Recently, someone who knows me as a legal technologist asked me to write an article on technology and trial techniques. In what now seems like another lifetime, I was a litigator. When I sat down to write the article, I found that I just could not do it. Technology has changed everything about trial technique in the 14 years I have been away. On the other hand, I realized that there is something I do every day that helps my clients be successful at trial – make their office efficient while they are away so that they can focus on their trial.
You know the feeling. You are taking a well deserved and long overdue vacation, have to take an extended business trip or try a case that is expected to take a week. Oh, oh. While you are out, your phone still rings, emails pile up and your to do list doubles or triples in size. How can you enjoy your vacation or focus on your trial without worrying about the mess you left behind and will be returning to next week? Will your office grind to a halt without you there to run it?
There are a number of things that you can do to ensure your law office (or any other business for that matter) continues to work while you are away. Two that immediately come to mind are systems and delegation. I going to discuss both in terms of something I do know – law office technology.
Systems provide consistency, confidence and transferability within your firm. In other words, things are done the same way every time, you have confidence they are getting done, your staff has confidence they are doing things correctly and you can easily transition a task to a new employee. In the past, systems often meant a paper checklist where employees noted each task as they complete it. Technology has dramatically changed this. Today, we can create the checklists automatically, have our computer prompt us for the next step, notify the appropriate people automatically and perform other tasks that used to require much more in the way of direct human input. Practice management systems are a great place to start here. Programs like Time Matters and PracticeMaster allow you to create chains of events and automatically generate the next record. There are even tools that are specifically designed for creating and maintaining systems. Once the system is in place, it is much more efficient than old fashioned paper checklists.
Attorneys used to be pretty good at delegation. I can remember a time when few attorneys typed their own letters. They quickly dictated the letter and their staff typed it up or, in some cases, the staff member drafted it for review by the attorney. Technology has changed this. Most attorneys now type their own emails (which have replaced letters and phone calls as their primary communication method) and most enter their own time. Many now type their own letters, briefs and contracts and some even do routine tasks such as scanning. I am not necesarily saying that this is a bad thing but, think about it. How can your office run itself while you are away, if you do the lion’s share of the work yourself? If you want to get out of the office, you have to delegate more so that things get done while you are away.
Technology can help you with delegation as well. I use my Grundig Digta 7 to dictate my to do list to my assistant, indicating who to assign it to and when it is due. She enters them into our practice management system which distributes the tasks and notifies the person who is being assigned a task. The system then produces reports that tell me the status of each task and displays notes as the tasks are completed. All of this is much efficient than my old system of writing down a long list of to dos and hoping that I could somehow complete them all. The point is, technology should make things easier, not harder. Use technology to help you delegate rather than take on more things yourself.
Systems and delegation are common sense business tools. They won’t help you try your case but they can relieve some of the stress of being out a few day and let you focus on what matters – getting a good result for your client.law office efficiency, practicemaster, Time Matters