Red Cave Law Firm Consulting's Technology Blog Series (from CEO Jared D. Correia, Esq.)
Quarter 4 2020
12/29/2020: Line Item: Do You Know Where Your Overhead Is?
Law firms tend to not track things well. That includes time and billing, where they regularly tend to leave hours on the table. But, it also extends to other parts of the practice. So, when was the last time you examined your budget?
Lawyers who know their overhead are empowered because they have a baseline idea of what they need to make to keep the lights on, and what they need to make over and above that to earn a comfortable living. Knowing those things means that the law firm can better forecast revenue and also set revenue goals, both of which are important to effective law firm management.
This all makes sense; but, the challenge lies in creating a current snapshot of the law firm budget. Many managing attorneys don’t track their expenses effectively, which means they never get an accurate sense of their overhead, which by extension means that their revenue projections are less likely to be accurate and the revenue goals are less likely to be realistic.
In a practical sense, this means that many law firms spend too much money. Since they’re not checking up on what they’re paying for, they are less likely to scrutinize budget items, so they can make changes if necessary. Is the law firm hanging onto outdated technology? Is there a marketing campaign that continues to run to little effect? Since most lawyers don’t continually ask and answer these questions, they’re not trimming their budgets in a consistent fashion, in order to keep their overhead numbers as low as possible.
Even something as simple as sticking to an annual budget review can help you save real money.
12/22/2020: Gateway: How Changing Your Email Can Enhance Your Entire Technology Infrastructure
Lawyers are funny in that they sometimes treat cloud technology vendors like visitors from another planet, featuring a mixture of awe and fear. (‘To Serve Man’ - it’s a cookbook!) This stems from an unfamiliarity with cloud tools; but, lawyers aren’t dumb -- they’re just occupied business managers whose primary focus is the substantive tasks they need to do. Next comes marketing. Then comes technology.
If you want the TL;DR version of the cloud, here it is: When you use cloud technology, you’re renting space on someone else’s servers (your vendor’s) instead of buying your own. It’s as simple as that. And, the reason people love cloud technology is because you access it via the internet. That means such systems are device agnostic; and, that means you can work from anywhere (Maui?) you can find a secure internet connection.
Now then, you may be saying to yourself: ‘That’s great; but, I’m still not sure I’m comfortable using the cloud’. Or, maybe you’re saying: ‘Well, I’m sold; buuuuut . . . [PERSON] in my firm would never be down with that’. Well, here’s your gateway drug to all things cloud: Office 365. Office 365 is the internet version of Microsoft Office desktop. They’re very similar; and, even traditional lawyers will feel at home in the warmth of Office online. Not only that: if they don’t, each individual subscription for Office 365 comes with up to 5 Office desktop downloads for the traditionalists in your midst. Set it up so everything saves back to the cloud, and your stalwarts can work, essentially, as they always have.
12/14/2020: Keep the Change: The Worst Enemy of Law Firm Change Management is Inertia
Law firms cite to a lot of things, like cases. But, when it comes to modernizing business management tactics, law firms cite traditional barriers, like cost and effort. Law firm culture is a static one, embracing of the status quo, at all costs. If you’re a lawyer, you’re probably willing to remain on the Titanic, as it recedes below the water line, because jumping into a life boat seems like a significant and uncomfortable change. You’re convinced that the ship can be righted, right up until the bitter end; and so, you ride your server down to the ocean floor.
Part of the problem is that lawyers tend to ignore business management issues until they can’t anymore. And, even when obvious and solvable problems arise, lawyers still stick their heads in the sand. It’s easy to convince yourself that it’s easier to do nothing, while your business falls apart.
In law school, lawyers are taught to be reactive problem solvers; and, they never forget that. That’s a perfectly serviceable approach when clients are coming to you with problems — that’s how it’s supposed to work. But, that’s a big problem when you’re trying to manage a business. Being reactive, being responsive to emergencies, that’s a flammable mix in the business management environment. As a business manager, your object is to be forward thinking. Your goal is to try to identify trends, and act on them. Your strategy is to be proactive, to respond to potential problems before they become kinetic problems.
It’s tough to fight inertia in the law firm environment, especially when, on a practical level, it’s easier to just ignore a software upgrade because veteran secretary Bernice is just not that into it. But, when the screws begin to fall off, it’s tough to patch things up in the air.
12/7/2020: Code Red: Why Lawyers Don't Need to Code
I mean, don’t get me wrong, lawyers can code, if they want to; but, they don’t have to.
There’s a prevailing argument in legal tech circles over whether lawyers should be coders. This argument is often misconstrued to mean that lawyers should be developing their own software. And, that’s an entirely different thing. It’s sort of like making the assumption that the guy who tinkers with an old Corvette on the weekend should launch an automotive corporation. And, the same argument applies for lawyers that applies to that weekend warrior: he shouldn’t do that because he can make more money in his day job, which also carries with it far less risk. The point is: if you want to be a lawyer, be a lawyer; if you want to start a software company, start a software company. But, don’t do both.
