The technological rebirth of law practice you’ve been hearing about since the days of the dot-com bubble is finally here—if only because lawyers have no other choice.

The rapid migration of U.S. legal processes to the internet in response to COVID-19 has also created more opportunities for firms to automate administrative tasks. When implemented correctly, the changes can allow legal professionals to shift a larger share of their work hours to substantive, billable tasks that increase revenue.

Actions taken this summer can lay the groundwork for years of success and reduced stress when the barrage of daily tasks resumes. Here are some good places to start.

 

1. Draft an automation plan

According to a recent webinar by Clio lawyer Joshua Lenon, anything you handle more than once can be automated to improve its efficiency. But to realize the greatest gains, you’ll want to look at processes that fit the following simple criteria:

  1. The process occurs frequently
  2. The process does not require interpretation or analysis

When you find a good candidate, make a simple outline consisting of the following:

  • Area to automate
  • Problem
  • Solution
  • Implementation lead
  • Budget
  • Sustainability plan (How will you ensure employees stick with it?)

It’s also important to not take these ideas too far. For both ethical and financial reasons, processes requiring legal analysis are not usually good candidates for automation.

Lenon cited the case of Frederick J. Hanna & Associates, a debt collector sued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2014 for violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, including using software to determine who to sue. The firm paid $3.1 million in penalties, and was prohibited from filing lawsuits without attorney review of key facts related to the defendants’ debts.

 

2. Enhance existing software through integration

Budgets may be tighter in 2020, and extra software might not be realistic for your firm. If that rings true for you, consider how you can do more with less by getting existing systems to work in tandem.

Lenon’s webinar cited three key areas that are ripe for integration at many firms:

  • Document execution. If the software you use to edit legal documents integrates with your customer relationship management (CRM) or eFiling provider, it can often pre-fill documents from those sources so you don’t have to type information twice.
  • Calendaring. Subscription services like LawToolBox integrate with eFiling providers or CRMs to automatically create calendar events for a filing based on a lookup of local court rules. General purpose software like Calendly can allow clients to book free time on your Outlook or Gmail calendar without any back-and-forth.
  • Billing. Anything your firms spends money on should be recorded as an expense. Thankfully, some legal softwares now offer billing integration to log expenses automatically. If expenses are all transactional, it may even be possible to automatically generate invoices that pass costs through to the client.

You can even find integrations that retrieve information from court systems so you don’t have to search through them regularly. For example, services like CourtDrive (for PACER) and DocketSync (for New York/New Jersey states courts) monitor docket information and can transfer updates to your practice management software automatically.

 

3. Create automated processes in Zapier

Zapier makes it easy for people with no programming experience to create simple automation routines using more than 500 popular software programs like Google Sheets, PracticePanther and Actionstep.

Zapier workflow law firmSimply tell Zapier which action you’d like to happen, then set a “trigger” event that determines when that action takes place. This is called a “zap.”

By setting up different triggers and actions between software you already use, you can make common tasks run automatically, minimizing your non-billable administrative work.

For example:

  • When I receive a hearing confirmation email from a specific court email address, create a calendar event in my practice management system.
  • When the calendar event for a hearing includes a particular client, send that client a text reminder the morning of the hearing.
  • When someone fills out a Google Form on my website, send an automatic response using the information they submitted to ask routine pre-qualifying questions.

For inspiration, check out this post from AttorneyAtWork.com.

 

4. Make your website more accessible

In an age of rolling stay-at-home orders and restrictions on office visits, your digital storefront is more important than ever. But a website can do more than source leads—with the right setup, it can also develop them.

One key aspect of your automation plan could be making it faster and easier to collect information from prospective clients.

Many legal marketing websites already come with lead forms as a standard feature. These allow you to ask for the information you need up front, and can be easier for a prospect than asking them to draft an open-ended email.

Providing your clients the convenience of online payment can save them a potentially risky trip to the office. It also can improve your cashflow. According to Clio’s 2019 Legal Trends Report, 57% of electronic payments made to law firms get paid the same day.

This also may be a good time to upgrade your website to a responsive design, making it easy to use on a smartphone. Though the legal category currently ranks below some other industries for mobile search traffic, a growing percentage of prospects will arrive at your site using a mobile device each year.

 

5. Get documents signed electronically

Even if your team is working as efficiently as possible, you can still find yourself at the mercy of a client that’s slow to respond.

Ditching “wet ink” signatures for eSignatures is almost always an effective solution to this bottleneck. But it’s especially helpful—and arguably necessary—at a time when many clients may be limiting in-person errands due to Covid-19.

Thankfully, many U.S. courts now allow for signatures to be recorded electronically through online services like DocuSign, PandaSign and HelloSign. These can be purchased as stand-alone solutions, or integrated with your practice management system or even your eFiling provider.

Regardless of the service you use, basic advantages of eSignatures vs. paper signatures include:

  • Instant distribution of documents via email
  • Built-in verification that documents were received
  • Ability to send mass reminders
  • Elimination of printing and shipping costs

No doubt, these are challenging times. But as courts reopen in entirely new ways, the opportunity to differentiate your practice from competitors has perhaps never been greater.

For more tips on how to adapt your law firm to these changing times, follow InfoTrack on LinkedIn.