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A troubling advantage that big law has over small is how attorneys use technology to efficiently and securely communicate with clients, according to the 2017 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report.

In firms of 100 to 499 attorneys:

  • 75% have secure web portals while only 12% of solo firms and 26% of 2 to 9 attorney firms have secure web portals
  • 51% encrypt emails while only 24% of solo firms and 31% of 2 to 9 attorney firms encrypt emails
  • 60% encrypt files while only 37% of solo firms and 35% of 2 to 0 attorney firms encrypt files

For firms with 500 attorneys or more, the gap is even wider.

You should be minding it, if you care about the future of your firm.

Client Portals Close the Gap

“Firms are now starting to understand that clients determine their success. They can refer to you and return to you, they can boost your reputation. That’s why the focus is going to be increasingly on the client, and technology is an effective way to direct it,” points out Heidi Alexander, Esq., Director and Law Practice Advisor, Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program.

Alexander points to client portals as a critical technology must-have for firms that want to achieve the client-centric competitive advantage. It’s no wonder, considering that client portals can single-handedly provide the technology small law firms need to catch up with big law.

Here’s how: These online interfaces allow you to securely exchange documents and messages with clients. The best are completely encrypted, and are integrated with law practice management software to streamline information sharing and matter management.

“If you’re an attorney and not using a client portal, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity,” warns Alexander.

Client Portals Help Promote Ethical Responsibility

Jim Calloway, Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program, concurs.

“To me, one of the most important issues is secure communication of confidential client information, and lawyers really need to consider whether emailing most anything is appropriate,” he insists. “That’s why I recommend client portals. You can certainly use email – to remind your client they have something to look at in the client portal.”

Jim’s concerns are echoed in the latest mandates by the American Bar Association’s Committee on Ethics and Legal Responsibility. Formal Opinion 477, issued in May, requires lawyers to make a reasonable effort to secure client communication – or be in breach of legal ethics.

Client portals are probably the easiest and least expensive way to adhere to those mandates. Consider that subscriptions to law practice management solutions that include client portals cost:

  • Less than half of a monthly average cable or cell phone bill,
  • Or about 10 billable minutes a month for a lawyer who charges $250 an hour.

These practice management solutions also provide the tools you need to streamline every aspect of your firm’s operations, from tracking hours to creating documents to file management and more. The highest quality client portals come with practice management solutions that have world-class cybersecurity. Find out how to identify them by checking out this fast read:  Checklist: The Five Most Important Cloud Security Measures.

Calloway admits, however, it still remains challenging to convince some lawyers of their value.

“Like many things in life, 95% of the time everything goes fine. There aren’t many lawyers on the street who have been really humiliated because their emails have been hacked,” he explains. “But when it happens, it’s going to be bad. We have an independent, ethical responsibility to protect our clients’ confidential information and that’s why it’s so important for lawyers to err on the side of caution.”

Alexander agrees.

“Look at the other professionals using portals. How do you interact with your doctor? They’re using a client portal,” she notes. “These portals improve and increase communication, and your client feels more comfortable knowing they’re secure. You can more easily keep them updated on their case and make it easier to work with you. I really think all small law firms should be using one.”

S051203An attorney charging $250 an hour will bill nearly $47,000 more this year, on average, by using an integrated technology solution across all functions – from practice management to research to billing – than if they use standalone platforms for each.

These are results of three Blue Hill Research studies that analyzed more than 350 small law firms specializing in litigation, general practice, and business law. The studies compared firms that use technology with those that have taken adoption a step further by using integrated solution suites.  Firms that do so achieve an average of 13% more billable hours than firms that use disparate solutions.

Why is this? Many legal technologies claim “integration” in the form of hyperlinks to other programs or file-sends that involve packaging data into a text file, sending it to a different program, and uploading it into the other tool.  These disparate systems are often cobbled together with multiple software providers. Each requires their own login, and they don’t effortlessly share data so work is constantly duplicated.

Truly integrated technology involves working in multiple software tools or online programs from one single screen, with direct access from one to another without interruption.  When integrated applications for practice management, drafting, legal research, time and billing, and other legal office tasks talk to one another, the legal workflow is more efficient.  Attorneys can produce quality work faster as a result.  Read on to find out how integrated technology impacts litigation, general practice and business law firms.

