Is your current technology setup really working for your law firm? And with new challenges to the practice of law during the coronavirus crisis, are you able to do remote work effectively? Jim Calloway and Sharon Nelson talk with Richard Ferguson about the types of tools all lawyers should have at the ready in their tech tool boxes. They tap into Richard’s wealth of knowledge on practical tech solutions for law firms of all sizes.
Richard Ferguson practices law in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with the business law firm Lynass, Ferguson & Shoctor and is a current member of the ABA Techshow 2021 Planning Board.
Special thanks to our sponsors, Clio, Nexa, Scorpion, and Blackletter Podcast.
The Digital Edge
Tech Toolbox: What’s Right for Your Practice?
Intro: Welcome to The Digital Edge with Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway, your hosts, both legal technologists, authors and lecturers invite industry professionals to discuss a new topic related to lawyers and technology. You’re listening to Legal Talk Network.
Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome to the 147th edition of The Digital Edge: Lawyers And Technology. We’re glad to have you with us. I’m Sharon Nelson, President of Sensei Enterprises, an information technology, cybersecurity, and digital forensics firm in Fairfax, Virginia.
Jim Callaway: And I’m Jim Callaway, Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program. Today our topic is “Tech Toolbox: What’s Right for Your Practice.”
Sharon D. Nelson: Before we get started, we’d like to thank our sponsors.
We’d like to thank our sponsor the Blackletter Podcast, a show dedicated to making law exciting and fun with informative interviews and advice from esteemed guests.
Thanks to our sponsor Clio. Clio’s cloud-based practice management software makes it easy to manage your law firm from intake to invoice. Try it for free at clio.com.
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We are very pleased to have as our guest today, our friend, Richard Ferguson, who practices law in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with the business law firm Lynass, Ferguson & Shoctor. Richard is the past Chair of the Law Practice Management and Technology section of the Canadian Bar Association and past Chair of its Continuing Legal Education Committee. Richard has served as an active member of the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Division and is currently a member of the ABA TECHSHOW 2021 Planning Board. He has spoken previously at ABA TECHSHOW as well as other legal technology conferences. As a practicing attorney who worked in both large and now with a three lawyer business law boutique firm Richard brings a very practical and hands-on approach to technology solutions for law firms. Thanks for joining us today, Richard.
Richard Ferguson: Thanks for having me, Jim and Sharon. It’s a pleasure to be here. Today is a whole new day for most law firms, all of us are affected by the evolving reality of the current health crisis. As we talk today perhaps some of the listeners can take some direct ideas they can still deploy to allow them to continue to provide service to their clients as we all face the challenges with those resources we have in our technology toolboxes.
Sharon D. Nelson: That is a wonderful idea and I hope that that becomes true, Richard. What are the first things you should look at when you’re considering new technology for your law firm or practice?
Richard Ferguson: Well, the starting point is to have a look at what you have in your toolbox already to look at those things that are relatively new and shiny, those things that are maybe a little worn around the edges and aren’t working as well as you might want them to be. Certainly anyone who’s still using a PC that’s running anything less than Windows 10 should be considering an update or an upgrade for sure, but what about your present hardware or software systems aren’t doing what you want and can they be updated or upgraded to do the things the way you want? It may be that you already have a software or a hardware that can do the work. It’s just that you don’t know how to use them.
So you want to make a list of your wants, you’re going to want to consider what capabilities are essential. In this market space you want to know about remote access and how you can use those to maintain operations in the face of challenges and what’s your resiliency, what’s your redundancy to be able to continue to carry on your practice?
So one thing that you for sure want to do, is to talk to your colleagues and find out what they are doing, how they are prepared and how they have made changes in their hardware and software to help them work better? Certainly talk to vendors about their choices then will the new technology and hardware work well with the old? Those are the things I think that you need to first look at when you’re considering new technology for your practice.
Jim Callaway: What types of technologies should each lawyer have access to, Richard?
Richard Ferguson: Well, for sure a reliable current computer, doesn’t matter if it’s a PC whether it’s a Mac. It should be reliable, it should have a current processor with plenty of memory and access to plenty of storage. Two monitors isn’t essential. You should have access to some kind of scanning technology, a laser printer of some description whether it’s color or not, access to cloud storage, either for storing files or at least to store backups, and nowadays, you certainly have to consider having some kind of a Voice over IP solution so that whether your office is open or not you have a telecommunication capability with your clients.
