The use of and fluency with legal technology is a necessity for today’s thriving and growing law firms. It has, however, not been a natural transition for the legal industry. In fact, for a long time, lawyers did not prioritize or feel the need to advance technologically. Business technology is not a subject that is thoroughly addressed in law school, and clients have not usually demanded tech solutions from law firms - but this is all changing. According to the ABA, 60% of lawyers state that they are required to demonstrate competency in their technology understandings.
Technology is in a constant state of movement, propelling businesses and people forward with new and efficient solutions and improvements with day-to-day needs and activities. Not only is the average user becoming more reliant on tech hardware and software, but businesses throughout all industries are also feeling the pull to keep up with the latest developments and trends. While this can generally be considered a good thing, it can also present headaches for industries whose primary focus is not based on the use of technology.
The goal of this technology guide for lawyers and law firms is to help make the process of incorporating the right tech into your business more natural and more effective by providing an essential checklist and information. We’ll discuss how to address the unique needs of your law firms, how to plan for tech updates and incorporations, and selecting the right tech solutions for you and your team. By implementing the necessary tech into your law firm, you and your legal team can see exponential growth and increase in client acquisition.
Assessing Your Law Firm’s Technological Needs
Before you dive into our guide and creating and developing your technology plan, it’s essential that you consider the individual needs of your firm, attorneys, and clients. While each aspect of your firm provides equally important contributions, the requirements can vary greatly. When you gather insight into the individual requirements and needs of your company, it can help in making the right technological changes for the law firm as a whole. Put some thought into the following areas:
- Attorney Needs - The attorneys within your firm rely on their abilities to effectively communicate with clients, maximize tasks and caseloads, and accurately track time and bill. Note-taking and remaining productive both in and out of the office is imperative.
- Client Needs - What is the attorney/client relationship like within your law firm? It’s vital that your clients feel they can regularly and effectively communicate with your team, as well as experience expected results and obtain fast and up-to-date information about their cases.
- Company Needs - As a whole, your law firm requires an organized and productive infrastructure to support its needs adequately. Secure file storage, financial and accounting support, and easy collaboration between members of your team contribute significantly to the success and growth of your firm.
Filling Important Communication Obligations
Having a reliable way to communicate within your law firm and with clients and other sources is essential. Choosing the right phone system for you and your team to utilize is an important decision; You want to avoid overpaying for more communication support than you need but also want to ensure that you don't lack in the area and provide adequate options to lawyers within your law firm. Below are the most popular types of business phone systems to consider for use within your law firm:
- VoIP Phones - The first phone option to consider is VoIP, which stands for “voice over internet protocol.” Many smaller legal offices will choose this option because it does not require any onsite support or infrastructure to be set up or maintained and instead utilizes an internet connection. With this phone system, you can run multiple lines and calls at once. Many VoIP systems are even able to integrate with other software you and your team utilize, such as CRM (customer relationship manager) software.
- Multi-Line Phones - Multi-line phone systems are a more fundamental and localized option for law firms. This option runs multiple lines through an on-site unit and allows individual numbers and voicemails to be hosted. You can easily entertain conference calls through this option and carry a toll-free number or a local number.
- Cloud Phones - One of the most popular options for phone systems these days are cloud phones. This type of phone service is entirely hosted off-site through a cloud phone system company. Large and small law firms alike choose this option because it requires almost no maintenance since servers are managed and hosted by the phone provider. Companies can also comfortably accommodate growth using cloud phone services because there is no infrastructure to update, and this type of service is usually cost-effective.
- PBX Phones - Sitting in between cloud phone systems and multi-line phone systems are PBX phones. PBX stands for “private branch exchange.” Law firms will often choose this phone system for the variety of features it offers and the ease of use it presents through the use of a centralized system. A PBX phone system is essentially a private phone network for your firm that can easily manage extension needs, conference calls, voicemails, and personalization.
