Retro or Different

It’s pretty clear now that what looked like it might have been some kind of counterculture is, in reality, just the plain old chaos of undifferentiated weirdness.Jerry Garcia

Different seems to be the watchword for today’s new breed of lawyers; these rising stars with their different philosophies on billing, on marketing, and on the practice of law in general. We are seeing the birth of a legal counterculture, marked not by long-hair and tie-dyed T-shirts but by iPads, smartphones, and SaaS clouds. Out here in small town America, the trappings of old, republican, conservative law die hard (there is still the expectation of brick and mortar offices, three-piece suits, and varnished oak desks) and one has to sneak different into one’s practice slowly.

It is not that clients aren’t receptive to different, it is just that they really don’t care about it. Clients are interested in outcomes; more specifically, they are interested in paying you for solutions to their particular problem – they don’t care about the process or what technology you use to expedite your research, they just want the solution to be palatable. For the rural lawyer, technology’s role is not as practice differentiator (well, there may be a few referral sources that will be impressed by a law firm’s use of technology to implement a stream-lined, systems-based approach to handling client matters, but the average client won’t care if you have a new smartphone or a 5 year old flip phone); technology’s role is to simply improve your efficiency and reduce your costs.

In my one-man-band solo practice, technology is what keeps me sane. It allows me to have a human voice answer my phone and direct calls to me and it allows me to spend 30 minutes dictating a contract rather than 2 hours typing all without the overhead of having to employ actual staff. Technology allows me to run a paperless office secure in the knowledge that between my RAID arrays and backup software my business data will always be readily accessible. Tickler systems keep me on task, and e-mail filters help me manage information distraction.

The only thing different about my technology is that it’s not different – no cutting edge open source software, no public SaaS clouds, no smartphones or tablets. The only new piece of technology I could really use is a typewriter (I’m really fed up with filling out the 3-part Certificate of Real Estate Value by hand). Perhaps retro will be the new different.

2 thoughts on “Retro or Different

  1. Hi Bruce. I’m planning on starting a solo practice in rural PA next year, and I’m a bit of a luddite. Could you possibly explain how you do the things mentioned in your second to last paragraph? For example, what providers and/or tech specifically you use? Thanks so much.

  2. Clare,

    If you are just starting a practice, you don’t need the kind of technology that I’m talking about in that paragraph. Frankly, until you have clients, the only must-have technology is a phone and a business card – you don’t even need to have an office since you can always make house calls. The very best thing you can do to make sure that your practice is off to a good start is to keep your overhead low, very, very low; it is far easier to save a dollar than it is to make a dollar. Once you have clients and an income stream, then and only then is it time to start looking into how you might leverage technology.

    However, to answer your question, my basic setup is fairly simple. I started with a Mac Mini as my desktop system. Connected to that is a Fujitsu Snap Scan, a OWC Mercury Elite Pro Qx2 RAID array, and an IOSafe Solo hard drive. Hanging off my network is an HP CP2025 printer. Every piece of paper that comes in gets scanned and stored on the RAID array. Apple’s TimeMachine backs up the data to the IOSafe and I use Crashplan to backup my data to a remote site. I use Daylite as my practice management/client management system. For legal assistant/typist services, I use – a great service now that I’m over my fear of dictation; I simply record my dictation on to an Olympus WS-600S, upload the resulting digital file to their secure website and 24 hours later download a word document. As far as receptionist services go, I currently use DaVinci Receptionists, but that will be changing soon (their recent fee increases have reduced my return on investment to the point where it will be more profitable to switch to another service). I am currently looking into the feasability of using either Google Voice or Grasshopper.

    Well, that’s the nutshell answer. Feel free to contact me offline if you’d like to discuss things in more detail.

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