Practicing Law in 2017

Now with the end of the year, it’s time to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going next year.

Last week, Uptime CEO Dennis Dimka did a pretty good writeup about the 2016 Legal Technology Year in Review. Solid stuff about where we’ve been this year.

This past year, I’ve worked with a lot of law firms and heard about their goals and concerns.

Since my area of interest in particular is solos and small firms, here are some thoughts on where solo / small-firm practice is headed in 2017:

“Productive” Websites

Law firm websites have historically served one of two main purposes (generally speaking):

  1. Be an online business card for potential clients who are referred to the firm, who then go online to do research;
  2. Generate new business via online marketing.

Now, firms are looking for more than just a business card or advertisement from their websites.

Websites are not just a marketing tool for word-of-mouth and business development.

Websites can also be a productivity tool.

Lawyer websites can help firms run a more efficient practice.

Websites can help with things like:

  • Client portals
  • New client intakes, integrated with practice management software and CRMs
  • Payment processing
  • Call scheduling

Your law firm’s website can be a resource, a hub for clients working with your firm. They can fill out secure intake forms to share information. The forms can integrate with your practice management software so the information automatically creates new contacts in your software (i.e. how JurisPage websites can integrate with Clio), saving you time from having to manually enter the information yourself.

And if you use practice management software like Clio, CosmoLex, or Rocket Matter, you can have a link on your site to your client portal, so clients can easily access documents, invoices, and messages you share with them.

Your site can also direct clients to pay their bills online through a secure billing portal, for example, working in tandem with LawPay.

Or, if you embed a call scheduling app on your website, you can allow potential clients to schedule a call (whenever your calendar is available), and even pay for that consultation ahead of time with an integrated payment processor.

At JurisPage, we’ve implemented all of these features on client websites in the past year, and are continuing to see more and more firms ask for them.

Wider Implementation of CRMs and Evaluation of Marketing Channels

Many solos and small firms are not great at managing their client intake processes.

Potential clients slip through the cracks.

In today’s practice landscape, firms are becoming more acutely aware of the value each potential client has, and the lost potential revenue from clients who don’t sign on with the firm.

Apps like Lexicata provide a CRM (aka legal client relationship management software) to help lawyers evaluate their sales pipeline (because it is a sales pipeline, even if we don’t normally think of clients hiring us in that fashion) and conversion from potential client to retained client.

And with these apps, firms are looking closer at where their best clients are coming from.

How many clients this month came from word-of-mouth vs. paid ads vs. social vs. organic traffic vs. email marketing?

CRMs and practice management apps integrated with accounting software can help firms put a value to leads and new business to help them grow smarter.

Security Gets Realer

Firms keep getting hacked.

And they will continue to keep getting hacked.

Because lawyers are really, really, really easy targets.

Back in 2013, Joe Patrice from Above the Law called law firms “the soft underbelly of American cyber security”. And things have only gotten worse.

Despite the wide reports of firms getting hacked, hacking going on at law firms is likely very underreported.

Why?

1. If your firm publicly discloses that it has been hacked, clients will fear for their information security and not hire your firm.

2. You have no idea your firm has been compromised.

Implementing some basic security not only inexpensive (some basic measures are free; many are low-cost), it’s very easy to implement.

You don’t need a data security consultant to help you. Just read Sam Glover’s guide to computer security, or check out his Law Launcher session on Basic Tech Competence.

Firms Get Technical

Speaking of basic tech competence, this year the Florida Bar announced that it is now requiring a technical component to CLEs.

To run an ethical practice, firms have to have a basic level of technical understanding.

This shouldn’t seem like groundbreaking news.

The ethics rules for many states require lawyers to have basic technological knowledge, knowledge that evolves as quickly as the technology does.

But now, Florida’s announcement seems like a push to help lawyers better understand the technology out there in the market and serve clients more effectively.

As an example, many lawyers are unfamiliar with social media and how the platforms work, but knowledge of the different social platforms is essential in litigation today.

Not knowing how to use social media or popular apps is malpractice. It puts firms at an inherent disadvantage.

And experienced practicing attorneys cannot solely rely on “younger lawyers” for their help.

More Paperless

Firms have been going paperless for years.

They will keep going paperless this year.

Scanners and document management systems are inexpensive.

Paperless systems help small firms stay mobile and agile, able to access their entire practice easily and from anywhere.

As long as your documented paperless procedures are followed, going paperless can help your firm better manage its documents, and prevent items from getting lost in the shuffle.

Multi-Channel Marketing

Most every firm gets business from networking and word-of-mouth referrals.

Historically, most firms have gotten substantial parts of their business from word-of-mouth.

But, the landscape is getting competitive for small firms.

More firms are turning to different marketing channels for business development.

Channels like search engine optimization, paid advertising, email marketing, and social media marketing.

And it’s not like firms are just testing out one channel. They are building out marketing machines.

Different channels serve different functions.

Taking advantage of search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising (PPC) can drive traffic and new potential clients in the market for a lawyer right to your website.

Blogging and content marketing help you establish your firm as an authority, and can drive traffic and also increase referrals.

Email and social media marketing can be great to help you stay on top of mind with referrals, a constant reminder of your skills and expertise to your colleagues and friends.

Each channel serves a unique function and working in tandem help to bring in new business to your firm.

Conclusion

If you’ve been making a list of what your firm’s goals are for the next year, here are a few suggestions:

  • Consider going paperless if you have not yet
  • Make your website a productive asset of the firm to help you save time and run smoother
  • Explore different marketing channels for business development
  • Implement a new CRM to manage your contacts
  • Improve your firm’s security and technical competence

These few items should keep you busy for a few months, and help you make 2017 a better year for your law firm than the last.

Have a Happy New Year.

Cheers to a productive year.

Andrew Cabasso
About the Author: Andrew Cabasso
Andrew Cabasso is a practicing attorney and VP of Web Services at Uptime Legal where he runs JurisPage, an Internet Marketing firm specializing in online presence solutions for law firms including website design, SEO, and search marketing. He has given many lectures and CLEs on website design and Internet marketing to legal professionals. He is the author of Search Engine Optimization for Lawyers and The Complete Guide to Attorney PPC. Follow Andrew on LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.

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