Getting a “Jumpstart” at ABA Techshow 2011
The ABA Techshow 2011 opened Monday with a half dozen presentations on a half dozen tracks, ranging from a solo and small law firm theme to a track for large firms and corporate counsel and another for lawyers interested in social networking and marketing.
The track for solo and small firms opened with a session led by Ottawa, Canada, lawyer Donna Neff and Laura Calloway, director of service programs for the Alabama State Bar. Entitled “Jumpstart Technology: Skills Every Attorney Should Possess,” the program outlined the foundation sole practitioners and lawyers in small firms need to run their practices and serve their clients.
In addition, Neff and Calloway highlighted some of the upcoming Techshow sessions they said would be useful for the 50 or so people attending the presentation in the basement-level conference room at the Hilton Chicago. Among the presentations they touted were “60 Tips in 60 Minutes,” “Google Tools and Apps for Lawyers” and the “2011 Smartphone Shootout.”
By a show of hands, about one-quarter of the audience identified themselves as sole practitioners, and an equal number responded that they work for small law firms, defined as having fewer than a dozen attorneys. Turning to their topic, the panelists polled the audience on word-processing: only a few attorneys acknowledged that they still use WordPerfect, once the mainstay of law offices everywhere that’s been replaced by Microsoft Word.
Neff, who has a trusts and estates practice, and Calloway, chair of ABA Techshow 2009, listed important Word functions that enable lawyers to track changes and improve productivity as well as document quality. Besides the basic suite of business applications, lawyers should seriously consider document-assembly software, particularly if they do repetitive form-based work such as wills and powers of attorney, as Neff does.
“I can create a very complex will in about 20 minutes,” Neff said, punctuating the power of the program she uses, HotDocs.
Beyond the words on screen, is managing and securing the documents themselves. This can mean getting a Word add-on to scrub metadata from files and adopting logical naming conventions to ease finding documents when needed.
Then there’s document management as a service. Companies such as Worldox, Calloway said, can handle documents and other data for small firms so they don’t have to do so in-house.
Hitting on other building blocks for law firm technology, the pair pointed to voice-based apps, including speech-recognition software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking, digital dictation equipment and Internet-based communications via Skype.
While the apps gain functionality and mature, some like Dragon do require fast PCs. “A lot of processing power is needed to run it,” Calloway said, adding that the investment is worth it because she finds voice-recognition is nearing 100 percent accuracy.