Tag Archives: law firm

OneDrive for Lawyers

You may not have noticed, but Office 365 keeps on being updated, and a lot of the subtle enhancements have to do with the ongoing integration of additional cloud services. Let’s have a closer look at Word and OneDrive.

OneDrive comes in different versions with different features. Anybody can sign up for a free account, but, as a lawyer, you are typically expected to sign up for a professional version of ‘OneDrive for Business.’ Many law firm management software providers advise to use Office 365 Business Premium. (If, for some reason, you are using a version of OneDrive that does not offer certain features, it is good to know it may well be possible to subscribe to those features separately).

In Office 365, it is possible to save documents to the cloud, which is done by saving them to OneDrive. A first advantage of having a document in OneDrive, is that it can be accessed from anywhere at any time, and on most devices. There are apps for mobile devices and tablets, and it is even possible to use Office Online, a free web version (with a limited feature set) of the most popular Office applications.

Another advantage of using OneDrive is that the copies saved by autosave are saved in the cloud, too. If your device would crash while working on a document, you can continue working from another device. Microsoft also automatically makes backups of all your OneDrive documents.

One of the biggest advantages of using OneDrive, is that you can share files and folders with other people. If you need feedback from your client, from other lawyers, or even from an external consultant, there is no need to email anybody a copy of the document, you just give them access to the document in OneDrive. And you have the option to determine for each person whether they get access to just read or to edit the texts. etc. It is also possible to insert comments into the text, where Word will keep track of who said what. What’s more, the person you want to give access to one or more documents, doesn’t even need to have Office 365 themselves. They can use the free apps, or Office online to access the documents. All you have to do is send them an email with the link.

OneDrive is specifically designed for people to cooperate on documents. It has built-in capabilities such as advanced permissions management, versioning control, eDiscovery, and records management to ensure documents are managed, controlled, archived and can be retrieved in one place with reduced overhead.

“But is it safe?” you may wonder. The short answer is that it is. Typically, professional cloud service providers have excellent security measures in place. Your data is in all likelihood more secure in the cloud than it is on your own servers. Add to that that the professional version of OneDrive allows to use two-step authentication to access documents. OneDrive also offers a more advanced permission management system, called the Advanced Security Management (ASM), which will detect abnormal usage and allow you to monitor how your documents are being accessed and used. (If your version of OneDrive doesn’t include ASM, it is possible to order it separately).

It is important to remain aware of the terms and conditions of OneDrive, especially if, as a lawyer, you store evidence on OneDrive. Microsoft has strict policies when it comes to, e.g., nudity or graphic violence. Storing such content, even if it is evidence in a case, may be a violation of Microsoft’s terms and conditions, and may lead to your account being suspended. One possible workaround, is to sign up for ‘Customer Lockbox’ which gives you greater control over what Microsoft can scan on your OneDrive, but it offers no guarantees. If Microsoft does find anything it considers a violation of their terms and conditions, your account may be suspended.

We started this article by referring to the constant updates of Office 365 and the addition of additional cloud services. For many of these cloud services, is making progress with the integration of Artificial Intelligence. You may know that within Word, e.g., you have the option to translate text in a document to different languages. Those translations have been getting better and better. Another new feature is an intelligent dictionary for acronyms, which will tell you what a certain acronym in a certain context means. Specifically interesting for lawyers are the advancements Microsoft has been making in the field of eDiscovery on OneDrive.

Needless to say that the usage of OneDrive is integrated most modern software packages for law firm management.

PS: this article was written in reply to a request for information about OneDrive for Lawyers.

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The Agile Law Firm – What and Why

You may have heard of ‘agile’ law firms, or that law firms are being urged to become more ‘agile.’ What does it mean? And why would it be important for a law firm to be ‘agile’?

What is Agility?

The concept of ‘agility’ finds its origins in IT project management. In 2001, leading experts from the IT industry published the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. This Manifesto contained 12 core principles, and a methodology and terminology for software development that were built upon these principles.

