February 29, 2008

Dennis Kennedy's 8 Technology Trends for 2008

From Dennis Kennedy's recent article on Technology Trends for 2008:

I have written recently about how to make prudent technology choices in a negative economy. The key idea is not simply to cut spending, although you might, but to think clearly about the economic justification for each technology decision that you make. You should be doing that anyway, but the importance of good decision-making gets highlighted when times are tough.

It's not rocket science. You look for technology that either helps you cut costs or enhances your opportunity to earn revenues. Better said, you want technology that makes it easier for fee-earners (and, increasingly, other revenue generators) to generate more revenue and makes it possible to reduce costs without making it more difficult to generate revenue. It takes some analysis, some thinking, and often some tough decisions.

In recessionary times, technology decision-makers must focus on good planning and on even better execution. Costly technology mistakes can have a direct impact on a firm's bottom line and its ability to retain staffing levels. Since technology budgets have crept up in recent years to become one of the larger line item expenses at many firms, we'll definitely see a movement toward getting tighter control of those budgets.


As a general rule, I expect that we'll continue to see solos and small firms driving innovation in the practice of law. Firms that are good at technology will take advantage of opportunities to widen their technology advantage over their competitors and position themselves well for the time when economic recovery comes.

Take a look at this popular technology soothsayer's list of 8 here and join the conversation.  True?  Not True?

A quick overview:

1. Making Better Use of What You Already Own.

2. Lawyers Win Round 1 in the E-discovery Battle . . . by a Wide Margin.

3. Security Begins to Matter . . . Really.

4. The Death Throes for Email?

5. Going Mobile.

6. Opening Audio and Video Channels.

7. Dancing with a Recession.

8. Smart Ways to Work Together – Collaboration Tools.

The Greatest American Lawyer said a year ago, "by the end of 2007 we will see a great digital divide between law firms".  Those who are technology forward will take the lead in all manner of law practice.  I happen to agree.  The technology-forward solo has the opportunity to capitalize on many trends, even the playing field and provide wonderful service for their clients while unshackling themselves from the office.  When unshackled, the elusive work/life balance can either become more balanced or it can encourage a greater form of shackling creating a 24/7 work week.  It's your personality and time management style which will dictate this but either way, advanced technology in the solo' s law office is here to stay.

February 25, 2008

E-mail Auto Responding to Clients - Yeah or Nay?

Recently, there was an intriguing discussion on a listserv where one member felt very 'unimportant' when a colleague responded to her e-mail inquiry with an e-mail autoresponse stating he returned e-mail correspondence during certain hours.  A discussion ensued about why this could be very off-putting to clients, yet others felt it was responsible and allowed the attorney to manage his time better as well as managing the client's expectations.

I don't have a problem with the idea of an autoresponder outlining times the attorney responds to client e-mails:

1.  E-mail autoresponses are no different then voice mail messages.  It's a pre-programmed response to a client's contact. If the attorney handles it correctly, the client knows to pick up the phone and get immediate attention, if not from the lawyer, then from their assistant or service.

2. The impact of the autoresponse turns on how appropriate the message is and what your client's expectations and understandings were at time of engagement.

3.  Providing as the attorney you have informed the client up front what your availability is for e-mail communications, then an autoresponse which confirms that which the client already has agreed to should not be off-putting.

4.  When a client gets your autoresponse they know their e-mail was received. (This is key.)

5.  If you promise a time when you will respond, you had better respond or have a very good reason why you did not live up to your autoresponse message. (Which means, don't forget to update for specific events in your life like vacations, days in court, etc.  Good autoresponses update almost daily just like many thoughtful attorneys' voicemail messages.)

And the irony, the discussion indicated they were put out because it seemed the autoresponse message was taken directly from a page in Tim Ferriss' book "The Four Hour Work Week."

Here are the links to Tim Ferriss' blog discussing this very issue at "How to Stop Checking E-Mail on the Evenings and Weekends" and "The Best and Worst Autoresponders of 2007."

