Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of the “Reference Manual of Legal Tech Lists,” an eBook set for release this spring. Read the prior installments here, and feel free to pre-register for your copy of the complete eBook using the form below.
In our continuing effort to explore the various nooks & crannies of the legal tech world, we’ve now taken up list creation by category. Each entry of our brand-new “LegalTech Reference Manual of Lists” will explore a new category lurking in the dark recesses of legal tech – you know, the kind that are buried deep down, of the sort you don’t talk about at parties.
This time, on the list of lists, we’ll cover the five most underutilized features in legal tech systems. While limiting ourselves to five options only might be understating it significantly, it’s what I’d call a good start.
1. eSign. At this point in time, post-pandemic, almost every law firm is at least aware of eSignature functionality, and the vast majority of law firms are aggressively using it.
But lots of attorneys are getting their documents — from engagement agreements to multi-signer contracts — electronically signed via a standalone tool. And, those tools work, for sure — though, you may be paying for them unnecessarily.
That’s because lots of softwares now have proprietary or white-labeled eSignature tools available as part of your subscription, especially broad productivity suites like case management software for law firms, and other productivity systems, including customer relationship management tools.
Now, this is a situation where you’ll really need to read the fine print — because, depending on your subscription level, you may be looking at a truncated option.
(For example, some companies limit the number of eSigns you have access to each month, depending on your particular subscription type. So, you’ll want to be aware of whether you have 10 eSigns accessible every month versus 100, based on your established volume. Though, if you go over, you can always buy more eSigns, at a pre-established rate.)
But, the good news is that, if an eSignature offering in a current tool is available for you, and fits your requirements, you may not need to pay an additional subscription fee, or manage another, separate, siloed product. Plus, built-in eSignature features allow you to place more of your workflow management into a single system, saving you time and effort. (More on that later.)
2. Document Assembly. Attorneys treat document assembly like they’re trying to manage nuclear fission. And, yeah: It’s not easy to effectively utilize document assembly in a law practice. But the reason most lawyers get all worked up about the process is because they’re perfectionists and completists.
You know that’s right. As you’re reading this paragraph, you’re starting to break out in hives, aren’t you? And, it’s because you’re thinking about revising all of your templates, and also figuring out all of the field placements and all of the logic twists in your documents that no software could ever replicate. OH . . . MY . . . GOD . . . We might as well just continue to use paper notes! What are we doing here?!?
But, let’s think smaller. You don’t necessarily have to conceive of this so broadly. Lots of softwares, again including law practice management software, as well as time and billing software, offer some pretty basic document assembly features that can streamline your processes pretty effectively, with minimal effort. The two most common documents you can build, in more products than you think, are the two most common law firm document types: engagement agreements and invoices. Pretty much every modern, cloud-based time and billing software will allow you to create an invoice, or billing, template, that you can send to your clients.
Now, that’s a pretty simple document assembly ask: slap a logo and letterhead on top + populate the billing components — but, that’s also a heck of a lot better than generating an invoice in Microsoft each and every time you need one.
And while those fee agreements are a little more complex — the scope and rate may be different every time — these documents are susceptible to rapid production also.
If your system can account for document logic, you can simply select the case type and/or fee structure (or have it selected automatically), and generate the right document for the right new client. Even where a system is only going to be adding document fields, you can still create different types of standard fee agreements for different situations, and get the client and basic case information added to each of those documents automatically.
3. Client Portals. By now, you know that sharing sensitive information via email (attachment) is a bad idea. (Right?) The reason for that is because email is an inherently unsecure method for sending data. There are two types of data, from an information security perspective: “resident data” and “moving data.”
The real problem, when it comes to data security, is when data moves, because it then becomes infinitely harder to control. So, when you send unencrypted files or documents via email, that email and/or attachment passes through multiple servers before it gets to its final destination, and you can’t guarantee that all those servers are encrypted. So, your data is exposed. Now, you could encrypt your attachment(s), or encrypt your entire email system. But, that’s another step + more cost for you, as a business owner.
The better option then, is to use what is colloquially referred to as a “client portal.” What this means is that you’re providing someone external to your organization, like a client or a referral source, with access to only a portion of your data set, like a client file or even a single document, via a dedicated sharing portal available in a technology system you use.
This method better protects your data, because the information remains nestled in the relative security of your encrypted document storage container, where your invitee accesses it — there’s no more data transfer, so you don’t have to take special or additional steps to protect that “moving data.”