The Wikipedia defines it as follows: Agile software development describes an approach to software development under which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing cross-functional teams and their customer/end users. It advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continuous improvement, and it encourages rapid and flexible response to change.

Agile Project Management uses its own terminology, which needs some getting used to, if one is not familiar with it. It uses terms, e.g., like sprint for a series of jobs, a user story for a group of tasks within a sprint, or a retrospective, which is an evaluation meeting with the purpose of diagnosing the achievements, failures, and missed opportunities of the sprint.

While these principles and methodology were originally conceived for software development, it immediately became clear that they could benefit project management in general. By now, about half of project managers are using the principles and methodology of agile project management.

Agile Law Firms

The Agile principles can easily be adapted and adopted for law firms and Legal Project Management. According to Ivan Rasic, “Agile refers to legal project management that encourages continuous improvement, collaboration, adaptation, team efforts and rapid delivery of valuable legal services.” Roya Behnia was one of the people who contributed to the Agile Manifesto for lawyers. She says an agile law firm focuses on:

  • continual collaboration with clients;
  • commitment to flexibility and rapidity;
  • direct communication rather than complex documentation;
  • continual focus on client goals;
  • realistically weighing risk; and
  • a strong bias toward simplicity.

Why is Agility important for lawyers?

Jim Hassett made the blunt observation that, like software developments, lawyers have clients who often change their mind. And you have to be prepared for that. Add to that that clients are also requiring their legal service vendors to prove they know how to manage projects, before they even decide to engage them. As ‘The Clever Project Manager’ points out, “Agility is the Way of the Present.” These days, customers expect instant gratification. And they expect that things will be on a path of constant improvement and zero issues, or they’ll look for alternatives. The only way to be successful in this world is to be responsive to your users’ needs and to be flexible enough to change your priorities when the market demands it.

In this context, agility means flexibility, “the freedom to make the right decisions at the right time, based on the right amount of information. (…) It means taking a ‘just-in-time’ approach to decision-making, based on data and reasoning.  Flexibility allows adaptation which allows success; unnecessary rigor causes stagnation and failure in the long run.”

As such, agility is merely a reflection of reality. Accepting uncertainty, re-evaluating, adapting and reprioritizing one’s efforts, based on changing conditions is essential, because that is how the world works: things change constantly. In essence, Agility asks us to take long-term changes in direction into account.

The purpose of agile legal project management is to add value for your clients by anticipating that your strategies will probably have to adapt to changing circumstances. By doing so, agile project management increases productivity, efficiency and profitability. It also improves communication in your team, and it improves delivery time, all of which result in happy clients.

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The Law Practice of the Future – part 2

This is the second article in a two-part series that looks at the law practice of the future. It is largely based on the Law 2023 Study (www.law2023.org), which predicted seven evolutions law firms will undergo by 2023:

  • Technologies Will Enable Lawyers to Bill for Real Value
  • Firms Will Develop Offerings That Transcend Jurisdiction
  • Demand for Responsive Institutions Will Create New Markets for Accountability
  • Firms Will Tap New Talent and Enable New Pathways to Practice
  • Information Access/Transparency Will Push Firms to Seek Hyper-Specific Markets
  • Firms Will Launch R&D Departments to Create New Offerings
  • User/Anthropological Research Will Shape Client Experience of Legal Products

The first three were discussed in the first article. In this second article, we’ll focus on evolutions four to seven. Note that the original Law 2023 Study was published two years ago, and that more recent findings have been integrated into this article.

[Part 1 of this article can be found here].

Evolution 4: Firms Will Tap New Talent and Enable New Pathways to Practice

The study found that “all kinds of companies are coming to grips with how they will acquire the skills and abilities they need in a workforce of unprecedented demographic and cultural diversity. Many organizations are also faced with the challenge of rapidly developing capacities they never needed before. Law firms will need to figure out how to hire new kinds of minds and address ongoing value concerns from clients.”