The most important lesson from this, in my opinion, is to understand every contact the client has with your law firm should be greeted with your firm's unified client-service policies which should be clearly stated at the time of retention.   And your policies may very well be instantaneous responses because it works with your own time management programs and client service philosophies. 

Every contact is an opportunity to reinforce a positive relationship with client....or you risk client alienation and you may never know why. Which would you prefer?

(I have heard there are programs which allow the autoresponder to give this message only once to a an e-mail message from a new e-mail address but this will have to be researched further.  If someone knows of this technology, please let us know.)

Related Links:  Overusing E-mail Can Turn Clients Off

February 24, 2008

"Tip of the Week" - Finding Old Internet Pages

The Web changes constantly, and sometimes that page that had just the information you needed yesterday (or last month or two years ago) is not available today. At other times you may want to see how a page's content or design has changed. There are several sources for finding Web pages as they used to exist.

While Google's cache is probably the best known, the others are important alternatives that may have pages not available at Google or the Wayback Machine plus they may have an archived page from a different date. The table below notes the name of the service, the way to find the archived page, and some notes that should give some idea as to how old a page the archive may contain.

While this list is extensive, the popular Archive It is a great tool, as is the Wayback Machine which goes back to 1996 (That's just not really waaaaay back for me!) and holds over 85 billion pages.

The Internet Archive is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that was founded to build an Internet library, with the purpose of offering permanent access for researchers, historians, and scholars to historical collections that exist in digital format. Founded in 1996 and located in the Presidio of San Francisco, the Archive has been receiving data donations from Alexa Internet and others. In late 1999, the organization started to grow to include more well-rounded collections. Now the Internet Archive includes texts, audio, moving images, and software as well as archived web pages in our collections.

Why would you want to use these tools? Well, it is a 'library' of sorts.  And like a library, there is information you will require, an out of date website holding information you need from an author no longer publishing from a site now defunct and not easily found through normal search words on Google for any number of reasons.

Again, just a couple of nifty tools to book mark for that unanticipated researching occasion.

February 03, 2008

"Tip of the Week" - AceProject takes on Basecamp and Wins

Progressive solos and brand new solos who are taking the concept of a paperless office seriously have been learning about, transitioning to, or starting from the beginning with web-based management software.  The name you will hear, at least the name I've been hearing most, is Basecamp.

Well there is a new kid on the block (actually been around a while but has become much more user friendly) and that kid is AceProject.  And if you are familiar with some of the big boys, Wrike, OnStage, and @Task, web-based management software used by very large businesses, they all seem to be recommending AceProject over Basecamp for smaller businesses.

And for those who don't know the benefits of web-based management software in a law practice it gives you:

  1. flexibilty and security of not having paper files,
  2. allows you to create and share projects on line (securely),
  3. clients can have 24/7 password protected access to their files eliminating those telephone calls such as 'just wanting an update' ,
  4. if you are unable to get to the office or your office is destroyed you will be up and running from any computer. 

Another major consideration is their customer service.  While the service is very intuitive, they offer excellent customer support, use videos to teach you how to use the service, as well as offer live chat.  This is huge when considering making a transition to paperless.  You want to be sure you have minimal frustration as your first priority is practicing law.  It helps you get over the intimidation factor.

This just gives you a very small taste of the benefits.  So, if you are considering going paperless or even if you already are paperless but are looking to upgrade, check out AceProject, too.

January 21, 2008

Virtual Law Office(VLO) - It's Not Your Mother's Law Office - Guest Blogger, Stephanie Kimbro

(UPDATE:  1/22/08 - A nice addition to this particular conversation)

Guest Blogger Stephanie Kimbro is an attorney practicing in Wilmington, North Carolina.  I asked Stephanie if she would guest post on Build A Solo Practice because she represents, in my opinion, the law office of many future solos.  She operates her office completely virtual.  And she offers unbundled legal services and publishes her prices on her site. While there might be others out there doing this or attempting to do so, Stephanie's is fully operational. 

Virtual Solo - Stephanie Kimbro

My solo law practice is a completely virtual law office (vlo) which operates from a web-based application. More specifically it is a secure (https), hosted, software as a service (SaaS) application. I access my entire office wherever I can access the Internet and the same goes for my clients.

