Law firms are increasingly turning to legal process outsourcing to become more efficient and effective. Can this be done in a way that protects the lawyer's complex ethical duties to clients?
Thanks to the Washington State Bar Association's Solo & Small Practice Section - I appreciate having the opportunity to speak today at the annual CLE with legal-tech futurist, and workers comp attorney Jordan Couch. This post houses materials for today's talk. If you have questions for either Jordan or I, feel free to jump into the comments below and we'll get back to you ASAP.
Take stock of your law practice. Where should you be devoting your time? What common tasks drag you down? And most importantly, what can you do to make your law practice more efficient and profitable? Greg will teach you how can understand the systems that run your law firm, and help you identify the issues holding you back. Once you have found your hold-ups, Jordan will give you some tools to solve them. From advertising and intake, to billing and feedback there are lots of tools to help you automate and simplify your legal practice.
- Blog post by Greg: How lawyers can use Agile project management and kanban.
- Website for John Grant, Agile lawyer guru.
- John Grant's Lawyerist podcast.
- The Agile Attorney Slack Group signup page.
- Book by Eric Ries, The Lean Startup.
- Book by Eliyahu Goldratt, The Goal.
- Article by Jordan Couch (downloadable .pdf), Tools for Streamlining and Automating Your Law Practice.
The law is notoriously verbocentric and dense. And from the client’s perspective, legal services are rarely delivered in a user-friendly way. Although design-driven businesses have been shown to outperform their competitors, the legal profession has been slow to adopt good design principles. In this webinar, we’ll explore not only how design can help lawyers differentiate their services, but also how design can make legal work product itself clearer and more effective. Learn what “design thinking” is all about. Hint: it’s not just about graphic design.
Our guest speaker – Alexandra Devendra.
Alexandra Devendra is the founder of Devendra Design, a legal design consultancy. She helps lawyers make their work product more effective using typography and other principles of visual communication design. Alix also consults for legal-tech startups, who value her experience in both law practice and design thinking. She travels internationally to speak and facilitate workshops on legal design.
Alix is also a co-founder of Shape the Law, which organizes unconferences and other innovative programming for attorneys across the country. Its goal is to facilitate authentic, honest conversations about the many challenges facing the legal profession.
- Tip Sheet - Choosing a Font, by Alexandra Devendra (for download).
- More recommendations on font selection.
- Typography for Lawyers.
- Are you solving the right problems?
Today we were joined by Andy Backlund of Emerald City Attorney Network, PLLC. On our webinar, Andy spoke about how law firms can use contract lawyers to build a more profitable practice and one that delivers quicker and better work product to client.
- Mult-state survey on the ethics of outsourcing.
- Articles by Lisa Solomon on the ethics of using contract lawyers: here, here and here.
- An article by Greg McLawsen about the ethics of legal process outsourcing.
Slides from program.
Video of the program.
Do potential clients seem to know of you and your firm before you even have that initial consultation? How often does it happen that the same potential clients have already thoroughly scoured your website before you get to meet with them or talk on the phone? As law firm names slowly drift away from being a series of obscure last names to words that have meaning or have distinctiveness to consumers, it has become more and more important to protect the name of a law firm as any other business would. Just think, what if that same potential client ended up on some other law firm’s website because the name of the other firm was confusingly similar to yours. Perhaps the potential client didn’t show up to the initial consultation because they were put off by the website or found bad reviews for them online, thinking it was you.
Law firms, much like any other business have more “secret sauce” than they let themselves believe. Even if it is just 2 or 3 attorneys or staff working together, if there is a written process or system you’ve honed in on over a year or so – you’ve got trade secret information! Customer/Client lists, marketing plans, engagement letters, templates, etc. these are things that make your business run smooth, would be immediately valuable to your competition and as long as they are protected within your firm, remain valuable trade secrets. Interestingly enough, if you have developed a business plan and process that is novel, you may even seek patent protection over that business method.
This webinar will focus on:
- Primer on IP: Patents, Trademarks, Copyrights and Trade Secrets.