The math works, too.
Solo, small and large law firms waste money and resources when they develop their own software, rather than using off-the-shelf software that can be customized for far less than it costs to build software from scratch. The situation is even worse when lawyers become involved in a software build, because lawyers charge far more money than the average software developer or consultant, which means that lawyers are leaving money on the table when they do anything but lawyer. Those attorneys who stick to substantive practice and farm out lower leverage activities make money; those lawyers who abandon those activities lose money. That’s why it’s so important to practice at the top of your law license if you’re an attorney, and to effectively delegate work.
11/30/2020: Spread Offense: Diversification is Key to Law Firm Marketing Efforts
When thinking about how to market a law firm effectively, the question of frequency is important, especially as it relates to content marketing: get as much of your stuff out there into the world, as often as you can, and people are bound to pay attention to you. It’s not quite that simple; but, that is the gist of it. In addition to having a lot of marketing materials in your holster, though, it’s also important to consider the breadth of your marketing attack.
In 2020, you can’t just market to one or two channels, because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to know where your best leads are going to be looking for legal services information. Maybe your best client is somebody who’s given up on Google search, and now prefers ‘in-app search’, because that’s easier to do on a smartphone? Or, maybe your best client has given up on Facebook, and switched to LinkedIn, to avoid all the political noise? Perhaps your best client prefers video to text, yet you insist on blogging regularly . . . The point is, you don’t know, and even analytics services don’t tell the entire story. So, since some of legal marketing still comes down to making your best guess, it is better to execute breadth, rather than depth. Publish to as many channels as possible, and use whatever effective insights you can acquire to direct your efforts. Think of it like fishing: fishermen have a general sense of where the fish are, but when they get there, they still use a big-ass net.
11/24/2020: Site Gags: 3 Things to Consider When Choosing a Website Designer
For my money, unless you have actually been a real-life, honest-to-goodness website designer at some point in your career, and if you're a lawyer, it's never a good idea to design and maintain your own website. It's kind of like performing open heart surgery on yourself, and it can have the same negative effects on your business that it would on your body -- including the potential for flat-lining. Even otherwise traditional law firms are drawing more and more business from the web; and so, the law firm website, as the online hub for your business, continues to be vital to generating law firm revenue.
So, let's start at the beginning, and I'll tell you three things to watch out for when you're choosing a website design firm:
(1) Own your Own Domain. The cheesiest website design scam is when the vendor buys your domain name for you and sells it back to you for an exorbitant rate before the vendor will release you from your contract. No reputable provider does this. There is, of course, an easy fix to this: buy your domain name(s) before you hire a web designer,
(2) Don't Pay for Simple Updates. I hear from so many attorney who tell me they're paying their website designers hundreds of dollars an hour to make basic page updates to websites: things like revising contact information or publishing a blog post or adding a photo. By and large, with modern CMS systems, you should be able to make basic changes on your own by accessing the backend of your site. Now, if you truly don't want to make any changes to your website, but want to farm that out instead, that's cool: just make the choice consciously, and understand the cost.
(3) Subscription Maintenance Plans. Most everything you pay for (especially in the realm of technology) is moving toward a subscription payment model. (This is mostly because it stabilizes income for vendors; it's the closest thing a business owner can get to a salary.) And, the subscription model is becoming more prevalent in website design, as well. The majority of vendors are now charging monthly maintenance fees. But, if you don't want that -- maybe you want an annual review instead, or the opportunity to call your vendor to troubleshoot if an ad hoc issue arises -- make sure you're clear about that with your vendor, and that you negotiate the term out of the contract. Understand the risk, though. It's like buying home heating oil in the Northeast on a monthly basis versus when the tank is empty: if the winter is unseasonably cold, you win out with the former strategy, and if the winter is unseasonably warm, you win out with the latter strategy. If your contact form breaks, do you want to be left out in the cold?
11/18/2020: Second Hand News: Three Ways Keeping Your Clients Informed Benefits You
Many lawyers view client communications as bothersome. An interruption from the important work of lawyering. Of course, that work is being done for clients; so, it’s important that they know what’s going on, right? But, this isn’t just a one way street. In fact, lawyers derive lots of benefits from staying in touch with their clients. So, let’s address three of those . . .
Reduce Malpractice Risk. Lawyers might presume that they know their own cases better than anyone. Not true. Attorneys who, for example, try to manage conflict checks in their head, would be well-served to use software to manage client and related party contacts. In a similar vein, no one has lived inside of any legal case, especially a fact-based one, better than the client. That means that it’s important to stay in touch with your clients – because you never know what they might rediscover about a case you thought you had a handle on. A good rule of thumb is to contact your active clients via phone or email every six weeks, to keep tabs on what’s going on. You just might learn something about the case you thought you knew so well.