Exploring Your Internet and Network Requirements
When addressing your law firms’ internet and network needs, your set up must be able to well-support the size of your firm, while also being simple enough that it’s easily manageable. To accomplish this, there are several components and functions vital for you to consider. Below, we’ll take a look at critical aspects of your network and internet needs so you can make the most effective decisions for your law firm and lawyer team:
- Internet - Selecting the right internet service provider (ISP) for your law firm is a crucial step. The ISP you choose should be well-established in your area and familiar with handling the internet needs of businesses. Bearing this in mind, you’ll also need to consider the type of internet that’s best for your company and needs: cable internet is pricier but faster and more reliable, DSL internet is inexpensive but usually slower, and satellite internet tends to be reliable but slower and costly. Whichever internet type or ISP you choose, you should ensure that internet speeds are capable of being at least 30 Mbps.
- Network - When you utilize more than one computer, such as in a business situation, it’s often important that they are networked (connected) together. You’ll find networking useful because it enables multiple users to share data, files, and hardware such as scanners, printers, fax machines, and more. Office networks are built using switches and routers. Switches allow computers to communicate with each other, and routers allow your computers to safely and securely connect to the internet. There are many different options available for routers and switches, and you’ll need to consider the size and requirements of your firm when making your selection. It’s recommended that you obtain assistance from an IT professional in this particular area of technology set up for your office.
Assessing Your Law Firm’s Computer Needs
Purchasing computers for the staff at your law firm is an important step. Unfortunately, this will probably be one of the more expensive technology purchases you make - but it’s well worth the investment. As you’re probably aware, there’s a ton of options out there in the world of computers; Making your purchase decisions a little more complicated. When you’re ready to purchase computers, consider this checklist below to help guide you in making the right purchase:
- Operating System - Choosing the operating system (OS) that your law firm uses is something you’ll want to decide right off the bat - typically either Apple OS or Microsoft OS. One isn’t necessarily better than the other; Although, businesses tend to use Microsoft PC’s because their more cost-efficient and tend to have more business programs available. You’ll also want to be sure the operating system used within your company remains fluid throughout, making sharing and collaborating more accessible within your legal team.
- Processing Speed - Time is of the essence within any law firm, and because of this, you’ll want to make sure the computers you choose have decent processing power. The better the processor, the faster your legal team can work. It’s generally recommended that business computers maintain at least 3.2 GHz processing speeds.
- Memory (RAM) - The amount of memory, or RAM, that computers possess dramatically impacts the speed at which they work. More RAM means a computer can quickly access data and process what’s needed. 8GB of RAM is usually recommended for computers used for business purposes.
- Portability - These days, law firms typically use a combination of desktop computers for work conducted in the office and laptops for work performed at home or outside of the office. You’ll want to consider how many employees are expected to mainly conduct business outside of the office and, alternatively, how many will be working outside the firm; For those members of your legal team that regularly work out of office, the company provided laptops will allow them to conduct their work wherever they are seamlessly.
- Quality - As with any law firm, the financial bottom line of maintaining day-to-day necessities is essential. Saving money and spending wisely is important. That being said, be careful when it comes to cheaper computers. Your law firm will rely heavily on company computing power to complete work, and the last thing you want to experience is constant problems in this area. This might be an area you choose to “splurge” just a little to ensure peace of mind.
- SSD - You can expect to be flooded with entirely too many options when it comes to selecting the right computers for your law firm; However, there are some you might want to consider. SSD, or solid slate drives, are one optional upgrade many businesses prefer in their computers because it allows programs to start quicker.
If you're looking for more help on purchasing laptops and computers, we have a great guide for you here.
Selecting the Right Software
The cloud computing market is relatively flooded with products and services built with business needs and demands in mind. But, many of these products aren’t geared towards offering solutions in the legal field and to lawyers - this can make selecting the right software products for your law firm an important process. In this section of our guide, we’ll take a look at critical functional areas and requirements that you and your legal team have and discuss how to choose the right software options for your law firm,
- Financial and Accounting - The financial and accounting portion of your firm’s day-to-day could be considered the backbone of your business. When you don’t have the right tools and processes in place to handle your accounting, it places your firm at a severe disadvantage. You can experience an increased error rate, miss billing opportunities, frustrate your clients, and spend an inordinate amount of time on accounting tasks. Fortunately, there are cloud software options available to resolve your firm’s accounting needs.
Before you dive in, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the various functions and features available and that your firm might need. This step will aid in determining if one software can handle your needs, or if you’ll need to split functions amongst different software. The functions you’ll want to consider include payroll processing, accounts receivable, accounts payable, bookkeeping, reporting, bill payment, taxes, statement generating, expense tracking, and check processing.
