Social Media for Lawyers: an Introduction

In a previous article, we explained why social media matter for lawyers. Lawyers have been slow adopters when it comes to social media, but by now, a clear majority of them have caught on. In the US, 76% of lawyers use social media for professional purposes, and 74% of US law firms are present on Social Media.

What are they using social media for? According to a recently published report, lawyers use social media for several reasons, including career development and networking (73%), client development (51%), but also for education and current awareness (35%), and for case research and investigation (21%).

When it comes to who uses what, the available statistics are not consistent when it comes to the actual numbers, so we’ll use approximations below. The published statistics, however, do all agree on the ranking.

  1. LinkedIn is the most popular network, with approximately two out of three of law firms reporting a presence on LinkedIn. It is the medium of preference for large law firms.
  2. Facebook comes in second place, with, depending on the published data, one third to about half of the law firms saying they have a professional Facebook page. (Up to 90% of lawyers are on Facebook in a private capacity).
  3. Twitter is third in the rankings, with approximately one quarter of firms using it. Of the four main social media, it is the one that is most used for research and current awareness.
  4. Google Plus comes in last, with 10% of firms reporting a Google Plus presence.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the oldest network, and was launched in 2003. It is intended for professional networking. It was the first, and still is the largest “business social network”, meaning that is meant for professionals.

Because LinkedIn’s main goal is professional networking, most lawyers feel comfortable using it. One report states that, in the US, 91% of firms of 100 or more attorneys have a presence in LinkedIn. They are followed by 85% of solo practitioners, 76% of mid-sized firms with 10 to 49 lawyers, and 63% of smaller firms with 2 to 9 lawyers.

On LinkedIn, you can create a profile, which reads like a professional résumé. You can add contacts to build a network of connections. There are sections for skills & endorsements. You can create pages (like a mini website). You can publish a blog and/or articles. You can set up groups where you can have discussions.

LinkedIn comes in a free and a Pro version.

Facebook

Facebook was founded in 2004, and has been open to public at large since 2006. It is the largest social media network: in the fourth quarter of 2016, it had 1.8 billion active monthly users.

On Facebook, as an individual you can create a personal profile, which is not the case for legal entities. Most law firms therefore create ‘Pages’, which are like a mini website on Facebook. Pages can be ‘liked’, and you can invite people to do so. It is also possible to create ‘Groups’ on Facebook, to which you can add people to interact with. Both pages and groups can have posts; you also can add videos, and photos or images, etc.

Interestingly, the most active lawyers on Facebook for professional purposes are solos at 48%, followed by 41% of lawyers from small firms (2-9 attorneys). Mid-sized firms with 10-49 lawyers were next at 22%, with lawyers at firms with 100 or more lawyers coming in last, at only 16%.

Membership of Facebook is free.

Twitter

Twitter was launched in 2006, and is one of the ten most used sites in the world. It is often called the SMS of the Internet. It is an online news and social networking service where users post and interact with messages, which are called “tweets.” Tweets are restricted to 140 characters, and, as a rule, can be read by everyone (unless you make them private).

When you sign up to Twitter, you can choose to ‘follow’ other people, which means their tweets will appear in your (news) feed. The idea is to create your own followers who then get your tweets on their feed.

The strength of Twitter, however, lies in the use of so-called hashtags which allow to perform fast searches. A hashtag is a keyword or expression (without spaces!) which are preceded by a #-sign. Using the correct hashtags will make it easy for people who are not followers to find your tweets. If, e.g., you wrote an article on divorce, you could use #divorce and #lawyer as keywords when announcing your article on Twitter.

The largest pool of lawyers using Twitter can be found in mid-sized firms, with 26% maintaining a Twitter account, followed by 25% of solos, 25% of large firm lawyers, and 24% of small firm lawyers.

Membership of Twitter is free.

Google+

Google Plus is an interest-based social network that is owned and operated by Google. It was launched in 2011, as Google’s response to Facebook. Its functionality is fairly similar to that of Facebook: you can have pages and groups, where you can make posts, upload videos (YouTube) and photos, etc.

