This article is written by Akarsh Tripathi, a first-year learner of Symbiosis Law School Noida. In this article, he talks about the software and tools used by law firms to work from home.
Amid the global pandemic due to the spread of novel COVID-19, every sector is shifting to remote working programmes such as work-from-home. It is one of the best possible ways to tackle the disruptions coming in the way of global business. Like other industries; law firms are also adopting new technologies and practices in order to move towards a ‘virtual law firm’. As long as there is a proper internet network available to the staff of a law firm, the setting up of a remotely working law firm can surprisingly be a much easier task. These vast arrays of software help law firms to thrust themselves into a more advanced and upgraded system, benefiting their clients.
However, not every law firm can use the same tech-management system. It is practically impossible for small-sized law firms to make such huge investments. In this article, we will also discuss the software and law practice management tools that many small-sized law firms are using currently. This can be helpful for firms who are looking for ways to overcome the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 outbreak and without going through any major IT infrastructure change. In the end, we shall also discuss the deficiency due to which switching to a remote-working programme is difficult for companies.
Various software and tools used by law firms to work from home
Time and Billing Software
Earlier lawyers and even law firms used paper timeslips and a notebook-paper based invoice system for billing purposes. This has been replaced by accounting programs that have both time and billing features available. The role of such software is usually to track time, make invoices and account reconciliation statements. Softwares like PCLaw do the work of billing for individual attorneys too.
Some of the widely used accounting and time billing software are Quickbooks, Tabs3/PracticeMaster, etc. For small law firms, RTG can be used, which is a basic product used for legal time and billing purposes. In case, any law firms are looking for a separate Time Billing Software, then Bill4Time is the king of leading law practice management software.
Video Conferencing Software
Even though we are targeting to move towards a remote-working and virtual law firm, the truth is, there are some things that can never be replaced. Well, embracing technological developments, we can’t say ‘never’. So is the case with face-to-face meetings. Video conferencing software has successfully been able to replace this requirement, so that you can have face-to-face interaction, without the physical presence of the person.
Law firms need to have a common software for video meetings in their offices. They need to train their staff as well so that they know how they can use the technology. Some of the leading software for video conferencing are Google Meets, Skype for business, Microsoft Team and Zoom, etc. Softwares like Zoom, also have features like the virtual background as an attempt to make these meetings look more professional. Although there are built-in cameras in every computer system these days, if law firms want to have a better quality video conferencing cameras, they may use webcams for the same. The Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 is one of the best quality webcams that is used by most of the firms.
Sooner or later, even the courts will switch to this technology and adapt themselves to court proceedings via video conferencing. Then, lawyers and clients won’t be required to physically appear in court. The arguments and witness testimonies, etc all will be done via video conferencing.
Law Practice Management (LPM) Software
Technologies like these are proliferating in these years. It’s no more a daunting task for firms to have them saved on a cloud-based storage system. These software help lawyers to get real-time access to all documents and data at any time, anywhere.
Such a streamlined system will benefit the client as well as the lawyers which will further result in better client service. Such software also aims to go paperless and provide law firms with the comfort of being able to share client data, documents, etc.
While doing this, they must take proper precautions related to cyber-security procedures, because most of the data is confidential and using a third-party service might invite some unwanted risks and threats.
For small-scaled law firms, there are cloud-based software applications like ‘Actionstep’ and Dropbox which are affordable and can thus help firms to tackle the problems caused due to global lockdown crisis situations.
It is high time that law firms start using such software which will help them organize themselves in a better manner. Such software assists law firms to manage client-related documents, files, and information by storing them in a single place and making them accessible for clients as well as their attorneys. Don’t forget to check out Clio and Cosmolex, which are some legal software widely used by lawyers and law firms.
CRM stands for Client Relationship Management software. Experts say that clients prefer having sophisticated technology-based solutions so that they can have access to the legal advice and consultancy of lawyers in a much more comfortable manner.
The need for providing such services online is on an upsurge, which must be acknowledged by the legal community. The reason behind this is simple and very obvious: cost-effectiveness.
Law firms are trying to keep up with the upcoming new technology and building a client-focused firm by embracing the tools and software available.
For all these tasks, we have software and tools such as MyCase, Legal Files, etc which provide unparalleled features to help lawyers with client management systems.
Collaboration-enabled Document Processing Tools
In law firms, lawyers don’t work individually, rather there are teams and departments working on different projects in real-time. Here comes the need of having software that enables lawyers to collaborate and work together on a particular document.
For this, we have collaborative word processing tools which let users share access with others so that they can also view the documents, suggest edits to it, and well, can actually make edits by themselves. There are many great document assembly software like TFT Home(TheForm Tool), Microsoft’s QuickParts which have convenient user interfaces suitable for business purposes.
Also, while working on these word documents, many of them need to be signed. Now since they are in the form of softcopies, taking printouts, signing them and then scanning those documents again doesn’t sound like a feasible approach. For this, we have software like DocuSign through which you can digitally sign on documents.
