Many law practice management software vendors have been working to provide one-stop shop platforms that meet all the basic needs of a law firm, thereby streamlining processes formerly served by multiple vendors. Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway discuss all the latest trends and happenings (including the Affinipay’s MyCase acquisition) with industry expert Niki Black. She talks through processes for choosing software for your law firm and explains how to find the functionality that will best meet your needs.
Niki Black is an attorney and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase.
Sharon D. Nelson: Before we get started, we’d like to thank our sponsors Scorpion and Smokeball.
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 173rd 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 Calloway: And I’m Jim Calloway, Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program. Today our topic is What’s New in Law Practice Management Software.
Our guest today is Niki Black, a Rochester, New York, attorney, author, journalist, and the legal technology evangelist at MyCase legal practice management software. She is the nationally recognized author of ‘Cloud Computing for Lawyers’ and ‘Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier’ both published by the American Bar Association. She also co-authors ‘Criminal Law in New York’, a Thomson Reuters release. She writes regular columns for Above the Law, ABA Journal, and the Daily Record and has authored hundreds of articles for other publications. She regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technology. She isn’t legal rebel and is listed on the Fastcase 50 and the ABA LTRC Women of Legal Tech. Thanks for joining us today, Niki.
Nicole Black: Sure thing, I’m looking forward to it.
Sharon D. Nelson: Let’s start by talking about Affinipay’s acquisition of MyCase and what that will mean in the marketplace now that your company and LawPay will be under one roof, so to speak. So, what’s the scoop here, Niki?
Nicole Black: If I may say so myself, I think it’s incredibly exciting. I’ve been with MyCase for well over a decade now. And when I learned that Affinipay was acquiring MyCase, I was incredibly excited because it creates one of the largest most trusted legal technology brands in the industry. And, you know, LawPay has been around for a long time and they know lawyers, they know their ethical requirements, they understand their practices. And MyCase has been around not quite as long but for almost as long as Affinipay and other than LawPay and this represents a combination of the best and most widely accepted payment solution in the legal profession with what I would argue is the best law practice management software.
And it was clear from the beginning that we were better together and having this opportunity to combine the two most widely accepted platforms was really exciting. And it helps our companies better serve lawyers and existing customers and accelerate adoption of both programs and moving forward is going to be some upcoming innovation that’s going to focus a lot on increasing greater efficiencies and profitabilities for law firms. And it’s been helpful. It is focused on serving their clients but having this one stop shop in the legal tech ecosystem to help them get all of everything done.
Jim Calloway: Niki, one of the things we’re seeing interest lately is a kind of surge of sudden buyout of contracts in the practice management space where vendors are offering to pay off your commitment for a number of months to your old solution if you switch to using the new solution. So, why the surge, Niki, and has it been successful or do you know?
Nicole Black: Well, it’s an interesting question and I’ve noticed this happening as well. A lot of had started to predate our announcement of the acquisition and, you know, I’m not sure what the other companies are thinking. They’re focusing on aggressive marketing tactics at this point. And other companies, MyCase, I would suggest are focusing on innovating and creating a one stop technology ecosystem for lawyers and providing practices, specific solutions, connecting new integration partners and regularly releasing new features. And so, there are multiple ways to approach a competitive landscape, and the law practice management software landscape is increasingly competitive and I think that’s just one way that some companies are approaching that. Whether it’s been successful, I unfortunately don’t have a look into their rates of acquisition on that side. But, you know, it was definitely an interesting phenomenon to see happening. And I’m not sure whether something is going to continue to happen or if that’s just was maybe a one-time special that they’re offering. I don’t know.
Sharon D. Nelson: It was like somebody had the smart idea to do it if it was a smart idea because I don’t know if it worked and then everybody kind of jumped on the bandwagon. It was very quick. What do you think for lawyers who are looking at practice management software? What are the distinguishing factors that they care about?
Nicole Black: Well, I would suggest that it’s hard to group all lawyers under one umbrella, and I think you guys know that, right?
So, I think that when it comes to law practice management software, it’s going to depend on the size of the law firm, the practice area of the law firm, and the goals that they’re trying to achieve when they’re choosing law practice management software and the tools they’re already using. And I think that in covering the industry because I often wear my press hat, it’s pretty clear the lawyers are looking for a one-stop shop platform. Especially as their firms grow, they don’t want to have multiple tools all over the place that don’t integrate and talk with each other. So, they want to be able to streamline the workflow and their day-to-day experience with some built-in flexibility. But they also wanted the ability to customize with certain features built-in but also with impactful integrations that are going to make a difference in their day-to-day practice.