For software in no particular order, I think you’ve got to consider Office 365 or Google Suites for processing. You need to have some kind of PDF software. You need to have backup software. You need to have security software. You need to have encryption software so that your data is safe in all places. Definitively you need case management software, some kind of financial management and accounting software. Some kind of legal research account so that you can do your legal research online, and as part of your marketing presence some kind of website.
Sharon D. Nelson: Well, it’s interesting that you talked about the practice management software, Richard, because I am astonished every time we have the annual ABA Legal Tech Survey come out and see how many people do not use it or think that Outlook is case management software. So why is that so important?
Richard Ferguson: Well, the fact is, we have so much information from so many different sources and so many deadlines that it’s just impossible to keep them all organized. You’ve got limitation dates, you’ve got litigation, hearing dates, deposition dates, you’ve got deadlines if you’re in a transactional practice to complete due diligence, you’ve got closing dates, and just all kinds of scheduling, and no one can keep track of those in an organized fashion without the assistance of some kind of software.
And it’s far easy to forget or to miss a deadline and then, well, that’s just bad news. As well the practice management software offers a sort of a one-place platform to keep all of those deadlines recorded as well it keeps other information, whether it’s documents, whether it’s telephone messages or records of phone calls, email, documents that you’ve produced, even the time records and the billings, it keeps them all in one place, and importantly they’re organized by matter so that they’re easy to find.
In most of the practice management platforms as well you can do basic document assembly to assist in communications and other documents. It’s just a critical tool to run an effective practice.
Jim Callaway: And as many lawyers are noting today if you have cloud-based practice management software, it works well if you’re working from home right, Richard?
Richard Ferguson: Exactly, you don’t have to be in your office to be able to access all of that data, it all exists in a cloud resource that you can access from nearly anywhere.
Jim Callaway: What kind of security protections do lawyers need in their tech toolbox?
Richard Ferguson: Well, in the same way that you put a lock on the door to your office so people don’t just walk in and steal all of your files and everything else, when you’re putting electronic information on a hard drive up on the cloud or elsewhere, there’s all kinds of opportunities for people to come in and open that door. So you want to make sure that to the extent you can you’re able to lock and close that door. So you want anti-malware software that’s going to stop people from hacking into your system. Security software that alerts you to viruses or other things that people may be trying to attack you with.
Certainly there’s well-known named Symantec, McAfee and others that are involved in providing some measure of security, but this whole issue of cybersecurity also extends to doing simple things like encryption.
If your data is encrypted on your laptop or on your server or in the cloud, if someone should happen to hack into it without the decryption key that data is useless because they won’t be able to decipher anything of it. You need backup to your hardware in case you have a hard disk failure whether on your own PC or whether on your server. So that you have a place where you can go back and start over.
And the one that always makes me laugh a little is having a real password, everyone who’s listening to this should just go to a website called howsecureismypassword.net and try out the password that they use and have used for the last four years to see how hackable those passwords are. There’s no point in putting a padlock on your electronic data that you can open with a nail file and that’s what an insecure password is.
Jim Callaway: Well, that’s very profound. Before we go under our next segment, let’s take a quick commercial break.
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Welcome back to The Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today our subject is “Tech Toolbox: What’s Right for Your Practice” and our guest is Richard Ferguson who practices law in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with a business law firm Lynass, Ferguson & Shoctor.
So, Richard, what role does the cloud play in the tech toolbox?
Richard Ferguson: Well, the cloud — as you think about it how truly secure is your office or your home versus the security that you see in a cloud service? Consider the physical security that they have with guards and electronic security on their server farms, the redundancy that they have built in, the scalability that exists in the cloud and the capacity to store nearly an infinite amount of data and how flexible it can be in terms of accessing.
So storing data in the cloud is likely more secure than storing it in even in a secured room within your law firm because the security measures that are in place to protect the data are just far better than most law firms can consider deploying in their law firm.
Now, the one caution is that to access the cloud you have to have an Internet connection and if the Internet connections in your locale is not stable, if it’s not high-speed, you’re going to find there to be a bit of a lag. It’s slower than the network access that you may be used to within your law firm. So you’ll want in terms of your deployment strategy you want to consider a combination of cloud storage as well as on-site storage, but for sure — for sure, you want to at the very least have backup solutions sitting up on the cloud where they can be accessed at anytime from anywhere.
