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August 06, 2004

Five by Five - Ron Friedmann

Choosing specific technologies is less important than how you think about using technology:

1.  Learn more about what you already have. Most lawyers have more software than they already know how to use effectively. And I am not talking about esoteric stuff either. Some examples:

Spreadsheets: Learn at least enough about spreadsheets to know when, if you can’t use one on your own, you should get someone to use one for you.

Presentations: PowerPoint is how many business people communicate. Learn how to use presentation software effectively and at least be aware of some of the more advanced features (e.g., how to use “animation” so that bullets appear one at a time).

Task Management: Figure out how to use the features of your personal information software (e.g., Outlook) to manage and track your many tasks.

2.  Consciously develop best practices and figure out where technology fits. It’s one thing to know your substantive area of law, another to know how to practice effectively. Good doctors read medical journals to learn the latest treatments. The law has no equivalent of clinical trials to establish what “works best.” The burden is therefore on you to consider your own “processes,” everything from when, where, and why you save documents and information to how you deal with clients to how you keep time and bill. Examine how you work and compare it to other practitioners and incorporate technology as appropriate. For example, if you are a litigator, be sure you understand the legal and technology issues of digital discovery and various approaches to managing it.

3.  Adopt a new personal productivity tool. Once you do examine how you work, you will undoubtedly see ways to improve your own productivity. My two current favorite personal productivity tools are full-text search software for my hard drive and Microsoft OneNote. Even if you are highly organized, for example, putting all e-mail messages and documents in hierarchically nested folders, you will have trouble finding your own work by browsing folders only. You need to use a search tool; a product called X1 has received many good reviews. For lawyers in large firms, lobby your firm to buy a robust, enterprise-wide search engine. Separately, OneNote makes outlining very easy and it’s a great place to store information – client, administrative, and personal – that otherwise tends not to be stored or gets lost across multiple locations. See my blog post on OneNote for more details.

 

4.  Use technology to connect to your clients. You are in a service business. Technology can help you connect with and serve your clients; your choices are many, from blogs to extranets to expert systems. I think that one of the least discussed but perhaps most useful choice is a Web-based, desktop and application sharing tool. Provide a higher level of service by working with clients interactively, sharing files using tools such as Webex or LiveMeeting. Large firms can license these products for the enterprise. Smaller firms can “pay as you go” with ASPs (see, for example, Comminique). Consider using this software to offer Webinars to your clients – it’s a great way to market yourself.

 

5.  Be curious and open-minded. Technology changes. Business changes. Your own needs change. Read the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, or New York Times technology coverage to learn what’s new. Talk to techie friends and ask for suggestions. Periodically, check out something you read or hear about and see if it will work for you. Invest some time occasionally to learn new software.

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