This is one of the evolutions that is already clearly visible. Traditionally, law firms consisted of lawyers, assisted by some administrative aids. Larger firms could have paralegals, accountants and an IT department. Now, it is not uncommon to also find project managers, client service managers, programmers, business analyst, industry advisors, etc. in law firms.

Another new tendency is to find lawyers who no longer are ‘just lawyers.’ On the one hand, there are e.g. scientists, engineers and mathematicians who are switching to the legal sector, and combine their fields of expertise. On the other hand, we are witnessing the emergence of what some call the “T-shaped lawyer”. Traditionally, lawyers had a deep knowledge in one discipline or ‘vertical’ market, i.e. the Law. A T-shaped employee, however, has a wide breadth of knowledge across multiple disciplines that allow them to bring new and innovative ways of thinking to their job. Some Law Schools already offer a curriculum for T-shaped lawyers.

As a result, individuals with a deeper understanding of technology and data, as well as the law, are changing the way the law is done. We can find some examples of that in the fields where AI is being integrated into the law.

Millennials are also changing the legal workplace. They grew up in an ‘always online’ paradigm, where services are available 24/7. More flexibility is required because the work can be performed at any place and at any time. So, they approach their work differently, and that affects the way law firms operate:

  • They prefer to work independently
  • The prefer assignments that can be done from home
  • They don’t care much for the traditional meaning of “work/life balance”
  • They value constructive coaching/mentorship relationships
  • Leadership and professional development opportunities are important
  • They give back

In short, in the office of the future, the employee gets more freedom, but also more responsibility. Law firms that adopt more flexible work practices and pay structures will be best prepared to compete with other industries for the capable people needed to fill these new jobs.

Evolution 5: Information Access/Transparency Will Push Firms to Seek Hyper-Specific Markets

The study found that “clients will have much more access to objective information about the effectiveness of firms and individual lawyers. Public companies in particular will face increasing pressure to rely on firms with the best track records.”

Increased competition on the legal market already pushed law firms to explore niche markets and to build greater expertise in specific fields. What we are witnessing now is that clients get access to all kinds of extra information about law firms like their success rates and effectiveness. This will force law firms to “define and dominate niche markets in which they can credibly claim to be the best. As with other industries, changes to legal markets will increasingly be driven by organizations’ collective ability to produce disruptive innovations, in addition to individual lawyers’ skills and experience.” Which leads us to the next topic.

Evolution 6: Firms Will Launch R&D Departments to Create New Offerings

The study found that “the variety of demands on law firms will lead to a new diversity in the way legal solutions are conceived, packaged, sold and applied. Some of these novel legal products will immediately find vast markets; others could take years to catch on or turn out to be false leads.”

Technology is changing the way that law is being practiced. It is to be expected that law firms will start creating their own R&D departments, either to take the lead or to keep up with the pace in a certain field. These R&D departments may focus on products, services or methodologies, which respond not only in changes in technology on the market, but also to shifts in industry needs and client preferences.

Evolution 7: User/Anthropological Research Will Shape Client Experience of Legal Products

The study found that “a deeper understanding of users’ experience is increasingly becoming the driving force behind the offerings of all kinds of companies. Companies are using data and design to predict consumers’ desires, aiming to appear in their lives before they even know what they want.”

The role of the clients’ experience when dealing with the law firm is becoming an even more important aspect of great customer services than it was before. Just like online retail shops can keep track of what you and other people buy to give you recommendations, technologies are being developed to anticipate the clients’ future needs. This may lead to greater understanding of entire industries, which in turn will allow law firms to approach their clients with new opportunities instead of simply reacting to their problems.