Get Paid More. One of the most important things a lawyer can do is to tell her clients when she doesn’t charge him. Far too many lawyers are apt to leave items that have not been charged to the client off of the bill. But, the opposite tactic is far better. Add in the work, and then use a giant, honking ‘NO CHARGE’ designation on the invoice for that line item. Your client will feel like you’re not nickel-and-diming him, and will be far more inclined to pay for bigger ticket items when the time comes, because of your established track record for only charging for what’s absolutely necessary.
Get More Clients. There is nothing a law firm client hates more than a law firm that won’t get in touch. This is probably the number one reason why clients hate their lawyers. I mean, think about it: you just paid someone $5,000 to do something, and then you don’t hear from them for a year. At that point, you probably prefer your internet service provider to your attorney. So, stay in regular contact with your clients, keep them happy, and generate more referrals. Having more people to reach out to on a regularly recurring basis is a good problem to have.
11/10/2020: Chainlink: How to Build a More Efficient Law Practice in 2021
Yes, it’s hard to believe; but, it’s almost 2021, everyone. Can’t be worse than 2020, right?
The turning of the calendar is just another opportunity to improve your business management. Now, what business owner among us would NOT want that opportunity.
So, let me tell you what you need to do in 2021, that you haven’t done yet:
This is the year you turn your law firm into a high performance machine. You’re currently driving a Chevrolet Chevette; by the end of next year, I want you to be rolling up in a Ford Mustang. And, Ford is the optimal analogy here; your job one this next year, is to build the law firm version of Ford’s assembly line. Build systems, save time, do more work, make more money. Rinse, repeat.
Don’t view the notion of a high-performing practice, as many attorneys do, as a bad thing. Embrace operational efficiency, and it will pay dividends. Now, I know that your inclination as a lawyer is to tinker, to putter around with different practice areas, and different cases. But, it’s up to you to tamp down that desire, and focus on running a business, not your own postgraduate learning program. The object of your business is that it will make you money; so, build your business for its highest purpose.
If your law firm is not currently focused on efficiency, look to make upgrades to your processes, with an eye toward becoming as efficient as possible, without sacrificing quality. If you’re not using a document automation tool to build documents, think about adding one. If your intake process is not formalized, build one. If you have no idea how work gets done in your office, spend more time observing your staff and their relative effectiveness. Lawyers tend to distrust automation; but, those who embrace it are eating their competitors’ lunches.
Time to feast.
11/2/2020: Product-Market Fit: How to Make More Money by Working with Non-Traditional Law Firm Clients
Lawyers have always billed clients the same way: by the hour. (Yawn.)
But, there’s a reason why subscription services like Netflix flourish: it’s because of the low level of investment, and the high value of return. People have little problem dropping $15 per month on Netflix; but, if Netflix jacked the price up, or severely restricted the number of entertainment offerings included, there’d be a problem. Law firms seem to suffer from that very issue: a lack of differentiated offerings and a heavy price point. It’s a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, bound up by a total lack of imagination.
Of course, there’s a logical resolution here. If clients think law firms charge too much and don’t offer enough services, the solution is to charge less, and to offer more services. Sound impossible? It’s not; and, this is the very reason law firms are productizing their services. What does that mean? Simply put, it means that law firms are creating non-traditional service packages for clients at a more affordable, and often flat, rate that is lower than standard law firm pricing. An example would be a law firm that represents small businesses in litigation matters, selling a litigation risk audit for a flat fee. Of course, the beauty of providing these types of products means not only that law firms can get paid by potential clients who didn’t have the wherewithal to hire them before, but also that these types of products often serve as gateways to more lucrative, traditional legal work. A small business client, then, facing a potential litigation risk would decide between trying to fix the leaks itself, or hiring a lawyer to help — and, if they decide to hire a lawyer, the choice becomes obvious.
Law firms can build out numerous versions of products for new age legal consumers to purchase; and, productizing legal services across practice areas is not only a great creative outlet for attorneys, it’s a significant differentiator in a competitive marketplace.
10/25/2020: Feels Like the First Time: Why Your Law Firm Needs to Develop a Client Journey
Law firms work vigorously to convert leads: to get those leads to pay retainers and sign engagement agreements. That all makes sense: winning business is essential for any organization. However, once law firms convert clients, there is often a dry spell before the new clients hear from their new law firms again; and, because many cases start with potentially significant periods before anything of note actually happens, new clients may go for months, or even a year, before they hear from their lawyer again.
