Lawyer Extranets

Refusing to Allow Your Client to Fail

Perhaps the most difficult part of running a client-centric law firm is making sure your clients don’t fail to realize their defined goals.  While an extranet system works well in setting client expectations and assigning client key tasks, the most important ingredient for success in any client matter is the lawyers willingness to get involved. 

At Traverse Legal, we take a stake in the outcome we’ve helped to define with the client.

Sometimes, clients don’t get back to you in a timely fashion.  There may be important information or tasks they need to complete.  You may need client approval on the next phase of the case.

A good lawyer helps the client realize defined goals.  A great lawyer demands that the client protect their own interest, get their tasks accomplished and see the matter through to conclusion.  A great lawyer is proactive when it comes to the client’s interest.

One of the many problems with hourly billing is that it fails to align the client’s goals with the lawyer’s goals.  Hourly billing drives complacency when it comes to accomplishing defined deliverables. 

So what if you do if a client isn’t responding in a timely fashion?  The best technique is to pick up the phone and call.  Emails can often get lost in the shuffle. If is easy to ignore an email, especially if it’s asking you to make a tough decision or perform a task.  An even better way is to have your staff schedule a meeting.  Again, email may or may not move the ball.  Picking up the phone, getting a live body on the other end and forcing the issue is sometimes part of the job.  And if you can’t get an office meeting scheduled, try a conference. 

At the end of the day, the lawyer is the one responsible for the deliverables and the outcome.  Using the client as an excuse won’t get you very far.  For firms that live and die by the value provided, lawyers are driven to push a matter through to completion.  They do it because the can only see value as the commodity which is bartered.  And a bad result reflects on them as much as it does the client irrespective of the cause.   

Managing Your Team

I’ve always believed that an extranet is a great way to provide and receive information by and between your client and virtual workers.  But now that we are a three attorney law firm, I am finding that the extranet has become even more important.  The only way for me to check on the status of a matter without having to bother one of the other attorneys is to look in the extranet.  If the most recent conversation, email or document is already uploaded, I can easily get up to speed fast.  If the information isn’t there, I assume there has been no follow-up. 

I’ve always said that scanning documents only works if every document is scanned.  If you’re looking at your file server or searching your stored documents, you need to know that everything is scanned.  Often times, you are looking to see if something’s not there.  If you only scan half of your documents, you can never answer key questions concerning the document’s existence. 

The same holds true for the extranet or any other case management system.  At least fifty-percent of the time, you are relying on the absence of information to tell you something.  The absence of information tells you that nothing has happened in many instances.  That tells you that follow-up is needed or further assignments need to occur.  But it doesn’t work if the information is not there but should be. 

We use digital dictation to update the extranet.  We try hard to ensure that every client contact results in an update to the extranet, whether that contact occurred via email or on the phone.  We are used to sending letters to our clients after each conversation.  It is even more important to let other team members know about internal and external communications concerning a matter. 

The Little Things That Hold Us Up.

It is often the littlest things that keep us from moving forward.  We need an address or a fax number.  We’re waiting for one more document from the client.  We need to know the statute of limitations. 

Often times, the little pieces of information are the ones that cause us to stall out.  One of the great things about our virtual worker model as well as the extranet is that those little things become little tasks.  Those little tasks are handled by workers who actually have the time to find the answers, even when we don’t.  I often say that the practice of law is nothing more than identifying the next three things that have to occur in the case.  Don’t forget that many times those things are small items which are easily addressed. 

Continue reading "The Little Things That Hold Us Up." »

Portable Digital Dictation Changes Everything

My Philips 9350 portable digital recorder fundamentally changes the way I practice law. Many people can’t really contemplate carrying a portable digital recorder around all the time. Even I sometimes laugh thinking about the geek standing in the corner doing a "memo to self" in his portable dictation device. On The Sopranos last night, Junior’s cancer doctor went to instruct his secretary to call Junior, by dictating a memo in his digital recorder. Tony smacked the recorder out of his hand and, without saying anything more, let the doctor know he’d better call Junior himself.

I don’t spend a lot of time dictating in public, or in front of other people. But when I get up in the morning, there are at least three things bothering me about one or more of my cases. There are questions that are rumbling around in my head for which I don’t have answers. Those questions become tasks or messages in our client extranet because I immediately pick up my digital recorder and assign tasks which will get me answers. The chance that I would "move the ball" on those issues once I got into the office inundated with distraction is incredibly small.

I often say that I do the work of three attorneys. This is probably true. And while I work hard and put in a lot of miscellaneous hours when I’m not in my office, it also has personal benefits as well.

Let’s face it. We all get anxious when we know things need to happen in cases and those issues are not being handled. We only have so much time in day. We’re only in our office so many hours.

The ability to pick up a portable dictation device and solve a problem, pose a question or provide information is a huge relief. If I dictate three research tasks before getting into bed at night, I don’t have to lie there worrying about them. I know that dictation will be uploaded into the extranet in the morning and I will likely have answers shortly thereafter.

I’ve always said that the practice of law is simply about identifying important questions and obtaining answers. Sometimes I refer to this approach as putting the lawyer in the position of "coach and quarterback." Digital dictation in tandem with our extranet allows me to be the coach and quarterback for all the members of our team. This includes our internal workers and our remote virtual workers. It also includes the clients. So take those questions and thoughts rambling around between your ears and turn them into action items at a moments notice. You’ll feel better. And your client will receive the value they deserve.

Survey Says: Netvibes!

I have posted in the past of the importance of the test drive, and been taking my own advice over the past few weeks. My latest test drive has been of a web 2.0 technology called netvibes, and I have been extremely impressed with what I have found.

