Red Cave Law Firm Consulting's Technology Blog Series (from CEO Jared D. Correia, Esq.)
Quarter 3 2020
9/28/2020: Oh the Horror: Don't Be Left Without a Data Backup
You know what’s really scary? Losing your law firm data. Even so, many law firms don’t utilize effective data backups.
Every business needs to backup its electronic data; but, the imperative is even more important for law firms, which have ethical and fiduciary duties tied to their client relationships. And, although it’s now 2018, many law firms subsist on remarkably thin data backup systems. This is true even though law firm data loss is not an extremely rare or impossible occurrence. Fires, floods, natural and manmade disasters -- those all still wipe out law firm data. So, if you’re concentrating on securing your law firm data backup, there’s no time like the present to get a handle on it.
This is a three-step method to making sure your data is recoverable:
(1) Set up a physical data backup. It doesn’t really matter what it is (some firms still use backup tapes) -- just have something in place. (If you’re picky, check out an ioSafe harddrive; these things are basically indestructible.) And, whatever physical backup tool you use, don’t leave it at your office, with all of your other hardware. Take it to another location at the end of the day -- the last thing you want is to have your on-premise data backup unit engulfed in the same disaster that takes down the physical hardware it’s supposed to be backing up.
(2) Next, you’ll want to supplement your physical data backup drive with an incremental, online backup system, like Carbonite. The idea here is that if the physical drive fails, you have a cloud-based copy; and conversely, if the online copy is unavailable, you have a physical backup. Services also provide physical drives with a cloud-based backup, if you’re hunting for a 2-in-1 solution.
(3) And, last but not least, you should always test your data backups in non-emergency situations, just to see if they are working properly. The last thing you want is to be trying to figure out how your data backup works (or determining whether it works at all) in a true emergency.
9/23/2020: High Volume: A Basic Encryption Strategy for Law Firms
Most lawyers have a general understanding of what encryption does. (If you don’t, let me introduce you to Wikipedia). Nevertheless, most attorneys don’t feel like they have a comprehensive plan for managing encryption in their law firms, when it comes to sending secure files to clients and colleagues. That leaves a lot of law firms feeling a little insecure. But, there’s a simple strategy for managing encryption in law firms, that’s entirely based on the volume of files you need to encrypt.
If you don’t send out a lot of documents that need to be encrypted, you can use the built-in tools in Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat to encrypt those documents. Apply passwords, and then call the recipient with the password -- don’t email it along with the document.
If you do send out a lot of documents that need to be encrypted, use an email encryption system that will allow you to manually encrypt certain emails and their contents, or to automate the process. With an email encryption tool, you can set up specific encryption triggers (for certain data types, e.g. -social security numbers, or for specific state laws) that will alert the system to automatically encrypt an email and any attachments -- you don’t need to encrypt documents anymore, because your email system will read the attachments and encrypt them for you, if necessary. Recipients will be brought to a secure inbox (requiring a specific password that they will set), to access the encrypted materials. Providers of email encryption software include Reflexion and ZixCorp.
If you use a law practice management system, most of these programs now include a client portal, through which you can send to clients and colleagues documents and notifications. Since these client portals are part of your case management system, they’re encrypted just like the rest of the software. And, recipients create a unique password to access what you share with them.
9/15/2020: Paper Tiger: The Best Way to Start Scanning Your Documents
If you ever want to stop practicing law, and become a business management consultant, here’s how you do it: When lawyers ask you about going paperless, recommend the Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500. It is, hands-down, the best scanner for law firms on the market; and, in over a decade of consulting work, I’ve never had a single complaint about it. It’s fast, it’s wireless, it works on both PCs and Macs, it’s portable and it comes with PDF conversion software. This version of the ScanSnap is under $500, and you can usually find discounts online, at sites like New Egg. If you want to go paperless, but have been stymied by figuring out what hardware you need to get started, now you’ve got your answer.