Litigators improve quality, efficiency

Integrated solution suites make it easier for litigators to avoid duplicating effort, do research, and drive efficiencies. Firms using this integrated technology:

  • Gain 12% more very satisfied clients
  • Meet 13% more deadlines
  • Attain 14% more billable hours

Why is this? Simply, attorneys do work faster, leaving more time for nurturing clients and improving their results. Specifically it takes:

  • 12% less time for case analysis
  • 17% less time for legal research
  • 12% less time to draft documents
  • 14% less time to review and format documents

Finally, these law firms pay 6% less for IT support because they only have to take care of one technology solution instead of many.

General practitioners win 71% more referrals

With efficiencies gained from an integrated technology solution, including a practice management platform, legal research platform, legal calendar software, legal billing software and an automated drafting tool, general practitioners achieve a 12% higher client satisfaction. This has resulted in:

  • 71% increase in client referrals
  • 9% more billings annually

That’s because lawyers at firms with integrated solutions use technology more often in their workflow:

  • 44% more often for invoicing and collections
  • 82% more often for matter management
  • 130% more often for early case assessment and planning
  • 360% more often for case analysis

With integrated solutions, there’s no moving between platforms or manually transferring data from one solution to the next. As a result, these firms improve overall efficiency, are more prepared to manage growing volumes of case documents, and can better meet client expectations.

Business lawyers win more repeat business and new clients

Like general practitioners, business lawyers are much more likely to use technology when it’s integrated:

  • 50% more often to find and use forms
  • 46% more often to engage with clients
  • 42% more often to create and draft documents
  • 42% more often to invoice

This increased adoption results in more time for client development and better outcomes, which culminates in more very satisfied clients and 17% more billings.

How can integrated legal technology help you?

While it may be challenging to relinquish the status quo, standalone workflow technology solutions have huge opportunity costs. When you avoid exploring an integrated software solution, you’re missing out on higher client satisfaction, more referrals, and an increase in billable hours.

“The three technology pieces you need in a small law firm are billing software, legal research software and practice management software.  Fortunately, I was able to get all three of those in one package with Thomson Reuters and Firm Central.  And, the great thing about it is they all work together, seamlessly.” – Steve Little owner of SRL Law in Minneapolis, MN

Download this Matter Management Checklist to see how integrated technology from Thomson Reuters can help you streamline your matter management and legal workflow.

You can access the Blue Hill Research reports here for more information on the studies.

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Author: Amy Larson, Thomson Reuters

We rely on technology integrations for more efficiency in our home lives every day.  Why are we slower to implement integrated technology into our law firms and our business workflows?

Think about it.  As a lawyer, you sell your advice and expertise. But, as a small business, you also have to manage the firm. If you’re not practicing law, you’re not making money. But managing the increasingly complicated operational side of your firm takes you away from the practice of law. It can seem like a never-ending spiral.  With clients demanding more – and by more I mean more transparency, more collaboration, better responsiveness, and more data security – attorneys are saddled with more administrative tasks. In the 2016 State of U.S. Small Law Firms study completed by Thomson Reuters, the top challenges identified by small law firm leaders revolved around challenges in running the business – not in practicing law.  Among those challenges were key issues including:  spending too much time on administrative tasks, challenges acquiring new clients, clients demanding more for less, and lack of internal efficiency.  And while these tasks are essential to the success of your business, it’s the practice of law that creates revenue.  So, how do you do both – and do them well?

Integrated Solutions – It’s Time.

Studies show that leveraging integrated technology to manage your law firm can address challenges and lead to greater law firm success.  This was proven in a Blue Hill Research study, “Impact of Integrated Technology Suite in General Practice Firms” (also available for Business and Litigation firms).  The study showed that smaller general practice firms that use Thomson Reuters integrated solutions experienced 17% more annual billings and a 71% increase in new clients referred by existing clients, among other benefits.

