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July 17, 2007

Technology Challenged? It's Time to Move Ahead

Although I have discussed this subject in a prior post, this is the column as it appeared in the Connecticut Law Tribune - June 8, 2007

Technology can be very daunting and intimidating to lots of lawyers. Quite frankly, beyond a laptop, a cell phone, maybe a Blackberry or Treo, and finally acknowledging they need a web site, most lawyers are just screaming, "I'm not into this stuff! How am I supposed to go solo without help? When will I have the time to actually practice law?

By way of a blog post from The Great American Lawyer quoting Dennis Kennedy's popular blog comes a very valid statement:

"by the end of 2007, we will be talking about a clear and growing digital divide between technology-forward and technology-backward lawyers and firms and a subtle restructuring of the practice of law." (original post here)

That being said, being a solo practitioner doesn't mean "no help." Nor does it mean that solos have to get on board with every electronic advancement or new software sensation.

It does, however, mean finding some balance. I will not get into what is "essential" for a law office because that is always debatable and subjective. However, when investigating new technology, lawyers should always do a cost-benefit analysis on the value of their time to carry out these tech-oriented tasks versus hiring someone to do them on their behalf.

There are a lot of brilliant lawyers who are techno-junkies, getting their fix with every new electronic toy out there, spending hours updating their current systems with every new program that emerges. But not all of us are like them and it really is okay that we aren't.

There is a new site, www.tenminut.es, that is like speed-dating for the newest technology. On the site, users get a brief introduction to the latest technology with a summary as to whether they should explore the product further. The idea is, if the maker of a product can't prove the product's worth to potential buyers in 10 minutes, it's not worth buying. Like dating, you are either intrigued and want to learn more, or you move on. I think this site will prove its value.

When lawyers go high-tech, they can earn more and keep more of what they earn because of the incredible efficiencies that certain technology creates.

One of my former students told me how he has a "paperless" office. Every document that comes into his office is immediately scanned into his computer and directed to the appropriate client or administrative digital folder. He has a flash drive that he carries around his neck so wherever he is, as long as he has access to a computer, he can insert his flash drive and have access to whatever documents he needs to work on. He has similar backups in a safe place. He is not bound to his office.

Other solos use a system called "Basecamp." All documents stored in Basecamp can be accessed by their clients through a password-protected system, so that, at any given time, the clients can review their file and know the status of their case.

Understand this reality: solos can move quickly because every decision they make isn't by committee. That means they can create a state-of-the-art law practice much faster and jump to the top of the heap selling these advancements to their clients long before Big Law can convene a committee to determine if there is even a problem that needs to be addressed.

Even if they suffer from Technoshock, lawyers can no longer afford to not take advantage of new technology. They need it to keep competitive and stay profitable. If technology still remains the great intimidator, they need to recognize that they will have to pay others to compensate for their "chosen" or "perceived" shortcomings. This is the new reality.•

Susan Cartier-Liebel is solo practitioner, adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a business consultant for solo and small firms. Her blog, Build A Solo Practice, is at susancartierliebel.typepad.com. She can be reached at SCartier_Liebel@comcast.net. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2007) All Rights Reserved. No portion of this material may be copied, transmitted, posted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of Susan Cartier-Liebel.


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Grant D. Griffiths

You inspired me to write a response to your post. And, BTW, I agree completely. If we are going to remain competitive in today’s emerging market place and approaching economy, we have to embrace technology.

Steve Weaver

This blog got me thinking--not always a good thing but in this case a positive! I am evaluating Basecamp. Yesterday I was showing it to an attorney friend who was critical of the cost (yes, another solo like me). He went on to note the time involved in uploading files, duplication of effort (with my practice management software), etc., etc. So, being far too easily influenced sometimes, I had about decided that Basecamp would not be worth the cost. Then I read this blog. I forgot that the main reason I am considering Basecamp is not so much for law practice utilitarian purposes -- but for marketing purposes. By providing my clients the ability to access their files 24/7, I am seeking to offer a service that the other lawyer being considered for hire does not. Pure and simple--the technological edge is part of my game plan and darned if I didn't forget about that momentarily. Thanks again Susan.

Steve Weaver

Susan Cartier Liebel

Steve, you area correct. Technological advancements help you remain lean and mean and efficient which benefits the client, such as Basecamp. Those who use Basecamp say their clients love being able to access their files when they want to. Plus, a smart lawyer will provide status updates to the file on a bi-weekly or monthly basis to keep the client informed on what they are doing and the client can look for these status updates. It is a very smart move. I'm sure there are other programs which provide what Basecamp does but right now this seems to be the most popular. Thanks for the comments.

Daniel Perry

I have used Basecamp for the last two years in some low-fee public service litigation involving hundreds of senior citizen mobile homeowners in Florida. It would have been impossible for me to economically and, yes, profitably, provide those services to these senior citizens without use of Basecamp. My seniors are very email and web-friendly. In most cases,I have never spoken with these litigants. Our communication from retainer to settlement has been entirely via email and web-postings. I have expanded my use of Basecamp to include ad hoc or "on the fly:" website creation for a variety of collaborative legal consultations.

And since it is password-protected I (and they) can safely (well, comparatively speaking) post confidential information - though I do warn them that if they have something really sensitive they should email it to me outside of the website and NOT post it online.

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