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The Law Practice of the Future – part 1

Law firms are going through a phase of intense transformation. The way law practices are run has changed more in the last two decades than in the entire century before. One such change is that law firms largely have become corporate entities, and consequently are being run as such. Other changes are the result of the Internet and the emergence of new technologies. This has led to virtual practices, paperless offices, Artificial Intelligence assistants and even some robot lawyers. We work with digital devices, and we need to be aware of cybersecurity. On these devices, files and information are digitized, and as a result, evidence often is digital evidence, which in turn led to eDiscovery. Lawyers and clients find each other online, and interact through social media. Because of the cloud, traditional employment relationships are also disappearing. Most young people opt for self-employment and prefer to take assignments that can be performed at home. The need for a fixed workplace and fixed working hours seem to be obsolete.

These changes raise the question of what the future will hold for law practices. Will robots take the place of lawyers? Will offices disappear as everything moves to the cloud? How will the way lawyers work change? We will be looking at the law practice of the future in a two-part series, which is largely based on the Law 2023 Study (www.law2023.org). This study projected what a law firm will look like in 2023. For these two articles that information has been updated and complemented by more recent findings.

The Law 2023 Study predicts that law practices will evolve in seven ways:

  1. Technologies Will Enable Lawyers to Bill for Real Value
  2. Firms Will Develop Offerings That Transcend Jurisdiction
  3. Demand for Responsive Institutions Will Create New Markets for Accountability
  4. Firms Will Tap New Talent and Enable New Pathways to Practice
  5. Information Access/Transparency Will Push Firms to Seek Hyper-Specific Markets
  6. Firms Will Launch R&D Departments to Create New Offerings
  7. User/Anthropological Research Will Shape Client Experience of Legal Products

 

We will focus on the first three evolutions in the first part of this article, and the other four in the second part.

Evolution 1: Technologies Will Enable Lawyers to Bill for Real Value

The study found that “many lawyers are already experimenting with digital tools to enhance their practices. But the most powerful new technologies will likely be developed by innovators outside the traditional legal industry who are incentivized to offer basic legal services for radically lower costs.”

We are, in fact, already witnessing this with, e.g., the arrival of legal chat bots that offer legal assistance (often for free) with regard to parking tickets, damage to luggage claims, applying for refugee status, and even on divorce. A recent study found that approximately 23 % of the work lawyers do at present can be automated. Eager to seize that opportunity, there are dozens of startups that want to offer AI-driven services that offer very specific legal solutions.

It is perfectly possible that law firms will start integrating these new technologies in their offer. They would be wise to do so, as it will reduce their costs. And they may even start developing their own such tools (cf. evolution #6). But the main effect of these new technologies is that lawyers will have to start focusing on what brings real value to their clients. Often this will mean specializing in specific fields of expertise. Another effect of these new technologies is that they will lead to entirely new forms of practice, like computer-assisted law, that can only be pursued in this technological environment.

Evolution 2: Firms Will Develop Offerings That Transcend Jurisdiction

The study found that “as the pace of globalization quickens, the nature of jurisdiction will change. It’s not just that corporations and other institutions will need to navigate dozens or hundreds of sets of rules and regulations — they’ll also have a significantly greater need to choose among them. These clients will expect their counsel to keep up.”

Globalization creates a demand for global legal services, which creates new challenges and new opportunities. Proactive firms will develop methodologies and employ technologies to compare and assess how legal issues related to products or services are solved in different jurisdictions.

Evolution 3: Demand for Responsive Institutions Will Create New Markets for Accountability

The study found that “enabled by technology, citizens are demanding greater transparency and responsiveness from corporations, government and other institutions — which very frequently seem caught off-guard. In a world where a WikiLeaks is around every corner, institutions will need more than just good PR; they’ll need new tools to fortify their credibility and maintain public trust.”

Law firms who to tap into this new market must adhere to a ‘triple bottom line,’ evaluating their success using metrics beyond profits:

  1. Is your law firm the preferred place for the most profitable clients to do business?
  2. Is your law firm the preferred place for the most talented people to work?
  3. Is your law firm the preferred place where the most inspired leaders want to serve their communities and the larger world at hand?