That said, there are still many firms that manually perform practice management and administrative tasks, using email, multiple calendars, spreadsheets, and physical paper and storage systems.  Even at firms where some technology solutions have been deployed, there’s often inefficiency. Meaning that, often, firms might purchase and implement technology solutions separately from one another such as standalone time-tracking tools, or document management systems that don’t integrate with other tools such as legal research. These systems and tools are rarely connected, so users have to rely on inefficient processes such as transferring information from one to the other, dealing with multiple sign-ons and passwords, and learning new interfaces for each.   Does any of that sound familiar?  So, although some firms think that investing in any technology is a good idea, using these cobbled-together, or Frankenstein systems, ends up requiring additional time, more manual effort and introduces the risk of costly errors.

Doing it Right

Darla Jackson, the Practice Management Advisor of the Oklahoma Bar Association, shared her thoughts and recommendations when it comes to the importance of utilizing integrated technology legal practice management solutions.

“One of the considerations I discuss with bar members when they are selecting a legal practice management solution (LPMS) is the availability of integrations. One of the key recommendations I make is to explore the LPMS’s ability to integrate with other products the attorney would use in their workflow, such as a legal research tool.  Because of my background in law librarianship, I understand attorneys can improve their efficiency through the integration of their legal research and practice management solution.  As an attorney and practice management advisor, l also feel it is essential to emphasize the importance of digital client files, automated document assembly, and secure communications channels. Integration with an automated form assembly solution allows lawyers to reduce errors and improve drafting efficiency.  Integration with a tool, such as Microsoft Outlook, facilitates the building of a complete digital file that includes email communications; and for confidential communications, the availability of a secure client portal (whether through integration or as a native tool) is becoming a necessity.”

Often, small law firms don’t know where to start in their journey to an integrated set of solutions.  The problem looms and becomes bigger.  But, the challenges don’t go away.  Take the first step in learning about how integrated solutions can help your firm and how much efficiency you can actually realize.  Systems that talk to each other, pull in the right data at the right time, and help you to better serve your clients with better answers, faster make it easier for you to implement from one, trusted source.  Don’t be lured by one-off systems that don’t offer true integrations which, in the long run, will cause more pain than gain.

Zola - legal-notes-application-mpbIn the practice of law, time is money. Ask any lawyer what he or she looks for most in legal technology, and the answer will immediately be efficiency. Having everything you need in one place, without having to switch platforms, is not simply a convenience, it’s a necessity.

That’s why practice management tools were invented. The ability to multi-task and perform all your essential work functions on one platform is a life-saver for the busy lawyer. Unfortunately, though, not all practice management tools live up to the hype. Many cloud-based systems fall woefully short of providing the full functionality that you actually need to run your practice.

Enter Zola Suite. Created by lawyers specifically for lawyers, Zola Suite is an efficient practice management tool that seamlessly places all the functions crucial to running a law firm on a single integrated platform that everyone in your firm can access. Focused on uniformity, Zola Suite provides consistent functionality across all your daily tasks.

From email, to document management, to accounting, everything is in one place. Even better, Zola Suite’s user interface is highly intuitive, resulting in a clean platform that is user-friendly even for the least tech-savvy lawyer in your office. With a single click of a plus sign, you can add new entries to any part of the system, whether it’s creating a calendar entry, starting a new document, or adding a contact.

On your main dashboard, you will find everything you need to tackle your day, conveniently organized by matter number.

From the moment you open a new matter to the day you send your final invoice, Zola Suite is designed make your life easier.

Emailing and Task Management

We all know email is the crux of practicing law these days, and it’s one of Zola Suite’s strongest features. The platform allows you to link your current email address without clunky workarounds, gaining fully integrated functionality with the rest of your work files.

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The beauty of Zola Suite is that everything operates by matter numbers. Even emails and contacts are assigned matter numbers, creating seamless integration of every item assigned to a particular case. When you’re drafting an email, Zola Suite automatically identifies key contacts and possible attachments that are relevant only to that email’s specific matter number.

There’s no longer any excuse for emailing the wrong person or attaching a file from the wrong case. Gone are the days when you have to worry about accidentally emailing opposing counsel John Smith instead of your client Jim Smith – as long as you’ve updated your contacts, Zola Suite will suggest the right one for you, and you can add it with a simple click. The same goes for attachments. Only documents that have been assigned the same matter number as your email will be suggested as attachments, saving you from having to browse through numerous subfolders to find the right contract. With things as crucial as privilege on the line, any tool that helps eliminate email errors is a tool you need.