- IP Spotting: Identifying and Prioritizing IP Opportunities in Your Firm.
- Taking your own Advice: Seek Counsel for Transactional IP Matters.
About out speaker.
J.D. Houvener is the founder of Bold IP. He is a Registered USPTO Patent Attorney who has a strong interest in helping entrepreneurs and businesses thrive. J.D. leverages his technical background in engineering and experience in the aerospace industry to provide businesses a unique perspective to their patent needs. J.D. works with clients that are serious about investing in their intellectual assets and provides counsel on how to capitalize their patent in the market.
His background in business and experience as an engineer and patent attorney empowers him to clearly communicate to a broad range of clients about their immediate and long-term needs for patenting in order to protect assets, leverage opportunities, and limit liabilities.
J.D.’s passion for business and technology started well before he began his legal career. J.D. worked as a design and systems engineer at Boeing for nearly 10 years. J.D. brings this experience earned at the cutting edge of technology to his clients by recognizing the complexities and subtleties of the problems being solved today.
J.D. is a member of the King County Bar Association and the Washington State Bar Association, where he is an active member in the Intellectual Property Law sections. Outside the office, J.D. offers pro-bono legal services to the Washington CASH organization in South Seattle, who helps those with little to no means with their business startup ideas.
From the small mill-town of Camas, Washington, J.D. hasn’t always lived in the big city. He enjoys spending time with his family and friends, traveling, running, and playing his favorite sports football and basketball.
Video of the webinar.
Thanks to everyone who came out yesterday to hear Jenny Anderson and I speak at Seattle University School of Law. In her portion of the talk on building a law firm, Jenny spoke about the importance of articulating a law firm's internal values. I agree with her 100% on that point. Why worry about articulating a law firm's "values?" Isn't that just a bunch of corporate double-talk garbage? I don't think so.
There are only so many hours in a day. So how do you choose to use those hours? There are only so many resources - capital, attention, energy - at your firm. How are you going to deploy them? Whether articulated or not, decisions at law firms are going to be based on a prioritization of what is important. Forcing yourself to articulate a values statement makes this process intentional. That's a good thing. We want to make deliberate choices about out life's work - right?
Jack Newton, the CEO of the Themis Solutions - which makes law practice management platform Clio - spoke about the importance of value statements at the Cloud Nine conference in Chicago this year. His company, Themis Solutions, went through a multi-month process to distill an articulation of the company's values.
Jack smartly described value statements this way: as a way to resolve decisional disputes within an organization. Let's say you and your partner have a disupute about whether to engage a client. Or you're a solo and deciding whether to volunteer for a bar association project. A values statement can be a tie-breaker to resolve which path you take.
After hearing Jack speak, I was inspired to do the same for Sound Immigration. Unlike Themis Solutions, Sound Immigration isn't a multi-million dollar company. But like Themis, we're very serious about being being a particular type of law firm. Here is our current values statement (or download it here).
Sound Immigration's values.
Client success comes first
- We deliver the single best client experience of any immigration firm in the country.
- Our clients are amazed by their experience with us.
- We are uncompromising experts in our area or law.
- We earn the love and trust of our clients and never take them for granted.
- We reinvent what it means to practice law.
- We never ever accept “the way things are done.”
- We look everywhere – to any field – for ideas on how to improve.
- We constantly learn about our community’s needs and how to better serve them.
We live full lives
- We run a flexible law practice so our team can have maximum freedom for their own pursuits.
- We find value in our legal work and safeguard our freedom to do the other things that make life awesome.
- We promote our team’s physical and personal health.
Producing videos for your law firm might seem daunting but it doesn’t have to be. Great videos can vastly increase your website’s search engine ranking and provide an important way to reach new clients. Best of all, relatively few attorneys are doing video (or doing it well) making this a promising way to market your firm. In this webinar we talk to attorney Shreya Ley about how she self-produces high-quality videos with little more than an iPhone and free software. Learn about each step that goes into a great DIY video including:
- Choosing your video capture device.
- Intro to 3-point lighting and good-enough substitutions.