Membership of Google+ is free.

Other Social Media

Apart from the social media mentioned above, lawyers also use Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest, mainly to share images and videos.

Instagram is an online mobile photo-sharing site that allows its users to share pictures and videos either publicly or privately on the app, as well as through a variety of other social networking platforms. It was launched in 2010, and acquired by Facebook I 2013. Membership is free.

YouTube is a video-sharing site. It was started in 2005, and bought by Google in 2006. It comes in a free and paid version.

Pinterest is a photo-sharing website where you can organize them in virtual pinboards. Its CEO Ben Silbermann summarized the company as a “catalog of ideas,” rather than as a social network. It was launched in 2010.

 

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The Death of the Billable Hour

In recent weeks, several articles have been published that proclaimed the death of the billable hour. One author declared that he could confidently state that the “traditional” hourly billing is dead. Another even wrote a eulogy. Most of these articles refer to the 2017 Report on the State of the Legal Market, released on 12 January 2017 by Georgetown Law’s Center for the Study of the Legal Profession and Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute.

The publication of the report was accompanied by a press release that stated: “The billable hour model of decades past where law firms experienced little pushback on rates or number of hours spent is effectively dead, and the traditional law firm franchise is increasingly at risk after a decade of stagnant demand for law firm services.

In a comment on the report, the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal observed that “largely because of budgets and caps imposed by clients, 80 to 90 percent of law firm work is done outside of the traditional billable hour model, according to the 2017 Report on the State of the Legal Market.

The report itself explicitly says: “One of the most potentially significant, though rarely acknowledged, changes of the past decade has been the effective death of the traditional billable hour pricing model in most law firms, (…) Plainly, the imposition of budget discipline on law firm matters forces firms to a very different pricing model than the traditional approach of simply recording time and passing the associated ‘costs’ through to the client on a billable-hour basis.

The report found that the death of the traditional billable hour is due to the rise in so called “Alternative Fee Arrangements” (AFAs). The most common alternative fee arrangement, good for 65-70% of revenue in law firms, are capped fees, which means that cases are allocated a specific budget. Other alternative fee arrangements are being used, too, but amount to only 15-20% of revenues. Combined, this means that the alternative fee arrangements may well account for 80-90% of all revenues.

So, what are the alternative fee arrangements that are being used?

  1. Capped Fees: under a capped fee agreement, the client pays on an hourly basis, but the law firm agrees that the total bill will not exceed the capped amount. A cap is often accompanied by a minimum fee, which together are sometimes referred to as a “collared fee” agreement.
  2. Flat Fees / Fixed Price: the firm agrees to represent the client in exchange for a specified fee, i.e. at a fixed price, regardless of the number of billable hours. Because it can sometimes be hard to predict how a case will go, sometimes variations on the flat fee are used where parties agree, e.g., to a flat fee per stage, etc. Sometimes flat fees are combined with performance bonuses, where the law firm can charge an extra amount if the case is won, e.g.
  3. Contingency / “no cure, no pay”: in a contingency agreement, the law firm only gets paid if it wins the case. (Contingency agreements are illegal in some countries, like, e.g., Belgium).
  4. Holdback: traditionally, a holdback is a sum of money that remains unpaid until certain conditions are met. As an alternative fee arrangement, the law firm and its client agree on percentages of billable hours, where what is actually paid is determined by different criteria the parties set. (E.g., if the case is lost, only 75% of the fees will be paid).
  5. Blended Fees: with blended fees, the client pays the law firm a specified hourly rate, regardless of the individual lawyers’ hourly rates. This incentivizes the firm to appropriately delegate to less expensive attorneys rather than have its more expensive attorneys working at substantially reduced rates.
  6. Cost-plus model: the cost-plus model means that the client reimburses the costs the law firm makes, in addition to a reasonable profit.
  7. Subscription model: in a subscription model, the client pays the law firm a recurring fee to take care of all its legal business.

