In recent months I’ve attended a number of legal conferences and a topic that comes up often is the increasing need for attorneys to use technology to automate their practices’ workflows in order to compete in today’s rapidly changing legal marketplace. The thinking is that by automating and streamlining their firms’ processes, preparing documents and providing other types of legal services will take less time, allowing lawyers to offer more competitive prices when faced with the prevalence of sites like LegalZoom. It’s really not that crazy of an idea.
That’s why I spoke to Andrew Legrand, a New Orleans attorney who provides legal services to small business. One thing that makes Andrew’s firm, Spera Law Group, unique is that it offers clients a flat-rate quote at the start of a case. A primary reason they’re able to do this is because they have automated some of their firm’s most-used processes and utilize the services of virtual assistants. Andrew explains: “We charge our clients flat rates and it’s still a competitive advantage for us. Sure, it’s not exactly a novel or unique concept, but right now there aren’t very many business lawyers in Louisiana who take cases at a flat rate.”
Andrew knew the legal landscape was shifting so he built process automation into his firm from the very start. When he launched his firm he knew that he wanted to avoid running his firm in the traditional manner and instead chose do things differently: “Automation and flat rate pricing is something I knew I wanted to do when I started this firm. I wanted to be competitive and show I was on top of things. I realized that document automation was a way to save time and increase consistency while reducing errors in documents. So with document automation, I create documents that look professional each and every time. By automating that process rather than recreating it for every document, I’m able to eliminate the errors.”
One way that his firm uses automation is when preparing paperwork to create an LLC for a client. His firm uses Doxserá’s TheFormTool Pro software to streamline this process. “We use this software to create the paperwork I need: the letterhead, the documents that are filed with the Secretary of State to form the LLC, and the paperwork I need to create for the IRS, among others,” he says. “It’s not a particularly difficult matter but before automation it was a 45-minute process. Now it’s a simple 10-15 minute process to type the data in once and the software automatically fills out all of the forms which we then review. You create the field titles to help it do this and it’s an ongoing process.”
According to Andrew, his firm has also automated the client engagement process. “We’ve automated our engagement letter over time. It used to be that if you had a plaintiff letter and you had to fill in contingency information and for other matters you had to include the litigation rate with the hourly fee. So we’ve automated our retainer letter process by creating a series of questions that help to determine whether the client is on a contingency, flat fee, hourly, or monthly retainer engagement. Based on the answers, the retainer letter is then automatically updated with language that is specific to the engagement.”
Not only does automating processes save his firm time, it also makes it easier for them to outsource the data input required to create the documents. Andrew explains: “Automation makes it easier to outsource tasks, too. Because the data input is so simple and the software works automatically, it makes it easier for me to assign the task of filling in the data to a virtual assistant and requires less supervision on my part.”
His firm regularly uses virtual assistants for a number of different purposes. “The biggest use I’ve found for virtual assistants is for a very specific task. A really easy example is using Ruby Receptionist to answer the phone—it’s a VA that does one thing and does it very well. It’s better than hiring one person per week for 40 hours and having them do a lot of things in a mediocre way. Our biggest use of VAs is for creating marketing materials. We also use an IT person in India to help us with WordPress issues.”
His advice for utilizing VAs effectively? “Try to think of small projects you can outsource as opposed to big things. And keep in mind that using VAs won’t change your practice overnight. Finally, VAs sound new and different, but in reality lawyers have been using them for a long time. Lawyers pay a CPA to do their taxes. That’s a VA—it’s someone who’s not in your office that you’re paying to do something for you. So don’t overthink it—it’s really not that crazy of an idea.”
So that’s how one lawyer uses document automation and virtual assistants in his practice. As always, if you or an attorney you know is using technology in a creative or unusual way in your law firm, drop me an email at [email protected]. I’m always looking for new attorneys — or judges — to feature in this column.