Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last month that requires all smartphones sold in California to include a “kill switch.” The purpose of this bill is to enable an owner who loses his/her smart phone to, remotely, make a smartphone worthless to a thief. By flipping a switch remotely, the owner of the phone can “kill” all the data that is on the phone. As one has put it, the phone will become a “brick” and nothing more.
However, the bill also contains a provision that allows the government to flip the kill switch as well. One can only imagine the irony of this technology. As we have become more democratic,, more of an open society, more easily able to communicate with the far reaches of the world,, we now have a provision that will enable our government to shut us down. Can you imagine what would have happened in the Soviet Union had Gorbachev not been able to communicate with the outside world in the 1990s? Can you imagine what would have happened in Ferguson, Missouri had the local citizenry not been able to use their phones, iPads,, twitter accounts and other social media to describe what was happening there? Now, all of a sudden, the state of California is able to close down smartphones that might protest against a given activity.
Although theft of smartphones is a serious issue, curtailing Democratic action is far more serious.. Public protest is an old form of activism. Technology has made such activism more widespread and more easily dispersed. Technology can, should not, be used to curtail active public input.
Many writers and “pundits” suggest a doom and gloom forecast for the legal profession, Among those who say, “Wait a minute,” Neil J. Squillante puts a different spin on our world. See Neil J. Squillante. First, he separates the legal business into segments. Not every segment will be impacted in the same manner. And thus the close to 80% of the legal profession who represent the “consumer” market of individual customers are likely not to be affected, at least in the short run.
And yes, while technology will impact every lawyer, the impact will have different ramifications and benefit lawyers and legal consumers differently. First, being more efficient, lawyers can be more profitable … or at the very least, get off the annual rate increase treadmill. Not all consumers will need or understand the effects of technology on a lawyer’s practice. Richard Susskind, a thought leader in our profession, suggests four elements of change that will dramatically alter the profession. I concur with him in only one of his four elements, and that is technology. The others can have their impact traced to earlier times, just as in other industries. But, technology, that is an area where the legal community has lagged far behind in innovation. Today, such innovation is moving ahead at lightning speed. And its impact has been recognized even by the organized Bar which is including technology proficiency as an element of the definition of “competency” to practice law.
Being more efficient and effective in using technology to perform legal services will, for the first time, enable and encourage lawyers to alter their billing modalities and move away from the billable hour should they choose to do so … and this will have a major impact on consumers, both large and small. This will be a game changer. While technology itself will not be the catalyst for major change, the changes wrought from technology’s utilization will. This will not happen overnight, but when we look back in the rear-view mirror, we will ask ourselves “how did that happen so quickly?”
In a recent case, the lawyer was successful in growing his practice. So much so that he engaged 30 staff; they met with clients and even provided legal advice in loan modification matters. The net result is that the attorney did not provide adequate supervision for his staff and allowed them to five legal advice. This was the unlawful practice of law. The attorney was guilty of violating the Rules of Professional Conduct and was suspended for two years. Punishment could have been more, but the lawyer made financial restitution to aggrieved clients and agreed to community service during his suspension.
Moral to the story: Grow your practice with appropriate supervision of unlicensed staff and technological support. Don’t allow unlicensed staff to provide legal advice. Coaching helps both with growing your practice and with operating your practice efficiently and within professional guidelines.
The larger one’s firm gets, the more management issues arise. Running a law practice is equivalent to running a professional service business and management principles are as important as being legally competent.
There’s no doubt about it–21st century lawyers are on the move and are embracing mobile devices more than ever. In fact, according to the ABA’s 2013 Legal Technology Survey Report, the vast majority of lawyers have now gone mobile, in one form or another.
Not surprisingly, smart phones lead the way, with 91 percent of lawyers reporting that they used smartphones in their law practices, up from 89 percent 2012. Tablet use also increased at an impressive rate, with nearly half of all lawyers surveyed reporting that they used tablets in their law practices. According to the survey results, 48 percent of lawyers now use tablets, up from 33 percent in 2012.
The reason lawyers are going mobile? Because it offers them flexibility and the ability to practice law and manage their law firms no matter where they happen to be. So, whether it’s using a tablet to pull up a case in court or accessing client files using their smart phone while on vacation, mobile computing is making it easier than ever for lawyers to practice law on the go, 24/7.