 

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Legal Technology Trends for 2017

It is common, at the beginning of the year, to ponder upon what the year ahead will bring. Several experts have published their predictions for trends we can expect in legal technology, in 2017. So, what are they saying? Generally speaking, they expect lawyers to become more mobile, more collaborative (using the cloud do to do), and more responsive (using social media to engage with clients and potential clients). 2017 is also expected to see a rise in the usage of AI (Artificial Intelligence), and to be the year that E-Discovery goes mainstream. Cybercrime & Cyberwarfare, too, will remain in the news.

Let’s have a closer look at these items.

More Mobile

In 2016, for the first time worldwide, we saw more mobile devices being used online than desktops. This trend is expected to continue. More lawyers will start using mobile apps. They also will start accommodating their mobile clients – and potential clients – more. (We recently published two articles on the subject, where you can find more information).

Cloud

2017 will see a further increase in cloud usage. The could will play an increasingly important role in collaboration between lawyers. Bigger law firms are expected to start using big data analytics. The cloud will also play a significant role in the further development of AI and E-Discovery (see below).

Cybersecurity

Cybercrime will continue to rise, and will continue to become more and more sophisticated. AI will increasingly be used in cyber-protection, as well as in attacks. Experts also expect an increase in cyberwarfare.

Social Media – Business Social

More lawyers will start embracing social media, and as a result they will become more responsive, i.e. engage more with clients and potential clients. More specifically, for lawyers, an increase is expected in the usage of professional or business social media. Some experts foresee an important role for new players (service providers) on this market.

AI

In 2017, AI will continue its rise, and become more omnipresent. The main focus of artificial intelligence in legal tech will remain on Machine Learning. More specifically, AI will continue to push legal technology in the fields of Legal Research (with, e.g., virtual Legal Research assistants), Contract Review, Security, and E-Discovery (see further). One expert also expects AI to be introduced in legal practice management, as well as legal project management, which, in turn could lead to significant advances being made in those fields.

E-Discovery

Last, but not least, 2017 is the year E-discovery is expected to go mainstream. E-Discovery, also spelled eDiscovery, stands for electronic discovery. It refers to the discovery of relevant information in legal proceedings – such as litigation, government investigations, or Freedom of Information Act requests – where the information that is being analyzed is stored in an electronic format. Think, e.g., about the recent example of the FBI analyzing tens of thousands of emails that were leaked by WikiLeaks, in just four days. As more and more information is being stored electronically, E-Discovery is becoming more and more important. In 2017, it is expected to go mainstream.

Experts predict the following trends for E-Discovery in 2017:

  • The increase in social media usage implies that E-Discovery will have to be able to incorporate the analysis of social media information as well.
  • The Internet of Things will also have a serious impact on E-Discovery, as it will have to learn to process the data that are produced by billions of devices. In the US, e.g., there is a murder case where Amazon is asked to give access to the data one of its digital Echo devices (virtual assistants) may have recorded as evidence.
  • Because of these two developments (social media & Internet of Things), data privacy is becoming more important than ever.
  • Machine Learning is expected to become the most important technology for E-Discovery.
  • Cross-border compliance will continue shaping E-Discovery: multinationals, e.g., must comply with laws in several countries. This has implications on what can be stored where, which in turn has its effects on E-Discovery.

 

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Starting a blog

At present, 26 percent of law firms in the US have their own blog, according to the 2016 Legal Technology Survey Report, which was recently published by the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center. The larger the firms, the more likely they are to have a blog: among firms of 500 or more attorneys, 60 percent have blogs, while at firms of 100 to 499 attorneys, 52 percent have blogs. In contrast, only 20 percent of firms of 2 to 9 attorneys have blogs, while just 12 percent of attorneys in solo practices have their own blogs.

So, what is a blog, and should you consider starting your own, if you don’t have one? The word blog comes from weblog (web log).  It is often defined as a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style. Blog articles are not academic papers. They’re meant to inform the general public.

There are many reasons to start a blog. Some see blogs as a platform for lawyers to offer insight and commentary. As such the articles are a form of free first legal advice, and facilitate access to justice. One lawyer described these blog articles as ‘helping the little guys’. Blogs also helped democratizing publishing and marketing for smaller and solo law firms. And by now, blogs have become an essential marketing tool: the legal market has changed, and the new legal consumers are content consumers. In order to turn website visitors into customers, you must turn them into content consumers first. And that is what you use blogs and social media for!

