This issue of Canadian Lawyer is all about technology and the many ways it impacts the practice and business of law. It goes beyond having BlackBerrys and remote access to your desktops; technology has revolutionized the practice of law like it has every other part of life. I have just returned from LegalTech in New York City, a massive trade show of, you guessed it, legal technology. There was everything but the kitchen sink — but, rest assured, if there’s a way to have the sink make your law firm more profitable, it’ll be there next year.
Much of what was on display in the three floors of techno wonderland related to e-discovery and document-management software and processes. There was also a fair amount of knowledge-management software as well as general business software that keeps track of clients and accounting. The vendors tout their products as cost-reducing, maximizing staff productivity, revolutionary, exceptional value, time-saving, and on and on. They all seem wonderful . . . and expensive.
You would automatically think that knowledge management, business analytics, and such would be the domain of large firms with deep pockets and technology departments. Whereas accounting software and some client-management systems would fit with any size firm. The reality is that many of the technology companies I spoke with at LegalTech, even the ones offering high-end business analytics and comprehensive document-management systems, are able to offer smaller firms their services at prices that are affordable.
Big firms are working with these tech companies all the time and probably have any number of their systems in place to do any number of jobs. Small firms and sole practitioners, however, tend not to have much more than perhaps PC Law, and maybe some accounting programs. But even the smallest firms can benefit from these offerings. It’s hard to believe that many real estate practitioners in Canada still rely on fax machines to communicate with banks regarding mortgage transactions. Our story “Bye-bye fax machine,” on page 19, shows how one computer program (and a company with the savvy to know the niches to fill) can completely change the way an office works.
The stories are anecdotal, of course, but I’ve heard horror stories about small firms that require lawyers to make lists of all sorts of things, often handwritten, to hand to the partner/owner at monthly or weekly lawyer meetings. Other firms don’t use any sort of client-management software and everything is still done entirely in paper files. What happens when a legal assistant takes it home by mistake and forgets to bring it back? These firms have no way to really judge, other than their basic accounting practices, how lawyers are performing. There’s no way to know what other lawyers on the firm are working on. Imagine, even in a small firm, because even they have hundreds, even thousands, of client files, trying to do any kind of conflict check.
So the moral of this tale: technology is good; no matter what size your firm, there are lots of options for making it more efficient with better communication between staff. At the end of the day, it leaves more time to serve clients and will also make you better in the way you serve clients. Look into what’s out there and take the plunge.