Technology and the Law, The 21st Century Law Practice

Head in the Clouds

Collaboration is a key component in the everyday work routine of an attorney.

I’m constantly tapping into my personal, professional network, to get things moving along on a particular case. As an attorney my number one function is to work with and through people to get things accomplished. It would be nice to have technology work the way an attorney works.

I’m a people person. I love people. I enjoy meeting and talking to new people all the time. Moreover, it is part of my job as an attorney to be a people person.

Lawyers need to collaborate all the time, to share the workload, discuss specific facets of a case, bring the case team together to achieve a common purpose.  Legal matters are all about information and information needs to be shared. Even the sole practitioner needs working partners on a case. Details make the difference, and the details are in the information that needs to be shared.

In short, collaboration is about sharing information and details with the members of a case team.  Collaboration is about sharing information amongst your colleagues in your personal professional network to better service the client.  Collaboration is in deed, a vital component, in the everyday work life of an attorney!

Moreover, I need to be connected to my case and my case team or my personal professional network of colleagues, at anytime of the day.

Cloud Technology enhances all facets of my collaborative outreach at my firm. I can check in on case activity with my cell phone or my tablet, while on the road or in court or during a quick stop at the grocery store.

The Cloud provides a means for me to always be connected with the people I’m working with, staff or client or court, so that my collaborative nature is always efficient and organized, getting things done.

I run into other attorneys who struggle way more than me in this area because they have not evolved their work habits with the technology.  Now that I’m constantly in the cloud, I’ve learned to fly with ease.

Standard
Legal Community, The 21st Century Law Practice

The Legal Community – A New Paradigm

The very concept of the Legal Community, seems very important to me. Even when we are on opposite sides of a case, we are still “brothers/ sisters at the bar.”  This is an old concept, like chivalry and the knights, but still one that NEEDS to be a part of our existence as lawyers. It is also essential to the way that the Legal Community relates to the broader community.  It is from this relationship that lawyers make the credible case for their overall contribution to society and from which we command the respect that is due us for caring for the legal relationships amongst all of us and in handling litigation which after all is the way to decide disputes in this Nation of Laws.

The internet has provided the stucture for a new paradigm in the legal community.

The very idea of the Legal Community is one that we want to “knock around” and ultimately make a very big deal out of.  How do lawyers relate to each other?  One of the most important features of the Legal Community is that lawyers consult on prospective cases and lawyers refer matters to each other when we interface with the general public in intelligently assisting a citizen in need of professional legal assistance.  This is a big deal.  I always feel prideful when I am asked to assist a friend, relative or other citizen in evaluating their legal needs and either helping them myself or in my office or by making a reasoned referral.

Many years ago, I wrote this:  “It is my major definite purpose in life to be a Leader in gatekeeping and demystifying the Law and the Legal System for the public so that the Law and the Legal System become more approachable, user friendly, and understandable. In doing so I will develop and promote a system whereby the best available Lawyers and Legal Talent can be accessed by the Legal Consumer to meet the Client’s Legal Needs.”

It is in communicating with each other, personally and digitally, and working to earn the Public’s Trust and Understanding that the Legal Community serves that Greater Community.

Standard
Technology and the Law, The 21st Century Law Practice

Taking It All In

Every day in my practice I am faced with the challenge of keeping track of my conversations with potential clients. I’m constantly losing track of key contact information.

I find myself needing to discipline myself at the end of each workday to gather my sticky notes, index cards, yellow pads, business cards, and whatever else I may have jotted down something on.

Some days it feels like I’m shot out of a cannon, headlong into a chaos of activities. Such can be the field of law.

I find myself losing track of key information all the time. Where did I put that note? I know I had that phone number on a napkin from that lunch out last week when I met so and so, but where is it? Very frustrating!

As an attorney actively seeking new clients, I find myself running into situations with people that turn into leads, or potential clients, all the time. The other day I was taking my daily walk in the woods around my neighborhood when I met up with a gentleman on a nature path and we stopped and chatted for a few minutes. Turns out he has a friend who needs an attorney and he doesn’t know what to do. These types of situations happen to me all the time.