How and where do you start? You have several options, some which you could even combine. If you have your own site, then it makes perfect sense to use it to publish your blog as well. If you are using existing CMS software, like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal, for your website, then you already have all you need, as these come with built-in blogging solutions. If you don’t use an existing CMS package, you should be able to stick to the technical solution you already are using, or, alternatively, you could opt to start using blogging software for your blog only.

If you don’t have your own website, and you don’t want to host your own site, you could use one of the platforms that are specifically meant for blogging: WordPress, Blogger, Blogspot typically are most used, but Tumblr, Medium, Squarespace, Ghost, and Wix also offer solutions. The comparison chart at https://startbloggingonline.com/blog-platform-comparison-chart/ offers a good overview of pros and cons of the different solutions that are available. If you are active on social media, you could even use some of those: both Facebook and LinkedIn, e.g., offer the option to publish articles. And finally, your ISP may even offer you a free blog. You don’t even have to limit yourself to one solution. Some people publish their articles on their blogs, as well as on social media.

What should you write about? Many legal blogs offer insight and commentary on developments in the law, business and consumer affairs. Others focus on case law and regulatory developments. Ideally, you should write about something that you are passionate about. Being passionate about a topic makes it easier to be inspired, and will make the writing process more enjoyable. Blogging shouldn’t be a compulsory chore.

After you have written your article, it is good practice to promote it on social media, so you can attract more viewers. (And if you promote you articles on Twitter, use hashtags for the most important keywords. For an article like this one, e.g., you could use #legaltech and #blogging).

The next question is how often you should update your blog with a new article. There is no magical success formula, as it both depends on your target audience, and on the amount of time that you can spend. For larger firms, an update frequency of two to three new articles per week is often seen as ideal. For smaller firms and solo lawyers, one or two new articles per month usually is enough.

Starting a blog might seem a bit intimidating at first. But it is something that grows you on quite easily. Once you have written some articles, you’ll get the hang of it, especially if you write about topics you are passionate about.

 

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Mobile Apps for Lawyers

The mobile revolution changed the way we work and interact with each other. It also has provided lawyers with plenty of new, useful tools for their mobile devices. In this week’s article, we have a look at some interesting apps for lawyers. We’ll first focus on specifically legal apps, and then continue with more general apps that lawyers are also using to increase their productivity. If there are specific ones that stand out, we’ll mention them by name.

Legal Apps

Legal Case Management Software

Virtually all major legal case management software packages offer apps for mobile devices. Typically, these apps do not offer the full functionality of the package, but rather focus on the most commonly used actions: they provide access to case files, contacts, agendas, etc.

Legal Research

Many publishers of legal documentation offer apps and/or mobile access to their information. The same applies to some legal dictionaries.

Trial Presentations

If, as a lawyer, you do a lot of litigation, there is an app that can be used in court that is specifically designed to organize, annotate, and present evidence. TrialPad, www.litsoftware.com/trialpad/, includes powerful presentation tools that call out sections of documents, highlight text, create side-by-side document comparisons You can edit and show video clips, add exhibit stickers to documents, search document text, etc. (iOS devices only).

Other Apps to increase productivity

Apart from the specifically legal apps, there also are other apps that are very useful for lawyers. These are some of the most commonly used ones, arranged by the purpose of the app. Most of these apps store your information in the cloud, so it is available anywhere, at any time, and synchs between devices in real time.

Note taking

Evernote (evernote.com) and Microsoft’s OneNote (www.onenote.com) are the two apps that are most used for taking notes. Both offer excellent tools to organize, search and retrieve notes, and are available in different versions: web version, desktop applications, mobile apps.

For those who prefer to take handwritten notes, there even are apps for that, though most of them are available for iOS devices only.

PDF Annotation etc.

There are dozens of apps available that allow you to view and annotate PDF documents on your mobile device. Most offer the same core functionalities (view, annotate, highlight).

