taking steps to learn about technology. This is important because in 2012, the American Bar Association amended the comments to Model Rule 1.1 to include language requiring that lawyers maintain technology competence as part of their ethical obligations. Since then bar associations across the United States have followed suit and added similar commentary to their ethical rules.
For busy lawyers, staying up-to-date on the latest technology can seem like a daunting task. But if you make it a priority to learn about technology bit by bit, then you’ll find that the learning curve won’t be so steep. The key is figuring out how to make time each and every day to read up on the latest technological advancements. If you learn just a little at a time, rather than trying to do it all at once, you’ll be less likely to feel overwhelmed. If you’re not sure where to start, check out this blog post for lots of great ideas.
7) Offer Flexible Payment Options
21st century legal clients expect multiple payment options. Gone are the days of accepting cash or checks only. Today’s legal consumers are used to paying bills online using a variety of payment methods. Law firms should be set up to accept credit and debit card payments, along with cash and checks. Doing so is convenient for your clients, encourages timely payment of law firm invoices, and makes it easier for you to invoice clients and get paid.
Online invoicing doesn’t just benefit your clients – it also offers a host of additional business benefits to law firms. Costs are reduced since you’re no longer required to print out invoices and pay to send them to your clients in letter form. Invoices can be sent through your law firm’s legal practice management or billing software. Your clients will receive their legal bills right away and can then pay them with just the click of a button.
8) Create a marketing budget and plan
First and foremost, determine a marketing budget up front. One of the best ways to set a marketing budget and plan for the year is to look to the past. By assessing what did – and didn’t – work for your firm last year, you’ll be able to make informed and impactful decisions for the year ahead.
Next create a marketing plan. Your law firm’s marketing plan should be tailored to meet the needs and size of your law firm. Make sure to consider your firm’s practice areas, target clients, marketing budget, and geographic location during the planning process.
Finally, review last year’s marketing efforts and determine which channels performed well – and which ones didn’t. Although this won’t be determinative, it’s a good starting point. Then consider the online and offline channels that other similarly-sized firms are using. Use this as your starting point and then you’ll be well on your way to a marketing plan that will work for your firm in 2019.
9) Go mobile or go home
21st century lawyers have more mobility and flexibility than ever before – if your law firm doesn’t already provide tools that allow your lawyers to access your law firm’s data 24/7 from any location, then you know what your firms needs to do in 2019: go mobile!
The days of being tethered to your desk are long gone, and you now have more options than ever when it comes to providing tools to help your firm’s lawyers practice law on the go. With the advent of mobile technology, mobile apps and cloud-based law practice management software provide instantaneous access to your law firm’s data from any internet-enabled device. These days, it’s easier than ever for lawyers from your law firm to easily access case-related information no matter where they happen to be, so make sure that one of your top priorities in 2019 is to provide your firm’s lawyers with the tools they need to go mobile.
10) Sign up for our January webinar
Interested in learning more about preparing your law firm for a successful 2019? Then make sure to check back soon and register for our January webinar where I’ll be presenting on this very topic! You’ll find the registration link in the righthand sidebar of the blog. Hope to see you there!