Lead Intakes are the life’s blood of the progressive law office. In a successful law office the lead intake inventory is constantly growing, enlarging, evolving. And I have a problem keeping track of all this stuff, this data, these contacts. There has to be a better way. I will find or create that better way through the use of technology within my practice.

Standard
The 21st Century Law Practice

Legal Research

  • Electronic Legal Research – there was time when a wall full of books made the lawyer, though case law was created day to day and the updates to case reporters and statutes came to the hands of the lawyer yearly or monthly at best.  Then the electronic world became the way to access new decisions and laws almost instantly.
  •  WestLaw and LexisNexis – these services became the icons of the profession, forcing lawyers to pay “through  the nose” for these expensive services on a monthly basis or risk being left behind in the dust. Make the choice, or try some of the lesser known cheaper services at your own risk.  While none of the services were perfect, if a Lawyer spent a princely sum he / she could participate and still can participate in one or several services which required a learning curve and continued great expense.  The purpose of this writing is not to compare the various services  but just to point out the evolution of Legal Research.
  •  Google Scholar – FREE – some Lawyers use free services like Google Scholar which seems to contain most decisions in most Courts.  While this is effective, can one rely upon it? Perhaps but to the Lawyers own possible peril.
  •  General Internet Usage — do you need to pay?  One can also find just about anything using internet browsers and search engines, but is it good enough.   The jury is still out.

 

Standard
The 21st Century Law Practice

Electronic Filing

Electronic Filing – Litigation in many, if not most courts, has become the norm for cases filed in the US as the Federal Courts and the Courts in most urban areas now require filing through some internet interface.

    • Required in most courts – electronic filing is not an option.  If you don’t have an electronic interface via the internet you really cannot participate effectively.  You are basically ruled out in the three Circuit Courts in Metro Detroit for example, and all in the last several years, while the Federal Courts have required electronic filing for over 10 years.
    • Rigors and limitations – the filer is forced to register, have a user name and password, required to access the Court’s website via the internet using a computer, and be in a position to receive a copy of the filing on an email service.  So lawyers MUST use this service, this is not optional.
    • Getting all staff to participate – not just the Lawyer, but many or all staff members need  to be trained and have access to the internet and the Courts’ websites, though sometimes the Court’s system does not deliver the filing to all the users in the office, so one might need to forward on the filing to other staff members or risk that documents do not reside in the firm’s directories or calendars.  This demands a series of intra-office protocols and awareness of how the various Courts’ electronic systems function.
    • The Calendaring issue – many filings require responses or appearances, which require calendaring.  Who receives the filings, how the filings are reviewed for the need to take further action on the calendar, creates a whole new vista of issues and protocols.
    • History — The Old Way – it used to be that only the US Mail was the source of filings and communications from or to the Courts, with some necessary hand filings in clerk’s offices, i.e., the  filing of a new lawsuit required an appearance at the clerk’s office with papers, summonses and checks in hand.  While faxes made an impact requiring the modern lawyer to step up and purchase a fax machine with a dedicated phone line, the facsimile seems more of a blip on the screen of history, while things like internet fax were part of that “half step” towards the use of cloud and internet activities that have dominated not just law but most of the business and government world activities.
    • The New Way – now everything has be to be filed via a website with user name and password. A lay person may be forgiven and allowed some leniency, but he will find himself acting “pro se” without the ability to compete unless he too becomes a registered user and takes advantage of the internet ease, and sometimes frustration, when systems are “down” or other technical problems make it impossible to participate in the Court systems.
    • Throwing Bombs in the middle of the night – while many go to sleep at night, others stay up late and conjure all sorts of insidious and nefarious activities, emergency motions, responses, and other filings that greet the Lawyer upon awaking or when he/she finally goes online to find that the opposition has taken some action that requires response or reading before the hearing.    There is no waiting, no time when things cannot be done, as the systems allow access “in the middle of the night”, so “no rest for the wicked”…..or the weary.  Get ready and go ahead throw some bombs yourself when the opposition is home sleeping.
Standard
The 21st Century Law Practice

7 Steps in the Preparedness Challenge

From Law School to Passing the Bar … and Beyond

Practicing Law for a newly-minted attorney can be like
navigating in a cesspool of chaos and darkness that
swallows you in.