Research

One app that isn’t specifically designed for legal research, but that is frequently used to that purpose, is Feedly, feedly.com/i/welcome.  It allows you to keep track and organize content and documentation, to add your comments, and to share both (information and comments) with others. (Slack, mentioned further down, also could be used for legal research).

Dictation

Lawyers often dictate texts, and there are plenty of apps for that, too. They largely fall in one of two groups: they can either just record what you’re saying, or they can convert speech to text, in which case they’re usually language dependent.

Messaging / Communication

One of the most used apps for messaging and communication is Skype (www.skype.com). The free version allows video conferencing for up to 10 simultaneous users. Also commonly used, but only available for iOS devices, is FaceTime.

In a previous article, we pointed out that a lot of communication between lawyers and their customers (and suppliers) happens through Social Media: Facebook / Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

Also worth having a look at, is Slack (slack.com): it calls itself a messaging app for teams and collaboration. You can have discussions, share documents, etc. It can also be used for research.

Storage

There are many reasons to store information in the cloud: as a backup, to be accessible anywhere at any time, on multiple devices with real-time synchronization, etc. All major cloud storage service providers have apps for mobile devices: Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, etc.

Task Management

If you are using legal case management software, you probably won’t need a separate app to manage your tasks, as it will be included in the package. If it is not, you may want to have a look at Todoist, todoist.com.

Automation

And finally, there is Zapier, zapier.com/. If you perform certain tasks routinely, then there’s a chance Zapier can automate that process for you. It connects your apps and automates workflows. Zapier can move info between your web apps automatically.

 

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Accommodating your clients in the mobile revolution

The mobile revolution is a fact. In October 2016, worldwide, more websites were visited with mobile devices than with desktops. Indeed, Statcounter, a research company that tracks Internet traffic, reported that 51.3 percent of websites were loaded onto mobile devices, thus overtaking traffic from desktops for the first time ever on a global scale.

How does that affect you? In this article, we’ll focus on how to accommodate your mobile clients. More specifically, we’ll deal with what this means for your website and for your interactions with your clients. In a follow-up article, we will pay attention to some new tools the mobile revolution is providing for lawyers.

Let us start with your website. The first question to ask yourself is whether your website is mobile-friendly. How does it look when viewed on a mobile device? Is the text going out of the screen? Do the images and videos fit within the screen width? Can the navigation of the site be used comfortably on a mobile device?

Gone are the days of fixed width wide screen layouts. A quick look at available statistics teaches that approximately one in three website visitors has a screen width between 320 and 360 pixels! So, your website must be accessible in these lower resolutions. You may also consider using a font size that keeps the text readable.

A next item to pay attention to is the structure of your website. Are the menus and navigation touch-friendly and is the site easy to navigate on mobile devices? Are the menu options sufficiently large so they can be tapped with fingers? Mobile visitors also expect pages to load faster. Typically, pages that are optimized for mobile usage tend to be shorter, which means that – compared with how things used to be – you may need to reorganize and split up the content of your website.

Don’t speculate that you can postpone making your site mobile-friendly, because you are already losing potential customers. People using mobile device are 50% less likely to use your services if they find you through a website that is not mobile-friendly! And search engines like Google punish websites that are not mobile-friendly in several ways. Non-mobile-friendly websites get a lower ranking in the search results, which means your website will be harder to find. That ranking is lowered even more if the user who is performing the search uses a mobile device. (As a site note, Google also punishes websites that do not have a sitemap, disclaimer, or privacy statement, as well as sites that do not meet accessibility requirements). If you want to find out how your site is doing, Google offers a website where you can test it, and see if it is mobile-friendly by Google’s standards: www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/

In previous articles, we pointed out that the new legal consumer prefers to work with lawyers who offer a client portal. In it, clients can have access to their data in a secure environment, and keep track of the evolution of their case(s). Preferably, that client portal, too, should be mobile friendly.

