This is the next post in my series on starting your own law firm in 2015. My last discussion looked at the type of business structure lawyers should pick for a new law practice. I’ve also looked at how attorneys should go about picking their practice area and why an attorney is his or her own most valuable asset.  In this article I’m going to look at the subject of which software you should be using in your new practice.

Picking the right software setup for your new law office will help you have less headaches in the early days and will save you the hassle of switching later on. In other words, picking the right initial setup will help you to be as stress free as this guy:

Man in business suit meditating

Picking the wrong set up, of course, will ensure that you wind up looking like this poor chap:

frustrated man sitting behind desk

 

I’m assuming you would rather be the former rather than the latter. Of course if you’re a fan of stress, misery, and unhappiness then……well………I’m sorry. If you want to make life easy then focus on three areas. Make sure your software is in “the cloud,” work with as few vendors as possible, and work with free/low cost options when available. Let’s get to it.

Attorneys can simplify a new law practice by moving their software to “the cloud”

Using online software options (a.k.a. cloud software) will provide enormous benefits to your new law office. The first of these is the reduction of down time. Many lawyers, for reasons beyond my understanding, are still relying heavily on local software. This means having servers go down, system crashes, and regularly waiting on the IT guy. Here’s a news flash – you’re losing valuable time, which could be used to work on cases, when you’re sitting around waiting on the IT guy to clean up a mess that looks like this:

IT mess

Reducing down time means more money in your pocket. The solution to achieving less down time is simple – use online software options.

The best option for your email/calendaring/contact management, etc. is Google Apps. I wrote on why attorneys should switch to Google Apps as part of our 30 Days To A Better Law Firm series. Using this service along with other apps which integrate tightly with it, such as Quickbooks Online and Harvest’s time keeping software, will make your life simpler and you’ll start looking at other attorneys as if they’re in the stone age. After you’ve switched to Google Apps, it’s time to utilize Evernote to create a paperless law office. Between Google Apps and Evernote you are well on your way.

One of the most common reasons which attorneys site for not taking their software online is security. The simple truth, however, is that the cloud is more secure than using local software in your office. If you use a password manager such as LastPass and enable two-factor authentication, where available, then you’re going to have very few problems with cloud security. Local software is a different story – good luck keeping things secure with all the malware, viruses, etc. that people download onto their machines on a regular basis. The truth is that you’re far more likely to have a security problem with local software then you are with online options.

Lawyers should work with as few software vendors as possible when setting up their law firms

A key to making your law office efficient, which is the key to being more profitable, is to deal with as few vendors as possible. This reduces administrative time which, in turn, increases profits. In spite of this simple reality, many law firms seem to have the view of “why deal one vendor when I can deal with two at twice the hassle?” For obvious reasons, the fewer vendors you have to deal with the better. This is important when it comes to picking your software.

I regularly see law firms who say “I’m probably not using [software name goes here] for everything it can do.” These same attorneys then go out and pay more money, for additional applications, to perform the task that the first application is actually capable of performing. By leveraging existing applications to their full potential you then reduce the number of apps you have to deal with. Here are some examples:

  • Many attorneys store some documents in Google Drive, other records in Dropbox, and yet more records in another cloud service. Here’s a frickin’ thought – keep everything in one place. That way you’re not constantly switching between apps (which takes time) and paying fees to multiple vendors.
  • I’ve seen quite a few lawyers who keep entirely separate calendars. They may set up a calendar, under one Google account, for court dates. They set up another calendar, under another Google account, for administrative tasks. Then they set up five more calendars for five more functions and share all of these calendars with each other for common viewing. Here’s the reason I’m told for this – “well, then the calendar appointments appear in different colors and it’s easy to keep things separate.” Here’s a news flash – Google Calendar supports color coding! Just use one calendar and color code your appointments.

These are just two simple examples. I regularly see attorneys paying big money, and wasting additional time, to deal with multiple vendors when the time and money they’re spending on one vendor could meet the needs.

Lawyers should use free and lower cost software

Yes I know you love Apple products and are hooked on Microsoft Office. The bottom line is your starting out on a shoestring budget. Consider these options:

  • Use a Windows PC as opposed to a Mac. Ask yourself this simple question – what task will you perform on a Mac that you can’t perform on Windows? The answer is not many (if any at all). Paying that premium for a Mac just isn’t worth it.
  • Use Libre Office as opposed to Microsoft Office. Libre Office is a free open source alternative to the traditional office applications. It plays well with MS Office formats and allows you to easily generate legal pleadings (something that Google Apps’ word processor still doesn’t do at this time). Did I mention that Libre Office is FREE!
  • Use Google Voice instead of paying for an office line. Google Voice is a free service from the big G which allows you to have a second phone number come to your cell phone at no charge. You can receive calls, place calls, and text from this free number and your clients won’t receive your personal cell. Take a look at this option before you either pay for a second cell phone or have a new land line installed.

It’s easy to feel like you need high end or expensive products when you’re just starting out. You’ll learn quickly that saving money, and keeping your overhead down, matters a lot more than the brand of tech you’re using.

Following the steps above will put you ahead of the game when it comes to getting your law firm off on the right track. What software products would you use in a new firm? Chime in through the comment form below.