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Choosing Technology For Your Small Law Firm: A How-To Guide

In 2019, most lawyers would agree that technology is essential to the practice of law. After all, it’s a different world than it was at the turn of the century. Lawyers are now required to understand eDiscovery, and e-filing is now being mandated in many jurisdictions. This e-filing mandate is causing lawyers to digitize their law firm’s documents, and as a result more firms are moving towards a paperless law office, or, at the very least, offices with less paper.

Because of the past decade’s rapid technological advancements, the comments to ABA Model Rule 1.1 were revised a few years ago to require lawyers to maintain technology competence, and 36 jurisdictions across the country have now adopted that same concept into their rules of professional conduct. Even more notable, two states — Florida and North Carolina — now require lawyers to obtain technology CLE credits.

The problem is that understanding how to choose — and use — technology is no small feat. Lawyers are already incredibly busy running their law practices, representing their clients, and staying on top of changes in their practice areas. Given all of their other obligations, learning about technology often seems like an insurmountable task.

The 2019 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide That’s where “The 2019 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide,” written by Sharon D. Nelson, John W. Simek, and Michael C. Maschke comes in.

As Jim Calloway adeptly explains in the introduction to the book, understanding technology can be a challenge in the face of rapid technology changes, and this book, which is updated annually, is a step in the right direction towards achieving that goal:

“The lawyer who obstinately refuses to learn about the technology that impacts their practice, and their clients’ matters, is clearly now heading for a listing on the endangered professionals list. But before a lawyer can provide groundbreaking new client services, or improved efficiency through technology, the lawyer has to have basic reliable tools that they use every day from computers, scanners and printers that work reliably to software tools that are appropriate to the tasks the lawyer needs to accomplish daily and are secure enough to handle confidential client data…This guide can help lawyers sort the sometimes puzzling set of features and terms…”

In other words, this book helps lawyers sift through their technology choices, which range from hardware options to legal software tools designed to simplify the lives of solo and small-firm lawyers. So whether you’re in the market for computers, printers, scanners, document management software, time and billing software, collaboration tools, or legal practice management software, this book is the perfect how-to guide.

Top Tips From the Guide

The Guide covers so many types of technology and provides so much advice on a vast array of different topics that there’s simply no way to summarize all of it. Instead, here are my top three takeaways that I discovered as I perused this 192-page guide.

As I mentioned above, with the rise of e-filing comes an increased interest in moving to a paperless law office. One of the key tools needed to do this is a reliable, affordable scanner. In this year’s Guide, the authors recommend these two scanners:

The Fujitsu Scansnap iX500 desktop scanner for firms in need of a low volume scanner (up to 25 color pages per minute); and

The Fijitsu fi-5530C2 scanner for firms in need of a high volume scanner (50 color pages per minute).

Tips for secure international travel abroad

For lawyers who frequently travel abroad, security is an issue of increasing importance. Because lawyers have an ethical duty to maintain client confidences, searches of lawyers’ devices at the border pose a security risk — and lawyers have to take reasonable steps to reduce that risk — as explained in this recent ethics opinion issued by the New York City Bar.

In light of the risks encountered when lawyers travel internationally, the authors offered a number of steps that should be taken by lawyers in order to ensure that confidential client data is sufficiently protected. These tips include the following:

Consider traveling with a “burner” (disposable phone) and a clean tablet or laptop.

If you choose to use your regular smartphone, disable all biometric readers and instead rely on a numeric password.

Use a password manager to store your passwords, but instead of installing it on your devices, consider storing the password vault in encrypted form on a cloud service like Dropbox.

Protect your social media and email accounts with two-factor authentication (assuming you’ve left your phone behind), since officials will be unable to access your accounts without the code that is texted to your (unavailable) phone.

Encrypt all devices that you will be taking with you when you travel, and when communicating using those devices, use a secure encrypted connection. However, note that in some countries, encryption is illegal and if your device is encrypted, it may confiscated.

Consider removing your data from your devices and storing it on a device at home, which you can then access via a remote connection.

Maintain tech competence with these resources

And last, but not least, if you’re struggling to maintain your ethical duty of competence by staying on top of the latest in legal technology, the authors provided lots of suggestions for great resources designed to keep you updated. Here are their recommendations:

Attorney at Work blog

LawSites blog

LawNext, Kennedy-Mighell Report, and The Digital Edge podcasts

ABA Webinars

(And, I’d like to also humbly recommend that you read all of the legal technology columns here at Above the Law, my blog Sui Generis, and the MyCase blog).

Of course, the advice from the Guide that I shared above is just the tip of the iceberg. You’ll have to buy this year’s Guide to benefit from all of their advice. But trust me, you won’t regret it!


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