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Some of us are old enough to remember the screech of a 56K modem and the rhythmic hum of a floppy drive—maybe even the tap-tappa-tap of an IBM® Selectric.
But like any small business, lawyers in solo and small law firms must always look ahead to new technological innovations to ensure they’re delivering that perfect mix of efficiency and client service.
And considering how fast the legal technology sector seems to be moving today, it’s possible that attorneys (particularly those in busy small law firms) might have missed a critical breakthrough. From online legal research to the advent of leading-edge legal analytics, we’ve put together five key areas in which lawyers in small firms can leverage technology to enhance their legal practice.
OK, this is the big one—and one you’re probably already well on aware of. No longer do attorneys need to pore over dusty legal tomes to find that key case or valuable precedent. Since its inception in the 1950s, online legal research has evolved into an indispensable tool to lawyers, particularly those in solo and small law firms.
Like most other technologies though, online legal research has expanded quickly in the past few years. For instance, instead of a simple Boolean search, you’re now able to harness artificial intelligence that “understands” what you’re searching for and can offer suggestions on where to look next. You can scour massive online legal libraries in seconds and make connections between cases, people and events easier than ever.
If you’re using an online legal research service, you should totally check in with your provider and get a tour of all the new tech-wizardry they’ve introduced recently. (And if they don’t have anything new to show you…perhaps it’s time to look somewhere else.)
Regardless of the business (law firm or otherwise), no talk of tech is complete nowadays without a mention of analytics. Founded on the idea of “big data,” analytics is helping many industries run more efficiently, improve forecasting accuracy and spot unseen revenue potential. The legal profession is no different.
Legal analytics can unlock several powerful capabilities for lawyers. Want to predict a possible motion outcome with relative accuracy? Use analytics. Want to determine what a possible settlement award could be? Analytics can help there too. Need to write a strong legal argument? Analytics to the rescue.
If legal analytics is new to you, here’s a good place to start learning.
One of the lessons learned from the Coronavirus pandemic was the value of remote working capabilities. For many small law firms, coordinating a remote office setup may be less cumbersome than their BigLaw counterparts—but a nonetheless vital one to have down pat. From basic operations like billing and payroll to legal research and client consultations, there is technology available to help you and your colleagues work remotely.
Many attorneys in small firms have perfected virtual office setups, and have already built-out a robust mix of video conferencing, shared workspaces and networked communications. The reality is that nowadays firms no longer have to maintain a physical brick-and-mortar presence. In fact, some small firms tout the agility and low overhead of a virtual office as strong advantages in their legal market.
Even if you don’t plan on going fully-remote any time soon, having a digital structure in place for emergencies is a smart move.
This isn’t a way to upgrade as much as a friendly reminder: Evolving technology demands evolving data security. And while data protection is obviously important for everyone, lawyers must be acutely aware of privacy concerns when dealing with confidential client information. Secure servers, proper encryption and strong password protections are must-haves.
Beyond a law firm context, data privacy means compliance with increasing regulations. From CCPA to GDPR, the way you treat basic information like a person’s name or email address is under an increasingly tight microscope. Having a good grasp of those legal requirements, particularly if you do a lot of email marketing for your firm, is critical.
Believe it or not, virtual receptionists and chatbots are becoming common in the legal profession. In fact, many lawyers in small law firms consider them an essential part of their practice. Why? Because they can help across a range of routine tasks, freeing up time for attorneys to focus on more pressing matters.
These legal technology tools can improve client service by offering quick answers to common questions. They can speed up the client intake process, by allowing new clients to fill out forms ahead of time. Chatbots can even enhance client retention, thanks to appointment reminders and follow-up satisfaction surveys.
There are plenty of tech companies out there that can add this level of functionality to your website. (Do you have a website? It may be OK if you don’t.)