And at the end of day, I think they want is they’re going to choose a law practice management system rather than piecemeal. They’re going to want all of the key functionalities in one place, and I would suggest that those are some kinds of form of CRM. The firm that’s going to depend on the amount of CRM that they need. The law practice there is going to determine that in a way, time tracking, billing and payments. That management and some form of automation, they may need an integration depending on how robust they want that to be. Secured communication in law practice management software tools are increasingly adding multiple ways to communicate, which is I think really helpful for the lawyers as well. Analytics and reporting, they want robust calendaring. Some even these rules-based calendaring typically that’s going to be an integration. They want automation and sometimes they even want accounting built-in. But again, that’s going to depend on the firm as well and their needs. But at the end of the day, I think that it’s going to depend on the firm’s needs and sometimes they even need practice area specific tools and functionalities to go beyond just what one law practice management software that has general features can offer.
Jim Calloway: Niki, I’m going to ask you one of my, I guess, mystery or pet peeve questions, whatever you want to call it. Why does some lawyer subscribe to and use practice management software without ever using the client portal, which can really improve their interaction with their clients?
Nicole Black: I think sometimes it’s the clients. Some like elder law attorneys, for example, will communicate with a lot of their more elder clients and some very traditional ways because that’s how they’re used to communicating. And sometimes, it’s the clients that are larger businesses or enterprise that have very specific communication’s need. So, they want to use their own tools and functionalities for communicating. But other times, you have clients that just want to use email because that’s what they’ve always done. And as attorneys, you know, we know that the standards are changing. I think the pandemic accelerated that along with many other legal tech advancements or the use of legal tech. But because the standards are changing and email is increasingly insecure, I think more and more lawyers are starting to become more aware of client portals as being a more secure option, especially since the 2017 ABA handed down opinion 472 which savage emailed becoming unsecured.
At this stage, you need to use more secure options. And then during the pandemic, Pennsylvania led the way but a bunch of other jurisdictions also issued ethics opinions that said that you really need to start using client portals or some other form of secure communication because email just doesn’t cut it. And Florida even issued a secure communication guide at the beginning of the pandemic that specifically said that portals are the best option for lawyers for communicating with their clients. So, I think that it’s, like I said, part of its client driven, the reluctance on behalf of clients to use it, and some of it’s just lawyers are used to communicating by email or their clients are. But I do think it’s changing. People are increasingly understanding what portals are, getting used to the benefits of using them with their doctors, with their financial advisers. And so, it’s becoming more and more common use them with their lawyer and the pandemic just accelerated that.
Jim Calloway: Before we move on to 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 What’s New in Law Practice Management Software.
Our guest is Niki black, a Rochester, New York, attorney, author, journalist and legal technology evangelist at MyCase legal practice management software. Niki, I’ve already surmised there’s a lot of hardball competition among the various law practice management vendors. How can a lawyer figure out whose product to use and should they always use a trial version first? I know a lot of them don’t seem to want to go through that exercise.
Nicole Black: What I suggest that lawyers do when they’re trying to decide which practice management software to use is to research their options and try to find neutral sources that talk about law practice management software. Bar associations are often a great resource and to understand their needs and their goals, especially primarily before even beginning shopping and also talking to their staff before they do it, too, and the people that are actually going to be in there every day and understanding what they’re looking for and what their needs are going to be and getting buy-in from them before you even choose practice management software because if you end up buying from them, it’s going to be awfully hard to transition them into it.
And then, you know, there’s also some books out there about different legal technology options and the ABA has some good ones like the one that you’ve co-authored, Sharon, and then definitely take advantage of the free trials in the demos. I think just about every law practice management software company offers free trials without having to put down a credit card. The trials are often a varying length. They’ll offer demos as part of that process. You need to make sure to get in there. Try it out. See if it’s intuitive, see if it has the features that you need, have the other people that are going to be using it often or at least a few people that are going to be representative of those roles in your firm. Take a look at it, offer their opinions. If you don’t have that buy-in with your staff, man and lawyers, you’re going to have a really hard time when it comes to actually ruling that soft route of your firm. You’re going to get a lot of resistance if they don’t feel like they’re part of that process.
Sharon D. Nelson: Yeah, I think that’s really good advice, Niki.
Jim Calloway: Niki, why don’t you try to look in your crystal ball and tell us what the future of law practice management software is likely to look like soon?
Nicole Black: We definitely have seen a lot of consolidation in this space, right? Initially, they were just – -when I wrote my book ‘Cloud Computing for Lawyers’ and that was published in 2012, there are like three, maybe four practice management software tools at that point. And over time, just as there was with the entire legal tech space, there were many, many more that were rolled out some practice specific, some that have certain features that none of the others had, whether it was accounting, whether it was forms and it’s got to a point where I felt like whack-a-mole. Every time you turned around, there was a new practice management software tool out there.
