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How technology can make you a more successful lawyer

Posted by Gene Turner on 31-Oct-2016 07:20:21

I recently wrote an ebook on technology, and how it can help lawyers be more successful, after speaking at a conference and finding there was real interest in the topic.  Covering more than 50 different technologies, it has been downloaded many times, but the Law Society was also interested in adapting it into an article for LawTalk, which they have now done.

You can read the LawTalk article here, and it is also set out in full below.  The full ebook (which contains some more detailed information, a number of graphics, and more hyperlinks to the various suppliers) is also still available for download here: http://info.lawhawk.nz/tech-and-disruption-ebook.

Lawyers with an eye to the future will be looking for where new opportunities are going to arise. They will be looking at how technology can help realise those opportunities.

An excellent article on business process re-engineering is Michael Hammer’s Re-engineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate. Although this article was written in 1990 it contains many excellent ideas that are easily applicable to the legal profession today. In particular, he exhorts:

“Instead of embedding outdated processes in silicon and software, we should obliterate them and start over. We should ‘re-engineer’ our businesses; use the power of modern information technology to radically redesign our business processes in order to achieve dramatic improvements in their performance.

“We must have the boldness to imagine taking 78 days out of an 80-day turnaround time, cutting 75% of overhead, and eliminating 80% of errors. These are not unrealistic goals. If managers have the vision, re-engineering will provide a way.”

There are already a number of excellent technology tools that lawyers are using, or could consider using, to augment and enhance their legal practice, and to change the way they work in the ways that Michael Hammer encourages.

Here are some. Many of these products can be downloaded and implemented immediately, often on a free trial.

This list is deliberately not exhaustive, and deliberately does not include practice management or billing systems.


Connecting your systems easily

Throughout this feature there are many links to product reviews on www.zapier.com. Hopefully these are useful in their own right, but what is Zapier, and why would they be providing so many different reviews?

Zapier creates connections between various web apps, so that they can talk to each other and seamlessly transfer information. Instead of having to copy and paste it yourself, Zapier can automate it. If you decided to use Trello, for example, you could automatically create Office 365 calendar events from new or moved Trello cards, or turn emails into Trello cards automatically.  

Knowledge management

It is often open to debate whether clients go to a law firm because of the firm, or the particular individuals within it. What is it about a firm that is more valuable than the sum of the individuals?

In large part, this should be about the existing knowledge that the firm has within its systems. Think about all the precedents, and previous advice which the firm has given to clients over the years. Shouldn’t that be one of the most significant assets that the law firm has?

However, because many firms put little effort into knowledge management and precedents, rather than being an asset to be leveraged, it is probably more a source of cost and frustration as an increasing amount of unstructured data grows exponentially.

If a law firm could bring order to this chaos, surely they would be able to give clients more certainty of costs and turnaround times. The advice could be based on advice already given to similar clients, and the firm could charge for that advice based on its value to the client, rather than just the number of hours it takes to prepare it.

One New Zealand business which is taking up this challenge is Order of Precedents.

Their aim is to help firms to identify opinions or precedents, to categorise them, and then to capture data about if and how those items are used in practice so that the firm can better understand what assets it has, and how they are being used. Those precedents which are used the most in practice can be identified and prioritised for further development such as automation.

Project management

One of the major frustrations that clients have when working with lawyers is that usually they are given an estimate (rather than a quote) based on a certain number of hours work by certain person at a certain hourly rate. In practice, the job is usually carried out by different people, at different levels of experience, at different hourly rates, over a different period of time, and often at a greatly different total price.

Because different people are working on the matter at the same time, often under significant time pressure, it can be difficult for the supervising lawyer to even be aware of the fact that the existing estimate is being blown, until all of the time has been entered into the system. By then it is too late! There has been no opportunity to discuss things with the client, and either agree a new estimate or a new scope.

It is not surprising then, that a substantial amount of interest is developing around legal project management. This could be as simple as adopting project management disciplines and software that is commonly used outside of the legal profession. Many people in the software development area use tools such as Trello or Asana for agile project management.

You can read Zapier’s review Trello and Asana.

