Saturday, August 28, 2010

Day 4: Procedural Change

Inevitably any system for an office is going to have areas where the wheels come off and the practice is sent skidding and sparking along the pavement.  The resulting hubbub stops everything and not just the client's case that is having problems suffers, but everyone -- staff, attorney and other clients suffer too.

In the past, I've used procedural change to eliminate these types of accidents.  The office management equivalent of strapping on a prophylactic seat belt.  Office procedure changes are great, but you have to sell them.  Staff has to buy in.  This is usually the easier sale.  We have problem X.  We can eliminate problem X by doing Y.  Start doing Y.  

The next sale has to be to the client.  Depending on the change, this can be easy or hard.  Existing clients, trained in bad office habits, will be the most difficult.  New clients are easier.  Client has problem Z.  Our office can help them solve Z, but in order to do this, Client must help us do Y.

A bit abstract, I know.  I'll give an example I've implemented before and an example of something I'm doing now.

Past example:  Clients need to complete a second electronic class to get their discharge in Chapter 7.  Clients weren't doing the class and not getting the discharge and then getting upset.

Procedural change:  We had always told clients they had to do the second class and in writing, but that wasn't working.  The problem persisted.  I added a new paragraph to the initial disclosure that tripled the amount of the fee the client would need to pay if they didn't complete the $35 second class.  The dramatic difference in cost had the desired effect -- everyone gets the class done now.

Current example:  In Chapter 13, clients often need to obtain court permission to do certain things, ie loans, abatements, and modifications.  Each motion has its own set of requirements.  It can be difficult to get motions filed and approved when the required information is not available and then frustration ensues as the time to file the motion drags on.

Procedural change:  First, we started setting appointments for all motions.  If the client wants a motion filed, they have to come into the office and meet with us.  You can't get a filing without going to the dentist.  You can't get a motion without going to the attorney.

Second, I'm working up information sheets that can be emailed or text to each client before their appointment so that they can have all the required information.

The end result is a quality experience where the client comes in, provides the information, the motion is prepared and filed with the court and the client walks out with a hearing date and a copy of the motion.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Day 3: Returning Calls

I'm burning through the traditional ways of coming up with how to improve the experience for my clients in my practice.  I'll be interested to see where I am in 30 days.

I know it is cliched, but it is difficult for attorneys to deal with the onslaught of calls they receive every day.  Google Voice has been extremely helpful in this, since it has added text messaging to my arsenal in shooting back at all the incoming call traffic.

This is one area that can still be constantly improved.  And then there is the one client that seems to call so constantly that it seems pointless to call them back.  Whether you call them back or not, you know that in thirty minutes you will be getting another call.  This is also the client that is most likely to say that you don't return their phone calls.  I'll be happy when I figure out the solution to resolving that particular client.

I don't know if there is a way, but automating the telephone process so that everyone is called back every day would be a phenomenal achievement.  I'm not advocating having a phone system shuffle clients.  I find that in bad taste and just the opposite of improving service, but a system that quickly and easily let me know if everyone that called in and heard back from the office that day.

'Tis a conversation, devoutly to be wished for.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Month of Improvement: Number 2 -- Automate Court Information

Idea Number 2:

Automate the download of court information to the office and the communication of that information to the client.

This is actually something that I've been working on for years.  I had my own software built and used it for awhile.  Since then, Bestcase Bankruptcy Software as come up with an addition to their software called MyECF which I had an opportunity to beta test.  It is excellent software as far as it goes.

I'm looking for even more automation from the data I receive daily from the Court.  Since the nature of my practice gives me daily information on everything that is filed on my cases with the court.  I want to be able to automate my responses to my clients, so that they know before they ever get anything in the mail from the Court that their attorney is on top of the case and already knows about it and if possible, has already dealt with whatever has been filed.

This would make the office unparalleled.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Seth Godin on Inspiration

I was reading Seth Godin's blog this morning and I admit I'm somewhat of an acolyte of Seth's, if for no reason than he provides me with a little bit of inspiration in running my business.  This morning he suggested looking at your favorite business (I'm assuming he meant as a consumer, but hey, my favorite business is my business) and writing something every day for a month on how the business could be improved.

This was in fact why I started this blog on law office automation.  I wanted my legal practice to improve.  I have ideas all the time about improving my clients experience and their end result.  Granted, I have rules and laws that I have to function under, but my experience has been that the stricter the laws and rules, the easier it becomes to improve on the experience because variables are removed.

So for the next month, I'm going to go once a day and post on how the experience of my customers, staff and ultimately myself can be improved.  For a month, I'll list my ideas.  Then next month, I'll post what is happening on each idea.

Idea 1:  Automate the providing of general information.