- Getting audio-capture right.
- What is post-production?
- How to clean up your audio.
- Free editing tools.
- Publishing your video online.
- Maximizing your SEO bump.
About our speaker
Shreya Ley is a business owner and self-described "Lawyer-Human." She started her working life as a Chemical Engineer in the Oil & Gas Industry and knows way too much about oil & gas and its impact on the global economy & politics. After law school at Tulane, she has focused on working with inventors, entrepreneurs, “idea people,” and family businesses. As a former punk rock kid, she has always had a desire to not work for “the man,” so after a short stint at Microsoft, she opened LayRoots. She and LayRoots help their clients live an awesome life.
Video of the webinar
We took the extra step of filming how Shreya actually sets up one of her interviews. Big thank-you to fellow creative attorney, Forrest Carlson, for stepping in at the last minute to serve as videographer. Setting up camera and mics from Greg McLawsen on Vimeo.
Equipment Shreya uses
Here's a list of the equipment Shreya uses to film her interview series. Check them out here: Business Owners Drinking with Lawyer-Humans.
For audio, Shreya uses this inexpensive lavalier (a/k/a lapel) microphone.
The traditional way to light portrait-style interviews is with three-point lighting. Shreya has found that going all-out with this set up really isn't necessary. Instead, she uses just one artificial lighting source. Sometimes she finds that even that isn't needed. Here is the inexpensive, portable light that she uses:
She shoots her video on her smartphone. To hold the phone/camera she uses a tripod like this one, with a remote "trigger."
Equipment I use for webinars
I need basically only two pieces if equipment to produce webinars like this one. For a mic, I use the following condenser mic. The mic sits in front of the other speaker and I during filming (i.e., doesn't have to be set up on a fancy boom-mic apparatus). I've been very happy with this guy.
And for our webinar platform, I have really enjoyed AnyMeeting. At $150/month for the plan we use, it's not cheap. But that's also a lot of bang for the buck if you're consistently putting on a couple well-attended webinars a month.
Thanks to the Snohomish County Bar Association for inviting me to speak at today's CLE. Trying something new, I live broadcast a video of the talk on Periscope. You can view that video below, along with the slide deck from today's talk.
Periscope video of today's event
— Greg McLawsen (@mclawsen) September 30, 2016
Slides from today's talk
Big thanks to Troy White of Counterpoint Legal for today's talk on Graphic Design for Legal Advocacy. This post contains all of the material from the presentation, including:
- Video of the webinar;
- "Slides" from Troy's talk (you'll see - they're better than slides); and
- Additional material Troy thought the audience might be interested in.
Your law firm already has a website, but it doesn’t perform particularly well, and you would like it to be bringing in more new clients. On top of that, there are dozens of other law firms in your area all advertising the same services on their websites. Some of those websites look like the law firm spent thousands of dollars on web design. How can a small firm even start to compete? Sound familiar? This talk uses an existing website, Washington Wills, as an example to explore how implementing inbound marketing techniques can turn your law firm website into a major source of new clients who come in your door already trusting you.
Most of us are now familiar with “daily deal” websites such as Groupon and Living Social, which sell steeply discounted vouchers for goods and services. While daily deal sites typically hawk treats from cupcakes to spa treatments, professionals – including lawyers – have experimented with offering their services through such sites. Can they be used ethically?
Today's attorneys are exhorted to move beyond the billable hour and embrace flat fee billing. But two Washington attorneys have taken this evolution a big step further. Brett Sullivan and Spencer Stromberg created Lucent Law around the idea that legal services could be reimagined as legal products. In this webinar, Brett discussed the whys and hows that went into creating their online shop of legal products.
Busyness is the plague of Lawyerdom. Yet while lawyers claim busyness as a merit badge, our clients don't care if we're busy - only if we're productive. Fortunately there is an entire professional discipline devoted to the art and science of productivity, and that's the field of project management. This presentation offers suggestions about how lawyers can improve their effectiveness - and reduce the mental clutter of busyness - by borrowing Agile project management systems from the technology sector.