Another key feature of Zola Suite is the ability to assign tasks, both newly created, and from emails or calendar events. Surpassing the traditional Outlook invitation that gives only a yes or no reply option, tasks in Zola Suite are far more dynamic – you can assign specific deadlines, see the current status of tasks (including the convenient “Waiting on Someone Else”), monitor which tasks have been completed or are overdue, send reminders, and make tasks recurring.

Anyone who has juggled multiple tasks while supervising others will appreciate the benefits of a system that not only makes it easier to keep track of all the outstanding tasks on a case, but also enforces accountability by those to whom they’ve been assigned.

The task functionality goes hand in hand with your Zola Suite calendar, which is conveniently color-coded by type of task. It even has the option to mark calendar entries private, which is invaluable. No busy lawyer has time to cross-reference work and personal calendars when scheduling a conference call, and not everyone needs to know you have doctor’s appointment on Wednesday.

Billing and Accounting

Zola - time-sheets-mpb (1)Let’s face it – lawyers don’t have a reputation for being accounting geniuses. Nonetheless, we all know that accounting is crucial to the success of any law practice. Thankfully, Zola Suite provides a full accounting system that’s both easy to use and configured specifically for law firms. Mindful of regulations about things like escrow accounts and the comingling of funds, the platform allows you to manage multiple bank accounts and associate all ingoing and outgoing payments, expenses, and invoices with specific matter numbers. And because the accounting system is native to the application, you don’t have to subscribe to a third party service or worry about your data syncing correctly with an outside system.

Zola Suite even makes billing painless. There is no shortage of ways to keep track of your time – nearly every screen gives you a timer, and you can have multiple timers running at once. You can even bill your time while drafting an email.

With built-in billing parameters that are customizable for each case, whether it’s time-based, flat fee, contingency, or some other arrangement, your time can be converted into a polished invoice with one click. The system will also flag unbilled hours and unpaid invoices, ensuring that you’re always collecting for the work you do. Zola Suite also integrates with LawPay, increasing your likelihood of getting paid.

On the Go

In today’s digital world, work doesn’t stop when you leave the office. Because clients can reach you anytime and anywhere, success requires full mobile functionality. With dedicated iOS and Android apps, Zola Suite allows you to access your entire platform no matter where you are. The incorporation of fingerprint recognition ensures that your sensitive information stays secure when you’re on the go.

Zola - androidZola Suite also takes networking to the next level. You never know when the next person you meet might become your next big client. The apps offer a really cool feature that allows you to scan business cards and save them as new contacts. You can even take a picture to add to the new entry. There’s no longer any excuse for losing someone’s information as you’re hustling from meeting to meeting.

One-Stop Practice Management

In addition to its superior email, document management, and accounting functionality, Zola Suite offers a slew of other features that will increase the efficiency of your day-to-day practice.

  • Virtual Notepad – Zola Suite allows you to take notes right in the platform, eliminating the need to later waste time trying to transcribe your illegible handwriting. Complete with auto formatting, the ability to add images, and an export to PDF function, your notes will look professional. And because they’re saved to a specific matter number, you can easily share them with anyone else on the team.
  • Document encryption – Zola Suite incorporates an encrypted client portal, allowing you to send and share documents that you know are secure.
  • Access Restrictions – User access can be restricted on a per-matter basis, allowing you to address conflicts concerns and easily create a virtual firewall when necessary. You can also restrict access to certain business functions, such as creating final invoices or monitoring firm finances.
  • Form Builder tool – Zola Suite will soon be launching a document automation tool. By allowing the ability to build pre-set fields and load them into frequently used document templates, this will slash the time needed to draft standard documents.

The reality of today’s legal market is that a reliable and efficient cloud-based system is crucial to running any competitive legal practice. With affordable per-month rates, Zola Suite is a good option for firms keeping a close watch on expenses; and because there aren’t service tiers, a one-year subscription gives you full access to every feature the platform offers.

It’s time to make technology work for you. Designed around the way law firms function, Zola Suite may just be the busy lawyer’s new best friend.

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alt.legal-Winner-300x572Zola Suite is the winner of the alt. legal Innovation Award  for Practice Management at this year’s Above The Law Academy for Private Practice (APP).