Another emerging player from New Zealand is Lawvu. Lawvu is being developed to provide a platform for managing legal matters, building in project management disciplines and accountability.

Project management is a substantial topic in its own right, with many possible tools that you could use. You can see more of Zapier’s reviews on project management.


For the litigators and investigators, there is e-discovery. New Zealand firm, e-Discovery Consulting has been operating since 2011 to help law firms manage the entire e-discovery process or advise on any aspect of it, for any investigation or litigation. This includes advising on the different e-discovery software options, and which ones are most appropriate.

Founder, Andrew King, is also the organiser of New Zealand legal technology conference, LawFest (previously known as LawTech NZ).

Productivity tools

Office 365 (including OneDrive)

Office 365 Business is a complete Microsoft Office suite in the cloud. It provides all the standard Microsoft Office products but available for any internet enabled computer.

Tim Boyne (of LawVu and also manager of Sharp Tudhope’s technology infrastructure and practice management systems) has recommended: “Go all-in with Office 365, it’s the only component in any potential technology stack that you can guarantee will be relevant in five years’ time”.

You can read Zapier’s Office 365 review.

Microsoft Word templates

So much of what lawyers do involves working with documents it should be regarded as essential to have good templates.

However, how “clean” are the templates that the documents are created from? If the underlying templates are full of unnecessary and compromised styles, it will result in the end documents either not looking or behaving as well as they should, or substantial time being required (each time they are used) to fix the document. Have you ever had to deal with a document going “corrupt” on you just before it needs to be finalised? These issues can be cut off at source by having the templates set up properly.

One New Zealand company which specialises in this is Authodox. AuthoDox offers document automation services using Word macros, but also offers a range of services helping to set up, or fix, templates.

Digital dictation

While digital dictation has been around for a long time, for many years it had a reputation for being inaccurate and unreliable. However, there have been substantial improvements in its accuracy in recent years.

LawHawk adopted Dragon dictation in July 2016. The software was downloaded and installed instantly and without problems, and it was quickly trained to my voice without problems – picking up the New Zealand accent and my customary mumbling.

There is a specific New Zealand legal edition, available from Sound Business Systems. You can read Zapier’s The Beginner’s Guide to Dictation Software: Write Without Typing.

Proof reading

Proofing remains one of the most unpopular tasks for the younger lawyers. Fortunately, others have taken on the task of trying to address this burning need.

LexisNexis has developed a drafting tool, LexisDraft which I have not used, but other lawyers have given positive feedback. They say that their younger lawyers particularly like it.

New Zealand company Pagemap appears to be addressing the same issue and more. PageMap’s website describes the product as “decoding legal documents – an affordable secure solution to help you and your clients review and understand legal documents”.

Managing your IT

Cloud-based platforms

LawHawk was born in the cloud. From day one it has used cloud technology to access best of breed systems without needing to buy, own, install and maintain its own systems. Almost everything was accessible on a Surface Pro 2 tablet, and saved using Office 365 and the related OneDrive account.

As LawHawk grew, and started to develop or obtain more sensitive information and foreseeing the need to satisfy cloud security computing requirements such as the New Zealand Government’s Cloud Computing Information Security and Privacy Considerations, the decision was made to shift to a managed desktop service. As well as ensuring that if anything should happen to a computer nothing would be lost and it would be easy to get back to work, if anyone should steal a computer there would simply be no information on it that anyone could access.

LawHawk now uses Resolve Technology’s SmartCloud system, which is used by approximately 30 law firms in New Zealand. Lantech is another provider of similar services.

With a hosted desktop, there is also the option to use a less powerful computer. One option is to move to simple thin client technology. Thin clients are simple PC replacements that give you a “window” into your hosted computer environment. They store no data, are highly secure and have no moving parts – so don’t break down – and they are a lot cheaper.

There are a number of emerging cloud-based legal technology products. In addition to Lawvu, a couple of New Zealand examples are Trustworks and NomosOne.