In this scenario, the person you’ve invited to access information via your “portal” will create a unique password (their email is usually the username) to access the initial data set you have shared with them, plus any additional information you seek to share, in the future (their password will remain the same, unless they change it). Not only does this method better protect your law firm data, in line with state laws and jurisdictional ethics rules, it also places the burden (mind you, a small one) of taking the step to access secured data on the person or organization you’re sharing that data with (i.e., they will need to create a username, rather than your having to encrypt information and send it separately).
Any document cloud storage system (including Google Drive, Microsoft’s OneDrive/Sharepoint, Dropbox, etc.) will include this feature for sharing files and folders. And law practice management softwares and customer relationship management tools will offer the same option for files and folders, but also invoices and client notifications.
Another plus is that using an internal system like this one will allow you to skirt the usual size limitations on sending information via emails.
4. Workflow Management. Lately, law firms have been aggressively seeking processes, in order to ramp up efficiency within their offices, including the hybrid ones, where attorneys want to ensure that work is getting done at home, as well as in the traditional office setting. This desire really ramped up during the pandemic, when old-school office work was forever broken, and attorneys realized that, moving forward, they would need to figure out a way to oversee employees and staff in remote locations.
Fortunately, workflows (which are simply: aggregated list of tasks, built in a chronological order, with specific task owners and deadlines) are the best answer for managing remote staff. Modern workflow management systems allow business owners to select a case or matter, and access an overview of the tasks both completed and pending. Effectively, this eliminates the need for those burdensome “all case” review meetings — which is why I quit practicing law in the first place!
Constructing workflows is a whole other discussion — because you want to get really granular about how you do it. But, just having them, in any format, is a great start.
And, as per the theme of our little essay, many major law firm tools now feature workflow systems, from productivity softwares to case management softwares to financial management systems to CRMs, and more.
Some of those systems will offer only manual workflows (i.e., you/your staff will be reminded to do something, then you actually have to go do it). Others utilize automations — i.e., the system will take the action for you, including for requests (e.g., payments) and follow-ups (e.g. , “You haven’t paid us yet, please do so.”)
Clearly, the latter option is appealing to lawyers, who want to reduce the work burden on themselves and their staff.
5. Reporting/Dashboards. Modern business segments are pretty consistently utilizing data to make better business decisions, from the sports industry to the financial management sector. And, partly because they’re beginning to develop workflows (which make data more accessible) in their law practices, attorneys are beginning to catch up.
While most lawyers still avoid manipulating datasets for decision-making for the same reason they tend to avoid leveraging document assembly — it seems like a really big job — the fact of the matter is that you’re not necessarily looking to leverage “big data” like the kind maintained by Google or Meta, to improve how you run your law practice. “Small data,” like the sort you keep about your clients and your processes, is really all you need, to compete, or even crush, your competition.
Now, as luck would have it, this data is more susceptible to interpretation than it’s ever been before.
Legaltech softwares, as well as general business softwares that lawyers regularly use, have been making improvements to reporting tools over the course of time — even if lots of attorneys still continue to ignore those features.
For one thing, more data is available in-system now. With the advent and domination of cloud software in the legal market, as well as the prevalence of integrations between tools, including via third party technology, more data than ever before is accessible within individual systems.
Especially in case management software and customer relationship management software, which are (effectively) anchor programs for most law firms, attorneys can effectively array nearly all of the information for individual matters, from whatever source, for review in one place. That means that reports generating from those systems are more meaningful and robust than they’ve ever been.
Plus, reporting is no longer accessible only via “walls of text” or dense spreadsheets. New school systems offer reporting “dashboards,” which represent graphical interpretations of law firm information, including trends over time.
That’s right: You’ve got pie charts, line graphs and colorscapes, to beat the band; so now, your eyes won’t gloss over looking at endless chains of numbers. Even better, you can arrange dashboards in the places where you want them in your software, including at your main access page. And, because the new dashboards are more focused on primary KPIs (key performance indicators) for law firms, you can get what you need faster, and more accurately.
The data revolution for law firms is here, and it’s spectacular. And, all you have to do to access it is click + drag.
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Jared Correia, a consultant and legal technology expert, is the host of the Non-Eventcast, the featured podcast of the Above the Law Non-Event for Tech-Perplexed Lawyers.