Loathsome spam: Keeping it manageable
By Carol L. Schlein
Year is always a good time to make resolutions about
improving office functions and using technology to better
service clients as well as making the work easier to perform
are some tips to help start the year off well.
Microsoft recently began shipping its new operating system,
Vista. With Microsoft’s periodic new systems, the ripple
effect means legal software vendors must regularly update
their products to ensure they run on the latest hardware and
software. As a result, most legal software vendors only
support the latest three versions of Microsoft products.
Even if you don’t need or want the new features, you should
plan and budget for regular upgrades to your core software.
long as you’re investing in a new version, you should take
advantage of the manufacturer’s latest enhancements. New
additions often make procedures easier or solve problems
plaguing earlier versions. When upgrading, determine which
new features might improve office procedures.
Invest in training and periodic review of your procedures.
When corporations and large law firms roll out new software
versions, they offer training and instruction to their
staff. Training also can be a good refresher for those who
weren’t trained in the past.
often have departing employees train their replacement.
While this saves money, it may do a disservice both to the
new employee and the firm. The new worker may learn wrong
steps or worse, longer steps, simply because her predecessor
didn’t know or was never taught better methods. Periodic
training can shed light on procedures that should be revised
or rethought because of changes in technology or the firm’s
work. From time to time, it’s worthwhile to have a fresh
pair of eyes to review the firm’s procedures and also how
they work with or, more often, against the firm’s software.
corollary to this tip is to document the steps for managing
the firm. Some of my clients asked me to write custom
documentation that outlines their steps for key procedures.
One client requested step-by-step instructions to reinstall
and configure its key applications for its network
technician to use if a workstation had to be replaced.
Another client wanted precise written instructions for
setting up, preparing and submitting bills electronically
using the American Bar Association task codes. I’ve also
written instructions for adding contacts and cases for the
firm’s practice management systems. Documenting your system
ensures everyone knows how to do important functions or can
back up the person who normally does that function in an
Don’t wait too long to upgrade hardware and software. While
it’s frustrating to spend money to replace equipment that’s
working and functioning, the reality of today’s technology
is that the pace of change requires vendors to limit the
number of versions they can support. Many leading legal
software providers have gone from privately owned to
publicly held companies, requiring them to provide a regular
revenue stream to shareholders. As a result, most products
are upgraded annually or even sooner than in the past. Since
many such products work with peripheral devices like Palm-
or Windows-based cell phones, the companies are challenged
to keep their products current. I regularly get calls from
clients who’ve purchased the latest Blackberry or Treo, only
to realize it won’t connect to their three year old
software. If only I had a nickel for every time I heard,
“Why can’t they add this in to their older version?” In
reality, it makes neither business nor technical sense for
vendors to do this.
hardware side, it’s important to plan for regular
replacement of workstations, servers and network
infrastructure. Newer software is designed for current
hardware specifications and often has trouble running on
older equipment. Older workstations typically had 256 or 512
MB of RAM. Today’s applications are recommending 1 GB of RAM
for optimal performance. A number of my clients have
upgraded servers and workstations but overlooked replacing
their network switch — the box where all the workstations
connect to the server. Switches have gone from 100 MB to
1,000 GB. Connecting to a faster switch often results in
major improvements in processing performance with minimal
expenditure. Don’t forget to check the wiring every few
years as well. One bad wire can cause countless
interruptions and problems. Maintaining older equipment also
runs the risk of having difficulty getting replacement
If you’re in the market to hire new staff, especially
attorneys, consider their technical skills as a key
qualification. Partners often hire new attorneys for their
legal experience while ignoring their technical skills. This
often means such lawyers become an extra burden to the
support staff by requiring documents to be drafted, faxed or
e-mailed to clients or having their handwritten time entries
transcribed into the billing system. Lawyers who have good
technical skills are more self sufficient and often can be
an asset to the firm by making suggestions to streamline
procedures or do additional customization to practice
management systems to better support the firm’s legal work.
I’ve seen many firms where those suggestions are dismissed
or ignored because the senior partner isn’t as comfortable
with the technology and is threatened by the (usually)
younger attorney’s suggestions. Being open to different
methods based on newer tools should be seen as a strength.
Resolve to send bills regularly and address accounts
receivable collections. Billing at least monthly ensures
clients are informed about the work done on their behalf.
Smaller bills also are easier to pay. Get money in advance
whenever feasible. Keep an eye on balances owed and be
aggressive about collecting. Too often, firms will wait 90
days before making a collection call. It’s much easier to
collect closer to when the work was performed.
Evaluate your work and consider what tools might better
support current and prospective clients. I recently heard
from a client who has moved into supporting franchise
businesses. He’s now doing very complex agreements and
documents, and will implement HotDocs to assist in document
Years ago, we were better able to leave our work in the
office. Today, with e-mail and more competition from other
law firms, clients expect us to be more readily accessible
and available. Many lawyers have cell phones that hold
contact lists and calendars, and can access office e-mail.
Online remote access programs allow us to connect to office
files from anywhere in the world. These programs also can be
used for collaborating with clients by allowing them to view
a draft document on your system with you. Think about using
these tools creatively to provide better service.
It’s time for your firm to have its own domain name and a
website. Registering a domain name costs as little as $9.99
per year. Using
email@example.com indicates to prospective clients that you
don’t know how to use technology well. It also signals your
services probably will cost more than the lawyer who uses
these tools more effectively. Before hiring a webmaster,
check these experts’ own websites for information about
their professional background, recent engagements,
directions to their office and other pertinent information
like whether they’ve handled similar transactions.
Managing e-mail has become a bigger challenge as the volume
grows exponentially. Many case management programs allow you
to connect clients’ e-mail with their case information.
Developing protocols about which messages to keep and where
should be part of the firm’s procedures. When composing
e-mail, always assume it may be forwarded to someone you
10: Websites should be updated regularly and should be
redesigned from time to time to make important information
easier to locate. Keep information current and add new
successes to lawyers’ biographies. Consider including
information about the staff to make the firm more accessible
and approachable by clients and potential clients. Your
staff serves as important liaisons with clients. The site
should contain background information on everyone in the
hope these tips get you off to a good year!
Carol L. Schlein is president of Law Office Systems in
Montclair, a training and consulting firm specializing in
law firm automation. Copies of her previous columns are on
losinc.com, which also
lists upcoming meetings and training classes. For
firstname.lastname@example.org or check the website. Schlein formerly
chaired the Computer and Technology Division of the ABA Law
Practice Management Section and can be reached at
Questions for Carol L. Schlein on law office technology may
be e-mailed to New Jersey Lawyer at
faxed to (908) 226-0165.