This is not a product pitch, and I’ve never received a penny from Fujistu -- it’s just my opinion, backed by long experience. However, if you find that the ScanSnap ix500 does not suit your needs, there are other versions of the ScanSnap available, including some smaller ones. The ScanSnap is a great personal scanner, but if you have a bigger office, you might prefer a large scanner/copier for use by your entire team -- even if some folks have personal scanners for travel or appointments. Among the other companies that sell business class scanners, Canon offers some excellent options, and Brother has traditionally been a source of relatively inexpensive, high yield devices.
But, whatever scanner you choose, get one, get scanning, and begin to derive the benefits of a paperless law practice.
9/9/2020: Training Day: This Is One Reason Law Firms Need Intuitive Software
Law firms have never been particularly great at onboarding of staff, including associate attorneys. I suspect that most lawyers agree that effective staffing is essential; but, most attorneys are so deep into the substantive work they do that they don’t prioritize training. At the same time, attorneys usually just let their technology wash over them, using what they’ve always used, while again focusing on their substantive work, and fearing the productivity dip inherent in adding new software. In law firm management, however, having the right technology and placing the right staff are inherently tied together.
Let’s take it as a given that law firms do not, and will not, allocate extensive resources to onboarding new employees. Let’s also assume that modern associates continue to be primarily trained in substantive law in law school, and that they are more comfortable with technology than their predecessors. As noted above, senior lawyers and managing attorneys very much prefer training new associates and employees on substantive matters of law than on the use of technology and processes. The situation sets up as a perfect storm for law firms to ease the introduction of new personnel by utilizing intuitive software, which their employees can (by and large) figure out themselves, while focusing on what they do well: substantive legal training over the long haul. If law firms use the right software, they can empower their employees to help develop effective operational procedures.
So, it turns out that law firms using intuitive, modern software can ease their training burdens. But, while that reduces time spent in the training process, it requires law firms to more effectively vet the tools they offer their employees for ease of use. And, that is a burden shift that most managing attorneys should feel comfortable with.
9/2/2020: It's a Goal! Developing Revenue Projections for your Law Firm
Law firms operate between ad hoc decision making and fire-putting-out. It’s the natural state of the law firm manager. That being said, humans have been improving on the state of nature since there have been humans. So, it’s maybe not the worst thing in the world if this is the year you decide to put together revenue projections for your law firm.
If you’ve never done it before, start now. (Don’t wait until January, and cram this in, like everything else in your life.). The reason you create revenue projections for your law firm is because you need goals, just like everybody else. If you don’t have revenue goals to strive for, you’re far more likely to accept the status quo (even if you don’t like it), and your law firm will begin to stagnate. Applying revenue goals applies pressure, gets you out of your comfort zone and (spoiler alert): will likely mean you actually make more money, even if you don’t ultimately hit your projections right away.
If you’ve never made revenue projections before, here are some basic tips to help you get started:
(1) In order to know how much you need to make, you need to know what you have to cover. So, start with your overhead. (If you don’t have a budget, now would be a good time to build one.)
(2) Determine how much profit you make on an annual basis right now.
(3) Now comes the best part: decide how much more you want to make; and then, create three sets of revenue projections. Build out passive, moderate and aggressive models. Approach this like climbing a pyramid. Try to reach the passive (lowest) goal first, and then build up to the moderate and aggressive figures. If you can continue to get to aggressive figures year over year, it’s about the best incentive you can have in growing your practice.
(4) To improve your chances for success, understand the concrete steps you need to take to reach your goals, at all levels. If you use flat fee billing, know how many more new cases you’ll have to take on this year to reach your goals. If you’re an hourly biller, figure out the number of additional hours you’ll need.
8/25/2020: Write This Down: Content Marketing is Cheap and Effective
Despite changes to advertising rules, lawyers have marketed themselves in much the same way for generations. You find an office space, you go out and network, you do good work, and more work comes in. But, as consumers have become more discerning, and as law firm choices continue to proliferate, lawyers continue to stick with the same marketing strategy they always have. There is, however, a cost.