My vlo is my entire law office. My client files, client data, billing, invoices, accounts receivable, other accounting and administrative tools, calendars and other data management tools are located in the backend of the office. I have a central point where all of my cases are organized and it shows me the status and priority for better time management.

Unlike standard law firm websites, I do not use email or “fill in the form” requests with my online clients. Email is most often not encrypted so it is not as secure as https communication. My vlo is also not a legalzoom.com or nolo.com website where the public can purchase form-generated legal documents.

On my client’s side, they have access to their own homepages where they may view all of our online communications, pay me online, download and upload documents, and update client data, among other features. My clients feel like they can communicate with me 24/7 and on weekends which is a convenience to them and helps them feel like they are kept current on the status of the legal services they have asked me to work on.

The vlo is a convenience to me because I do not have to respond only during business hours but can set my own schedule. I have a 24 hour policy of responding to clients on the website even if it’s just a quick “thank you for contacting me….” I have a folder of standard responses for certain requests that come up on a regular basis so it takes a minimal amount of time to handle client intake. The new or updated client feels attended to and then I can better allocate my time towards actual legal research or drafting based on the priority of the cases I have lined up. ….” If I take a vacation or a few days away from work, I let my existing clients know through their homepages that my response time will be longer than usual.

Why did I decide to run a solo vlo and provide services on a fixed price basis?

There were two reasons for creating the vlo: the personal (wanting a better work/life balance that I could control) and the practical (law school loans must be repaid). Necessity is the mother of invention.

As for the practical, a virtual law office that runs on a web-based application means minimal overhead and minimized startup costs. To open the doors to my solo, so to speak, I did not have to invest in computers, hardware or software and could use the equipment and internet connection I already had.

With a virtual law office, I tap into the online consumers and broaden my client base to the entire state where I am licensed and even to clients in other states with N.C. legal issues. This allows me to compete with larger firms, especially those that have planted branches of their Biglaw firms in our small town. Having access to a larger potential client base also lessened the amount of startup time that it took for my solo to get a decent client base and get off the ground.

Before I started the vlo, I spent a couple years researching the feasibility of offering unbundled legal services online and how that would work for a solo. From my previous experience in a larger firm, clients do not always “get” the billable hour even after signing retainer agreements. I also noticed a large segment of the public who need transactional legal work handled but who want to do the footwork themselves. That is a significant market need that the right technology could be used to fill.

As far as billing practices, I actually keep my billing options flexible. I list sample prices on my vlo website to give potential clients an idea of the price ranges, but I provide them with a price quote based on the information they give me in our communications after they register with the vlo. I occasionally use the billable hour with clients when they come back to me and want additional work handled that extends beyond our original, agreed upon project. I also offer payment plans for clients if from our communications I think that it would be easier for them to budget.

I handle billing on a case by case basis and the software application allows for that flexibility. If I wanted to revert to a billable hour only method I could do so but I would be giving the client that billable hour to accept rather than a fixed price. Their acceptance of the quoted fee along with the terms and conditions that they accept and our initial communications all make up the equivalent of a traditional retainer agreement. In some cases, I do require a retainer fee before starting work. Again, as in a physical law office and in any small business, how I decide to structure the fees depends on multiple factors, including the client’s legal matter, who referred them, etc.

About the Technology

For over two years my programmer husband and I have worked on developing the vlo software application. A patent was filed for the vlo technology in the summer of 2007. We formed a company called Virtual Law Office Technology, LLC (VLOTech) which will serve both as a company to provide vlo technology to other attorneys but also as a portal for the public to find or be referred to vlos offering the legal services they are seeking.

In developing the software application, security was our primary concern so it has been designed with this as the primary foundation. As new concerns in technology security arise, new protections or modifications are made. My husband has ten years of experience in writing security programs, including those for state government and court systems. We are bootstrapping our company and doing something we believe will make a positive difference in the lives of others in the legal profession and for those in the public seeking a more accessible and convenient way to obtain legal services.