Intra-firm Communication System
Having a streamlined system is a major factor on which the success of a virtual law firm is based. For this law firms need an intra-firm(within the firm) communication system Law firms have these regular phone systems set up throughout the offices. These phone systems may seem to be cost-effective.
However, the cost adds up quickly when they require a receptionist to answer and transfer the calls, and subscription of voicemail services. One advanced software to replace this system and beneficial for a virtual law firm is VoIP(voice over internet protocol). The only requirement is that of an internet connection.
Employees of the law firm can make and receive calls, store messages and even do conference calls. Another widely used software for these purposes is Slack.
Law firms must also keep in mind, which tools are supposed to be used, and when they must be used. Having separate communication platforms within the law firm can help lawyers to distinguish between normal and urgent/priority information.
Tools like ‘Loom’ can be used to provide training to the employees of the firm in the form of recorded lectures. Documents like those including some kind of guidelines for the team can be shared amongst the lawyers through various doc sharing software.
Once law firms shift to a virtual world, there will surely be no need for the maintenance staff of law firms or any other requirements, which will also save a lot of money for the firm. But what about the people who provide essential assistance to the lawyers of the firm? Who will do the secretarial jobs of attorneys? Well, we have a solution for this problem too.
Independent contractors or freelancers can help lawyers to take some burden off them, and delegate the work. Hire freelancers from Freelancer and Upwork to help you with a paralegal or executive assistant or secretarial work.
1. Online Fax Services
This isn’t something which is newly invented. Online Fax services have been in existence for almost more than a decade. However, not everyone knows about it. This helps lawyers by providing them with secure cloud-based fax services. Check out some online fax services like MyFax, eFax (and many more) which will provide professionals to send documents via computer and even smartphones.
2. Scanning Tools
In order to be able to work from home, law firms need to eliminate hard copies of the documents to conserve their storage space. This can be done by making scanned copies of the existing documents. This also helps in having a better record-keeping system within the firm. Tools like ScanSnap iX 1500 are highly recommended for such business purposes.
3. Speech-to-text dictation tool
Earlier lawyers used dictaphones, which they had to hand it over to someone so that the voice notes could be translated and typed. This has been replaced with the voice-recognition technology, through which lawyers can simply dictate their notes, and it will be typed as they speak. Some of the leading software in this regard are GoogleDocs Voice Typing, Diction.io, etc.
- Security:- The advent of technology also invites threats to the security and privacy of data, many of which are confidential. Thus, it is highly advisable for law firms that they start reviewing their security systems to ensure the safety of data. Using software and tools with end-to-end encryption is one of the very basic things to keep in mind while switching over and moving towards a remote-working programme.
- Accountability:- Law firms need to make sure that setting up a virtual law firm doesn’t cost them a lack of accountability. For this, they must keep a proper track of employees’ work, which again brings up the requirement of some kind of software and tools.
- Miscellaneous issues:-
- Lawyers who work from home need to make sure they have proper and ample internet data and a good network speed because almost every task needs to be synchronised with the servers of the firm. For this, the employees can check their bandwidth network and speed online. Ookla Speed Test is one of the best online internet speed testing software.
- Proper home office setup is also required for lawyers to be able to work properly at home, as they may be required to do video-conferencing meetings from time to time.
Thus, to have a successful virtual law firm, there are a lot of software applications and tools available. Firms need to assess their needs and determine which technology to invest in. Bottom line is that the end result would be efficiency and effectiveness in the working of the law firm.
Don’t wait for this “social distancing” and lockdown to come to an end. Law firms can use this opportunity and upgrade themselves to a whole new advanced level, streamlined in a manner that gives quality services to clients.
Such software and the cost some of them bear for their procurement may inculcate second thoughts in the minds of law firms, especially small-sized law firms who were thinking about setting them up. However, the reality is, that these advanced systems and tools are like an investment with huge benefits.
Many law firms don’t have every software required for them to keep moving forward with remote working systems, and not get affected by this unprecedented crisis. They need the right tools which can help them integrate and synchronise their emails, calendars, file notes, documents, bills, and accounts, etc. For this, they also need to invest money but investing in operating systems, and tools like these will provide long-term benefits.
Apart from acquiring such software; Law firms are also required to give proper training to their employees so that they know how they can optimally use these technologies to their benefit. Even when the lockdown situation ends, law firms should switch to remote working programmes, i.e. creation of virtual law firms, and building a virtual legal community. At the end Law firms need to analyze the current technology they possess in comparison to the resources they’ll need to meet the aim of having a well functioning new aged “virtual law firm”.
- Best Legal Softwares-2020 https://www.softwareadvice.com/legal/
- Practice Management Software Programs for Attorneys https://www.thebalancesmb.com/legal-management-software-programs-for-law-firms-14148
- COVID 19 Challenges:- https://www.legalexecutiveinstitute.com/covid-19-challenges-law-firms/
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