As more and more potential law firm clients look for lawyers online, lawyers ignoring that medium risk decreased intake, and consequently decreased revenue. This is not to say that attorneys don’t understand that the internet is a thing. To the contrary, lawyers want to access more leads online. But two roadblocks stand in their way: (1) they don’t know how to do it; and, (2) they think it costs too much. Fortunately, content marketing solves for both problems.
You can start with a blog. Think of the ten most common questions your clients have, and write ten plain language responses. When you publish those, consider how your potential client will search for information online. If they’re not searching for a lawyer’s name, they’re likely typing in questions, which you’ve answered. Your relevant answers are more likely to come up in search.
And, see how easy it is to write a blog post. I just did it.
8/17/2020: The Customer Is Always Right: How to Develop Consumer-Friendly Pricing for Law Firms
Modern law firm consumers are an entirely new breed. They have more law firm options than ever before, and aren’t afraid to use them. They are committed to mobile search. They are more cost-sensitive than any consumer base in modern history. Absent a near-instantaneous response from a potential lawyer hire, they will immediately move on to the next attorney on their list.
This can be frustrating for law firms, whose billing practices tend to be antiquated. Hourly billing, without a cap, is perhaps the scariest consumer pricing arrangement there is. Put yourself in the shoes of your potential client, and ask how appealing it would be to sign an agreement undefined in length, and with a high hourly rate attached. Furthermore, if you’re asking for retainers, consider whether you’d be able to draw that cashier’s check on your own bank account, on short notice.
The good news is that these two obvious roadblocks to client engagement for law firms admit of straightforward solutions . . . if you’re willing to try them. To solve for the uncapped fee structure objection: cap your fees. There are multiple ways to accomplish this, including: adopting flat fees; quoting a set number of hours and giving yourself a bonus if you come in below that number – or, if not, collecting a reduced rate for any hours over that number; or, creating limited scope engagement agreements. In order to ease the liquidity burden on your clients, allow them to pay you via credit card through electronic payment processing tools. This will allow your clients to access the funds they need, and removes the collection burden from you: you get paid, and the credit card company collects.
Law practice is a highly competitive market; but, by offering clients modern payment options, you can separate yourself from the pack.
8/10/2020: The Strong Silent Type: Password Managers Bridge the Gap Between Convenience and Security
Do you reuse the same passwords over and over again? Or, do you find yourself creating ever simpler passwords, so they’re easier to remember? Do you instead use really complicated passwords that you keep on sticky notes around the office? In the short run, these are easy solutions to password management; but, in the long term, it’s a security loophole that’s bound to come back to bite you.
The intersection between personal convenience and data security is a password manager. With a password management tool, you select a master password for your account, then choose passwords for each of your other accounts -- and the password manager will prefill all of those other passwords for you, which will allow you to create passwords that are hypercomplex, without the necessity for memorizing them. For example, if you’ve logged into your password manager, when you navigate to your Dropbox account, or your Outlook email, or Quickbooks, your secure password will be filled in automatically. Log out of your password manager, and it’s back to manual entry.
There is no such thing as a perfect solution for data security; but, password managers allow you to build complex passwords without the need for memorizing them -- and, that eliminates the primary problem related to password security.
8/2/2020: Sock It To ‘Em: Google Penalizes Non-Secure Websites
Law firms depend on their websites to generate clients. For most law firms, if the website is not the primary driver of referrals, it’s confirmation to your potential clients that you’re an invested business owner, and is perhaps the first avenue through which you begin to build trust with consumers.
You’re probably asking yourself three questions:
What is an SSL certificate? Basically, it’s encryption for data transfers made via your website. You can read more detail here. This issue is actually probably more important for attorneys than it is for general business owners, because law firms that offer online contact options often have leads who are non-clients submitting confidential information via those forms. A disclaimer offers you some level of protection against penalties related to malpractice, but has no practical effect on protecting the data transferred.
What can I do if my website’s not secure? Well, this one’s easy. Get an SSL certificate in place. I use the free version from CloudFlare on my website. If you can’t figure out how to add the SSL certificate yourself, contact your web designer to do it for you.