Note: This is a guest post by Stacey L. Romberg
In 1999, I took a leap of faith by starting my own law firm. In the years preceding that wise decision, I woke up each workday, put on expensive professional attire, spent thirty minutes to two hours (the commute varied by job) either in my car or on a subway, and then arrived at my office to spend the rest of the day in a closed office building before commuting home. Wouldn’t it be more fun, some days, to work wearing running tights and a t-shirt? Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could put all of that time spent commuting to better use? What would it be like if I could practice law at home, with the windows wide open, rather than breathing in the processed air conditioning of an office tower? Wouldn’t spending money on a vacation be much more fun than spending it on office rent?
The answers to these questions led me to start a virtual law firm—converting a spare bedroom in my home into my office. As my case load increased and a need for staff developed, I quickly learned that my beloved virtual model had limitations. Thankfully, those limitations can easily be overcome with case management software, such as Time Matters, the one I use.
Operating an efficient virtual law firm and using case management software goes hand in hand. I can’t imagine running my firm without it. Why? Let me give you five reasons:
1. Efficiency of Communications
Many continuing legal education programs teach time management skills, and focus extensively on how best to manage e-mail. E-mail can be a valuable tool in communicating efficiently with clients, counsel, vendors, and others related to your law practice. However, e-mail is not an efficient way to run the day-to-day internal communications within a law firm. Interruptions abound, and it’s time consuming to track a myriad of communications from “Please complete research on X” to “Could you please order more copy paper?” Case management software creates a more efficient communication tool by allowing virtual staff to communicate via tasks and notes within a virtual file. Which brings me to . . .
2. Creation of a “Virtual” File
In a virtual law firm, if a paper file exists, no one can see it except the person who works where it is physically located. Case management software allows everyone on your team, whether in Seattle or Singapore, the ability to access and add to each client’s virtual file, which contains all of the documents, e-mails, contact records, telephone records (including mp3 files of voice mail messages), mail receipt records, billing records, outstanding tasks, calendar items, and notes involving research and collaboration.
3. Organization and Management of Tasks
My virtual team consists of two part-time co-office administrators/legal assistants, two Of Counsel attorneys, and a paralegal. In addition to allowing me to see the outstanding tasks for a particular file, case management software also enables me, with a push of a button, to see all of the outstanding tasks for each member of my office team. Suppose one attorney has three outstanding tasks, and the other attorney has twenty? With a few clicks, I can transfer tasks amongst the lawyers so that the work is more equitably divided. I can’t imagine running a law firm without the ability to quickly see the lay of the land and make the changes necessary to ensure that all client and administrative work moves forward efficiently.
4. File Triggers
Case management software enables the use of file triggers, which can perform a variety of functions. For example, in a probate, a myriad of tasks must be completed by varying deadlines. Push a button, in this case a probate-related trigger, and all of these requisite tasks appear in the case file, automatically delegated to the appropriate person, and calendared pursuant to how the file needs to progress. Or, suppose you follow up with your estate planning clients periodically to see if their documents should be updated? Create a file trigger, and you’ll never have to input that follow up reminder manually again. And, more importantly, you’ll never have to remember to input it.
5. Document Management
It’s so much more than Microsoft® Word. Case management software creates a true and comprehensive document management and document generation system. In addition to efficient document organization within virtual client files, case management software enables you to search for documents based on a variety of criteria including the date of creation, a contact record connected to the document, and the identification code you may have assigned to the document (e.g., contract, probate pleading, Certificate of Incorporation). For example, if I am drafting a contract, I may recall having seen a similar agreement years ago. Suppose all I remember is the name of the attorney from another firm who prepared it? That’s all I need. I can find it, using Time Matters’ comprehensive search features.
Do you want to enjoy all the positive attributes of a virtual law practice? By investing in good case management software, you’ll give your new firm the right structure in which to flourish!
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Stacey L. Romberg is a Seattle attorney focusing on business law, estate planning, and probate. For further information, please see Ms. Romberg’s website at www.staceyromberg.com. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+.
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