Legal, IT, Telecommunication

Starting out?Get high quality results using low cost tools

It costs a lot of money to fully automate a new solo office. Here’s how to get great results as you build to full technical capacity.

Are you among the growing group of lawyers planning to go solo after passing the bar? or maybe after a few years of experience being an associate you feel its time to venture out on your own? The challenge in starting out turning your education into a steady income and a profitable profession. One of the most difficult aspects is figuring out the technology you’ll need and, frankly, funding it.However, there are a couple of areas in which you can save time and money setting up your solo firm, especially in the key areas of communication and organization. Here’s a head start.

What today’s legal tech covers

Collaboration and communication encompasses staying in touch with clients and staff. You’ll need a range of technology to do that:

  • A website and email system
  • Customer relationship management
  • Letterhead
  • Other communication tools

Organization is essentially matter management. It refers to tracking your billable hours, storing and retrieving your work product, and using forms and templates to be more efficient.Loaded on your existing computer will probably do the vast majority of the things you need to accomplish.

Easy website and email solutions

In law, the epitome of white-collar professions, you’re nothing if you don’t have a web presence. So you’ll need your own little piece of cyber real estate to hang your shingle for the world to see.

First, get your own website domain. Make your domain name short and easy for clients to remember. And make sure the spelling doesn’t have any catastrophic double entendres. (Do an online search for website names that have double meaning.)

For economical domains, take a look at GoDaddy, Squarespace, Word-Press, Wix, and Weebly, to name just a few. Each has its own no-cost, built-in website publishing tools that work at a beginner’s level and allow you to quickly set up a rather professional-looking website with affordable prices. Be sure to create business accounts with LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, all of which are free.

As for email, the two most important considerations are cost and professionalism. My first recommendation is to get your domain name and create an email address based on that. If you’re not quite there yet, Gmail is a professionally acceptable place to begin. However, stay away from free email services that either have poor security or whose very name makes you look less than stellar.

Make CRM software work for you

When it comes to CRM software, the discipline is to use it consistently. With that in mind, any decent contact information program will do. One example is Microsoft Outlook. If that’s not a program that came with your computer, a quick online search for “free CRM” will call up a number of really good options.

Cutting communication costs

You may think you’ll need multi-line phone systems, fax machines, copiers, scanners, printers, and other equipment to talk to people and work with hard-copy communications.

But for right now, you can accomplish all this communication with just two pieces of equipment: your smart-phone, laptop and a combined printer/fax/scanner. Plus, you don’t even need a landline phone just yet because you can use email.

Your smartphone can manage contacts, schedule events and assist with calendaring, scan and convert documents to PDF, review PowerPoint or other visual presentation files, and work with word-processor files.

Track billables smartly

Your best billable-hours tracker might be as simple as a paper notepad. Think of your checkbook register. It’s simple, yet it allows you to keep track of every penny you spend. Make something similar with your notepad. Make columns for the date, the start time, the end time, the total hours, associated costs, and notes. Use this as a central hours tracker for all open cases (being sure to note which case the hours apply to). Then enter the hours into separate spreadsheets associated with their individual cases.

How to track files

Knowing the formula for tracking documents is important  since matter ID is essential to making almost any computer file manager your own case management database. You can accomplish this by using a consistent naming convention for the content of the file. For example:

  1. Email: matter name/project name or if not parties names – subject matter
  2. Document: Matter name/project name or if not parties names – title/type of document  –  draft status, version number  and purpose of draft or execution copy.
  3. Letter or fax: Date of letter/fax (YYYY-MM-DD) – Matter or project name (if any) – Letter/fax to sender or from recipient – subject matter – draft status (if applicable)- sent or received – +’ to indicate attachments’

Deploy forms and templates

In the law profession, a good rule to follow is to never reinvent the wheel. If there are packages of forms, letters, or filings that allow you to edit and customize boilerplate templates to create your own unique work product, go for it. Most of these packages are economical and can save you hours of time and lots of stress.

Always remember that though the profession has made significant advances in the areas of software coding and function, the best tools are still the simplest—as long as you have the desire to use them correctly and consistently. After all, law firms have operated for hundreds of years with nothing more than paper and ink. It’s the substance of what you know and how you apply it that counts.

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