Jim Callaway: Risks and disasters and other things constantly challenge lawyers in law firms, how important are backup solutions today?
Richard Ferguson: Well, I think we all got a wake-up call when Katrina hit. Law firms that had their data backed up to the cloud or at least backed up to portable devices were able to reload that data onto computers in other locales and continue on their business. If you didn’t have your data backed up on to some other device that wasn’t affected by water or power deficiencies you were out of business. So backup is a way of ensuring that you have the ability to continue on your practice in another location.
If there is a cyberattack on your existing data, if you have a backup that predates the attack you should be able to restore from it and continue from that point forward. You may lose a little bit of information, but the vast majority of it would still be valid and okay. Having a backup protects you against hardware failures. I don’t think there’s anyone listening to this podcast who hasn’t had a hard drive crash in their office at some point and you’re then scrambling to find out, well, how do I get that data back? And if you have a backup solution you’re back in business a lot faster than trying to recreate the data from scratch.
Now, part of the backup solution is also addressing risks to operations by disasters and we’re facing today in a different way than we faced four days ago, challenges to the physical operations of law firms across the world and law firms are already closing down their physical operations voluntarily but they’re able to now work remotely to access the data and that data can be restored from the cloud or from a backup source so that people can work from anywhere.
If listeners aren’t familiar with some of them the names that they want to look at are names like TeamViewer, GoToMyPC, or LogMeIn or RemotePC, those are all easy to deploy to allow lawyers to access information from anywhere at any time.
Sharon D. Nelson: Well, when you preach about backup, you know you’re preaching to the choir here, Richard. So, let’s talk about training. What kind of training resources should lawyers have in their toolboxes?
Richard Ferguson: Well, it starts when you’re planning what you want to put in your toolbox. When you’re buying software or you’re going to deploy software put it into your toolbox, what is it that the vendors are telling you about what training they will provide to assist you in deploying and using that software? So when you’re choosing one vendor versus another vendor how much training do they provide? Do they have training that’s available online? Do they have videos that staff can go to?
There are four standard programs like Office 365 and so on, you can go to what is now called LinkedIn Learning, it used to be Lynda, that has all kinds of wonderful training videos that you can access at a very nominal cost and can help staff upgrade their skill-set when they are moving from one kind of software to another. It tends not to be the legal specific software but rather more generic software.
I am always astonished that how few people actually look at the Question Mark symbol on their software when they’re using it? It’s called a Help Menu for a reason, and it’s astonishing the questions that you can just type-in and holy, there’s an answer for it. And as well there’s this newfangled thing called Google that if you just type in plain English the problem that you’re having, chances are dollars to donuts it will take you to at least 1 or 400 solutions for your problem.
In terms of training resources, in the selection of your hardware and how they work, listen Sharon, I have to give you a shout out, the 2020 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide that John and Sharon produced is just a great resource to help you choose good software. The law practice today Webzine provides all kinds of tips and tricks on how to deploy and use software, and there’s all kinds of ABA books that are out there that — and other books from other sources as well that will provide lawyers and their staff resources on how to better use those technologies.
Jim Callaway: Well, let’s talk about some specifics, what are some of your personal favorites when it comes to hardware additions to your toolbox?
Richard Ferguson: Well, still and always, my number one favorite is the scanner that sits on my desk. I’ve had a Scansnap Desktop Scanner on my desk. I don’t know for how many years, too many to count, it’s still something I use many times a day, it converts paper into electronic files on a regular basis and saves me many, many steps around the office as I receive something and want to send it on to a client to another lawyer or whatever, it’s one of my favorite tools.
Having a simple wireless headset in your office, I call it Carpal Neck Syndrome where you’re using a handset and are trying to cradle it against your shoulder, physiotherapists love those things, because eventually they all end up causing you some kind of disorder that only a massage therapist or a physio can fix for you.
Dual monitors, you still got to have those. I know there are other people who go to 3 and 4 or more, but if you at least go to 2 you will never go back.
