Tools to Help Organize Your Firm and other Tech Tips

Tools to Help Organize Your Firm and other Tech Tips

A discussion and recommendations about practice management programs,  back-up services, security encryption, time and billing and document creation.
So, you've decided to strike out on your own or want to boost your small firm's efficiency. All you really need to run a law practice is a laptop, smart phone, basic scanner and printer, says St. Louis-based technology lawyer and writer Dennis Kennedy. But other technologies are becoming more necessary to keep up with the Joneses in the legal world. We talked with Kennedy, St. Louis-based legal consultant John "Tim" Mellitz and Moberly-based attorney Christian Faiella, of Tatlow, Gump, Faiella & Wheelan, to get a grip on helpful products on the market.
1.     Practice management programs
Mellitz and Kennedy recommend Time Matters, by LexisNexis. Kennedy, Mellitz and Faiella all emphasized the utility of practice management software - and their incredulity that more attorneys don't take advantage of it. Think of a program that mimics you at your optimum level of organization all of the time. Many attorneys find that practice management programs can organize client and case information better than they can. A good practice management program will perform sophisticated conflict-of-interest checks, organize all information related to a client or a case, create documents and perform basic time and billing functions. 
Kennedy also suggests Internet-based practice management programs, such as Rocket Matter and Clio. "You may not be able to customize as much as you can in stand-alone [practice management software]," Kennedy says. But they are less expensive and are often good enough for most lawyers, Kennedy says. Faiella's firm uses Trialworks, a practice management program specifically tailored to litigation. It was a big time and money investment, he says, but worth it. Kennedy says about 20 percent  of attorneys use a practice management program. Mellitz says that fear of the unknown and the required time investment of switching over to practice management software can deter attorneys. But "the people who use it really like it. " Rocket Matter: $59.99 per month for first user, $49.99 per month for the second through sixth user. Time Matters: $905 for the first license and $525 for each additional license (with a  first-year maintenance plan that includes any upgrades released during the year). TrialWorks: Database license:  $2,995.00; each user license: $495.00; TrialWorks maintenance: $895.00, plus $195.00 per user per year. 2. Hard-drive-searching software
A variety of software will search your hard drive. And if you have a practice management program, Mellitz says, the search engines will be optimized to search your practice management database as well as your computer's other folders. "But wait," you say. "My computer already has a search capability. Why would I need another one?" Kennedy says Windows XP - which a lot of attorneys use - typically has poor searching capabilities. "Search tools let you search your hard drive the same way Google lets you search the Internet," he says. "There are many variables that distinguish search programs from one another," Mellitz says. A few include the speed and sophistication of the searching, the reporting capabilities and the way search engine indexes search results. What's better than being able to search your entire hard drive with the click of your mouse? Being able to search your entire hard drive with the click of your mouse for free. That's why Kennedy recommends Copernic, a free data search engine. Copernic: Free download at copernic.com.
3. Security encryption services
Sometimes the smartest technology tips are the easiest. "The best thing lawyers can do on security right now is change their passwords on a regular basis," Kennedy says. Unfortunately, he says, many people still have codes like "123456" - a hacker's dream. Passwords with a mix of letters, numbers and symbols are the strongest, he says. If you want to take security a step further, consider an encryption program like TrueCrypt. TrueCrypt is an on-the-fly encryption program, which means that information on your computer or drive will be available to you as quickly it would otherwise -- once you enter your password. Kennedy says the free program will encrypt hard drives, flash drives and certain files. TrueCrypt: Free from truecrypt.org.
4. Sophisticated backup services
"Attorneys are notoriously bad at backup," Kennedy says. That's puzzling, he says, because even massive hard drives have gotten a lot cheaper over the years. Kennedy emphasizes that backing up your data is the last step in security. Faiella's firm backs up data every night using Microsoft Backup. The system has three hard drives that each act as insurance for the others. "The most we would lose is the last 24 hours," Faiella says about the system. Kennedy says online backup services act as "a backup to a backup. " And for attorneys concerned about the security of backing up data with an online host? "They're typically at a really first-class data center," says Kennedy. "The security is so far beyond what the average law firm has. " Faiella's firm uses Mozy by Decho, which Kennedy also recommends. MozyPro: According to https://mozy.com/pro, you will need one desktop license for each computer you are backing up and one server license for each server you are backing up. Desktop licenses: $3.95 + $0.50/GB per month; server licenses: $6.95 + $0.50/GB per month.
5. Conflict-of-interest checker
Conflict-of-interest checkers prevent malpractice cases one attorney at a time. If you aren't comfortable investing in a full-blown practice management program that includes conflict-checking capabilities, you should consider purchasing a stand-alone version. The American Bar Association recommends Conflict Checker, which offers a free downloadable demo and free e-mail technical support. For the Solo Edition: $399.95, if you order online. For the Small Office Edition: $499.99, online.
