Tag Archives: software

How Lawyers Can Use Excel

Excel is just a complex calculator that comes free with Microsoft Word, right?

Wrong.

Excel is a multi-dimensional tool that is useful in a variety of industries, from accounting to finance to law. Yes, that’s right, there are a plethora of reasons lawyers should use Excel in their practice.

Below are a few suggestions of everyday legal activity that could be made easier and accomplished more efficiently with Excel.

Timelines

For internal reference and trial presentations, timelines are an essential weapon in a litigants quiver. Lawyers involved in complex litigation must have a clear understanding of the chronology of the case.

However, these timelines are also vital to a firm when the case goes to trial—jury members must understand case chronology, as well.

This means a timeline must be both functional and visually stimulating. Enter, Excel.

Excel has the ability to sort timelines by event and date in a meaningful and demonstrative way. Microsoft in Education even provides a tutorial to explain exactly how to achieve this in its article, “Create A Timeline In Microsoft Excel.”

Timesheets

Today, an increasing number of lawyers are using Mac computers and Apple software at the office. Just read the titles of new legal blogs on the web, such as The Mac Lawyer, Law Office Software For The Macintosh, and Criminal Defense With An Apple.

Even those lawyers, however, are keen on Microsoft products. Take, for example, Esquire Mac’s discussion of billable hour software versus Excel:

“Over the years, I’ve developed a fairly simple but flexible spreadsheet for tracking my billable time. For our firm, this represents the ideal solution at present. I have taken a liking to a few different Mac billing apps out there (like Billings, Involer, Invoice, GrandTotal, and iRatchet) but each of them falls short in one way or another for our purposes.”

No need to purchase expensive billing software when Microsoft Office is already uploaded to your office computers.

In addition, though some firms may have staff or consultants dedicated to case management analysis, for smaller firms, organizing timesheets in Excel can help trend your most significant cases over time.

For example, a legal administrator can organize attorney time by case matter, month, billable hours, or the billing attorney to discover which cases are the most active and which may need more attention, which attorney billed the most this month and which the least.

Access to this type of information will make a firm more attentive to any clients who might be falling through the cracks, and also increase its overall profitability, after it knows where to devote more billable hours.

Status of cases

Law firms circulate internally, and to the client, a case status update.

Excel makes this easy by providing a manipulatable database sorted by client name, county, type of case, date filed, place filed, date settled, opposing attorney, case settlement amount, and attorney fees to date.

At the end of the year, the compilation of all case status spreadsheets will give managing partners the perfect overview of upcoming casework and trials, in addition to closed and settled matters (not to mention, incoming income!).

Casework assignments

In a similar vein, Excel can expedite the process of assigning cases to attorneys. Excel can be used as a method to effectively organize case assignments and avoid duplication of work effort.

That way, when a senior attorney wants to know who is creating the timeline (in Excel, of course) for his case matter, the information, including the name of the assigned associate and the status of his or her work, is quickly and clearly accessible.

In the end, Excel has applications in many industries. If Excel is not frequently used in law, it’s because lawyers tend to fear it.

But, help forums and tutorials for Excel are copious online. These days, attorneys have no valid claims to MS-Office ignorance.

So, start small and get familiar with Excel’s massive potential for your firm. After all, the best part about Excel is that you already own it.

-WB

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What’s In A Number? The U.S. Census Poverty Report & How Game Theory Is Replacing Lawyers

Economists use complex computer models to predict upswings and downturns in the global economy, and as a basis for problem-solving when it comes to crises and joblessness.

Via similar predictive technology, on Tuesday, the government released data that confirmed how dire the economic situation continues to be.

According to a poverty report by the U.S. Census Bureau, last year’s poverty rate of 15.1 percent was the highest level reached in America in 17 years.  Approximately 46 million people were classified as poor in 2010, with the median annual income dropping by more than two percent to $49,445.

The key factor attributed to the economic decline was a continued lack of jobs (we’re not surprised, either). You’d think the nation’s best minds and technology could uncover numbers and trends that are a little less obvious.

And they can.

Less noticeable, behind the scenes, some sectors are, in fact, experiencing some growth. In comes, the technology sector.

The problem is, innovation in technology may actually help to continue joblessness in America. Here’s why.

Take, for instance, an invention by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita. He created a computer software that simulates what economists call “Game Theory.” Game theory predicts how events will unfold by using the presumption that individuals or companies act in their perceived best interest.

Bueno de Mesquita runs a consulting agency that uses this system of game theory-based numerical modeling, and he’s quite successful at it.

“Most decision-making advice is political, in the broadest sense of the word—how best to outfox a trial prosecutor, sway a jury, win support from shareholders or woo alienated voters by shuffling a political coalition and making legislative concessions,” The Economist reports on Bueno de Mesquita’s practice.