Netvibes is a unique technology upon which you can add modules and feeds that can be accessed from anywhere with a simple username and password. Upon signing into you are shown a few of the 700 modules that are available that include Google search boxes, mail account boxes, calendars, a bookmark log, and many more - all of which can be added or removed at will. Netvibes also allows you to sign into feeds of everything from the NY Times, to the BBC, and even a feed of your favorite blog.

What is extremely helpful to the high-tech attorney is the ability to log into the feeds of your own basecamp accounts. By subscribing to your projects' feeds with netvibes you can receive abbreviated updates of your account right at your homepage.

I have been most impressed by netvibes because it makes RSS feeds easy to use for anyone. By placing the little synopses of added material from all of your feeds right onto a single page, it makes the RSS an arena that is easy to access and digest in an even shorter period of time.

So, just as the test drive equation goes, I have tested netvibes myself, and am giving you the go ahead to try it for yourself.

The Focus Should Be on Mankind, Not Technology

Thank you to Jim Calloway at his Law Practice Tips Blog for reminding me that Time Magazine named YOU the person of the year. Time says that the year 2006 is about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. Check out the story here.

In the spirit of Web 2.0, I would also like to congratulate YOU. After nearly a decade where we all focused on technology and the Internet, we are finally coming full circle. Man is not here to serve technology. Technology is here to serve man. Technologist get so caught up in the latest and greatest hardware and software that they forget that mankind is both the object and driver for all innovation, including technological innovation. And I’m not talking about the people who create technology. I’m talking about the people for whom technology is created. I am talking about the end-user.

I worked for an Internet company in Boulder Colorado from 1994 to 1996. We built collaboration tools for hospital systems. Our technology was more sophisticated than most of what is on the market today, including Basecamphq. But, surprise, surprise, the end-user wasn’t near ready for such tools. In 1996, doctors and their staff were considered "hi-tech" if they were receiving email. By 1997, they were responding to email. By 1999, they were attaching documents to email.

The great revolution that people are now calling Web 2.0 is, as the Time Magazine "Man of the Year" article suggests, man. Despite our penchant for the status quo, the general population is now willing to consider changing their habits at work and at home. The revolution is not collaboration tools, it is the end-users willingness to use them.

The good news is that mankind is now willing to sit at their computer and interface with various software programs for hours on end, not the least of which are the web browser and email applications. The bad news is…well, that man still has to sit at their computer in order to drive these applications. For those of you who know me well, you know that I believe that mankind must find a way to separate himself from the computer, while preserving the ability to interface with it. The answer for now is found in personal assistance and portable dictation devices which allow us to instruct others how to interface with software programs such as basecamp. The real "ah-ha" moment here will be when mankind realizes that they can still derive the benefit of software and hardware without sitting in front of the screens themselves.

Google Earth Captures Cruise Missile

The new technologies that are coming out of the second wave of the internet are amazing. From Google Earth to netvibes; basecamp to myspace, the internet is being fused together for easy use and higher efficiency. Web 2.0 technologies are bringing the world before our fingertips, with so much to explore.

But there are often "unforeseen" consequences of these new tools, as The Register, found out.

According to The Register, Google Earth viewers can find a cruise missile soaring above the beautiful tundras of Utah. According to the article, it is unknown whether this flying object is a Tomahawk Cruise Missile, or just a run of the mill cruise missile; personally I don't know my ballistic projectiles enough to give an expert opinion.

Routing Digital Documents in Your Paperless Office

I’ve had so many requests over the last year or so concerning our internal process for scanning paper that it is overwhelming. As you may recall, we receive all incoming mail and review it in paper form before scanning it. We tried scanning it first and sending it to a special folder, but that proved inadequate. The old adage "out of sight, out of mind" left too many scanned documents un-reviewed for too long.

So how do we deal with the conversion process of paper to PDF? First, the mail comes in. A staff member puts a document cover routing sheet on the mail which covers a variety of items including priority, calendaring, tasks, scanning options, server filing, routing (including by email, regular mail, fax, leap file), special instructions, opening of new clients in extranet and PCLaw, and any other activity or action item which comes out of the document. Because I am no longer anonymous, I am free to post our document cover routing sheet here Download Document_Cover_Routing_Sheet.doc (48.0K)

The whole goal is to make sure that every important task, event and routing path arising out of each and every document is handled comprehensively on the front end. Unlike most firms which simply place a sticky on incoming mail as it routes its way through to their secretary, we try and spend a lot of time with each piece of paper on the front end. If a piece of correspondence from opposing counsel suggests two new task categories and five new task items, I dictate those while I am filling out the routing cover sheet for uploading into the extranet. All tasks get assigned at the same time. If a piece of paper has to be sent to the client and the expert, the document cover routing sheet indicates as such.

By filling in the routing sheet completely and dictating tasks while reviewing the paper, we make sure that virtually nothing falls through the cracks.

Don’t hesitate to post questions or comments concerning the document cover routing sheet below.

New Additions to your Marketing Toolbox

Chuck Newton has a great new post on my favorite extranet tool, basecamp. He correctly notes that basecamp is not only a great productivity and team collaboration tool, but also a marketing tool. How does basecamp end up in the marketing toolbox.

Because you are transparent to clients and increased the level of collaboration, your clients tend to think of you more for new projects. Your clients tend to think of you not only for new projects, but also on new issues on current projects. Your clients tell their friends about the fact that your law firm is completely transparent. Clients want to know what their attorneys are doing and are impressed by the fact that they are involved at every step along the way.