I've been kicking this idea around for a long time.  One problem you have as the attorney is you end up repeating the same thing over and over again in my type of legal practice.  The basic information is critical and needs to be given to every client.

This is a process that could be automated, probably most effectively by video.  The video would need to do two things -- inform and entertain.  This would mean that not only are you getting the required information to clients, but they will remember it because it was entertaining.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Death of Google Wave

After all my gushing in the previous week, Google Wave crashed on shore.  Right now it looks like I've got a couple of options to maintain my real time, small group collaboration:

  1. has a prototype that works with Outlook Express, although I'm loathe to go the Microsoft route.  The site also promises a web based beta out soon.
  2. Novel is working on Pulse, but it isn't even out in Beta
  3. Hiring a software developer and doing my own.
I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Google Wave After 3 Months

I use Wave everyday.  I now have over 200 active waves and I just started in May, 2010.

I used it to replace my case management software in my law office.  Wave had numerous advantages: word searchable, tags, easy to make and quickly customizable templates, and playback.

The biggest thing, however, is that everyone in the office (five of us) all know what the other person is doing -- immediately.  We don't duplicate work.  We know what needs to be done and we get it done.   There is a training aspect as well.  I can teach and train, while I work. This doesn't involve difference in time zones, but twenty feet apart.  Yes, it is great when I'm not in the office or in court, but it works equally well when we are all in relatively close proximity.

Yes, Google Wave seems to be this wide open platform, but the failure to tame it is because of a failure of imagination.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Google Wave As A Spy Tool

I'm celebrating my anniversary to my lovely wife today -- and I'm not in the office.

Yet, I printed off a trial brief for the other attorney to file.  I brought everybody up to speed on what needed to be done.  And saw that no one logged into their account until 10:15 or so -- Google Wave's little green dot told me so.  The "on-line" notification for Google Wave is a little green dot.  A grey dot with a white 'x' means not logged in.  A yellow dot means inactive.

Now, on-line notification isn't anything new, but when you update a wave it moves to the top of the in-box.  Think of it as moving the file to the top of the stack by adding something new.  I'd added some new things and people weren't even able to see it.  I saw when they logged on -- exactly.  I immediately started conversing with them.  And I'm in a cushy robe with my feet propped up, letting my lovely wife take a nap.

I'm not quite sure how my employees feel about this, but I absolutely love to know what is going on in my office in real time -- even when I'm not there.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Why I Don't Have A Website

This seems a little contradictory since you are reading this on a website, but I don't have a website for my law office.

I have a paperless office, use some of the latest software, proud owner of a Droid smartphone, read my books on a Kindle, listen to my books on an iPod, and  have remotely filed bankruptcies from a train in England and belong to the Mile High Club of Bankruptcy Filers, having filed a case at 30,000 feet compliments of in flight Wi-Fi.  I'm no stranger to technology or a Luddite, but I don't have a website for my office.

In fact, back in the early 2000s was the proud owner of the URL (and have the T-shirt to prove it).  I was going to make my millions doing bankruptcy on the Web.

So why don't I have a website?  Well, one is on the way, but it isn't going to be like anything I've noticed from other law firms or solo practitioners.

1.  I haven't needed the advertising.  Most of my business is word of mouth referrals from clients or former clients.  I've even scaled back my yellow page ads to the point that they are there for those few people who still look me up in the book can get my phone number.  It also means that when the client types my name in the search engine, my phone number pops up.

2.  Most websites for small law firms are stupid.  Ok, I know that is harsh, but lawyers are so full of themselves and the pomposity is usually only equal to the boredom I feel reading the sites.  I have to force myself to look at the competition and when I do, I think parenthetically  in perfect lawyer-ese (See, Number 1 above.)  Either the web site is so dry over legal concerns that no meaningful information other than contact information is conveyed or the web site reads a little bit like a bad infomercial on  "How To Get Rich On The Internet".

3.  I currently have an individualized web/cloud presence for my existing clients.  I interact with my clients daily on Google Wave.  They ask me questions, send me documents and I provide them with updates on their cases -- all on a wave designated specifically for their case.  So far the number of clients has been limited, but it is growing daily.

4. I don't want to put up a website that isn't "cool."  Maybe this is the biggest reason of all.  The tech world is all about geeky cool.  Clients like cool -- trust me, I have a blast showing off gadgets -- my Kindle (which has caused me to buy an extra book a week, just to show off the Kindle Store's almost automatic downloads),  texting clients while I talk to them face to face in my office with Google Voice, having my office staff type on their case wave in the other room, so they can watch real time collaboration.  If you note the common theme in this paragraph, I act like how I want my clients to act about me, showing off and talking about what they think is cool (and as far as attorney's go, I hope they say I'm cool).  So right now, my office web site isn't up, isn't running and won't be, until I can offer something that my clients really want to talk about.