Anonymous Attorney

Preparedness is an ever-ready challenge in the professional life of a new lawyer that recently passed the state bar exam. The first five years are all about learning the rigors as you get that all-important work experience and become a veteran in the court system of law in your state.  You will discover on your pathway that preparedness is essential to the universal law of orderly progress.  See where you fit in by walking through the seven steps of the Preparedness Challenge.

A new freshly minted attorney practicing in Southfield, Michigan, had this to say – “I became a lawyer because I like to write, I’m analytical, and I like to argue. Plus I thought I would follow in my father’s footsteps.  However, I didn’t like anything about Law School; and my biggest challenge as a new lawyer is working everyday knowing that I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time.  If I knew then what I know now, would I still be excited about becoming a lawyer?  I doubt it!”

This is a problem that every new attorney must confront – The Preparedness Challenge!

Preparation is preliminary to any kind of worthwhile achievement. The refinement process is cultivated through preparation.  Preparedness is the path of earned personal efforts.  Preparedness is preliminary to all forms of successful achievement in development, unfoldment, and constructive growth.  This makes preparation the key ingredient to success.

The Preparedness Challenge

  1. May be willing – but unable!
  2. Unprepared for too many eventualities
  3. Unable to manage the matter correctly
  4. Unable to acquire the measured increase of preparation
  5. Do it anyway – but fail to fulfill the requirements of the responsibility
  6. It is conscientious to “Know Thy Limits”
  7. Bridge the gap

Excellence is the result of preparedness. An expert has prepared herself to do extraordinary things, or ordinary things in an extraordinary manner.  This especially applies in learning to practice law.  A particular limitation that constantly confronts and frequently impedes, is lack of preparedness.  This situation creates many difficulties and numerous obstacles to overcome.  The daily challenge can be daunting.

Each Individual has a process of training peculiar and necessary to himself. Each person requires a variety of experiences as preparation for future activities.  From a given set of experiences an individual receives a lesson suited to his or her development and preparation.

Learning the trade of law is a process that cannot be short circuited. It is a marathon, and one must pace oneself in the daily learning experiences as preparedness is seemingly and actually, continual and ongoing.

It could be stated that– “It takes the average lawyer five years of practice before arriving at a comfort-ability of preparedness that suits the everyday nature of the job.” And I think it would be difficult to argue against that statement.

Let’s walk the seven steps of the preparedness challenge and see if we can bridge the gap at the end. To begin –

Step 1:    May Be Willing, but Unable

This problem confronts every novice to a new trade. If unable means permanent inability then that is that.  But if Unable means to you, lack of learning, obstacles and detours—then press on.

Find a mentor. Soak up knowledge like a sponge.

Preparation is the sure way to go from unable to able.

Step 2:  Unprepared for too Many Eventualities

You have to be comfortable in chaos. Practicing law and juggling the many responsibilities of carrying a full case load can be overwhelmingly daunting for a new-comer.  Scale back your expectations to do the things you know well.  Lean on the support mechanisms within the social environment to traverse the unknown.

Preparedness is the key to managing a myriad of eventualities.

Step 3:  Unable to Manage the Matter Correctly

Sometimes you may find that you are out of your league so to speak. But yet you have to keep on playing as an amateur to everyone else’s professional skill.  How do you manage to navigate these rough waters?

It is critical to know yourself, how you go about learning and understanding things, and grasping new concepts, changes in the laws that relate to your job as an attorney, etc.

If you can’t manage matters correctly on a consistent basis then you would be advised to reach out for support and guidance within your organization. If you happen to be a solo practicing attorney or in a small office of a couple or a few employees, then you must overcome this obstacle in order to be an efficient leader with your staff.  In a big office setting you can eventually find your niche and fit in to the overall organization.  But in a small office much of the responsibilities from a whole cross-section of organizational needs will fall on you.

Preparedness is the key to managing matters correctly.

Step 4:    Unable to acquire the measured increase of preparation

It’s just not going to happen then . . .

Skip this step, only if you have a passion and belief in what you are doing. Otherwise you are at a dead-end.  (So go to Step 7 and “Bridge The Gap”.)

