This is the second in my series of posts on this year's ABA TECHSHOW. You can find my first post, a brief overview of Techshow 2012, here.
I didn't attend nearly as many sessions at TECHSHOW this year as I usually do - instead, I spent lots of time in the exhibit hall, talking to vendors and just mingling and networking. In this post, I'll share some highlights from some of the sessions I did attend. But a quick side note first:
Earlier this week I was listening to Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell's podcast, the Kennedy-Mighell Report on Legal Talk Network entitled, "OMG! Lawyers are Texting?" During that podcast, Tom made an interesting observation. He said that he believes that people may be getting a skewed view of Techshow if they watch the tweets and social media postings coming out of Techshow, because those posts tend to talk more about things like cloud computing, social media, apps and gadgets, and don't necessarily cover things like document assembly, collaboration tools or e-discovery, which are also covered extensively at the conference.
Dennis noted that as a result of following this conference virtually, you miss the nuance and anecdotes from sessions by trying to follow the social media reporting, but at least it can point you in the direction of a topic or speaker that you can follow up with later. So for those of you who have never attended TECHSHOW, be sure to take a look at the TECHSHOW site and look at the full conference list and descriptions before deciding that TECHSHOW isn't for you. Take the real-time reporting with a grain of salt, and consider the source and their perspective.
The two sessions reviewed here don't fall into the "social media-apps-gadgets" category. Instead, they're all about managing documents and information.
Managing the Information Tsunami
Presenters Natalie Kelly and Barron Henley reminded the audience that "80% of a firm's "knowledge" is stored in non-structured data, such as electronic docs and email." Add that to the paperwork that doesn't seem to stop, even in an increasingly digital world, and you've got an "information tsunami." Since one of the biggest issues I work with lawyers on is managing their workflow and information, I can relate.
This session reinforced the notion that if you want to reduce paperwork and keep control of your electronic documents and all of the information related to a particular client or file, it is imperative that you have one, single, integrated electronic system for everything, including documents, emails and notes that you generate, as well as documents and information received elsewhere (such as from clients, adversaries, etc). It is also important that the electronic file replicate the paper file, with the same file and folder structure, and that everyone follow strict naming conventions for all documents.
Here are some of the basic elements of a good information management system, outlined by the presenters:
- Backup systems and security: Make sure your information is protected and backed up. Keep multiple copies and a full rolling system - not just an incremental backup. Incremental backups may be corrupted, too.
- Scanners: Distributed scanning is better than relying solely on a bulk scanner/copier, which not only stores the scanned information (creating potential confidentiality/security issues), but is inconvenient. Smaller scanners on individual desks make scanning much more likely - which means your electronic files will be more reliable.
- Create Searchable PDFs: This is another reason for distributed scanning; most scanner/copiers do not create searchable PDFs. Searchability is the key to finding what you're looking for quickly and easily.
- Use a good search program or document management system: if you can't find documents or information once you've entered them into your system, what good are they?
- Develop a consolidated file structure or document management system: Don't make your file and folder structure too complicated or create too many categories. It makes searching more difficult and creates room for error.
- Train! Learn how to use what you already have, and be sure to get training on any new systems or programs you install. It will be the best money you spend.
- Create written protocols: write down how tasks in your system are accomplished (for example, restoring a file, creating a document, etc.) This avoids recreating the wheel when training new employees or performing tasks that are not routine.
Magic in Minutes - Effective Use of Document Assembly
In the document assembly session, presenters Jim Calloway and Diane Ebersole focused heavily on what they call the "gold standard" of document assembly - HotDocs (so much so that I thought the title and/or description should have indicated as much). For solo and small firm lawyers, HotDocs may be a bit more than the budget allows, so two of the other options mentioned, Pathagoras™ (with a free 90 day trial) and The Form Tool™ (which has both free and paid options), are both worth considering.
In addition to these three document assembly tools, the presentation did cover using some document assembly features contained within tools most lawyers already have. These include the Auto-Correct and Quick Parts features of Microsoft Word (see below). Lawyers can also make use of "text expanders" (such as Phrase Express), which do the same thing Quick Parts does, but in any software program.
For lawyers using practice management software, many of these programs are now integrating document assembly tools within the programs themselves. For example, cloud practice management providers MyCase, Clio and Rocketmatter all recently added these tools to their platforms.
Jim Calloway gave a demonstration of how to use the (sometimes annoying) Auto-Correct feature of Microsoft Word to your advantage by creating your own abbreviations and adding them to the Replace box in Auto Correct Options, and then entering the full text you would like to appear in the With box, and clicking Add and then OK.
QuickParts were also demonstrated during the session, and this is one feature of Microsoft Office (it is available in both Word and Outlook) that it seems to me lawyers have not yet discovered, even though it can be extremely helpful, especially in answering frequent client questions or inserting often-used language into letters, etc. Quick Parts will even allow you to save the formatting and place the text into the document pre-formatted or format the text based on the destination document.
As you can see, TECHSHOW has a lot to offer. As an attendee, you not only have access to the materials from the information you attended, but you can also view and download materials from all of the sessions offered at the conference.