A client journey is a series of interactions that are scheduled for onboarding new clients. Even if these are automated, as part of a drip campaign for every new client, that’s a site better than just letting your new clients twist in the wind, wondering what happens now. And, while you should maintain regular, personal contact with your clients (a good rule is to check in with each of your active clients via phone or email every six weeks), it helps to automate an initial rollout of information, in order to keep your clients engaged, and to make them feel cared for, while you can tend to more pressing substantive legal matters.
What you construct is entirely up to you; but, whatever it is, it should be a consistent demonstration of your investment in the attorney-client relationship. By way of example, the client journey you build out might look like this: (1) a short video welcoming the client to the law firm, sent by email; (2) a follow-up email listing the various ways that the client can contact the law firm; (3) a text message to see whether or not the client has any questions; (4) an email notifying the client that you’ve signed her up for your enewsletter, which will follow on a schedule; (5) your first check-in call, six weeks into the representation. In all likelihood that’s five more additional touches than most law firms get on new clients. This listing assumes that your law firm is like most law firms in that it collects only the most basic client contact information: email and phone number; but, if you’ve got more than that, feel free to communicate with your client via other or alternate media. No matter how you contact your new clients, set up a schedule, and follow through; that’s the only way to instill an effective system.
If you can install a client journey within your law firm’s client communications structure, you’ll end up with happier clients, which ultimately means more referrals and less malpractice risk.
10/19/2020: Production Value: Why and How to Incorporate Video Into Your Law Firm Marketing
With so much competition for clients, law firms are seeking any edge they can find. Even so, many attorneys remain camera shy. Despite the fact that video is a unique way to market a modern small business, small law firm websites that feature video remain few and far between.
But, there are a number of reasons why video can be an effective marketing tactic for your law firm. In the first place, consumer attention spans (all attention spans, really) are becoming shorter, in part because of the way we now consume technology and media; and, video offers short snippets that are easily digestible. Furthermore, video is a far more visceral and resonant medium than text, in much the same way that speaking with someone in-person is a far more immediate experience than receiving a letter from someone. Creating and publishing videos can also support and extend a law firm’s content marketing platform, by offering another place to publish information. Law firm videos could be published to a YouTube channel; and, since YouTube is the world’s second-largest search engine, that’s a great place to relay your expertise.
If you think the prospect of regular video production sounds daunting, however, take a small step, to start. Record a 90-second introductory video for the front page of your website, and gauge your clients’ and leads’ responses to it.
10/14/2020: Time Out: Gaining Time by the Minute
There’s nothing like daylight savings time to get you to observe how dramatic a small shift in time becomes. Push back one hour, and all of a sudden it’s instant winter. People are like, ‘Wow, when did it get so dark out?’ And, hot chocolate sales start to rise.
Saving time as a business owner can have a similar effect on you. But, instead of greeting the coming of winter, you’ll be saying things like, ‘Wow, I just got home, and it’s not even dark yet!’
For law firms, just like for any other business, change starts small; and, it’s the same thing when it comes to better managing your productivity. There are some immediate changes you can make to your law firm that will incur massive incremental value. So, if you buy a second monitor for your desktop, laptop or tablet, you’re eliminating many of the several seconds you spend opening and closing windows every day. Over the course of months and years, that time adds up, and you can fill it with more high-leverage activities. Outside of the realm of hardware, consider how creating workflows based on case types would save you time. If you know that every single time you onboard a particular case type that you do the same ten things, create a workflow for those tasks, and set up your case management system so that all those tasks are automatically populated every time you start a new case of that type. That sure beats creating ten separate tasks each time.
So, what are you waiting for?
10/6/2020: Timing Is Everything: Response Time is Essential for Converting Law Firm Leads
Nobody has ever liked waiting. But, there has never been a point in recorded history where people have liked waiting less. Cave people, I suppose, never had the benefit of the internet and smartphones. But, I’m not even talking about the Neanderthals; heck, people are far less patient than they were even ten years ago, since things like Netflix have pumped urgency addition up on steroids. No one wants to wait for anything anymore, because no one has to wait for anything anymore. Except for hiring law firms.
Despite the fact that consumers are simultaneously less patient and have more choices than ever before, attorneys still make those consumers wait. They call; you wait to call them back. They want engagement; you give them online forms. They text; you ignore their texts. Converting leads starts at first contact; and, if you’re not the first contact back, you’ve already lost the game. Everything you do in marketing your law firm is centered around getting return on calls to actions you’ve carefully crafted as part of your marketing plan. It doesn’t make sense to go through all of that effort and expense, and then drop the ball at the goal line.
Make sure that everything you do for client engagement is centered around immediacy. If you cannot actively communicate with a client, figure out a way to provide immediate engagement for that client in ways that are aligned with your marketing strategy. If you want people to call you, use a virtual receptionist service. If you want people to text you, create an autoresponder. If you want people to visit your website, consider a chatbot.
The old saying is that good things come to those who wait; that’s unless you’re running a law firm.