Step 5:    Do it anyway – but fail most often to fulfill the requirements of the responsibility

This is how work experience learning is earned, especially for the novice attorney. There is no way to get around it—you have to do it to earn your stripes.  Entrepreneurs in all fields of endeavor can attest to this fact.

It is an awful feeling to know you are doing the best you can with what you know, but still fail to fulfill most of the requirements of your job responsibility. But don’t let this deter you from forging ahead.

Preparedness develops from doing. Knowledge is gained from experience by doing.  Do it anyway!

Step 6:    It is conscientious to “Know Thy Limits”

This is a world of specialization. You can’t know everything and be everything.  One has to focus on their specialty.  This is why it is conscientious to know thy limits.

Preparation or preparedness is not just about knowing things, but perhaps even more so of knowing the things you don’t know, knowing your limits. This is true perspective.

Step 7:    Bridge The Gap

Who do you know that knows what you need to know?

Who do you know that can do what needs to be done, that you cannot do yourself?

What beneficial service can you offer in return for helpful key service from others?

Bridging the gap is all about connecting with others in your personal, professional network to get things done efficiently and effectively.

Meeting the Preparedness Challenge in the Field of Law

When you have mastered the details involved in the vocation of specialized law, then you are thoroughly prepared for more difficult tasks and greater proficiency in execution. But this takes time, with proficiencies earned on a daily/weekly basis.  Being fresh in the field and just starting out is a challenge, but it is a challenge that you can meet by always being prepared to the best of your abilities at a given time.

So take heed all you young attorneys just starting out, and the fresh new arrivals from law school studying to pass the bar—You have chosen a field that demands preparation and preparedness. Now it’s up to you to meet the challenge.

Standard
Technology and the Law, The 21st Century Law Practice

Communications in the Legal Field

                                    

Communications with Lawyers and the Courts – with the advent of the internet and email communications things have really changed.  The US Mail and then  faxes, or even personal delivery was the way of the Profession for many years.

    • Using email – email is cheap and has become ubiquitous (“it’s everywhere”).
    • Pluses & Minuses – email communications are easy and cheap, as well as relatively instant, plus, one has a record of sending things with some relative proof.  The use of Bar Association  listed email addresses provides a relatively reliable source of a “good email address” that can be relied upon.  However, the whole situation is somewhat ethereal and lacks the concrete nature of good old “snail mail”.  Further, what if the recipient does not go on to his/ her email on a daily or more frequent basis? Still we rely upon the communications and hope they are satisfactory to counsel and the Court.
    • Communication with clients – most clients have email addresses, but are they as arduous about “going on” their email as Lawyers have become.  Does the email demand the respect of the “hard” document received in the mail? Do the Lawyers communications get mixed in and missed with the barrage of emails that many users receive each day or even hour?  Must the prudent Lawyer use multiple communications to take his/ her best shot at assuring the receipt of important client-attorney communications?  There are not fixed answers to these questions, we just point out the challenges of communications in the modern electronic age, and still wonder if the US Mail is the “way to go”….
    • You’re better off sending an email – the beauty of an email is that it can be printed and by using receipt functions on most email systems the sender can prove that the communication was both sent and received, much better than a phone call, fax or a letter which have no real methods of proofs.
    • Slow Method / Backwards Method – the Lawyer can take his chances relying upon phone calls,  faxes or US Mail letters but without the proofs of a simple email the Lawyer remains vulnerable, and may ultimately rely upon affidavits and other “he said, she said” methods of proving that sometimes vital communications have been sent and received.
Standard
Technology and the Law

A New Day, A Better Way

A new day, a better way.

I’m an optimist and that is the daily rule I live by – find a better way, every day.

Each day is full of opportunity and obligation for busy people in today’s hyperactive society. Who will I meet? What is my agenda for the day? What will unfold today?

I’m a lawyer, have been since 1975, and I still seek opportunity every day. Some days, opportunity just shows up. More often, opportunity is something I need, and want, to create.

I don’t think that makes me better or worse – or even different – from any of the other 1.2 million lawyers practicing in the US.

Finding the right opportunity is the lifeblood of the legal profession.

