Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Change 3.0

CHANGE 1.0: Document Production

When I began my legal career 20+ years ago, I felt in my gut that word processing and merging documents from a database would revolutionize the legal field. One of the first attorneys I worked with still used, brace yourself, a typewriter and carbon paper. I was right, but it was a knowledge based on an already existing reality. The revolution really came as technology allowed those tools to become available to the solo practitioner and small firm.

CHANGE 2.0: Document Access

I was a little bit more on the cutting edge of the "paperless" revolution. I digitized documents as early as 1995. The advantages of a digital file over a paper file seemed painfully obvious to me. The problem with the paperless revolution was everyone else still used paper, including the court. I made the switch prior to the implementation of e-filing in bankruptcy court anyway. I can't imagine practicing any other way now.

CHANGE 3.0: Case Management

So I was surprised when I found myself getting those familiar butterflies of change in my gut. The culprit this time was three things: 1) A little software program called Everything and a bigger search engine called Google; 2) Discovering that I could email client's cell phones; and 3) Google Wave and Google Voice.

Combining the strength of search engines with digital communication allows the office to quickly find everything related to a case, quickly and efficiently communicate with clients, all without the database work traditionally associated with tracking documents, calls, events and emails. I've used TimeMatters for over ten years and it feels as clunky and slow as the old paper filing system did ten years ago when I switched to a paperless office.

So Change 3.0 is underway and as with every big change, the investment in time and effort will pay off with exponential increases in efficiency.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Google Wave -- A New Wave of Communicating

Communicating with clients is the bane of most attorney's existence, especially when you couple the need to communicate with the client, while maintaining the need to keep the case file up to date and accessible to all the staff and know what everyone is doing or has done on a case and to make sure it all gets done when the deadlines arise and then finding all of that information when you need it and it is really long and hard (like trying to comprehend this sentence).

Enter the newest technological wonder:

I've been reading up on Google Wave and using it for real time office collaboration now for about a month. It has been described in a lot of different ways -- email on crack being one of my favorite. Yet that description is woefully inadequate.

Here is my best shot at describing how it works:

Imagine a personalized web site that allows you to select who can see the website and who can add to the web site with the ease associated with normal computer tasks like double clicking, answering email or 'drag and drop'. The activities on this personalized web page can include links to documents, videos and images. Any changes on the web page can be seen by anyone looking at it as they happen or in a web version of instant replay.

Douglas Merrill in his book Getting Organized in the Google Era: How to Get Stuff out of Your Head, Find It When You Need It, and Get It Done Right writes "when we don’t adapt our old ways of communicating to better suit a new medium, we fail to exploit all the possibilities and benefits inherent to that medium."

The puns are inevitable, but Waves are the wave of the future. In the tumultuous ocean of communications, a Wave is more like the boat that keeps a group from getting lost amongst all the other waves.

I had my first experiment in implementing two Waves for two new clients on Saturday. I gave each client their own Wave where all of their case information was contained and where they can immediately leave a message for everyone in the office any time and any where they have an Internet connection. Already, one client has contacted me with new phone numbers they got on Saturday.

Here is beginning a list of Wave benefits:

  1. Real time collaboration with the client and the entire office.
  2. Documentation of everything that takes place in a case in one location.
  3. Word searchable case files.
  4. Employees are not tethered to the office or even a VPN connection to do work within the office.
  5. Potential for easing communication with opposing counsel and other parties.
This is a new means of communication and integration with existing modes of communication are a little muddled at this point. More on those struggles later, but I'm enjoying my new experience of surfing on the Wave.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Organization in the Age of Google

Why do we organize a law office?

So we can find the things we need when we need it.

Simple, right? That is why generations of attorneys have walked around with tabbed folders and indexed documents.

Well, technology has become the most amazing legal secretary you ever had. Gmail will word index all your email for you. Just imagine the time it would take to word index 3 pages of text, let alone every email you receive.

A new tool we are using in the office is a wonderful piece of free software called, appropriately "Everything." It only searches document titles, but it is screamingly fast and it is so efficient that we've limited it to the case file folders -- otherwise the results were too voluminous. The other advantage it has is it feeds my proclivity for bad puns, ie "Where is Everything? Did I accidentally close Everything?"

Bottom line: In the age of Google, law office organization needs to be completely re-thought.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Beginning

Actually, this is more like twenty years into the experiment. Law and technology have been intertwined for me since I started law school with those radical new technologies -- word processing and CD-Rom legal research.

My first "paper-less" experiments were in the mid-1990s and by 2002 my office had become essentially paper-less. I've filed documents with the Utah bankruptcy court from downtown San Francisco, a block from Bourbon Street in New Orleans, on a moving train in England and on a plane over the mid-west.

After all those radical changes, I again feel like I'm sitting on the cusp of the next revolution in the legal practice. Information is much more available to the public at large and specialized knowledge alone will not be enough to sustain a law practice. Yesterday, I was in my office working and I sensed the shift. I've had that feeling before and each time it has revolutionized my legal practice. I felt it with the word processor and its ability to quickly generate form documents. I felt it with the early case management software. I felt it with scanned documents and the ability to manage files that was light years ahead of the old paper filing system.

I don't think it has quite been Moore's Law type growth, partly because the legal community is naturally resistant to change. Yet the speed of the change has been rapid and the current changes feel even more rapid.

I wanted/needed to work out my ideas and a public forum seems best suited to this, partly because of the nature of the changes I'm sensing. So I'll conclude the beginning with a list of some of the trends I see that are converging to yet again revolutionize my own legal practice.

1. Collaborative Software, i.e. GoogleWave, BaseCamp, etc.
2. The Merging of Computers and Phones
3. Search capabilities dramatically increased
4. The prolonged death of the Yellow Pages
5. Social Networking

Of course, it is more complicated than this, but it is a good beginning.