We have a handful of attorneys who will begin using the release version of the virtual law office technology this year. Most of these attorneys are solos who have contacted us wanting to set up virtual law offices similar to my practice.

I certainly do not think that vlos will ever replace brick and mortar law offices but I think they will provide another option for attorneys wanting their own solos or for existing law firms that want to tap into the online market to generate additional client revenue. The public is ready for this form of communication with attorneys, and in my opinion, the public will ultimately be what drives the profession into this method of practicing the law.

Kimbro Legal Services, LLC
Stephanie L. Kimbro, Esq., M.A., J.D.
(910) 762-3698 office
(910) 619-5530 cell
P.O. Box 4484
Wilmington, NC 28406
Featured in Lawyers USA and NC Lawyers Weekly.
Winner of the 2007 Wilmington Parent Family Favorite Award.

January 13, 2008

"Tip of the Week" - Get 'Jott' ing

I'm late to the game on this one as I've read previous posts on the wonders of Jott.  But better late than never.  I've become a convert.

Jott is a terrific free service in beta. You call Jott toll free and you make notes to yourself without having to 'jot' it on a piece of paper which you inevitably lose.  It then sends your message to you (or whoever else you have on your jott account) via e-mail with scheduled reminders if you want as well as to your cell phone.  You can even create blog posts!

For instance, I was in the car and remembered (as we all do) that I needed to wrap presents on Friday for a nephew's birthday party, make a phone call to my sister-in-law to see how her mother did in surgery the previous day and pick up parmesan cheese at the grocery store for pasta that night.  I left a message to myself which displayed the message in an e-mail as well as sent me a reminder that Friday morning.  I can have the initial message and reminder in both text and audio...and on my cell phone. It worked like a charm.  If it questioned a word spelling it put a question mark right next to it.  But there were no typos or mispellings.  It's great to send messages to colleagues, too.

Now I just have to get used to using Jott which should be very easy.  And it's eco-friendly...no more paper!  I am so tired of using paper.

So, check it out.

January 07, 2008

A Look Into The (Legal) Office of the Future?

If this is the Office of the Future....bring it on! 

Welcome to the office of 2020 or so. If you still go to one, that is. Thanks to instant wireless communications and encryption technology, remote working -- from home or anywhere else on Earth -- will be commonplace 10 to 15 years from now. But an office in the traditional sense will still come in handy for working on team projects as well as for meeting clients and suppliers.

What follows is a glimpse into a typical office-of-the-future. What the heck -- imagine that it's yours.

Electronic wallpaper covers the walls. When you're not using it to show charts, graphs and other business presentations, it will be easy to switch to between pictures of the kids or some other pleasing images. Office chairs will have built-in sensors to detect your stress level. Depending on the result, the chair can then gently suggest a brief nap or exercises to help decompress.

The "office computer" is just a wide, high-definition laptop monitor with a wireless connection to a central server. If a keyboard is needed, the monitor can project one on the desk or a soft pad for virtual typing. But, more often than not, you'll typically bark out voice commands to the machine. Say "Display the Perkins account," and the computer will oblige with a slew of information about the client: Financial numbers, past orders, a video of a recent meeting, information the client has posted on the Internet recently and more.

Actually, many of us who work from home or telecomute and are trying to stay on top of technology are pioneering the change in the legal profession.  The bit in our mouth remains the unimaginative, threatened, insecure organizations which feel the need to stifle legal creativity and our own inability to educate the clients as to the benefits of the technology.

Solos have always led the charge in technology in the legal profession.  The next 15, 20 years will be no different...just incredibly exciting and very fast-paced.  Stay open, innovate, create, share your ideas but recognize it is happening and there is nothing one can do to stop it. 

December 12, 2007

When Bad Weather Disrupts Your Business Do You Have A Back Up "Client Communications" Plan?

images.jpegIt is the beginning of winter and it has struck the midwest with a fury.  And this unexpected ice storm has wreaked havoc on millions of homes, businesses and home based businesses.  Many home based businesses rely upon their cell phones, internet and cable or DSL for communications to clients.  For the majority, it is the sole basis of communications.