Client acquisition and management

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

Many law firms organise their information around legal matters. In the “real world” outside of law firms, most other businesses apply a much more customer centric view, and there has been a substantial growth in CRM systems. These seek to capture all interactions with the customer and to build a much more complete picture of the customer and their needs, and the overall relationship in its various stages.

There are a number of excellent CRM systems which are available, many of them as a software as a service subscription product. LawHawk is using Hubspot. Not only is it a very easy-to-use and powerful CRM system, but it also has many integrations with marketing and social media which make it a very useful tool.

Hubspot also publishes a large amount of excellent content around sales and marketing which you can access free by signing up to their blog, which has which has more than 400,000 subscribers and attracts over 2 million monthly visitors.

See Zapier’s reviews on CRM.

Marketing automation

Sales and marketing is an area in which many lawyers receive little formal training. As a result, many lawyers spend a lot of time and effort marketing ineffectively.

It is beyond the scope of this article to cover the many issues with how lawyers currently market their services, but many of them are addressed very well in the Hubspot blog. This emphasises the value of an “inbound” marketing strategy, founded on the provision of high quality content to a clearly identified target market. This is really a more online, automated way of the traditional marketing lawyers have done by publishing articles and running seminars.

When such an approach is adopted, it can be augmented using marketing automation tools. Concentrate Marketing’s 2015 Market Measures Report demonstrates the rapid emergence of these tools.

See Zapier’s reviews on marketing automation.

Client satisfaction surveys

Client retention should be one of, if not the, biggest drivers of a law firm’s profitability. Think about it: every 5% of business that you lose is 5% of new business that you have to pick up just to stay where you were. However, those new clients will be more expensive to acquire. It is estimated that it costs five times more to replace a client than to keep one.

You therefore definitely want to have satisfied clients, and to turn unhappy clients around quickly. The difficulty is that most dissatisfied clients don’t complain. Instead, they just walk, and take their business elsewhere. And then they tell 8 to 10 other people of the dissatisfaction. These more vocal former clients are also referred to as “client terrorists”!

However, if you can identify the dissatisfaction early enough, not only can you retain them as a client, but you can actually increase their loyalty. As an example, Domino’s Pizza goes out of its way to encourage dissatisfied customers to complain. When complaints are resolved within 24 hours, they find that 95% of customers are retained.

Obviously one great way to identify how satisfied customers are is to ask them, but you can’t do this personally on a large scale. Fortunately, there are a number of tools now available on a software as a service basis, allowing very quick and painless surveys. One New Zealand based provider is AskNicely.

See Zapier’s reviews on surveys.


Your website

Increasingly people are becoming more comfortable doing business online. They are certainly doing a lot more research online. We all do it ourselves in other parts of our lives, so why would law firm clients be any different?

If you do not have a website, or the website you have is not up to date and a good representation of who you are and why they should think of using you, you are losing business!

Having a website is not the end of the story. If you have a website, but are not using good search engine optimisation and content marketing, it is unlikely that is working for you. Your goal is to rank on the first page of Google when prospective clients are searching for providers. If you are not on the first page of Google, your chances of being found online are very low.

To see how your own website is doing, visit Alexa.

A key problem is that many people who have set up a website have little idea of what they expect the website to be doing for them. Each page should have a purpose, and it should be clear to visitors what they should do next – “calls to action”.

They also do not make use of the many free or cheap tools that are available to help them see what people are actually doing on their site. Consider tools such as Optimizely, usertesting.com, Qualaroo, Google Analytics, Crazy Egg, Alexa, Screaming Frog, Hubspot’s Website Grader, 5 Second Test, Formisimo, Click Tale, and Moz.com.

A great example of how powerful a website can be is Wellington law firm Simmonds Stewart. This is still (at 15 September 2016) a small law firm. However, they appear to be the leading New Zealand law firm website as ranked on Alexa, with a global ranking of 758,562. By contrast, Chapman Tripp’s ranking is 1,955,697, Russell McVeagh is 2,826,040, and Bell Gully is 3,265,065.

Setting up a website is not that hard. If you don’t have a website already, Spark have a DIY website builder or, for a more legally focused option, see Law 2 Web.