Finally, mobile media also affect how we communicate. 97% of the owners of mobile devices use it for texting through (social media) apps like Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn, Whatsapp, Skype, Google Hangouts, or other apps. Many use their mobile device for video chats. And 53 % of mobile users use their mobile devices to read and send email as well. Are the emails you send mobile friendly? Do the header and footer fit within the screen widths of mobile devices?

The mobile revolution is here. Make sure you don’t miss it!

 

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AI Predicts Outcome of Human Rights Cases

It’s the stuff of science fiction: an artificial intelligence judges the merits of a court case and reaches a verdict. We are now one step closer to that being a reality. Researchers have created an artificial intelligence system that has accurately predicted the outcomes of many cases heard at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Out of 584 cases, the system had a success rate of 79% where it correctly decided whether there had been a Human Rights’ violation or not.

The project was carried out by researchers at University College London and the universities of Sheffield and Pennsylvania. The method consisted of automatically analyzing case text using a machine learning algorithm. For the learning phase, equal amounts of cases with violations and without violations were used. In developing the method, the team found that judgements by the ECHR are highly correlated to non-legal facts rather than directly legal arguments, suggesting that judges of the Court are, in the jargon of legal theory, ‘realists’ rather than ‘formalists’.

The most reliable factors for predicting the court’s decision were found to be the language used, as well as the topics and ‘circumstances’ mentioned in the case text. The ‘circumstances’ section of the text includes information about the factual background to the case.

The team identified English language data sets for 584 cases related to three articles of the Convention on Human Rights:

  • Article 3: cases involving torture or degrading treatment, good for 250 cases
  • Article 6: rights to a fair trial, good for 80 cases
  • Article 8: respect for private life, good for 254 cases

By combining the information extracted from a) the abstract ‘topics’ that the cases cover and b) the ‘circumstances’ across data for all three articles, an accuracy of 79% was achieved.

The 21% of cases where the prediction was not correct involved situations where there were similar cases but with different outcomes. This could be an indication that in those cases, the finer subtleties of the law were missed by the artificial intelligence.

One of the key researchers, Dr Nikolaos Aletras, who led the study at UCL, said the following about using AI to predict cases: ‘We don’t see AI replacing judges or lawyers, but we think they’d find it useful for rapidly identifying patterns in cases that lead to certain outcomes. It could also be a valuable tool for highlighting which cases are most likely to be violations of the European Convention on Human Rights.’

Given the huge numbers of cases that the ECHR’s legal staff has to consider every year, the program could indeed prove very useful: in 2015, e.g., the court had to process 40,650 applications for a hearing, while in 2014 it processed 56,200 cases.

It is easy to see how such programs could benefit law firms as well. Having intelligent software at your office to predict the outcome of a case would offer a clear and objective view of the strengths and weaknesses of your case and argumentation. This could then help devise a different argumentation if necessary. Alternatively, it could help avoiding the costs of litigation if similar cases were not considered ‘winnable’.

Does this mean lawyers or judges should start fearing for their jobs? No, it doesn’t. The program still misses the finer subtleties of the law. As Dr Aletras pointed out, it is meant as a tool to assist, not to replace. In the long run, though, it could result in lawyers and judges dealing with more complex or specialized cases, while the processing of simpler cases gets more automated.

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Cyberattacks: are you prepared?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that in an online world, cybercrime is on the rise. Not a week goes by without some cybercrime event in the headlines. So, we thought it would be a good idea to have some articles on cybersecurity. In this article, we will focus on cyberattacks, and more specifically on security breaches. Criminal security breaches typically happen for one of two purposes: hackers break into your system to either steal (and sell) your data, or to hold them for ransom by encrypting them with keys only they have.

Lawyers are not exempt from this risk, on the contrary. Because of all the sensitive data they store, law firms are appealing targets for hackers. A survey in the US taught that 80% of law firms have already been hacked at some stage. (The reporter writing the article suggested that the other 20% was either unaware, or lying about it).

Lawyers keep a lot of sensitive information on their clients. Because of the attorney-client privilege, they have an obligation to secure and protect that privileged information and data breaches erode the foundation of that attorney-client privilege. Data breaches can lead to fines, to law suits for malpractice and/or other damages, and to a loss of clientele. It is therefore important to take appropriate measures.

