We don’t need statistics to know it’s true. We’ve heard it since we graduated from law school. The number one complaint by clients is the failure to return phone calls and lack of information from their lawyer. When clients don’t know what’s going on, they rightfully get pissed off. What needs to be a relationship of trust becomes a relationship of mistrust.
I saw over at law.com that a new online case management system has come out on the market. This is designed for solo and small firms, which I love. You can check out the Rocket Matter software, including a online demonstration, at the Rocket Matter website.
This is a tremendous new blog that I had no idea existed. It is the “Legal Extranet Blog.” There is a lot of great information here. As you know, Traverse Legal has used its legal extranet system as a complete case management system. We have used the extranet to run mass tort cases, deliver transparency and quality to our clients, as well as manage our cases internally.
There is an interesting discussion and a number of link resources over at the LinkedIn business networking questions and answer section. A variety of attorneys have suggested different software tools for case management. Of course, basecamphq.com is included. Two new ones which I have not seen before are Open Practice and Serengeti Legal Matter Management and E-Billing System.
Has anyone had any experience with either Serengeti or Open Practice? Does anyone have any other case management software tools which are web enabled to add to the list?
Technology allows you to work from anywhere. Most of our clients are not local companies. But we connect to those clients through our Extranet, GoToMeeting and related applications. Here are a few things about where I live in Traverse City Michigan. Last week, I had to slow my car to avoid a family of porcupines crossing the road and several deer bounding across both lanes of traffic. The people here are amazingly genuine and friendly, unlike the big cities where most lawyers toil. Every time you go to the grocery store, you see people you know.
Most lawyers are stuck practicing for big-law in the big city. Don’t they realize that technology would empower them to successful working from paradise?
I was recently reading an article in the January/February 2008 ABA GP Solo Magazine (Volume 25, Number 1) by Timothy J. Gephart entitled “Malpractice: What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate.” The article does a great job of outlining the fact that an ever-increasing number of claims against attorneys are based off of violations of ABA Model Rule 1.4, or the communication rule. Simply put, the rule requires that a lawyer keep the client informed, consult with the client about ways to accomplish the goals, keep the client reasonable informed about status, reply to requests for information, and consult with the client regarding ethical limitations of the attorney. It sounds simple. However, more than ever, clients are grieving and/or suing their attorneys for violating this particular rule. The fact of the matter is that there is an easy and readily available solution to avoid this type of problem.
An extranet can help you satisfy all of the rule requirements. It allows you to keep a running track record of all communications with the client. It tracks deliverables, encourages collaboration and discussion of issues important in the case as well as limitations for the lawyer, and is the means through which status updates and actual documents can be provided. Should the attorney-client relationship ever break down, what better way to show that the lawyer met all of his ethical obligations then by referring to the extranet where the client and lawyer actively engaged in dialog, discussed the points of attack, outlined risks and rewards, and ultimately decided upon a course of action. If the extranet can serve as a built-in protection against even one malpractice claim, it is worth its weight in gold. Lawyers who fear having an extranet and an open relationship with their clients will lead to malpractice claims rather than prevent them could not be more wrong. Moreover, would you want a lawyer with such a concern representing you? Brian
One of the interesting things we have done is to provide each partner an incentive to participate in each case. We continue to emphasize an equality of opportunity. Instead of the best cases be hoarded by one or two attorneys, every attorney in the firm has the ability to jump in and contribute on each case.
The hoarding of the best cases is a side effect of a partnership compensation formula which includes as its sole feature, revenue. Revenue in a traditional law firm is created purely through billable hours on business cases and for successful outcomes in contingency fee work.
But what if every lawyer was so well-informed about the cases being handled by the firm that they could jump in and contribute on those cases? What if a firm was created which provided incentives for collaboration as opposed to isolation?