- Billing and Timekeeping - In the field of law, tracking time is a top priority. Accurately recording time spent with clients and on work is imperative; otherwise, you could lose money by under-billing or lose clients by overbilling. It’s also vital that the timekeeping process runs fluidly with your legal team’s day-to-day; For busy lawyers, easy methods of timekeeping are critical, but shouldn’t take significant effort to accomplish.
The actions of billing and timekeeping at your law firm work hand-in-hand with your financial and accounting department. That being said, many accounting software options include timekeeping as a feature. There are also standalone options for timekeeping that may work better for your firm’s attorneys. Either way, it’s important to consider specific options and features when selecting the method that works best for you. Some of these options include user numbers, client and project tracking, mobile app access, easy integration, exporting options, client invoicing, and reporting.
- Data Storage - Loss and displacement of data and documents can be detrimental to your law firm. Realistically, servers can crash, physical paperwork can get lost, and human error can result in misplacement. Any one of these issues can slow down or halt things at your law firm for months or longer. It’s important to have a data storage system you can rely on to quickly and easily store, share, and access information when you and your clients need it.
Confidently knowing data will be there when you need it will prove incredibly valuable to you, your law firm, and your clients. When you’re seeking the right data storage solutions, look for the following options and features: file archiving, back up options and regularity, security options, remote access options, data sharing capabilities.
- Word Processing and Discovery - Discovery and word processing consume a large part of what you as a lawyer and your law firm do. These days, you’ll find that more cases and clients expect documents and discovery to be provided in electronic format. Quick production, organization, and tagging of materials is a must.
When you’re choosing the software you and your firm will rely on for eDiscovery (the electronic form of discovery) and word processing, you’re really determining how much time you can save and frustration you can avoid. Some features you may find relevant to you and your legal team include PDF editing, production logging, Bates stamping, pre-tagging and predictive coding, and collaboration options.
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software - A lot goes into running a successful law firm. It’s vital that you have the options available to you within the technology chosen that can effectively support growth. One of these important fields of growth is sales and client acquisition. CRM, or customer relationship management, software is an essential tool to ensure your law firm sees and maintains client growth.
When you’re researching the right CRM software for your law firm, consider the following features: lead management, customer opportunity management, contact management, mobile app access, sales analytic and forecast options, reporting, syncing and integration options, email marketing, social media options, and customization capabilities.
Important Software Security Note for Law Firms: As a law firm, you and your team are regularly handling essential and sensitive documents for your clients. While you’re typically not going to need separate dedicated security software options, it’s vital to separately address the importance of choosing software options that offer the highest and best in security options. Pay attention to the encryption, SSL, and other security features provided. You’ll also want to ensure mobile security is high with any apps your team uses and have a reliable file backup plan in place.
You may review a list of cloud software that are useful for lawyers and law firms here.
Keeping Things Secure
While technology allows businesses to work faster and better than ever before, it does come with its own setbacks - namely, security. Within law firms, all client data and documentation must be kept confidential and secure. Taking steps within the following areas will prove useful in keeping things safe:
- Firewall Security - When you have a firewall installed in your network, it can help to block viruses and unauthorized access. Primarily, a firewall protects your business from malicious attacks or potential theft of data from the internet.
- Wireless Security - Because you’ll most likely often have employees accessing the internet wirelessly, it’s important that you secure it to prevent unwanted access. The best way to do this is by utilizing encrypted routers and password protecting your Wi-Fi access.
- Browser Security - Securing your browsers is a crucial step to take. Be sure that your browsers are regularly kept updated to ensure the latest in protection. You’ll also want to consider enabling password requirements, as well as disallowing options such as form filling and password remembering.
- Email Security - Your legal team is going to perform significant amounts of communicating through email. Because of this, it’s imperative that the email service you use offers encryption and offers the latest in spam and antivirus protection.
You may also visit Cyber-security Best Practices for Law Firms Guide to get more details on how you can better secure your data.