But is this necessarily a good thing? Especially with the recent release of Google Glass and the expected release of smart watches, which offer the prospect of virtually erasing the barriers created by devices and making people the new interface, as described in this recent GigaOM blog post: “Today many of these automatic interactions are dependent on a user’s mobile device, but we will be able to remove even that degree of separation between the individual and their home in the future. Through a combination of machine learning and a growing ecosystem of sensors placed within every day objects, we envision an interface that truly feels natural and intuitive to users no matter their level of technology literacy.”
Clearly, for lawyers, the next stage of mobile technologies may present difficulties not previously experienced. And for many lawyers, it will be a delicate balance of meeting client expectations of constant availability while maintaining their sanity. In order to maintain this balance, lawyers will need to carefully choose new technologies for use in their practices with the end goal of reducing, not increasing, the non-stop barrage of information.
For example, one of the best waysto do this is to empower your clients by expanding their access to information, making it easy for them to obtain the information that they need about their case, no matter when they need it. In other words, by using tools such as online client portals that are accessible using any Internet-enabled device, you can ensure that your clients can get the information that they are seeking without having to contact you.
Like it or not, the world is changing and lawyers–and their clients–are more mobile than ever. And while this newfound mobility offers an array of benefits, it also creates new problems. Fortunately, selective use of emerging and mobile technologies can help to curb the influx of data and reduce the noise, making it easier than ever for lawyers to reap the benefits of a mobile law practice while simultaneously maintaining their sanity.
On Thursday, August 22, the NASDAQ, one of the largest financial exchanges in the world, failed. It had no backup, and was down for more than three hours. The financial impact had to be in the billions of dollars.
Even as big as NASDAQ is, even though they have a pivotal role in the global economy, they failed to have a plan for disaster recovery. How and why they recovered is still, at this writing, a mystery. The fact that they did recover is remarkable. Even more remarkable is the fact that it has happened to them before. According to an article in The New York Times, the exchange has been shut down twice before when squirrels chewed through power lines, and as recently as 2011 hackers breached its computer system.
If it happened to NASDAQ, it can happen to your law firm. As I’ve written many times before, “disaster” for a law firm is not a question of if, but rather of when. The only unknowns are what the type of disaster, when it will occur and how bad it will be. NASDAQ was out of commission for three hours. A burst water pipe, a fire, a natural disaster, a computer meltdown could put a law firm out of commission for three weeks, or three months.
NASDAQ had no backup. How about your firm? The issue isn’t just backing up data files, although that is important. Do you have disaster recovery backups like these?
·An internal emergency communication system for lawyers, staff, clients, vendors, and the court, incorporating recorded hotline messages and out of area contact points.
·A plan for temporary office space that will accommodate furnishings, computers and phones.
·A referral arrangement with another firm that will allow you to carry on key practice matters by requesting a continuance or rescheduling a deposition.
·A solid relationship with your banker so you can get an emergency loan.
·An employee assistance fund to help tide staff over in the event there are no ready funds to pay them.
If you don’t, start planning to put them in place now. If disaster happened to NASDAQ, it can happen to you.
It used to be that lawyers had no choice but to practice law from a brick and mortar office. Opening up a solo practice or small law firm required heavy up front investment in office space, office furniture, office supplies and premise-based computer systems and servers.
That was then. This is now.
These days, all a lawyer needs to start practicing law is a laptop, an internet connection, and a smartphone. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that every law practice is sustainable using just these tools–transactional practices are much more amenable to practicing law with a virtual law office. And even then, an attorney with a thriving transactional law practice may eventually need–or want–to expand into brick and mortar office.
But lawyers can launch a successful law practice in the absence of a brick and mortar office. The key is to use the right tools and technologies–and to do so ethically.
First, don’t be afraid to outsource. Take advantage of virtual receptionist and answering services like Ruby Receptionists. And, use legal assistants, whether paralegals or contract attorneys.
Next, make use of all of the cost-effective 21st century technologies now available that are revolutionizing the way that business is being done. The key is to invest in flexible, reliable technologies, including computers, scanners, printers, smart phones and tablets, and more. Research your options and choose wisely. Resources like Lawyerist’s Legal Technology Buyer’s Guide can help.