Carbonite for cloud storage, I love. That’s sort of a hardware solution, though it is up in the cloud. And there are any number of different kinds of teleconferencing tricks but the favorite one that I discovered just about a year ago is a little device, it’s called an Owl, a Meeting Owl. It’s a 360-degree video-conference camera that you can plop down in the middle of your boardroom and it will automatically rotate and pivot to whoever is talking at the time, so you don’t have to be constantly grabbing and turning the camera to who’s speaking when you have multiple parties attending the conference call. So, those are some of the fav little hardware tricks.
Sharon D. Nelson: The Owl is great by the way. I think a lot of people have really enjoyed that. We gave one as a gift to one of our legal aid societies here and they have legal aid offices all around the State and they use it all the time, that’s how they communicate and they just are in love with that. So, thanks for the shout out for the Owl and the shout out for us.
Richard Ferguson: You’re welcome.
Jim Callaway: And before you move on to our next segment, let’s take a quick commercial break.
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Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome back to The Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today our subject is “Tech Toolbox: What’s Right for Your Practice” and our guest is Richard Ferguson who practices law in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with the business law firm Lynass, Ferguson & Shoctor.
Okay, so let’s talk about your favorites, Richard, when it comes to software editions to your toolbox?
Richard Ferguson: Okay. Number one, Office 365; number two, if people haven’t gone away from Windows 7 and before, do it, Windows 10 is what you have to have. practice management software, I have to go with Clio for PDF solutions, I have to still give the nod to Adobe Acrobat Pro. For collaboration software I have come to truly appreciate the beauty of a program called Slack, and as well in terms of remote access, RemotePC or Zoom for conference capabilities. DocuSign, we use regularly for digital signatures. I am going in a transitional practice so that serves me very well.
And despite all of the document management tools that are available, simple search engines like X1 and Copernic are just the saving grace when it comes to trying to find or recall information from data that you have stored somewhere on your network.
The last thing with software, always make sure it’s updated, if you don’t update you’re just going to leave a security hole in your network and it’s your weakest hole that someone will climb through. So, always update the software that you have deployed.
Jim Callaway: So, assuming you have a toolbox or from what I’ve heard maybe more than one toolbox full of resources, how do you go about implementing and integrating all of them into your law firm?
Richard Ferguson: So it starts back where we began. When you’re looking at technology to add to your practice, make sure you consult with the people who are going to use it. They’re the ones who are most affected by the technology and you have to consult with them and consider their capabilities when you’re acquiring hardware, software because they are the ones who are going to have to use it. So having taken their ideas and capabilities into account when you’re adding to your toolbox, it becomes far easier to include those people in the implementation and deployment of those technology tools.
You already considered what kind of training is available, either from the service provider or the vendor, there are outside resources that you may refer them to, take your staff and as you start to roll this out you will have heroes in your law firm who catch on very, very quickly on how the new technology works. So use them as your superstars, highlight them, let them lead a lunch discussion about how to do something in Office 365. Bring in an outside trainer to lead a discussion at lunchtime.
My experience having been with various law firms is as you roll things out that are new, you’ll give it to them, they’ll start to use it the same way they’ve always used the previous versions of the software or equivalents. You need to help break them into a new level so you may have to bring someone in from the outside to help retrain them. There are certainly consultants that can assist in that retraining process whether it’s in-person or online. Now, we all know of people in our community that are capable of providing that training, and if not, it’s very easy to find those kinds of training resources.
Don’t forget that deployment and training is only the start of redeployment and retraining, it’s a continuing process, not a goal that you ever achieve. And do the very thing we’re doing here today, listen to podcasts about people talking about new technology and new ways of implementing and integrating this stuff into your practice, and that’s it.
Sharon D. Nelson: Well, that’s a whole lot and it was all wonderful. Thank you for being our guest today, Richard, it was just grand and people had — I’m sure they got a lot of useful information. This was one of the very popular sessions at ABA TECHSHOW which was held recently; and of course, when it’s all delivered with that charming Canadian accent, so much the better. Thank you, Richard.
Richard Ferguson: You’re most welcome.
Sharon D. Nelson: That does it for this edition of The Digital Edge: Lawyers and Technology; and remember, you can subscribe to all the editions of this podcast at legaltalknetwork.com or on Apple Podcasts. And if you enjoyed our podcast, please write us at Apple Podcasts.
Jim Callaway: Thanks for joining us. Goodbye Ms. Sharon.
Sharon D. Nelson: Happy Trails, Cowboy.
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