6. Sophisticated time and billing system
"Attorneys are familiar with QuickBooks, so they try to get attorneys to do QuickBooks," Mellitz says. But there are better programs, he says, that are more suitable for the intricacies of legal billing. One of these programs is PCLaw by LexisNexis, Mellitz says. It includes such features as fee allocation, split billing and consolidated billing, which allows you to bill multiple cases to the same client. PCLaw also has some practice management features, such as contact management, a legal calendar and document management. Other good programs include TABS III and Timeslips by Sage, Mellitz says. PCLaw: $905.00 for the first user, and $455.00 for each additional user, which includes the first year's maintenance plan. TABS III: See http://www.tabs3.com/products/pricing_info.html Timeslips by Sage: $500.00 for the first station, $200.00 for each additional station.
7. Mind-mapping
Any attorney who handles complex matters - especially litigation - will really like mind-mapping software, such as LexisNexis CaseMap, Mellitz says. "It performs a very thorough analysis of facts, issues, people and documents and unanswered questions," Mellitz says. "Reports then identify how these various elements relate to one another. Then, it suggests or implies strategic and tactical approaches to the challenges presented. " For solo litigators, programs such as TimeMap can be very useful in court, he says. In TimeMap, you enter all the information of a case into a database, and the program creates a chronology of the events graphically and displays it graphically, including flags that link to details of the events' relevance to the case. "Often the chronology is very important to a case," Mellitz says. "You can take it into court and project it on a screen for the jury or judge to review. It is a very effective trial tool. CaseMap, TimeMap: LexisNexis sells these products by subscription. Costs vary based on the number of products and services purchased and how many people will use them.
8. Optical character recognition
Still piling things all over your desk? As well as you think this works for you, life could be ... less cluttered. Faiella's firm went completely paperless years ago, thanks in part to OCR technology that comes with Adobe Acrobat 9. With an OCR program, you can essentially scan in documents and have them immediately formatted into word processing documents. "We just got 50,000 pages of documents from a defendant," Faiella says. "Now they're just on my computer, and they're PDF searchable. " Faiella says the ability to scan and quickly OCR format thousands of pages has allowed his three-attorney practice to compete against much larger firms. "We were doing this when it first became available because as a small firm it gave us cost efficiencies," he says. "Now one secretary can do the work three could before. " OCR technology can be purchased on its own or together with a scanner. Adobe Acrobat 9, which includes OCR technology: About $160. OmniPage by Nuance: $499.99
9. High-speed Scanner
There are benefits to having consummate scanning capabilities. First, there's the green factor. Reducing paper usage still remains the No. 1 issue when it comes to being an environmentally friendly firm. Second, it eliminates the rifle-around-and-panic dance and diminishes the chances of a really important file getting lost. Finally, if you have remote access set up on your home laptop, you can easily pull up whatever information you need if you're out sick or need to access a document outside of office hours. Faiella's firm uses a Lanier scanner, but like all technology hardware and software, you'll want to evaluate your firm's specific needs before making a purchase. To request a quote of a Lanier scanner: Visit www.lanier.com.
10. Document creation
Once again, a good practice management program will include document creation capabilities. If your solo or small firm focuses on one type of practice, such as family or criminal law, however, and can't afford a consultant or programmer to customize a sophisticated program like Time Matters, consider seeking out customized templates. "There's a whole cottage industry of people who create area-of-law-specific templates," Mellitz says. "Reputable consultants will point their clients in this direction, rather than try and reinvent the wheel. " Mellitz also notes that there are many stand-alone programs for assembling documents using templates and data from the keyboard or a dedicated database. A program such as HotDocs "adds logic" to document creation, Mellitz says. "If the user is writing a will for a man, it will make all the pronouns his or he. " The drawback? "It can be a difficult program to learn," he says, "although for relatively simple documents it is quite manageable. " HotDocs, 2009 Standard Edition: $300; and a free "run-time" edition of HotDocs is available. John L. "Tim" Mellitz is principal of Mellitz & Associates Legal Technology Consultants. He practiced law for 16 years before moving into legal technology consulting 14 years ago. The company has offices in St. Louis and San Francisco. Dennis Kennedy is an information technology lawyer, legal technology expert, author and speaker based in St. Louis. He writes a legal technology column for the American Bar Association and is co-author of "The Lawyer's Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together. " Chris Faiella is an attorney based in Moberly. Upon becoming partner at Tatlow, Gump, Faiella & Wheelen in 2000, he insisted on getting all employees set up in a network. Since then, he's led the charge on going paperless and implementing new technologies at the firm.
By Anna Vitale

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