Legal Planning in a Different Economy

When I look around my community, I see a totally new and evolving economic paradigm. Sure there are layoffs everywhere. Circuit City closes and there are 30,000 fewer jobs. Magna may close their local plant eliminating what at its height was 8,000 jobs in the automobile industry. Five years ago, who would have ever thought that Lehman Brothers would no longer be in existence? If you ask me, it is a time for opportunity to grow and develop a business.

Globally the economy is shrinking. This is no surprise from picking up the newspapers. However, that offers an opportunity for an enterprising person to open and develop a new business. In my view, the old economy of manufacturing and big business is no longer viable in today’s marketplace. The manufacturing is being accomplished in other countries where the costs of doing business are less. These only makes sense in a capitalistic society, if I can make it cheaper and sell it on the marketplace, then why do I need to pay the overhead, taxes and other costs of manufacturing in this country. So, how are we going to survive and what can a lawyer do to help?

The best way to reinvigorate the economy in times such as the now is to invest in ourselves and be creative. For some, that means thinking outside the box of what they know to look for employment in new areas. For others, it is to examine what their strengths are and to start their own business. My thinking is the small to medium sized businesses are going to drive this economy forward because those are the businesses that are going to roll up their sleeves and move us forward through creative work. What industry that is in is to be determined. However this is an exciting time to be involved in legal representation of small closely held businesses.

How does a lawyer help you? A good business lawyer can help in each facet of business planning. Whether it is setting up a good quality business plan., determining the right entity to begin this venture with, whether it is a solo proprietorship, general partnership, limited liability partnership, or corporation, a lawyer can guide you through the process and help fill out the appropriate documentation. A lawyer will work with you to project financing needs and developing strategies for obtaining startup capital. A lawyer can advise as to the tax implications of owning versus renting your business location and other depreciation techniques. Use a lawyer at the beginning who you trust, and it can be mean money saved down the line.

Todd Engel

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Law Office Technology Part 2

My last blog post dealt with some basic technology in order for a practice to hit the ground running. We will now discuss certain additional applications to make running an office more seamless as well as effective.

As I said previously, Microsoft Outlook is the email calendar and task tool that has the market dominance. This is because it is bundled with Microsoft Office. I use it to keep my contacts as well as my calendar and my emails. While stability can be an issue, it is the industry standard. Google has an online calendar system that is pretty good, however being that it is unsecure, I would not recommend it for law office calendar management due to confidentiality issues.

Clients today expect and deserve feedback as quickly as possible. That is one of the many reasons smartphones have become ubiquitous with attorneys. What an individual looks for in a smartphone is an ability to synch with your email, contacts and calendars. There are many flavors, whether it is the Iphone, the Blackberry or the Palm or variations on their theme. The key to me is to be able to have the information not only at my desk but also at my fingertips when I am out of the office.

Document assembly software is important in making sure you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. When your practice has developed a niche, use the appropriate software to generate repeat documents. Hotdocs is a great example of this. I also use Drafting Libraries for various documents. The quality of the document produced is quite good and there is certain customization and flexibility which is important.

Every lawyer wants to be paid for what they do. Therefore invest in a good time and billing package that can be utilized both by you and your assistant. Ideally it should feed into your phone/PDA so that you can quickly capture time outside the office. You should be able to enter fees quickly and easily. You should be able to set whether you are billing on an hourly basis, flat fee basis or contingency fee. You should ideally be able to combine this with a practice management suite which sets forth a conflict search. Try demos of these products, there are many and again, different people like different programs.

Technology is constantly changing and evolving and lawyers have to stay current to best serve our clients. Join the technology group of your local bar. Join the ABA Law Technology section. Read and learn what you can but remember don’t use something without trying it first.

Todd Engel

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Basic Office Technology for a Solo

It is somewhat ironic that I am writing a blog on the importance of technology to practicing law as a solo while Legal Tech is presently underway. Legal Tech is the largest conference regarding practicing law and the use of technology. I am sure the seminars and materials are fascinating and the swag is going to be fantastic, however this year my attendance is not meant to be. That does not diminish the importance of all types of technology for a solo attorney. I have decided to make this a two part blog. The first will be on “basic” technology; hardware, phone system, wordprocessors and the like. Second post will deal with more web 2.0, case management software, and other detailed technological issues.

The very first piece of technology that every office must have is a good quality telephone system. Sure you can run to Office Max and buy a $99 cordless phone and answering machine and be done with it. That sends two messages, I work on the cheap and I don’t value you as a client. Remember one thing, perception is someone else’s reality and when you look cheap the clients will perceive you as cheap. For me, a phone system has to have voice mail, call forwarding, an ability to add at least one caller to a call and caller ID. These are essential to a good practice in that it aids you in being responsive to the clients. Newer phone systems will send emails to you with either transcripts of the voice mail or the voice mail itself as a file attachment. I am not sold that is necessary, but if you are into add ons go ahead.

One needs to start out with a good solid computer system. I am not advocating it be Vista, the sooner Microsoft buries that operating system the better off those of us non Mac users will be. I am not saying don’t use a Mac either. I am the wrong guy to make hardware suggestions. The important thing is that the system you use be stable. In that vein, look at the RAM you want to have in the computer and double it. It is a way to help insure that when you are running two versions of word processing, a bookkeeping suite, a time management suite calendar email and several windows in a browser you don’t crash your computer.

A large monitor is ideal, two are better. The reason I say this is that if you have two monitors and you are working on a document or brief where you need to research and drop in language simultaneously, two screens will allow you to have the word processor open and your research open and move seamlessly between the two. I would think two 19 inch screens are the way to go.

A two printer system is ideal for most small offices. The first printer being an all in one with a glass scanner and document feeder in order for you to be able to create PDFs to keep paper files to a minimum. Yes, another reason for dual monitors you can scan the document in and have it on one screen and on the second have your reply letter, email or document and refer to the original effortlessly. The second printer I would have is a high quality laser printer for document production. I still find that inkjets smudge too much for my liking especially when I use highlighters.

Finally for this section, we will discuss generally about office suites. Wordperfect was for many years the standard bearer for legal offices. It was the suite found in every single office and was the one that most attorneys were trained on. That has slowly shifted to the point now where Microsoft Office has the dominant market share for lawyers; this only makes sense due to the fact that if you buy your computer through Dell or other manufacturers Office can come preloaded. Although certain versions of Word and WordPerfect allow for viewing of each other’s documents, the formatting is never the same as it was in the original software. I also am using Open Office more, not because I am programming in the open language, but instead want to meet all my clients needs. Word is now my primary word processor. Outlook is my primary calendar and email provider . However, I can seamlessly go into WordPerfect when a matter or document calls for it.

In the 21st century, lawyers who do not use technology to their advantage are one step behind the competition. The next part of this will detail more software and web based choices including ways to network online and ways to make your practice more effective to help you generate the product your client deserves and you want to be proud of.

Todd Engel

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