Although a consulting agency would need to provide costly training and expertise to operate these computer programs, the software can solve problems at far higher speeds and efficiency than the average human being.

In the field of law, you can only begin to imagine the immediate and concrete applications of this.

“’[Mediation and negotiation] software is now emerging.’ Barry O’Neill, a game theorist at the University of California, Los Angeles, describes how it can facilitate divorce settlements,” writes The Economist.

“’A husband and wife are each given a number of points which they secretly allocate to household assets they desire. The wife may inform the software that her valuation of the family car is, say, 15 points. If the husband puts the car’s value at 10 points, he cannot later claim that he deserves more compensation for not getting the car than she would be entitled to.’”

What’s clear is that the economy is in poor sorts, and economists are working toward solutions to end poverty via better technology, innovation, and efficiency.

What’s not so predictable, however, is the discovery that improving technology and its resourcefulness—particularly for legal services—may work to reduce the number of lawyers and professionals, not increase it.

So, are avatar lawyers really too space age for today, or are they rapidly becoming a reality?

-WB

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Better Hours, Better Systems

One of the most overused idioms in the English language is the phrase, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, this phrase contains a major flaw, and it’s not the (mis)spelling of the word, “isn’t.”

The aforementioned cliché assumes tangible and inanimate objects can be treated in the same way. When a watch stops keeping time, it’s safe to assume the watch needs repair rather than believe that time, itself, has broken down.

But, when the outcome of a trial or a project is failure, it’s difficult to determine what or who is at fault. Is the project management system to blame, or its various operating people and parts?

Imagine most complaints against lawyers—they don’t return phone calls, they’re billing practices are inconsistent or unfair, they’re unable to keep track of calendar items, to name a few. Well, each of these items has a simple electronic solution. Law firms could eliminate these trivial complaints with the correct and continued use of technology. At least, that’s what the experts at Legal Ease would have us believe.

“In my experience, the lawyers who are the most resistant to technology and the most insistent that their systems work well are the very lawyers who complain that they work too many hours, are overwhelmed, or have clients who are overly demanding.”

These days, technology is vital to the practice of law. Clients are contacted via email, documents filed electronically with the courts, and private data stored in clouds in cyberspace instead of folders in office space. A  recent study by Andrew Adkins at the Legal Technology Institute (LTI) notes that despite this transformation, lawyers are still electronically ill-equipped.

“According to the LTI study, less than 40% of small firm and legal department respondents use metadata cleanup software, and only 25% of respondents overall use encryption software although almost all lawyers send sensitive documents and information to clients via email.”

Attorney-client privilege is the cornerstone of the practice of law. And yet, lawyers don’t think twice about sending their clients lengthy emails without proper encryption codes, or transferring confidential documents via FTP servers to experts without adequate security measures. It’s not a lack of knowing the firm’s options, it’s a matter of implementing one or more of them.

“Survey respondents said that the biggest obstacles to their adoption of case management solutions were the costs involved (both at startup and for maintenance) and the learning curve of integrating such a system into their existing business, and yet one must wonder how many of these same firms have calculated the costs of failing to implement this kind of technology.”

In the current economic climate, law firms cannot afford to assume their finances and client list are protected. Fortune 500 companies have contracted alongside public spending. This means litigious corporate clients are looking for the “right” law firm–a place that will accommodate their limited profits and patience. Whereas photocopying a stack of financial records is costly, scanning to PDF is (relatively) cost-free. Technology-savvy firms market themselves as such. This not only attracts clients, but also retains old ones.

The Legal Ease Blog warns, “A breakdown isn’t the only reason to make a change or try something new—a horse and buggy can still get you from one place to another, typewriters still type and carbon paper can still make copies—but how many people are still using them?”

It’s time to retire outdated practices and phrases. Howry LLP’s collapse serves as a warning to law firms to properly innovate and digitize their services.

If your firm administrators can’t remember the last time the IT department bought case-related hardware of software, chances are, your firm is non-competitive in the market. Even if your firm has stayed at the top of the pack in terms of electronics, it’s still important to stay active in researching new developments in legal technology.

So, to make a long story short, make no bones about it, the ball’s in your court (or something like that).

To learn more about electronic document security, attend C4Cm’s course, “Electronic Documents: Avoiding the Ethical Pitfalls of Metadata.

-WB

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When a SaaS Chooses A Law Firm – Is Smaller the Better Way to Go?

So the dust has settled and Software as A Service Providers (also known as “on demand” software), are becoming known as the software delivery model of the land.  This is where software and its associated data are hosted centrally, typically in the Internet/Cloud. (Sometimes this service involves firm-specific, on-premises software.)  Wouldn’t you like to know what sort of law firm they’d be interested in using?