One of my core beliefs in managing our law firm is that we should borrow ideas from businesses outside the legal field. Attorneys are notoriously slow to adopt new ideas. While the rest of the world rushes by with creative new ways of getting things done, law firms are too often left behind. This post outlineshow lawyers can use Agile project management to improve their effectiveness.
This week I attended Evolve Law's CLE explaining how lawyers can use Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). The event was co-sponsored by the Seattle Legal Technology and Innovation Meetup group, which I co-facilitate with Dan Lear.
This month I had the opportunity to return to the University of Nebraska College of Law to talk about the future of the legal profession (as I see it). Professor Eric Berger is a good friend from the days when I served as his research assistant for his work on constitutional law issues. When he was out in Seattle last summer we had a long that about these topics on a hike and so I wound up coming out to talk to students and faculty. For those immersed in "legal future" issues there's probably not much new here. Primarily I wanted to help students think about the quickly changing legal services marketplace. Students need to get out of the head space of thinking about getting "jobs," and focus more on new models for delivering valuable results to clients. What's the difference? It's a difference of mind set. New lawyers should not assume that a cookie-cutter career will be handed to them on a silver platter. They should assume that they will have to deploy creativity and critical thinking to really examine how they can contribute to an organization and ultimately - most importantly - to the clients they serve.
Video is courtesy of the nice folks at the law college.
Photo credit: Pakorn
Jointly hosted by Evolve Law Now and the Seattle Legal Technology and Innovation Meetup Group. This event explored the use and effectiveness of social media use by lawyers in marketing. Expert Panel: Social Media for Lawyers
- Mary Juetten, CEO, Traklight (Moderator).
- Jennifer Castleberry, Director of Marketing & Business Development, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.
- Adrian Dayton, Founder, ClearView Social, Inc.
- Leigh McMillan, VP of Marketing, Avvo.
- Allen Rodriguez, Founder, ONE400.
Also featured (at the end of part 3) is a Darwin talk, “Tech’s Peculiar Relationship with Legal Access,” by Miguel H. Willis who was the lead organizer of the Seattle Social Justice Hackathon.
The material in this post comes from a presentation I gave for the Washington State Bar Association's Solo and Small Practice Section's annual CLE on January 22, 2016. This article won the BlawgWorld Pick of the Week award. The editors of BlawgWorld, a free weekly email newsletter for lawyers and law firm administrators, give this award to one article every week that they feel is a must-read for this audience.
Let’s stop doing data entry whenever possible. That’s the basic idea. If anyone at your firm is routinely inputting lots of information, you might want to explore whether you could automate that system. How? Fundamentally, it’s by having the person who originally has the information — often your client — input it into your system without human intervention.
Here are just some examples of how you might use a form tool in your practice. If you’re one of the many attorneys who feel their clients “don’t use computers,” start looking at your clients’ phones. The tools discussed here will work nicely on web-enabled mobile devices.
- Contact forms/prospective clients. Most of us probably have contact forms on our websites for prospective client contacts. Form tools can channel prospect information into whatever contact database or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool a firm is using.
- Intake. Do your clients sit in the lobby and fill out a paper questionnaire à la the doctor’s office? Worse yet, does staff use time completing a questionnaire while the client talks? What if the questionnaire could be completed by the client before she walks in, and the data just a click away?
- Routine case information. I’m an immigration lawyer and need the same information for most clients in a given legal scenario. Becoming a citizen? There’s a standard 15-pages worth of information I’ll need for such a case. Most practice areas have certain information that repeats per case type.
- Customer satisfaction surveys. What do our clients actually think about us? We could always ask them. The easiest way is the net promoter score — a one-question survey that assesses whether a client would recommend our services. Note that unlike other tasks described here, this one does not necessarily capture data protected by client confidence rules, so your choice of (free) tools may be broader.