Attorney collaboration can be encouraged using a variety of different technologies and techniques including:
- A case management extranet where every lawyer could see what is happening on every case at any time;
- A de-emphasis of billable hours so that lawyers felt comfortable and encouraged sitting down together to discuss cases, strategy and expected outcomes;
- A healthy number of flat fee matters where the law firm’s goal is to achieve the clients’ goals in the shortest amount of time. Since billable hours are meaningless, case strategy, process and leverage become the foundation of the daily effort. Three lawyers thinking, strategizing and working towards a client goal are much more likely to achieve that goal in a short time as opposed to a single lawyer holed up in the office focused on billing 50 hours per week;
- Regular sit-down strategy and collaboration meetings where the best ideas are tested, continually upgraded and where everyone has a hand in implementation.
The power of collaboration cannot be underestimated. Most law firms today provide few, if any, incentive for collaboration. The best cases in most law firms are handled by one or a few attorneys who guard the case like a personal possession. None of this serves the client. Many great minds will always be superior to one.
One of the best benefits of the extranet is that it provides you with a unique ability to continue to drive your cases forward. Lawyers in traditional law firms tend to be far more reactive than proactive. They are putting out fires, rather than driving results. We are constantly reviewing our extranet on a project by project basis. By looking at the previous tasks and latest messages, it is almost always obvious what needs to happen next. Driving that next set of tasks is as simple as dictating them someone else who puts them into the extranet.
One of the best parts about our firm is that we have managed to create an environment which drives me out of bed in the morning. I’m usually awake by about 5 a.m. and out of bed by 6. I can’t wait to pickup my digital recorder and start dropping tasks and messages into our extranet. Sometimes they are on client cases. More often, they are blog posts or agenda items for our “perfect law firm” Tuesday and Thursday meetings. I have a sense of control and opportunity which brings me into each day. I can hardly wait to see what is going to happen each day, which new clients will find their way to our firm and what will happen on the cases we have pending. I have never been involved in a legal situation where we have returned so many extraordinary results to our clients. Nothing feels better than hitting a grand slam on a difficult case.
There are so many things that make this firm different. As a digital law firm, we have instant access to all our case information from wherever we are located. This allows us to accomplish things faster and more intelligently than virtually any other lawyers. Our extranet also pushes so much information to the client level, that our clients are the most informed and involved clients of any clients our there. We do more in terms of strategy than any other firm I’ve been involved with, by a multiple of ten. This is largely because we document the deliverables and every task along the way driving towards a defined end zone. Is it any wonder we accomplish extraordinary results? Our virtual workers allow us to avoid lower level functions which distract us from focusing on strategy and client relations. These virtual workers allow us to expand and contract with case load ensuring that the train is moving forward at a steady, even pace. Our collaborative work environment means that all of our lawyers and staff are on the same page on every case. Each lawyer is able to contribute to any case at any moment. These types of checks and balances are critical for a firm and client success.
Because we are constantly revising our internal process and overall approach based on whatever makes sense, our creativity is rewarded each day. Innovation is the foundation of our firm. Nothing is more exciting than finding ways to do things better and technology to make it happen.
Most law firms live in a cynical environment of “why not.” We live in an environment of “can do” where problem solving is our most rewarding activity. There’s nothing more unrewarding than writing CYA letters to clients, always working to cover yourself in expectation that things will eventually go wrong and essentially telling the client about all the problems in their case. We make things happen for clients every day that other lawyers would say are impossible.
The reality is that the traditional law firm can be a brutal, boring, negative, uninspired, underperforming and static environment. Isn’t time you changed your environment? Isn’t time that you found out for yourself what is truly possible?
I always say that the practice of law is easy. It's just identifying the next three things that need to get done. With our business model, the next three things get dictated and uploaded into the extranet and, of course, assigned.
But really, defining the next three things is not as easy as it sometimes seems. A reactionary approach would allow the next three things to simply be revealed. A proactive approach aggressively identifies the next three things which must happen in order to win. Figuring out what the next three things should be is the real value a lawyer brings to the matter. Picking the right three things will make the difference between success and failure.