Now, typically, storing your information in the cloud is considered more secure and cheaper, as a) the hosting company will have all the know-how in-house, and b) the cost of security is shared, as it is spread over the different customers. But one must keep in mind that with a cloud solution, because it is always accessible, from anywhere, by anyone, at any time, that each additional user and each additional device increase the risk of a data breach. Most security breaches in the cloud are due, not to poor security on the host’s side, but to insecure devices or insecure behaviour by the users.

A recent example comes to mind. A firm in the US asked a security expert to test their security. It took him only 20 minutes to gain access to their data, with administrator privileges. How did he do it? He first looked for staff members on professional social media. Then he checked whether any of their accounts on social media or with other online service providers had ever been hacked. (You may remember the Yahoo or LinkedIn hacks, e.g., where data of millions of users were put online). Within minutes he found that an account of an administrator had been hacked, and that his login credentials were available online. When he tried to use the same credentials (user-id and password) to gain access to the law firm’s data, his attempt was successful. The weak link in the otherwise fairly secure setup was that a user was still using a password he had used before in an online account that had been hacked.

One of the most common cause of data breaches is the use of insecure devices. Laptops, tablets and phones are prime targets for thieves. Yet, many lawyers still store unencrypted client data on a laptop or on a mobile device.

So, is your firm secure? What can you do to increase security? Here are some suggestions:

  • Install intrusion detection and prevention systems, and enterprise-grade firewalls, not just on your servers but also on desktops and laptops. After all, gaining access to one device is enough to gain access to the information.
  • Enable encryption on all devices, including on mobile devices like phones, tablets and laptops.
  • Encryption should also be used for all communications between the devices.
  • Separate professional and private accounts. Don’t keep client data, e.g., on a private email account.
  • Only use secure servers. Can your server limit access to your data from everyone but yourself?
  • Continuously back up your data to secure servers. You may also consider using a trusted third-party to keep backups of your data.
  • Finally, make sure you have a response team in case of a breach, and enable a data loss / theft protocol, so everybody knows what steps must be taken when and by whom.

 

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Legal Case Management Software Checklist (part 2)

In part 1 of our legal case management software checklist we focused on the essential functionality that your software solution should provide. In part 2, we first pay attention to some optional modules and functionality that can be valuable for your firm. We will conclude with some general considerations with regard to the service providers and the services they provide.

Most service provides offer a range of additional modules, which often focus on specialized tasks, and therefore are optional. The reporting capabilities of a package are sometimes included and other times optional. They usually give a good insight in the maturity of the product. Further modules may focus on firm management, productivity, or logistics. Larger law firms will also be interested in knowledge management and data mining.

If your firm specializes in certain fields of activity, like, e.g. debt collection and recovery, mergers and acquisitions, liquidations, etc., special modules may be available that are specifically designed for those purposes. Sometimes other service providers offer such extended functionality, and you may have to work with more than one service provider.

If you are planning to use software solutions by other service providers, you must investigate whether these can be integrated in, or at least communicate with, your chosen software solution. We already gave the examples of third-party accounting software and optional specialized modules, but it also applies to more common scenarios. Most firms use Microsoft’s Office 365. And many people rely on either Gmail and Google Calendar, or on Outlook and/or Exchange for their email and calendar. If this applies to you, you will want a solution that offers a seamless integration with these applications as well.

These days, many companies use public cloud services (DropBox, Onedrive, Google Drive, etc.) for a number of reasons: to share documents or collaborate on them, to make backups of their data, etc. Does your software solution provide an integration with these services?

Security and Data are also important considerations. Does the software provide an easy user and permissions management solution with different levels of access? Are the data encrypted? Are email communications encrypted? Can the data be easily imported and exported? If you are looking at a cloud solution where the service provider hosts your data, what rights do you and the service provider have to the data? Can the service provider keep your data if you default on your payments, e.g.?

