Rural Technocracy

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.

Continue reading Rural Technocracy

The Mutable Cloud

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. Continue reading The Mutable Cloud

A Pattern For Procedure

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.

Solo Practice University: Mentorship For The Rural Lawyer

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. Continue reading Solo Practice University: Mentorship For The Rural Lawyer

Virtual Law Office Technology For The Rural Lawyer

Many of my clients are located in rural areas of North Carolina. It would take them an hour to drive to “the big city” to meet with an attorney in person. However, these clients have access to the Internet and like any other segment of the population, they need access to legal services from time to time.

As a way to meet this public need, for the past three years I have used my web-based virtual law office (VLO) to provide online unbundled legal services to clients across the state of NC where I am licensed to practice law. Sometimes the work is transactional, such as drafting contracts, leases, setting up businesses or drafting estate planning documents. Other times I provide basic legal advice and guidance as my clients navigate the justice system as a pro se litigant in their small county courthouse. The public response to a web-based virtual law office as an alternative method of communicating with an attorney has been great. Continue reading Virtual Law Office Technology For The Rural Lawyer

The eFax Option

How does one handle the occasional fax? The traditional model is to buy a standalone fax machine or a multi-function printer and either pay for a dedicated phone line or a line sharing device. The other option is eFax.

eFax services convert a fax into a digital file that can be received by eMail and vice versa. The typical eFax solution provides a dedicated fax phone number that will convert incoming faxes to email attachments that are automatically sent to your eMail address. Your outgoing faxes are sent as eMail attachments to the eFax service which sends them to physical fax numbers so your outgoing faxes are received just as if they had been sent by a standard fax machine.

Based on research done by FaxCompare, the “market standard” is for a service to provide a 30-day free trial, have no start up fee or hidden fees, and to offer 24/7 customer service and both send/receive capabilities. Expect to pay about $10 per month for 300 total pages (incoming & outgoing combined) with additional pages costing about $0.10 per page.

Here is a “SaaS” model that works for me. It is less expensive than owning dedicated hardware, is more efficient since it cuts down the number of steps needed to send a fax, should be more reliable, and is more secure (faxes go to specific eMail addresses rather than sit in the fax machine until someone picks them up). Plus it is the “greener” alternative. The best part is that FaxCompare has done most of the comparison shopping already and offers a set of apples-to-apples vendor reviews.