Embracing Your Inner Techie Lawyer

Cloud-Computing-and-Big-DataI am a techie lawyer. I was a database and systems engineer for medical practice management software systems and electronic training systems for over a decade before I decided to go back to law school. When my fellow law students had a technical problem with their laptops, they were as likely to come to me for assistance as they were to go to someone in the law school’s IT department. And I’m married to a web applications developer, so we talk about software and systems all. the. time. So when I say that I like someone’s application, there’s usually a techie rationale behind it.

When I worked with medical systems software, I was responsible for implementation of our software across the medical practice. That meant I installed the software on servers and desktops, I uploaded their data to the database, and I made everything work the way it was supposed to. Then I helped our customers make sure that the system was being used and that it did what our clients needed it to do.

There were always points of pain around a few areas: integration between medical accounting and medical records systems; security, confidentiality and permissions to access patient information; the need for customized information based on the medical specialty of each practice; and the need for customized reporting. The practices that best used our systems were the ones where the doctor made an effort to become tech-savvy and drove adoption of the system by the entire practice.

Legal practice management software is about a decade behind medical practice management software, which came of age with the passage of HIPAA regulations in the late 1990s and really matured in the early 2000s. I’m seeing a lot of the same growing pains in the legal tech industry now that I saw in the medical tech industry then. Only this time I’m seeing it from the side of the guy who owns the practice.

You need practice management software. From the techie lawyer perspective, here’s why: you generate data all day long. You send email, keep your calendar, draft documents, manage money, and bill your clients through computer software. As an attorney, you have a duty to maintain the confidences of your clients, and that means electronically as well as in the real world, because all that data you are creating and collecting doesn’t belong to you; it belongs to your clients. The more centralized your system of collecting your clients’ data, the more secure it’s likely to be.

For example, if you are using Outlook for your desktop contacts, email and calendar (that are all actually hosted on a Google server), Dropbox to store your documents, and Quickbooks Online for your billing and accounting – a pretty typical setup – you have to enter the same data across multiple applications and there’s no way to tie together your client information so that you see everything related to a matter all in one place. Maybe you are the exception, but most lawyers I know can’t keep it all straight without some kind of system. And that system needs to be secure, and it needs to centralize information in a logical way, and it needs to make it easy to keep track of all that data.

I know it can seem like you are just adding another layer of complexity by using a practice management tool, but really you are simplifying things. A good practice management system will integrate your email and other communications, with the client contact information, with your calendar, with your to do list, with your document management system, and with your billing and accounting system. A great one will also tie in your trust account to the client and the matter so that you can say, without a doubt, at any moment in time, whose money you are holding and for what purpose.

There are a ton of practice management systems out there. I’m not here to endorse anyone in particular as you have to choose the system with which you are most comfortable.  I’m just here to tell you why you need to use a practice management system.

And by “you,” I mean YOU. Not just your paralegal. Not just your assistant. YOU. You may have gotten by with a mediocre understanding of Microsoft Word, but you are the one who has to drive the adoption by your firm of a practice management system. You have to understand things like security and privacy, cloud-based versus desktop-based applications, who is hosting your data and what that means as far as who can access your data. And you have to start using the tools that put you in control of it all, i.e., a practice management system.

Attorneys have been glacial in adopting practice management tools in comparison to other professionals in other industries, but we live in a digital world. We have to become technologically literate in order to do our jobs properly. After all, it’s not the IT guy down the hall that stands to lose his bar card after a data breach.

So embrace your inner techie. Take the time to learn the basics of computing, especially in the cloud.

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®.

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2 comments on “Embracing Your Inner Techie Lawyer

  • You completely hit the nail on the head by discussing integration and the need of things to tie together. This is something that many attorneys don’t think about in regards to their practice software, or office software in general. A good step, that would greatly increase productivity, for most firms is to take a step back and say “if we were starting from scratch then what would it look like once we got all our needs met?” That “end system” should then be put in place – which means replacing a lot of the tools one currently uses.

  • Hi Suzanne,

    I’ve been wondering why lawyers, particularly, have been so “glacial” in their approach to change. There are many school of thought on this, but one idea I came cross recently really seemed to resonate Gwyneth McAlpine, Director of KM Services at Perkins Coie wrote:

    “Because attorneys are timekeepers, the time they spend on nonbillable activities – such as sharing feedback, participating in pilots, reading rollout communications, training, and changing their behavior – roughly equates to time spent on the couch. This causes resistance to change, lack of engagement with technology, and no time for learning about possible solutions to their business problems. So our efforts to teach attorneys how new innovations can help their practice often fall on deaf ears. With the pressure they are under, who could blame them?”


    I’m curious if the trend continues of moving away from the billable hour towards AFA’s, if the lawyer gene might mutate over time, to the point where lawyers might be able to one day embrace their inner techie:)

    Great post!

    Daniel Steinberg

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