Continued Technology Maintenance
When your law firm relies on important technology solutions to serve clients and encourage and support growth, those solutions must be maintained and updated regularly. Technology is continually changing, and problems can occur with software solutions your law firm relies on - the technology you use in your business must be checked and maintained to ensure it’s in the best shape to support your law firm. Establishing a technology maintenance plan and routine will prove very important in keeping everything running smoothly at your law firm. Consider the tips and guidelines below when making your technology maintenance plan:
- Create a Schedule - Regularity is important when it comes to properly maintaining the technology and software solutions that your law firm uses. When you don’t have a schedule in place for technology maintenance, problems can sneak up on you and wreak havoc within your law firm. Avoid experiencing issues that could be otherwise bypassed by implementing maintenance schedules to prompt important checkups on the software your firm relies on.
- Research Options - As mentioned before, technology is always changing. New software and features that are available to your law firm are regularly developing. Making it a point to look into new technology developments and changes at least once per year can ensure that your law firm always has access to options that work best.
- Run Security Checkups - As technology continues to advance, so does security needs. Because keeping your clients and firms data is a priority, you’ll want to make sure the security you and your software options have in place has the capability of handling your current needs. This process can be an area in which hiring an outside IT company for consulting purposes can be very helpful. They can help pinpoint and resolve potential problem areas you might not otherwise notice.
- Check Your Data Backup - As your firm and client base grows, so do your data storage and backup needs. Check up on your data solutions periodically to ensure your firm’s needs are being best supported - This can help prevent data loss problems down the road, which can be detrimental to your firm.
- Update Antivirus Software - Viruses, ransomware, and malware can incapacitate your law firm for extended periods if your virus software isn’t up to date. Setting aside scheduled time to ensure all licenses and software are up to date and valid can help you avoid big problems in the future.
- Maintain Computers - The computers within your firm can become slow-running and bogged down after periods of heavy use. Even worse, unmaintained computers can crash and also cause loss of work and data. When you place your firm’s computers on a regular cleaning and maintenance schedule, it helps ensure they’re running smoothly when you need them.
As mentioned above, IT companies can be useful in keeping your technology and software solutions running smoothly. As your law firm introduces and becomes more reliant on technology to handle essential tasks, you’re bound to run into situations where you’ll need to hire outside IT help. Depending on your needs and the size of your firm, however, you might want to consider hiring an IT company for regular assistance. According to the ABA, 61% of solo lawyers and 77% of firms with 2-9 lawyers report that they utilize outside tech support to resolve computer issues. Take a look below at some of the ways IT firms can support the needs of your company and utilize this as a checklist:
- Productivity Increases - When your law firm doesn’t have to spend an inordinate amount of time on technology set up and problems, it allows them the ability to focus more on other tasks that need completion. Hiring inside or outside IT support can go a long way towards increasing your firm’s productivity and easing the burden of technical issues.
- Customization Solutions - Because each law firm has its own needs and requirements, it’s imperative that the technology used is streamlined and chosen accordingly. Professional IT support can help set up the right programs for your needs, and ensure that these programs continue to best support the unique challenges your law firm experiences.
- Keeping Current - As mentioned before, technology is in a state of perpetual advancement. What may be the best solution for your firm today might have a better replacement available six months down the road. As busy attorneys, you and your team are sure not to have the time to dedicate towards staying current with software options. When you utilize professional IT support, they can handle this portion for you and ensure you continue to have access to the best and current software options.
- Implementation - When you need to implement new software, software updates, or install new hardware, it can bring your law firm to a screeching halt. By allowing IT professionals to handle this process, it can help ensure a smooth transition for your team and minimize downtime.
- Problem Resolution and Support - When you utilize technology and software within your firm, you'll inevitably run into problems. When you enlist the support of IT professionals, they can shoulder the task of resolving tech issues and providing fast solutions — having the ability to continue day-to-day tasks while IT support resolves problems that can be fundamental to your legal team.
- Better Security - Security needs are continually changing with continuously developing software and technology. IT support can make sure the right security options are implemented and maintained, which enables you and your legal team to operate with peace of mind that data and documents remain safe.
To stay competitive in today’s legal world, you’ll need to implement and utilize the best technology options available to you. By ensuring that your legal team and clients have access to the right software solutions and hardware support, you help guarantee the continued growth and success of your law firm. As with any new process or infrastructure change or implementation, it’s crucial that you carefully consider options and develop a detailed plan that will work best for your law firm. There are a lot of technology options available for businesses, but not every choice is right for your unique law firm. By using our technology guide above, you gain insight into important software and technology considerations that can help create better decisions that your firm can benefit from.
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