Practice Tools


George Bernard Shaw said that his “main reason for adopting literature as a profession was that, as the author is never seen by his clients, he need not dress respectably” – I’ve been test driving a Virtual Law Office in the hopes that, like Mr. Shaw, I could, on occasion, dress a bit less respectably (or at the very least wander about the office barefoot) and  TotalAttorneys  has been good enough to allow me to abuse their product, picking nits, and ask odd questions since mid-June. I’ve come away very impressed.

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Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons. R. Buckminster Fuller

Technology is slowly making inroads out here in the hinterlands. GPS, GIS, and laptops are transforming how fields are managed, crops are planted, and even who (to be more accurate, that should read “what”) is steering the equipment. Combine this new technology with the farmer’s existing knowledge about the raw inputs and the result is more efficient farming as crops are planted at optimal spacings by equipment moving at optimal speeds and engines turning at optimal rates.

The interesting thing is that the requirements of the raw inputs are driving the technological improvements. It seems that the successful advances either reduce operator workload or provide better management of the raw materials. All the rest seems to lie on the shelf neatly polished under a light film of dust.

Technology is rapidly making inroads in the legal profession. From smart-phones to SaaS,  VoIP to VLOs, and e-fax & e-mail to social networking, there appears to be a high tech solution to each and every problem you can think of and some you’ve not even thought of yet. But I am left wondering if we, as a profession, are building the right machinery or if, in our headlong rush into the 23rd century we are building a highly polished, intricately complex, highly efficient machine best suited to gathering dust.

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Emmerson observed that “nature is a mutable cloud, which is always and never the same”. The same observation can be made about web-based practice management systems.  In her latest screencast, Nicole Black does an excellent job in reviewing the mutable world of web-based practice management systems. She does an excellent job of comparing and contrasting the features of the 3 major players in the web-based LPM world (Clio, LawRD & Rocket Matter) with on-screen demonstrations of each of the systems. If you are thinking of investing in a web-based LPM service, Ms. Black’s screencast is a must see.

While Ms. Black does provide some general words of warning about the ethical traps and general risks involved with using web-based systems (in fact, I applaud her insistance that one checks out the service’s data backup and recovery systems before investing), I would have liked more in-depth information on these subjects. (more…)

Checklists and procedures seem to go hand in hand. We all seem to have them, lists that outline the key points to cover at that first client interview, to perform when handling a real estate closing, to cover when closing a file, etc. The elements of standard procedure reduced to bullet points and checked off one by one as the task is performed. The problem with checklists is that they are really designed to be used by two people – one to read the list, the other to perform the action. Running a randomly ordered checklist solo is inefficient – sure you can cover all the points, but ask yourself: how many times did you lose your place, or have to back up a step or two just to be sure?

Now for the good news, there’s a way to improve checklist efficiency. Its the flow concept and comes from aviation. The idea is to accomplish a task through the use of specific patterns. A flow simply structures an important task so that every element is completed in the correct order and nothing is missed. Think of it as a Gantt chart you perform.

The basic concept is to:

  • arrange the flow so that items are performed in a natural, logical sequence so that step B builds from step A
    • memorize the “killer” steps – those things that have to be done even if everything else is forgotten
  • interact with the steps in the flow
    • touch the physical item a step refers to
    • verbalize each step as it is accomplished
  • follow up with a single run through of the checklist

A good flow acts as a type of mnemonic, allow a procedure to be accomplished smoothly, naturally and efficiently.

The harsh reality is that law school only teaches theory and, until recently, learning the actual practice of law was taught by that harsh task-master experience. For the new associate just entering an established law firm, experience’s lessons are tempered by the older and wiser partners, however for those of us who march to our own drumbeat as solo practitioners finding mentors can be a daunting task. On March 20th, 2009, this changes with the opening of Solo Practice University.

Solo Practice University is the brain child of Susan Cartier Liebel and stems from her frustration with the inability of law schools to cover the innumerable variables that are unique to the actual solo practice of law. Solo Practice University is an on-line community bringing law students and solo practitioners together with an  experienced, nationally recognized faculty. (more…)

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