It used to be the case that if you wanted to practice law at a firm with all the latest technological bells and whistles, you had to go to one of the mega-firms. Small firms largely didn’t have the resources to absorb the great costs associated with fledgling (yet undeniably effective) technologies.
Fast forward twenty years and things have changed dramatically. While I used to be particularly fond of toiling away in large, dusty law libraries, lawyers today carry the universe of case law, legislation, regulations, and administrative rulings right in their smartphones. There’s almost nothing that can’t be researched on a moment’s notice. This accessibility, along with other technology-based conveniences, has made the practice of law infinitely more efficient for today’s solo/small law firms.
These efficiencies aren’t mere conveniences. Since 2012, the ABA Model Rules have required that a lawyer’s duty of competence include a degree of technological competence. In light of this mandate (and all the cool resources out there for lawyers), we thought we’d share a few of our favorite technologies and the ways they have impacted modern, small law firms.
#1: Online legal research
There used to be two main players in the world of online legal research, and both operated a little bit like crack dealers. By that, I mean they gave you free access to every online legal research tool then known to man for free – while you were in law school. When you graduated, you quickly learned the harsh reality of the true costs associated with legal research.
Those research platforms charged by the minute and the prices were steep. Today, however, free online research tools like Google Scholar provide unlimited and instantaneous access to case law and scholarly articles at no cost. Small firms can get much of their research done here for free and then turn to the paid tools only on an as-needed basis.
#2: Online document collaboration
One of the realities of the small firm environment is that personnel can be spread thin. One partner may be across town at a deposition while remaining partners are in trial in another city. So, what happens if a young associate needs assistance with a legal brief?
In the past, this meant that hundreds of pages might be faxed back and forth across sketchy connections that yielded near-impossible-to-read documents.
Today, of course, documents can be simultaneously edited online from anywhere in the world. Services like Google Drive or OneDrive provide secure access and editing capabilities via the internet. This can save hundreds of hours over the course of a year (not to mention the trees that are saved now that faxes have gone by the wayside).
#3: Secure messaging
While modern technologies have provided attorneys with instantaneous global communication options, the truth is that standard texts and emails often fail to provide the security needed to secure lawyer-client communications. Fortunately, there are now communications platforms like Signal that promise private communications right from a person’s phone. This ability to keep messaging secure is critical for small firm lawyers who often find themselves on the road.
#4: Secure computers
We’ve become such a mobile society. While lawyers of the past used to keep private client files literally under lock and key, today’s lawyers carry around laptop computers, tablets, and smartphones that can house the most sensitive of information. The good news is, most of those systems now come with built-in encryption capabilities that need only be switched on to become effective. This makes top-notch security something that small/solo firms can build into the cost of hardware.
Remember when lawyers had to keep meticulous notes in order to later generate accurate bills for clients? Most of us were pretty great at it – until we took off for a client lunch and forgot our notebook, or got interrupted from working on one matter to answer a phone call on another matter. Any given day could require a lot of looking back, trying to figure out how to bill your day, and estimating what you think you did with your time. It was not an ideal situation for anyone.
Today, however, there are several automated law practice management platforms that make things like billing and timekeeping much easier. This is good for clients, good for attorneys, and good for the profession overall.
#6: Online legal services
Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention online legal services firms like One Legal. Using our online tools, you can make sure your legal filings are correctly put together, filed, and served. Needless to say, it’s a far cry from the days of sending frantic court runners into afternoon traffic to try to meet filing deadlines. If you remember the stress of those days, you’ll recognize how thankful we should all be for all this great technology!