Every phone call, every knock on the door, every passing mention over lunch or at a party, every news story or email or – in these social media days – posting on Facebook could be an opportunity. My job is to recognize it when it comes, separate the real opportunity from the distractions around it, and keep track of it as it moves across my path.

Keeping track of a case lead – that’s never been easy when you’re running a busy firm. Filing cabinets are stuffed, folders are overflowing, paper stacks are threatening to topple off your desk. We aren’t fully paperless yet, but what’s worse is we are partially paperless. Emails, tweets and text messages need to get filed along with the formal documents and the scrawled notebook jottings and Post-It notes.

I need to find real law firm software, legal case management software designed for the lawyers to work the way lawyers work. If I had modern law firm software that recognizes modern record-keeping, I could increase the service I offer and, at the same time, have more control over my own life. I need to get “systematized” enough so that I can incorporate these opportunities into my law practice and capitalize on them.

In my law firm, opportunity arrives as “intake”, and following up on intake is critical. When we do that well, when we find the right legal software and law firm software for case management, we have a way to keep track of these opportunities. We can develop the opportunity ourselves, or we can make (and keep track of) a legal case lead referral. Either way, tracking the opportunity from the moment of intake is a critical factor in being successful – and having a life.

There’s got to be a better way.

Standard
Lawyers and Internet Marketing

Just getting started? Just ask!

When you are a young professional in the field of law, it can be a daunting task to setup operations and attract clients. No matter how successful your operations setup is, ultimately none of that matters if you have little or no clients.

I remember when I was a young man just starting out, fresh out of law school. I thought it would be easy and my good days had finally come. Then stark reality set in. I was operating from the seat of my pants without a clue where my next client was coming from.

I hustled my way around the local courthouse, did pro-bono work, and eventually started attracting paying clients. But it wasn’t easy. It took a while, what seemed like many endless hours for no pay or, at best, low pay.

Now the times are different, but the challenge is still there for the young law school graduate. You feel so proud finally passing that bar exam, all that endless study, preparation and learning for the opportunity to finally practice law.

Not everyone has the good fortune to be recruited and hired by major law firms. In fact, most new law school graduates go it alone or team up with another newbie attorney to open up a practice. I find this to be more so the norm in the legal industry. As it was with me.

First, let them know that you are looking for legal work. It is amazing how simply letting the people you know (both legal professionals and non-lawyers) that you have “hung your shingle” causes referrals. The “shingle” sits inert on the theoretical “street” for all to see who happen by, but sending the message out to all that you know is very important as it spreads the word that you are available and want professional work. Ask, Ask, Ask. Let folks know you are open for business and let them know the type of legal business you are seeking. Yes, asking is the key to driving professional legal work because it plants a seed in the mind of the receiver that may not take hold right immediately. And the personal ask is very powerful indeed, especially today when there are so many impersonal or electronic solicitations for everything under the sun.

Many years ago a buddy of mine left the prosecutor’s office. He had a family and was rightly concerned as to how he would make a living as a solo. His handwritten note to me was moving, he admitted that he needed work and asked for it. Today, this type of theme and personal approach can still be very powerful, and it can be taken to a new level through the many electronic/ virtual techniques. All in all, it still is about asking for referrals and letting folks know you are open for business and want them to think of you and your plight as a new lawyer.

Once the referral comes your way you have an opportunity to bring the prospect into your realm, by servicing them, just creating a relationship or making a professional referral yourself (which may or may not include a “referral fee” or a “fee splitting” relationship).

I’m here to tell you that these are exciting times for a new successful “fresh off passing the bar exam” attorneys to establish themselves in a deeply competitive environment. Opportunities and avenues are available right now that I could never have dreamed of when I was just starting out almost 40 years ago.

The operation of a small law office is changing rapidly these days. The new attorney has to be ready to jump head first into the deep ocean, whatever their legal specialty. It’s sink or swim, and that needs to be dealt with right off the bat. Timidity has no place for the aspiring young professional.

So as a new practitioner, it is the time to ask friends, relatives, other lawyers, anyone you can think of, to think of you and your new practice and refer “would be” clients to you the new professional. I think you will be surprised by the results. Don’t be afraid to make yourself human, even vulnerable, admit you need the work, and “ask, ask, ask”!

Standard