Once you’ve acquired equipment appropriate for your needs, the next step is to consider online services that effectively replace the costly, clunky tools of yesteryear. So instead of buying a fax machine, use an online fax service. In lieu of a scanner or for scanning on the go, download a scanning app to your smart phone or tablet. Use your smartphone’s built-in phone system or download an app for conference calls. Test drive Google Voice or use an app such as YouMail to manage incoming messages.
Another important step–make the move to the cloud in order to increase your mobility and flexibility while reducing your overhead and IT costs. Take advantage of cloud-based law practice management software to run your law practice no matter where you are. Streamline your law practice and save money on postage by communicating with your clients and contacts using your cloud-based law practice management system. Manage and store your law firm’s documents in the cloud so that you’ll always be able to access and share documents from any location.
And last but not least, make sure your technology choices are in line with the ethical requirements of your jurisdiction. As a starting point, you can learn about ethical obligations and different technologies by reading blogs such as Legalethics.com. The ABA also offers this very helpful chart that lists the ethics decisions from across the country that have been issued regarding the use of cloud computing by lawyers.
So what are you waiting for? Your 21st century modern law firm awaits you! Grab the reigns, research your options, and take advantage of the new world order!
Matt Spiegel is the Vice President and GM of MyCase, a cloud-based law practice management system. He is an attorney in San Diego, California and started his criminal defense law practice in 2009 after working for four years with one of San Diego’s largest consumer law firms. As a practicing attorney and one of the founders of MyCase, he often speaks at legal conferences regarding the in and outs of running a law practice and how cloud computing technologies can benefit the legal profession. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First, the simple: D. Casey Flaherty, corporate counsel at Kia Motors America, suggests that law firms don’t need more software. They need to use their existing software more efficiently and effectively. What a concept. Reminds me of the scientists’ suggesting that humans use only 10% or less of our mental capacity.
The difference between the two concepts is that inefficient use of existing technology increases the legal spend for clients. And only Corporate America can do what Mr. Flaherty did:subject his outside counsel to economic consequences when they are guilty. He recently reduced a law firm’s billing to Kia Motors by 40 hours because he detected they didn’t know how to use Word to print to a .pdf file and eliminate the scanning process which would have reduced associates time on his matters by the 40 hours. Multiply this scenario many times and you are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyer billing. More on that in a later post.
Next, the complex: Owen Byrd of Lex Machina discussed the concept of Moneyball for Lawyers. He says that “Moneyball” applies data (any collection of facts) to analytics in order to understand trends and patterns that emerge from that data. This supplements legal research and reasoning with predictive analytics. This approach can help predict a party’s behavior, likely outcome of a lawsuit and the results from a specific legal strategy or argument. The concept, emanating from Stanford studies, can be viewed merely as a new research tool. If so, it’s rather expensive. It can also be viewed as a marketing tool by helping you refine your pitches for new legal work to prospective clients. In this case, the cost is insignificant when you attain one or more new clients. This is the future of the legal profession. Currently, Lex Machina and its approach can be utilized only by the larger organizations with big money at stake. But, the handwriting is on the wall.
Most important, these two divergent approaches to technology demonstrate the need to be proficient with current technology in order to satisfy rule 1.1 (definition of competence) and to run scared about the future if you fail to pay attention to the changes coming in the future. The bottom line is to serve clients well. Your awareness and proficiency with technology addresses that goal…and may provide a competitive advantage to some.
Virtual veterinarian faces a legal test in Texas. He moved his practice online and talked to distressed pet owners by email and telephone. He charged a flat fee, generally, and recommended treatment options. The Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners suspended his license for violating the state law that prevents veterinarians from setting up a medical relationship solely by telephone or electronic means.
The AVMA claims that it is protecting the public’s interest. The vet claims that the regulation is intended to protect the brick-and-mortar veterinarian practices.
Does this sound familiar? Every Bar regulation that I’ve ever reviewed (or testified against) has been sustained on the basis of protecting the public. Where are the interests of the membership, the very professionals who pay dues to keep staff employed? These interests seem to be relegated to the back of the bus, if not ignored completely. In the legal community, this "ship" has sailed. I don’t think anyone would claim that a "virtual" law practice is illegal. It will be interesting to see how the Texas court rules in this matter.