|Law Office Management
LOMA : Articles
Technology Tips to Make Your Practice More Efficient
By Patricia Yevics
Director, Law Office Management
Maryland State Bar Association, Inc.
In previous issues we addressed a variety
of topics that will help your firm and practice be more effective and
efficient. Since the theme of this month's Bar Bulletin is
technology, I wanted to discuss how to use technology to make you more
Technology (hardware, software and gadgets)
are just tools. Unless we know the purpose of tools and how to use the
tools, they will magically do what we want them to do. Just because we own
a hammer does not mean we can build a house. Just because we have some
technology does not mean we will be organized and efficient. Rather than
simply give advice on what specific hardware/software or gadgets you
should be using, I am going to give some tips on how to use the technology
HARDWARE and SOFTWARE Information
** Unless you are a tech junkie, there is
no reason to continuously upgrade your hardware or software. You should
keep up with what is new on the market. With all the information available
on the internet that is fairly easy to do.
** You should upgrade your hardware and
software for some of the following reasons:
- Your equipment is not able to use more
current versions of software.
- Your older equipment is slowing down
your ability to get work done quickly and efficiently. You spend too
much time cursing the system than working on client matters.
- Your software is no longer going to be
- It is difficult to find employees who
use the software or training is no longer available.
- Clients and others have difficulty send
- Your spend more money paying to have
something fixed than it would cost to replace it.
** Where can you easily and quickly find
out what is new and what others are using? There are a number of ways to
get information quickly in some cases too much information but that is the
next tip. Go to reliable sources.
For legal related issues for solo and small
firm practitioners, the best are:
Law Office Computing (www.lawofficecomputing.com)
Lawyer's Weekly (www.lawyersweekly.com)
Technology and Practice Guide (ABA Solo and Small Firm Practice
Section Publication, http://www.abanet.org/genpractice/home.html)
They also have a new e-newsletter about technology for solo and small
Law Practice Management (ABA Law Practice Management Section
Law Technology News, a free publication (www.lawtechnews.com)
Legal Tech Resource Guide which has
information on what lawyers are using
For general technology information, the
best place to start is www.zdnet.com
and www.cnet.com. Two places for
reviews of hardware are www.tomshardware.com
(really!) and www.reviewbooth.com.
Another excellent source of information
about what practitioners are using is (Duh!) other practitioners. The best
way to get and share information is to (Double Duh!) join one of the many
Email Lists either through the Maryland State Bar or other bar associations.
This ability to find out what others are using can be invaluable.
** If you do purchase new hardware and want
to transfer your applications from the old PC to the new, there are a
number of applications that will assist you in doing just that. It
relocates all of your programs and data from an old computer to a new
computer, but gets all of your registry correct as if you had re-installed
the software and copies over your tweaks and customization.
Go to http://www.cnet.com/software/0-806172-8-6829071-1.html?tag=st.
sw.8888.bhed.8 for a review of five products.
** Make sure that if you use any of the
sites listed and you find them helpful, that you bookmark them for future
reference. In addition, you should create specific folders for your
bookmarks. Some of the folders could be for Office Equipment, Research for
specific clients, ext. To set up folders in Netscape, click on Bookmarks,
Add Bookmarks. Then click on Bookmarks again, Edit Bookmarks. This screen
will allow you to add new folders and move bookmarks to the appropriate
folders. In Explorer, go to Favorites and click on Organize to add new
folders or Add to add a new site to an already existing folder.
** It is best to either have someone in
your office who can fix tech problems or a company you can rely on to
assist with hardware/software problems. Most times the company or person
will either handle hardware or software problems but not usually both.
Reliability is the key. Do not try to save
money on maintenance. Think about how much money you lose if you can't get
the work done. You know that your clients should be happy to pay for the
quality of your services, the same is also true for the people who fix
For on-line assistance with tech problems
there is a free site www.ask-a-tech.com
that will answer a question and also has a large list of Frequently asked
Questions. There is also a site that charges a reasonable fee at www.answerteam.com.
