This past June, the Young Lawyers Section of the Indiana State Bar Association (“ISBA”) generously paid my entire entry fee and housing stipend for the 2017 Solo and Small Firm Conference in French Lick, Indiana. Their generosity was greatly appreciated; and I’d like to take the next few moments of your time to outline and share a theme prevalent throughout this conference for those who could not attend this year’s event.
I believe the landscape of the legal practice is shifting. An entire generation of small-town lawyers are nearing retirement age, and today’s clients are expecting documents delivered faster; issues resolved sooner; and questions answered quicker. When I began my practice fresh out of law school, I was immediately surprised by the number of firms tied to outdated methods of communication. Even large, well-off firms had been victimized by a reluctance to update processes and methods. Local e-filing was stretching the learning curve of legal professionals county wide. And, even more frustrating, local firms would constantly refuse service by email and fax, instead opting for a tangible paper trail of motions and orders; as if these instant-transmissions were somehow second-rate.
At the 2017 ISBA Solo and Small Firm Conference, there was a heavy push for automated processes, cloud storage capabilities, and other electronic document management software. The goal, according to many speakers, was to create an office that contained everything you needed within a single hard drive, and backed-up within a cloud program. The vendors agreed, as booth after booth was retrofitted with the latest legal technologies to increase productivity, storage, and access. With the prevalence of recent hacking attacks, document security was also highlighted as keynote speakers shared the concerning numbers of attorneys hacked and revenue lost in cyber attacks within the past decade.
Although many capable attorneys nodded in approval and agreed with the theory of a completely mobile firm management, I found myself wondering how few would actually take steps to heed the advice of this push for mobilization. I’m not naïve enough to predict that small firms will fail if they don’t evolve technologically; but a failure to embrace this technology will leave money on the table of your local practice. Further, as today’s millennials begin seeking legal advice in new areas of entrepreneurship and small-business operations, a knowledge of new technology is a necessity if client retention is at all important.
I was impressed with the ISBA’s foresight regarding legal technology at this year’s ISBA Conference. The leadership of bar associations in Indiana and elsewhere have remained in-tune with the gradual shift in firm technology. Whether or not that advice is heeded by the lawyers neck-deep in cases and transactions; however, remains to be seen as partners and managers alike decide how to tackle a new generation of consumers.