No app can make your logical reasoning sound better to jurors. But there are hundreds of apps that can help you do things faster, and make your life as a legal professional easier.
So if you’re still reluctant to embrace technology in your practice, this article will show you how new apps and online services can take the stress out of practicing law.
6 Ways Technology Made a Lawyer’s Life Easier
1. No More Bulky Envelopes and Boxes
Cloud storage services and electronic case management software has changed how law firms handle documents.
Before, you’d have to search through cabinets of files just to find one document pertaining to your case. Now, law firms store gigabytes of data on secure data servers so anyone on their firm can search, track, edit, send, or archive the documents they need. What used to take hours can now be done in as little as five minutes.
Paperless depo software is also available to help lawyers prepare for mass torts without lugging around box after box of documents. The software allows you to bring exhibits and other documents as scanned PDF, and share the documents with the court reporter and other participants as needed.
2. E-Filing Documents
Federal courts now allow case-related documents to be submitted and accessed online, so counsels can access them without going to the court’s record office.
3. Billing Clients and Tracking Billable Hours
Do you still track your billable hours with a spreadsheet? Not only does that waste your precious attention span and time, it’s also prone to errors.
With automated time-tracking tools like Toggl, PayPanther, and RescueTime, you can work continuously without switching every 10 or 15 minutes to your spreadsheet to record your minutes. These apps work in the background and record your computer activity. Some of them even include screenshots, sub-projects, and timers, so you can track your time switching in between cases.
Online invoicing tools like Freshbooks and Harvest remove the need for clunky MS Word template invoices. You can also bill clients for retainer work via subscription payments or create a one-time invoice for projects. These tools also have a time-tracker option, so you can either use it or export your time tracking data from another app.
4. Protect the Privacy of Your Firm and Your Clients
Do you remember shredding old and unnecessary documents as an intern? What about blacking out sensitive information on documents using a redacted stamp? Did you use Bates-label and printer labels to organize documents? It’s all tedious and time consuming.
Now, Adobe Acrobat can Bates-label, redact, and OCR documents electronically, so you or the interns in your team can organize files quickly.
5. Talk to Clients and Colleagues in Different Time Zones
Before Skype and the advancement of VOIP technology, lawyers had to go to the office just to talk to clients in different time zones. Otherwise they’d be hit with a huge phone bill for every choppy cross-country and international call they make.
Because of VOIP systems, lawyers can take client calls and conference calls even when they’re at home or on the road. All they need is a strong data connection.
Another benefit of this is the time tracking feature available in VOIP programs. Now you don’t have to track the time you started and end the call. You can tally all of the calls at the end of the week or month, and then bill each client for the total duration of all your conversations.
6. Discovery Just Got Easier
Researching documents and relevant cases takes time, that’s why lawsuits cost a ton of money. Before, you had to read through archives of old cases just to find useful information.
Now, online service Docket Alarm helps lawyers build a case profile, then quickly research relevant case files based on their search parameters. It’s literally a Google for lawyers.
You can use Docket Alarm to find out the likelihood of winning a divorce battle, based on rulings from previous proceedings. The search engine can also tell you which judges are biased, based on their previous decisions.
Lawyers can also use this website to aid them in advising clients of their potential for winning or losing a case. If you find multiple cases where the defendant of a similar case won, then you can show your client why he doesn’t have to settle quickly.
The Dark (or Gray) Side of Legal Technology
Unfortunately, technology isn’t just used for the advancement of legal practice. It’s also threatened the livelihood of many lawyers, and misled hundreds of consumers.
Consider the existence of template contract websites, where all you have to do is input your name and other pertinent details to get a complete contract or form for just about anything. While such websites don’t claim to provide legal advice, they provide the same deliverable (an executable contract) as lawyers—with one crucial component missing.
These template forms are not loophole free, and are not customized enough for the needs of every user. None of these websites can guarantee that the will, document, contract, or bankruptcy filings they’re providing to users will accomplish what the user intended.
What if a rental contract obtained from the website has a clause that’s not enforceable in a certain state?
While the services show convenience for users, they’re also quick to disassociate themselves from the liability and attorney-client privileges available in any legal product or service.
Automation and Technology are Just Tools
Practicing law is easier now because of technology. Solo professionals can now take on more cases because of online services that help them do their work faster, while small firms can better compete with bigger firms because they can now handle huge cases previously exclusive to the big guys.
Automation isn’t supposed to interfere with your legal practice, so embrace it. If technology overtakes one part of your practice, there are still other tasks within the legal profession you can do.