What happens when your power is down for 10 days during an unexpected emergency?  Or you conduct business communications while traveling via your iphone, blackberry, cell phone, internet and you hit an unserviced area for an extended period of time.  Unfortunately, this has happened to my good friend Grant Griffiths.  First, an unexpected death in the family had him travelling to California in the mountains where internet and cell service were challenging at best.  He did not know this.  How could he.  Then he comes back to Kansas City to be hit with a major ice storm which knocked out power, for hundreds of thousands, indefinitely.  For him, intermittently.  The result is the same: client communications are interrupted abruptly.

While the event was unforeseen, a plan for such an event should have been in place.  Fortunately for Grant, he has many friends who communicated to his clients for him spontaneously.  But that leaves the pressing and important issue:  what do you do when you can't communicate via instantaneous technologies and you are dealing with clients not just in your immediate area suffering the same fate as yourself (and who, generally, will be more sympathetic) but across the country or the world?

First, all this should be communicated to the client at the onset of the relationship, regardless where you live.  It could be snow storms, floods, wildfires.  It doesn't matter.  In the event of an emergency orchestrated by mother nature what can the client expect regarding communications?  For instance, in the event of such an emergency, imagine if you have in place a plan whereby the client knows if there is a serious weather condition impacting where you work they can contact another law firm in another part of the country, or a fellow blogger who will post the emergency status for where you work?  (Yes, they can watch the news, but honestly, you can't rely upon that.  Nor is it good planning.)

For instance, I live in the Northeast and we are expecting a significant Nor'easter this weekend.  I will notify my clients ahead of time via e-mail that communications may be interrupted.  I will also advise them to check the blog of (fill in the blank) if e-mails or phone messages are not returned within the agreed to number of hours. Or if for some reason they do not receive the scheduled phone call for a consultation they should contact so and so.  The individual I have this arrangement with will seek to contact me and if I still remain unavailable, they will post (if they are a blogger) or notify my clients as directed.  Kind of like checking the news for school cancellations.

While my clients do not have pressing legal matters, regardless the business, when someone relies upon communications and you primarily rely upon technology in all its incarnations for those communications (as most of us do), when the lights go out your clients have the right to information.

Have you set up an alternate client communications plan for just such an emergency?  Your input would be appreciated.

December 02, 2007

"Tip of the Week" - PC Pitstop Erase

    PC Pitstop Erase

PC Pitstop Erase is a free privacy scanner that shows you information that your PC remembers: web sites you've visited, cookies that can store personal information, and files you have recently viewed or edited. Erase is also a paid tracks cleaner, which removes the sensitive personal data you wish to keep private or information that some can use to steal your identity.

I recently discovered this program which helps to 'erase' personal data stored in my computer saved in Windows.  It even gets rid of the data stored in Windows...even after DELETED...because Windows still saves it.  For me, this type of program is more valuable on my laptop, something which could easily be lost or stolen because it is removed from my office. 

And given lawyers store confidential data on their computers, this is one more program to consider in your arsenal of weapons against cybertheft and insuring your clients' confidentiality.  Although not free ($29,99) I think it is a small price to pay for this type of protection. Check it out.

(I didn't not see a Mac version so if one of you Mac - o - maniacs know of one...please share.)

November 17, 2007

"Tip of the Week" - YouSendIt.com

This is another little gem of a service I picked up from the tech gurus at the 2nd Annual Solo and Small Firm Convention in Philadelphia last month.  YouSendIt.com is the answer for those who need to e-mail oversized attachments and don't want them bounced through conventional e-mail.

  • Send and Receive Files up to 2 GB Each On-Demand
  • File Delivery Tracking and Secure Delivery
  • Send Multiple Files at Once

With an account at YouSendIt.com (there is a free 14 day trial) you can upload your oversized files and e-mail them securely.  They will notify the recipient there is a file waiting for them which they can then retrieve and download. It's that simple.

There are three levels of service based upon your wants and needs.

Check it out.