Just in case you somehow missed the memo, lawyers today have to find ways to provide their services more efficiently and more cost-effectively. Richard Susskind, a thought leader and futurist for the legal industry, has been writing for two decades about the impact of competition and technology on the provision of legal services. In his more recent publications, The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services (2008) and Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future (2013), Susskind warned us about the advancing “more-for-less challenge.” Now we are in the middle of it. Lawyers in every practice arena, whether in-house, governmental, Big Law, Small Law or solo, feel the pressure to provide more service in less time and for less money.
Nevertheless, many lawyers remain techno-dinosaurs because they don’t want to invest the time to learn how to use new and more efficient technology. They shortsightedly view an investment in training through the lens of billable hours. They focus on a temporary loss of revenues instead of the future improvements in productivity. Meanwhile they drop farther and farther behind, which only increases their anxiety with regard to technology.
Solo and small firms have long felt the pressure from clients to reduce fees. Today, however, even BigLaw attorneys are being called to task. In 2013 Casey Flaherty, as corporate counsel for Kia Motors America, got frustrated with external counsel billing excessive hours to accomplish routine tasks. He developed an assessment of the technological competence of Kia’s outside lawyers with basic tools like Word, Excel and Acrobat.
Flaherty found that he could prepare the test document in 30 minutes. He set what he thought was a reasonable expectation for outside lawyers to complete the task in one hour. Shockingly, the average outside lawyer completion time was five hours! As a result, Flaherty instituted a program requiring outside law firms to pass his competency test in order to get work from Kia. With regard to existing counsel, Kia reduced the rates it would pay a law firm until all of the lawyers on Kia files could pass the test.
You can read more about Flaherty’s experience and the reasoning behind his tech competency audit on the ABA’s Legal Rebels site. You can learn more about the Legal Tech Audit, which is now offered in partnership with Suffolk University Law School at http://www.legaltechaudit.com/. By way of example, the test requires a lawyer to demonstrate the ability to automate section numbering and cross reference updates in editing a Word document, and to effectively use the Track Changes feature.
Perhaps you are now getting the uncomfortable feeling that you need to hone your skills to speed up document production. You can find courses and tutorials online to fit any budget (including free, such as here and here for Microsoft Word). Don’t forget to search YouTube for video tutorials on specific skills and tasks. I find that I progress a lot faster in learning software when I can watch a video tutorial. It cuts down on the time I waste trying to decipher written instructions or hunting for an unfamiliar button or tab that the instructions describe.
If you want to keep handy some written reference materials that focus on the tools lawyers use most, the ABA has published numerous guides on specific software like Adobe Acrobat and the Microsoft Office suite of products. Most of them are available in paper or e-book versions. You may find that you can purchase the books cheaper on Amazon than from the ABA, however.
Finally, most of us have certain documents, phrases or formats that we use almost daily. You can save yourself a lot of time and trouble by automating those repetitive tasks. You don’t have to learn how to use Hot Docs or some other document engine to do it. Just learn how to use autotext, macros and templates in Word. Here are some links to YouTube videos that will show you how:
You may not have to worry about taking the Suffolk/Flaherty Legal Tech Audit. In today’s competitive legal environment, however, every lawyer needs to find ways to work faster and cheaper, or risk losing business. There are just too many other lawyers out there who can do what you do.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.