To flesh this topic out a bit, contemporary SaaS companies typically develop and manage their own software and provide them to “tenants”–as opposed to managing and hosting third-party independent software vendors’ software, as earlier application service providers did.   Used mostly as business applications, SaaS companies represent a large chunk of worldwide software sales.   By 2014, 16% of those worldwide software sales will be provided by SaaS applications.  


With all the disseminating of information that will be going on–as these companies seek to implement “best practice” scenarios in the field of software–there are bound to be some legal ramifications coming down the pike.  It might therefore be worth examining how these guys select a law firm and, similarly, how they view legal fees.   

OpenView Labs “invest[s] in and partner[s] with companies to help them become large, dominant players”.  They target “expansion stage software” and internet companies. Jeremy Aber, Senior Advisor, is a software licensing attorney who has also worked in-house at two software companies.  In a recent post, he explains that “one law firm might not be the right fit”.  He also likes smaller firms for SaaS groups.

Rather than hire a firm they’ve heard of through their social circles—or, for that matter, settle for an attorney who seems to know something about IP or software—the up-and-coming company should consider their attorney “the most outsourced function of any small business”.   At the beginning, that sort of attorney may be all right, but, as the company grows, they need to rethink their choice.  

“A better way to handle this is to hire several specialized solo or small firms,” he believes. Because of their specialization, these firms are able to provide better advice and, because of their size, cost savings. This, he explains, also applies to employment matters and intellectual property issues. 

Aber offers the one exception: if the company is looking for outside investors or venture capitalists, they’d be better off with a corporate lawyer in a medium-to-large law firm.  

As to litigation, the author recommends that, due to the increase in the hourly fee for partners in large law firms—from $500 to $700 in the last decade—small firms are better.  When it comes to larger firms, Aber notes that: “Those firms are, in essence, say­ing to the legal buyer of their ser­vices that they only want to rep­re­sent large com­pa­nies with large bud­gets.” He admits to generalizing, but says that, since some of the smaller firms are spin-offs of larger firms, you may, in hiring a smaller firm, even get a top-notch law firm lawyer at a much more affordable rate.  

He then goes on to suggest that, in litigation, you may not need the best attorney money can buy: what you may, instead, need is a good one with “reasonable hourly rates”—he mentions $200-something as a good fee—who is attuned to the results you are looking for.  This, he says, is because 90% of all such cases settle before going to trial.  “The tac­tic is to starve the oppo­nent of resources, to ensure a win.” 

To read more, go to: http://labs.openviewpartners.com/how-to-hire-the-right-law-firm-and-manage-legal-fees/ and  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_as_a_service

Graphic courtesy of OpenView Labs

-EM

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Three Associate Trainings A Firm Shouldn’t Skip

Continuing Legal Education, or CLE, ensures that lawyers admitted to any state bar maintain certain standards of professional and ethical conduct. In the same way lawyers must practice due diligence for a case, so attorneys should be held accountable for their competency and behavior over time. But CLEs are not enough to ensure new associates are fully prepared for the practice of law. The following list contains three trainings that firms should require for first hires.  

1. Discrimination              

The Supreme Court verdict for the Wal-Mart v. Dukes case will certainly change future sex discrimination litigation. But for now, policies on discrimination at the workplace should be made clear to firm employees. However your HR chooses to conduct this training—manuals, videos, podcasts, or in-person—all employees should participate. In the end, the training will either help spare your firm from sex discrimination class-action suits, or, in the least, help inspire your associates in their defense of similar suits for your clients.  

2. Electronic Discovery Software                                    

Electronic discovery is no longer a novel tool for law firms. It’s a necessary one. Some of the best vendors include Attenex, Clearwell, FTI, Guidance, LexisNexis, and Oracle, but law school students would likely not recognize these names.  Law firms do not teach this software, which should generally be chosen by firms according to their practice area and specific needs. Typically, e-discovery software is used by paralegals and legal assistants (other than doc review). However, there’s nothing more inefficient than a partner who is incapable of making a single photocopy (or his own word processing edits). In the same way, all associates should understand the interworkings of case management and e-discovery software so that at trial, in the last hour, there are no surprises.

3. Client Relationship Management          

It’s easy to let equity partners handle all communication with the client. However, associates and of-counsel are essentially partners in-training. As such, they should be comfortable managing client relationships. This means practicing proper email and phone etiquette, providing frequent status updates to the client, and tracking all communication. If a client does not trust every member of their trial team, it’s unlikely they will solicit future services from the firm. Client relationship management should be formalized into a training given by a partner or older associate to further emphasize its importance. Training takes thirty minutes to an hour, but a satisfied client stays (and pays) for life.

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