This is a guest post by Matt Spiegel, VP and GM of MyCase, the Web-based legal practice management software for lawyers. Previously a criminal defense attorney, Matt founded MyCase in 2010 in order to save time, increase productivity, and improve client communication for attorneys. Matt continues to lead MyCase, which was acquired by AppFolio in 2012, with his legal expertise and vision.
The ability to manage work away from the office is becoming not only helpful, but also necessary for legal professionals. So how can busy attorneys break away from their desks to create a more nimble, effective practice? The most agile firms have implemented the following three principles for creating and managing a mobile practice.
Get a tablet – or better, leverage the one you have
Computer experts speculate that desktop computers will be extinct within 20 years. In fact, PC World reported that PC shipments declined 14 percent in the first quarter of 2013. Laptops are the stronger option given their flexibility, and mobile devices are rapidly gaining favor and market share over traditional computers. Getting your team and systems up to speed for this shift will put you ahead of the curve as firms struggle to stay at the front of the technological change from traditional desktops to tablets and other mobile devices. Being able to work on a device away from the desk increases flexibility, mobility and versatility.
It seems simple, but mobile technology can be an indispensable asset to lawyers who are constantly working between court appearances and client meetings. If a firm utilizes a management platform with a mobile app, the entire practice can be managed on the go. For instance, document management capabilities eliminate the need to print and organize stacks of case files when you need something quickly; these systems allow lawyers to access, view and even edit documents and files remotely.
Many apps also contain time-tracking tools, so lawyers can record from anywhere, anytime. Where previous systems might not have recorded time spent on accounts while away from the office, time-tracking tools available on an iPad or other mobile device means more accurate billing. Though it might be a personal investment at this time for lawyers with smaller firms, the New York Times reported as early as 2011 that some of the nation’s largest law firms were buying iPads for every associate.
Use cloud-based file management
It’s no longer productive to require that associates be in the office to access client files and case information. A cloud-based system allows attorneys to view documents, discovery and client contact information from any device, wherever their clients need them to be. In addition to offering the convenience of working remotely, cloud-based file management eliminates the need to run back to the office for an important form or accidentally showing up at a meeting with a less-current version of a briefing.
Up until just a few years ago, lawyers had to collect, transport and secure every document or piece of information they handled. Technology allowed documents to be stored, but only on a physical computer or server, and new documents that were created needed to be added to the physical file. Today’s cloud environments eliminate these cumbersome obstacles and increase overall efficiency. Not only do cloud-enabled software tools allow associates to work anywhere and to create and access important information quickly and easily, but they also provide remote, automated backup, practice management tools, time tracking, billing and educational resources all in one convenient location.
The transition makes sense: Not only does working from the cloud allow better tracking of billable hours and easier access to vital resources, it means that your law office is always ready to meet the needs of your clients, wherever you (and they) are.
Pursue firm-wide mobile readiness
Even though it might take a few years to convince every partner he or she can run the entire practice from a smartphone, encouraging your attorneys to learn and implement best practices for mobile devices will put you far ahead of those firms that will only begin training when mobile practice becomes the industry standard. While the increased freedom to access documents and client information anywhere means a more nimble firm, it also requires a bit of planning from an operational perspective.
Start small, by implementing a mobile readiness program. This will include the critical elements, such as defining security procedures, operating protocol, and crisis plans in the (unlikely) event something does go awry. For instance, you’ll want to set a policy that instructs staff to change their passwords frequently and to follow guidelines from tech leaders for optimal password security (for example: please don’t make your password “password”). The infrastructure of cloud-based systems is more secure than ever, but there are still vulnerabilities if attorneys aren’t smart about locking mobile devices when they step away, or always using password-protected Internet access. Work with your IT consultant to determine what these best practices are and then work them into your employee training.
Technology, when used well, makes law firms faster, more equipped and better able to serve their clients. Instead of leaning on old methods that keep attorneys shackled to their office-based desktop computers, mobile devices and the applications that run on them allow the entire practice to be operated remotely. Don’t be left behind as firms become more dynamic in their ability to serve clients from anywhere, and with more detail and accuracy than ever before.