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5 Digital Tools Attorneys Can’t Live Without

by Kate Savage

on 04 January, 2019

 

In 1994, Peter Martin tried to convince lawyers to use the internet.

Ignore all the anti-internet naysayers, he counseled. “Those who find it in their interest to steer folks away from direct Internet connection invariably use words like ‘chaos’, ‘alien’, ‘unfriendly’, ‘uncharted’ in describing its heaving waters,” he wrote. But in truth, he argued, the internet is a vibrant metropolis, approaching the size of Paris in terms of its users!

Within the last month alone, Martin noted, two law firms “took out impressive office suites in Net City.” These two websites were full of gee-whiz features like “graphics-enhanced hypertext!”

Martin’s ‘94 internet boosterism may sound hilariously quaint now, but beyond the faded jargon rests a prophetic insight. At the time he was writing this, Martin was putting together the Legal Information Institute, the very first online legal resource. It remains the most heavily used non-profit legal website.

Martin knew: then and now, the best legal minds of the future will confront ‘alien’ and ‘uncharted’ technology and settle in for the long-haul.

Fast-forward fifteen years, what are today’s tech prophets cajoling cautionary attorneys into? What bewildering new jargon will become tomorrow’s household term?

There are many possible answers, but we’ll begin with the basics. Here are the 5 digital tools that every law firm—in every practice area—needs to have.

1. Cloud-based Case Management

This one’s the foundation of all that follows. Cloud-based case management solutions are the backbone of modern, competitive practices.

The cloud is far less controversial than the World Wide Web was in 1994. In 2017, for the first time ever, the ABA Techreport found a majority of its respondents use cloud-based software for their practice (52%).

But though they’re in the minority, there’s still a hefty percentage of lawyers who are staying away from the cloud. Perhaps this is out of security or ethics concerns—or simply due to the industry’s fabled conservatism.

But as firms better understand and enact security protocols, they’re finding the cloud to be far more secure than their own in-office technology and storage. The storage model also dramatically increases a firm’s resilience and disaster recovery ability.

And added to all of that is the miracle of mobility — the ability to work, connect, and collaborate from anywhere, anytime. Simultaneously, cloud connection essentially outsources some of the most complicated technology and storage questions modern firms have while saving them from investing in rapidly-obsolete tech hardware.

For these reasons and more, cloud-based case management is the key to a swift and flexible practice and will remain a defining feature of firms that thrive in the years ahead.

2. Advanced Reporting

In 2018 a report entitled “Analytics Comes of Age”, McKinsey & Company assert:

Data is now like air. It’s all around us. It has become common knowledge that the world churns out an enormous and expanding amount of data each day—billions of gigabytes, in fact.

Big data isn’t just for BigLaw. Storage space is cheap and software is increasingly intuitive: even small and solo firms are harnessing the power of data analytics.

Legal data can reveal every piece of information your firm needs, from which practice area provides the best returns to which staff members deserve the biggest bonuses. It moves decisions away from the mystical gut of the highest paid person and toward the documented facts of your practice.

But there’s an early roadblock on the path toward real data analysis: how do you get the data to begin with?

Some firms knuckle down diligently with new spreadsheets and duplicative data entry (at least for a month or two, until the excitement wears off). Other firms resign themselves to the certainty they’re too busy doing the work to find a way to analyze it all.

In both cases, the best solution is in a shared case management system with built-in data analysis. Instead of manually tending additional spreadsheets, your work itself can become your data-entry. With every action you take on a case — every note or document added to a file, every text to a client, every deadline met or missed — you automatically add to your reportable data.

With this data, you can set up regular, automatic reports, and have your most important metrics delivered to you in compelling visual charts. Check out more information on Filevine Periscope to see how we are breaking new ground on what your data can do for you.

3. Text-to-Case-File

The only way data analytics can be completely comprehensive is if you have an all-in-one case management system. Unfortunately, many firms still cobble their tech infrastructure together with a mashup of disparate apps and programs. They find that each additional forum of communication or data storage point makes a legal team more disjointed and less likely to find key information when they need it.

You know this phenomenon—when you’re rifling through several email accounts, texts, Slacks, and every other app you work through just to find that bit of information you vaguely remember receiving somewhere…

The best solution is to funnel all information into one shared, secure system. Create a culture of comprehensiveness: if it’s not in the case management system, it didn’t happen.

Filevine has an additional way to capture all communication through the Text-to-Case-File tool. Clients can text directly into their case file, and get an answer from any member of their legal team. All of this communication is securely stored in their file, where it can also be assigned as a task to any team member.

And there’s the additional feature of accessible client portals, giving clients easier access to their case. These portals can drastically reduce phone calls from clients asking for a quick update about their legal matter.

A comprehensive communication system not only makes your work easier; it keeps your clients happier.

4. Taskflow Triggers

It can be tough when work takes up all your time. But it’s much worse when your time is wasted on ‘pre-work’ or ‘para-work’ — all the hassle of figuring out what work needs to be done, and in what order.

To save us from ‘para-work,’ we’ve turned to the To-Do list — whether it has taken the form of a stack of post-it notes, or Benjamin Franklin’s meticulous virtue-building master plan. Neuroscientists have found that the to-do list has become something of a, therapeutic practice, automatically decreasing our anxiety, structuring our days, and providing us with a sense of accomplishment for each task completed.

But modern attorneys should be prepared to go beyond the to-do list. You need the ability to collaborate while you’re sharing and receiving tasks from others. You need a list that’s connected to your calendar, with automatic deadlines and deadline chains.

And to go a step further, your taskflow should be automated, guiding the work of your entire team seamlessly from one stage to the next, and ensuring that nothing falls through the cracks.

5. Document Management

Even if you print out every paragraph you read, legal document management will never again resemble the pre-digital age. The change is deeper than a screen: we think of documents in radically different ways now.

And innovation in document management continues at a rapid pace. For some, that’s still not fast enough. Market analysts have found that the average information worker still wastes six hours a week on bad document management.

This time is lost by searching for documents that have been misfiled and recreating those that can’t be found. It means paying each worker for wasted time that amounts to watching nearly an entire season of Game of Thrones. Every week.

But good document management technology promises to do even more than recoup that wasted time. Some of the most important tools now for attorneys in this field include:

Automatic document generation: Every phase of every case type has a standard complement of documents. Save time by generating those automatically, with fields populated from your case file.

Edit-in-place: The weakest link in any document management system is the human element. When people download a doc, make their changes, but fail to save it in the right place under the right name, it hurts their entire team. Remove the opportunity for human error with an edit-in-place system.

Collaboration: Cloud-based case management systems make it much simpler to share and collaborate on documents. Make sure the system you use protects your version history.

And of course, Greater searchability: cut out the six-hour time-sink and find what you need when you need it. Search by cases, titles, or tags. And keep your documents hyperlinked in your case files, where you can always view them in context.

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Fifteen years from now, we’ll be chuckling at the funny jargon we currently use. “Remember ‘hashtags’?!” we’ll roar, “and how everyone would always capitalize the Cloud?”

But however quaint we seem, the underlying situation will hold true: successful attorneys will be the ones who can harness the power of the best new ideas in tech. This year, get started with these 5 foundational tools.