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Guest Post: 5 Technologies That Help Law Firms Respond to Fee Pressure

Since I have spent far too much time blathering on at this blog about technology that I know very little about, I’d say it’s high time we provide another expert opinion. To that end, we are very pleased to have the following guest post, on technologies that help lawyers address fee pressure, from Daryl Rinaldi. This, his second post for us, is a return engagement for Daryl, who is the owner of GizmoFish, LLC, an IT support company serving the greater Boston area, and handling the IT needs of several law firms. To learn more about GizmoFish’s services, click here. For questions respecting Daryl’s below post, he has been crazy (like a fox?) enough to provide his direct contact information, for follow-up questions, and as follows:

Email: (866) MY-GIZMO ext. 4

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As an IT support company with a number of law firm clients, we know that price pressure on legal fees is increasing. Technology is not a panacea, of course; but, strategic use of technology can definitely help your firm to operate more efficiently than your competition. Below appears my list of the top five technologies that can help you respond to fee pressure; you should either already have these sorts of systems in place, or you should be seriously considering their application within your environment.

(1) Collaboration Tools. Your clients will no longer pay traditional legal rates for things that can be done by non-lawyers. Further, with the advent of fixed pricing models, you have your own incentive to use non-lawyers whenever possible. So, with paralegals, administrative assistants, outsourced specialists, and, of course, other lawyers all working on matters in conjunction, collaboration tools go from ‘nice-to-have’ to a ‘must-have’. A popular collaboration tool is Microsoft SharePoint. Most attorneys are at least vaguely familiar with SharePoint. The good new news, however, is that Microsoft Office 2010 has improved integration with SharePoint. Other collaboration tools range from the really simple, like GoogleDocs and Microsoft Office Live, to the more complex, like DropBox and PBWorks.

(2) Office 2010. Office 2010, referenced just above, is a real improvement over Office 2007 (and especially over Office 2003). By way of example, Outlook 2010 now offers you the option to see your emails as conversation threads. (Of course, GMail has been offering this feature for years; and, Outlook’s adoption of conversation-threading may be a response to Google‘s forays into the business world.) So, rather than having a separate email for every back-and-forth in a long email chain, Outlook 2010 just shows you the most recent email in the chain, and includes the content of all previous conversations within that latest main message. This one feature alone significantly reduces inbox clutter. And, speaking of SharePoint integration, not only can you now automatically save documents directly to your SharePoint site, but Microsoft has also added a co-authoring feature. (Of course, Google Docs has been offering the same feature for quite some time now. Are you noticing a pattern here?) This means that you and your colleagues can work on a document at the same time, and from anywhere; and, all changes can be reviewed in real-time. This is a big time-saver, since it eliminates the traditional editing process, involving the emailing of revisions back and forth.

(3) Document Management. Law firms are embracing document management, and with good reason: this is the area that could have the largest impact on your operational efficiency–not to mention that clients now expect you to provide instantaneous access to any piece of information about their case(s). Implementing a document management system is not a trivial project, however. If you are still relying on paper files, or even just a manual system of filing documents in directories with folder naming conventions, you are, or soon will be, at a competitive disadvantage. LOMAP has previously posted to this blog on document management, here. They’ve also written on a particularly robust document management system, NetDocuments; that posted review may be accessed here.

(4) Virtualization. Virtualization is the running of multiple servers in software on one physical server, in much the same way that you run multiple programs on one computer. The cost savings in moving to multiple virtual servers over buying multiple actual servers is an immediate boost to the bottom line. However, the real cost savings are linear, and keep coming. If set up correctly, a virtual server infrastructure significantly reduces ongoing IT maintenance costs and improves network stability and up time. Truly virtualizing desktops is a technology that is coming on, but that is not yet widely embraced. However, law firms are making use of Terminal Services (or Citrix) which give you most of the cost and maintenance benefits of truly virtualized desktops, but which is also a proven, “here and now” technology. Moving to a terminal services (or Citrix) desktop environment not only significantly reduces maintenance costs, it also doubles the useful life of desktop PCs and allows you to buy less expensive, “thin” clients, that are half the cost of a full PC.

(5) Windows 7. Windows 7 is a huge improvement over Windows XP and Windows Vista. (I’ve previously addressed, at this blog, some of the security upgrades to Windows 7.) It’s more stable; it’s faster; and, it has productivity and user interface improvements that absolutely work. Face it: Computers are cheap. Now, I don’t mean to sound flip about spending money; but, if you amortize the cost of a new PC over a 3-year useful life, the monthly cost is trivial. And, if you think about how much time your attorneys spend on their computers, even a small improvement in speed and productivity makes it worthwhile to invest in good, up-to-date hardware, with a good operating system, like Windows 7.