Thus far, we have given an overview of functionality requirements for your checklist. There are other important considerations, too. Apart from the functionality, you have to look at the User Experience (UX), e.g.: How intuitive and easy to use is the software? How are support and training organized? Are there manuals, tutorials, webinars or podcasts? When can the support desk be contacted and in what ways (phone, email, live chat, remote access, …)? The price, too, is of course an important consideration. Are there any hidden costs or costs that will increase over time? What about upgrades: what is the frequency, what are the conditions and what is the cost? Does the provider offer you a free trial period, and if so, for how long?

Last but not least, it is always a good practice to investigate to investigate the service providing company itself. What experience does it have in the field? How is its viability as a service provider?

Legal Case Management Software Checklist (part 1)

What do you have to pay attention to when you want to automate your law practice? We’re presenting you a two-part article with a check list. In the first part, we focus on the necessary modules and offer some thoughts on technology. In a second part, we will focus on optional modules and additional functionality.

Essential functionality overview

As a rule, any legal case management software should offer the following functionality:

  • Contact Management
  • Case Management
  • Document Management
  • Task Management
  • Billing & Invoicing
  • Accounting
  • Client Portal

Contact Management

Lawyers don’t just deal with customers. They deal with a wide range of people and legal entities, in different capacities and roles. This is why many regular CRM programs won’t be sufficient. A decent contact management module is the cornerstone of any well-functioning law firm.

Case Management

As a lawyer, you work on cases. You need to meticulously keep track of everything that’s going on in the cases and the matters you’re handling. Typically, your case management is the central hub of your software that ties in with all other modules.

Document Management

There are two aspects to document management. On the one hand, as a lawyer you are likely to be confronted with thousands of documents, which may or may not pertain to one or more cases. You need a system to store, allocate and retrieve documents efficiently. On the other hand, as a lawyer, you constantly produce documents as well. That is the second aspect of Document Management: you need a module or app for document assembly (sometimes called an ‘act generator’). It uses templates that are filled out with the relevant data relating to the case.

Task Management

You also need to keep track of everything you have done, and everything you still have to do. Time Management in its widest sense covers several aspects, and often consists of several modules or apps. In order to increase efficiency, most programs work with predefined lists of frequently recurring tasks. Typically, there will be an app for fee management linked to that, that allows you to define default fees for specific tasks. You also will want the program to keep track of all the tasks you have already performed. As many lawyers work with a system of billable hours, a module for time tracking may come in handy, too.

You not only want to keep track of what you’ve done already, you also need to keep track of what you still have to do. As a lawyer, specific tasks often have to be performed at specific times, which is why you need an agenda and/or calendaring app.

Billing & Invoicing

Once you keep track of all the tasks you have performed, billing and invoicing becomes a piece of cake. Typically, the billing / invoicing module will not only allow you to create invoices. It also will allow you to generate statements, work with commissions, create intermediary overviews, etc.

Accounting

Ideally, your legal case management software should also have an accounting module that keeps track of all the payments you make and receive. Alternatively, your firm may want to use existing accounting software. If an accounting module is not included, then you should make sure there is a seamless integration between your legal case management software and the existing accounting software. And if you are dealing with third party payments, where you collect money on behalf of your clients, make sure the accounting module is designed to process those payments, as well.

Client Portal

As our articles on the new legal consumers indicated, these days a client portal is a must, too. A client portal is a place on the Internet where your customers can view, and possibly edit, their own data. Usually it’s a web site that is accessible with a browser, but it could just as well be a mobile app. In the context of law firms, client portals offer clients to ability to get an overview of their case or cases: what has been done, what still needs to be done, what has been billed, what has been paid, what third party payments have been received, etc. Often, a client portal will also offer the built-in ability to directly communicate with the client, allowing the client to ask questions.

An additional note on technology

These days, the majority of people are online on mobile devices. The software you choose should be able to offer web access, either through apps for mobile devices, and/or through mobile friendly web pages. Most leading software packages for legal case management are using cloud technology, be it private, hybrid or public cloud technologies, allowing you and your clients to access information from anywhere, at any time. Make sure you’re not choosing software that can’t be accessed over the Internet.

Continued in Legal Case Management Software Checklist (part 2)