What is more important is having a lot of lead generating content on your site. The excellent Lead Generating Website Guide by Hinge Marketing is another really useful resource that can help.

At the very least, if you don’t have your own domain name for email, get that set up. The cost is minimal and it is much more professional than running a practice from an xtra.co.nz or gmail.com account.

Having good quality, indexed, content on your website will attract visitors for years to come. Each new piece of content is a new “hook” on an increasingly long fishing line.

Social media

Whether you have a website or not, social media is a great way of building awareness of your services in your target market. If you do have a website, social media can be a great way of driving traffic back to that site where you can try and convert them to customers.

LawHawk is particularly focused on LinkedIn because that is where a lot of lawyers are most active in their professional lives. Twitter is also good – not so much for connecting with New Zealand lawyers, but because there are many people around the world tweeting about developments in legal practice and legal technology and it is an excellent way of keeping up to date.

In your legal practice, you may find other sites such as Pinterist, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook are good value.

If you do go into social media, make sure you do it properly. Make sure that any content you post is appropriate to that platform and take the time and effort to complete your profile properly. Hubspot contains some excellent guides including an Introduction to LinkedIn for Business.


For communications, many businesses around the world (including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory) are now using tools like Slack instead of email. This could be used within a law firm, or to manage communications between lawyers and particular clients. You can read Zapier’s review of Slack.


While most content that law firms are producing is still in written form, video is exploding in other industries, as it is shown to have much more engagement and higher conversion rates.

There are many different ways that you can produce video. You can have videos made professionally using services like 90 Seconds. If you want to make the best impression possible, and don’t have the talent to do it well yourself, this can be a very good option.

However, not all video needs to be of the highest production quality. In fact, one of the key benefits of video is that it allows people to get to know you, as you really are. Helpful content, even if not professionally produced, can still generate a lot of business, or simply help people to understand how they can use your services as well as possible. You can produce videos using simple and cheap tools such as Adobe Presenter 11, or Cyberlink PowerDirector.

The Business Video Fundamentals course by Wistia is an excellent introduction to using video in your business.


Almost everyone has used Skype for video calling in our personal lives, but its use in business (particularly by lawyers) has been more limited.

However, in other business contexts tools such as Skype, GoToMeeting, join.me, Zoom or something similar are commonly used for virtual meetings and product demonstrations. All of these tools enable a much richer conversation through being able to see the person you’re speaking to, as well as being able to share your screen.

With such tools being available and easy to use, it is now much easier for lawyers to be able to work with clients wherever they are, and wherever you are. You can develop a national practice based on a narrower (more focused) set of expertise, but being able to provide your services to people all across the country.

Document automation

One of the easiest ways for lawyers to change the way they work, and to work much more quickly, with lower levels of risk and high standards of quality and consistency, is to use document automation.

This capability has been around for many years in various forms. I first came across it in the form of Microsoft Word macros in 2000 while working at Westpac Banking Corporation. A range of loan agreements were automated, reducing an hour of time per document down to three minutes. I knew then that this is the way I wanted to work as much as possible.

As a non-technical person (a lawyer) the challenge I faced then, and still believe exist today, is that Word Macros are relatively difficult to program, and to give instructions to, for complex automation. However, it can be a good option for many simpler forms of document automation and many firms will use macros for generating letters and other correspondence.

Many different ways to automate documentation now exist. It is beyond the scope of this article to investigate all of them, except to note that LawHawk ultimately chose Hotdocs for its document automation engine because of its strong heritage and market leadership with more than 1,000,000 users world-wide.

HotDocs was recommended because it would be so much faster and more robust, and we would actually get stuff done. Large banks such as Royal Bank of Scotland use it to generate as many as 500,000 loan packets per month.

Gene Turner is a Wellington lawyer. A former Buddle Findlay partner he is the founder of
LawHawk, an online legal document generation service for lawyers and procurement specialists. This article is a summary of information about technology that lawyers may consider to enhance their practices, taken from the report Technology and Disruption in Law – How Technology Can Make You a More Successful Lawyer, available at LawHawk.



Topics: Practise of Law, Future of Law, Legal Technology

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