** Although I have said this many times,
please create, distribute and adhere to rules for using e-mail. Some quick
rules that all firms should have are:
If you have a domain name, make certain no
one is forwarding any personal messages, jokes, hoaxes etc from your
office. This is the same as sending it out on your stationary.
Since you have no idea what happens to
e-mail once it arrives at its destination, do not send anything you would
be embarrassed to see on the company bulletin board.
Require that employees respond to e-mails
within 24 hours. It is the same as a phone call.
Inform the employees that there should be
no expectation of privacy related to e-mails.
If you would like more detailed information
on rules for e-mail, please send a message to Pat Yevics at email@example.com.
Please give your fax number or mailing address as not all of the
information is in electronic format.
** Use signatures on all e-mails coming
from your office. You would send out a letter without a signature why
would you send an e-mail message. If there are others in the who send
e-mail messages, please make certain, signatures are consistent. To set up
signatures in Outlook, click on Tools, AutoSignature. A box will then pop
up and ask you what information you would like included. Keep it simple
and short. No long philosophical quotations. At a minimum, include your
name, firm name, address, phone and website if available.
** Get a domain name. This is a permanent
e-mail address. E-mail is here to stay so now is the time to pay to have a
permanent address. For more details, go to http://www.msba.org/departments/loma/techtalk/2001/1201.htm
** If you are going to be out of the office
for more than a day and you use e-mail, please use the Out of Office
Assistant to let people know you are not seeing your e-mail. In Outlook,
click on Tools, Out of Office Assistant. A box will pop up that allows to
type in a message that anyone who sends you a message will receive. You
can also have the messages forwarded to your laptop or other address IF
you wanted to get your e-mail. When you get ready to leave, simply, check
"I am currently out of office" and you are set to go. When you
return and log in, Outlook reminds you that the Out of Office Assistant is
still on and you then click on "I am currently in the office."
** Be careful of accepting attachments.
Never open an attachment with exe. This will surely have a virus attached.
If you get a file with an attachment (It will have a paper clip) from
someone you know but were not expecting anything, call the person and ask
if he/she sent a file. This could save you from downloading a file that
was unintentially sent from someone you know.
** To minimize junk mail, give out an
e-mail from one of the free services such as yahoo or juno when you
purchase anything or are required to give an e-mail for information or
CASE MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE
This is clearly a package that many solo
and small firm practitioners will benefit from using. It will allow to
manage all your client information, your calendar, your time, due dates,
notes, phone messages, legal research, dockets. Most of the case
management software will link with time and billing packages. Most will
also be able to upload information to your Palm Pilot or transfer the
information to your laptop. Do not worry about whether or not you need all
of the features that the product offers. You may not but what you will use
will help you be more efficient.
The important thing to remember is to make
certain that even if you purchase your product on-line, you should use a
local representative for some initial training. It will be money and time
The most popular products (in alphabetical
order) for solos and small firm practitioners are Abacus, www.abacus.com,
Amicus Attorney, www.amicusattorney.com,
CaseMaster, www.sti.com and TimeMatters,
Determine what your needs and your habits
are and compare them with what is offered by the products. If you would
like information on how to choose case management software and some
reviews of the products, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
and give your postal mailing address.
Make certain that you track all changes to
hardware and software. Information should include installation information
for hardware and software, information about upgrades and patches,
purchase dates and prices. You should also have registration numbers for
all hardware and software. The information should be kept on the computer
as a Read-Only file. A hard copy should also be kept in a binder and one
copy should be kept off site. Make copies of all programs that come on all
new computers. You should also have written procedures that everyone
understands and can follow for restoring files.
MANAGING YOUR DOCUMENTS
Make certain that you have a system for
naming and saving documents that would allow someone to find a document
easily even if he/she was not sure where it was saved. Create folders and
sub-folders if necessary to manage all your documents for easy retrieval.
Make certain that you periodically clean
out your files and "delete" those that are unnecessary. Keep in
mind though that even though you "delete" a file, it is still on
your computer. You may not be able to find it but it can easily be
Some software products that will assist in
getting rid of data on your hard drive are:
These are just some ways to have technology
help you be more efficient but there are many other ways. It is important
to understand how technology can help you and use it to your advantage.