Smart firms already understand how important the element of trust is to their long-term viability. This in turn creates a new market for lawyers who can help other institutions achieve transparency, accountability and responsiveness, by crafting the necessary policies and practices.

The demand for greater transparency and responsiveness will not only come from clients but also from the people who will work for the law firm: millennials prefer to work in companies that inspire, and that display a commitment to philanthropy and social responsibility. This ties in with evolution #4, which describes how law firms will tap in to new sources of talent. That will be one of the items discussed in part 2 of the article: The Law Practice of the Future – part 2.

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Tips for a successful law firm website

In a previous article on the new legal consumers, we learned that approximately one in three people in need of legal assistance finds their lawyer by researching them online. A good website plays a crucial role in that. So, what makes a website of a law firm successful? Here are some recommendations by the experts.

User experience

Website visitors are picky and demand a positive user experience, or they’ll just turn away. The following five items contribute to a positive user experience.

Quick load time: your pages should load fast. Research shows that most people are only willing to wait some seconds before they turn away, because they haven’t seen anything yet. Typically, mobile users are less patient than desktop users.

Mobile-friendly: with more mobile users than desktop users on the Internet, having a mobile-friendly website is a must.

Relevant imagery: visitors tend to prefer visually pleasing websites. It is, however, not enough to just have attractive imagery, it must be relevant.

Modern design: lawyers often make the mistake of going for a more conservative design. They forget that the website should appeal to their visitors, and the majority of them prefer modern designs.

Easy navigation: the website users want to find the information they are looking for fast. Easy navigation is therefore a must, too.

Four imperatives to convert prospects

One of the purposes of a website is to convert visitors into clients. In a previous article (on why social media matter), we pointed out that this typically works better if you turn your website visitors into content consumers first, and that social media can play a significant role in that. To convert visitors into content consumers and clients, the texts on your site must be client-focused. They must convey clarity, trust, relatability, and differentiation.

Clarity: lawyers tend to use sentences that are too long, and verbose. Your sentences should be short, clear and to the point.

Trust: what you tell about yourself must convince a potential client that they can trust you.

Relatability: people look to establish relationships with other people they can relate to. If your texts are distant or aloof, a prospective client will look somewhere else.

Differentiation: you have to stand out and explain what makes you different from other lawyers offering similar services.

Pages to include

Your website should include the following pages:

Services: describe the services you offer. Be precise.

Testimonials: prospective clients want to know who the other clients are that you helped, and what they think of you.

A personalized about us page offers an opportunity to profile yourself as relatable, trustworthy and as different from other firms.

A contact form with Captcha: you want people to be able to reach you, but at the same time, you want to keep spammers out.

A FAQ page often is a good idea. The most frequently asked questions usually have to do with how much it will cost. Provide information on how and how much you charge, and for what.

Because they are required by search engines, don’t forget to include a Privacy Policy, and a Disclaimer.

More and more online consumers give preference to websites that offer an online payment facility.

Finally, your website should have site maps for your visitors, as well as for the web crawlers that search engines use.

Recommended page elements

Usability experts recommend including the following elements in the pages:

The header of the pages should include the domain name, your logo, and your tagline (if you have one). Typically, the header will also include the top navigation, as well as the breadcrumb navigation (i.e. the ‘you are here: home > …’ section).

On your page, under the header, you typically want to present a slide show or image. On your home page, you then continue with crucial business information, some testimonials and reviews. Below that, you can list the main features. On other pages than your home page, you present the information that the page is for, and make sure you provide quality content.

At the bottom of the page, you put internal links to other pages on your site.

The footer of your page typically must contain your contact information with special emphasis on your location (people tend to look for a lawyer that lives nearby), and on a phone number. (Some experts recommend putting your phone number in the header). Your footer should also include your business hours, as well as your Social Media buttons.

 

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