What do the RPCs have to say? An attorney has an ethical responsibility to competently use technology that she chooses to deploy in practice. Why? It follows from our many fiduciary duties to a client. For present purposes that mostly means safeguarding client information: your duty to secure client information naturally extends to the choice of tech used to store that information. Advisory Opinion 2215 gives us seven factors to consider in a due diligence analysis of such tools. To cut to the bottom line: if you collect and store client data online, it almost certainly needs to be encrypted where saved.
As is always the case with technology, before starting to shop, first decide what problem you are trying to solve. Consider:
- How are you going to be using this data? Is this background information about a client that you just want to be able to reference later if needed for context? Is this data that you want to be able to import into some form of document automation tool? (Remember: Word can be a document automation tool.)
- What type of data is being collected? Will you be capturing sensitive financial data and social security numbers? Or do you need to store only a 1–10 rating score of an interaction they had with your office staff?
- What are the dividends you stand to gain? Are you collecting data for a use that’s core to your practice, used in daily client work? Or is this a small amount of information used for an isolated purpose? Some tools are cheaper and easier to implement than others.
With those considerations in mind, here are some of the forms tools that I’ve played with personally; while there are many more out there, these are some of the most popular.
Google Forms (free) Google offers an excellent, free forms tool that integrates seamlessly with Google Drive (also free). I use this tool often for various non-client scenarios. In the screenshot below, for example, I was creating a form to collect information about colleagues who were interested in collaborating with my web-based immigration firm.
Google recently revamped Forms and its drag-and-drop interface is now even better than it had been. The catch? Forms does not presently support encryption, though there are third-party solutions to encrypt Google Drive. A second limitation of Forms is that it does not support “save/continue” functionality, which you would want for any form of much length.
JotForm (free for up to 100 submissions) JotForm is an intuitive form builder that can be great for many law firm uses. The user interface of the forms-builder is intuitive, if not beautiful. (See screenshot below). JotForm supports encryption and also has a save/continue feature. The encryption tool is potentially clunky, depending on how you plan to manipulate the data once a form is submitted.
WuFoo ($29.95/month for “bona fide” plan) WuFoo is another popular drag-and-drop form builder that works similarly to JotForm. Personally, I feel its interface is easier to use, and it’s easier to customize a great-looking end product. Like JotForm, WuFoo offers encryption. The rub: you have to buy a premium plan to get it. If you’re achieving any efficiency with the form, however, the price point is a drop in the bucket.
Intake 123 ($9–79/month) This tool was specially designed for lawyers with ethics-related security issues in mind. It’s designed around lawyer “use cases,” meaning its templates and interface help you build forms for common law scenarios like client intake. In using it, I didn’t enjoy its user experience. Their customer service was responsive, however, and the fact that they designed their tool for lawyers means that you might get (for example) an intake questionnaire setup more quickly than with other tools, since Intake 123 will suggest popular questions to include.
Gravity Forms ($39 one-time license) This tool is a plugin for your WordPress site; if you don’t know what that means, this probably isn’t the right tool. Gravity Forms allows for encryption and save/continue functionality. A major appeal is that you pay for the one-time license and are set to go. Easy to use, this tool can build a form that’s nicely integrated into your WordPress site (though the tools mentioned above can be embedded by a script). The fact that it’s hosted on your site’s host, though, means that if you bungle something, your data will be lost. This may or may not have happened to the author at the time he was experimenting with Gravity Forms for a client intake tool (though if it did happen, no actual client data was lost or compromised).
Ye Olde PDF (free) The cheapest technology is always the technology you already have. If you’re running a paperless practice, you probably have Adobe Acrobat Professional. Along with Word, you can easily create a great-looking form with fillable data fields. This can be safely circulated to your client on a secure client portal like the WSBA-endorsed Clio. Once returned, you can export the data to .txt or .csv format, then import it into almost any context needed. After experimenting with all the above tools, I ultimately decided this approach was the best for the lengthy immigration questionnaires I send to clients. It’s easy for them to save their work and return to it as needed, then share the form with my firm on Clio once they’re done. And I don’t have to pay for any additional monthly user licenses.
If readers love other tools not mentioned here, please chime in.
This post first appeared on the Washington State Bar Association's SideBar blog