But what has happened in recent years and, again, the pandemic only accelerated, there’s been consolidation which is pretty typical in any software space. Even predating SaaS and cloud computing, you always end up with this proliferation of tools and then a consolidation and that’s what’s been happening in the practice management space. So, there’s been consolidation and MyCase has been part of that. And so, we have some of our competitors. And what that does is it reduces all those. It takes the best of the different options and puts them in one place. It reduces all the options and gives you a few really good robust options and part of what you have to decide is which company has the options and functionality that your law firm really needs. Sometimes, like a referenced before, it practices specific tools and you have to find the — or if you need robust document automation, who’s got the functionality for that or, you know, there’s all different types of functionalities and some of them have the best forms. You know, you have to sort of figure out which one has the tools that your firm uses and needs and then go from there.
But at the end of the day, I think the future of it is going to be continued consolidation and more of this sort of all-in-one shop. You know, a Salesforce that everyone talks about, but I do think that’s what’s actually happening and that’s more of what you’re going to see. You know, you’re going to settle into one platform and that platform is going to be your firm’s home base and all the different functionalities and tools that your firm needs to run the entire spectrum of your firm are ultimately going to be in that ecosystem, kind of like to think of Apple or Microsoft. You know, you’re going to have sort of that type of Apple PC or Microsoft or, you know, Apple or the phone, same thing with the phones, you know, Android or Apple. You’re going to kind of end up with some of those options.
Sharon D. Nelson: We both know that lawyers are sometimes still reluctant to transition to modern legal tech tools of all kinds including law practice management software. Why do you think that is?
Nicole Black: I think that’s a really interesting question so much so that when I created the questions for the MyCase the industry survey last year that ultimately resulted in our legal industry report. That was one of the things I focused on was change management and what were the things that made lawyers reluctant to change, and then what were the things that sort of help them overcome that hurdle of resistance to change. And so, I have some statistics I can give you that I thought was particularly interesting that came out of that study which is that —
And, you know, because lawyers face such unique changes when they implement new technology into their firms, whether it’s complying with ethics requirements, getting buy-in from lawyers and staff or the time you did actually roll out and implement that software. It can be difficult for lawyers to transition and manage change. Our report showed that 64% of the lawyers who responded to the survey found change management to be an obstacle. For the majority of law firms found that to be a pretty significant obstacle. And one of the biggest stumbling blocks a lot of them mentioned was keeping up with technological change. When they were asked what prevented firms from transitioning to new software, like, why did their firms, you know, why was the change difficult, the top challenges that they reported included the ease of software adoption was 76% saying that, the lengthy implementation process 75%, data migration 71%, change management and buy-in 56% and security issues. They also shared that once their firms chose a new software, 81% of the biggest challenge was actually implementing it and rolling out into their firms.
So, you know, I think that those are some of the reasons it’s so difficult, right? Not only do you have to get everyone to be on board, you have to get all of your data into the new system. That could be lengthy and challenging, and you need to address the security issues and it has to be easy to adopt and easy to use. You know, those are some of the biggest challenges lawyers face. And so, that’s why I think the buy-in is so important and getting your employees and other attorneys to actually try it out ahead of time so that they agree that it’s the easiest. So, some of those mental hurdles are not there anymore for them. And then, you have to have a plan when you roll it out. But, you know, change is hard and lawyers tend to be pressed it a base. That’s how we’re trained. Technology, implementing new tech is challenging. So, it’s understandable why they are resistant to change especially when it comes to technological change. But I do think that the pandemic really helped them see some of the benefits of a lot of these remote working tools and the benefits of technology generally speaking. So, I do think that they also really did help change the mindset a little bit about change at least for someone.
Jim Calloway: Okay, Niki. The practice management software vendors may not like this next question, but if lawyers aren’t yet ready to transition to the all-in-one cloud-based software, what are some of the tools they might consider as a stepping stone?
Nicole Black: Well, so when you’re talking specifically about law practice management software and those functionalities versus like VoIP or video conferencing, you know, those are different functionalities. The tools that — I mean, generally speaking, I’ve always said that billing is a time tracking actually alone as is one of the best ways for lawyers to dip their toes in the cloud is how I used to refer to it. But it’s also ready to use, start using features of practice management software because you can track time and you can record that time in ways that don’t actually reference your client’s name if you want to. If you have security concerns, you want to test the water with those. So, you know, time tracking and then billing and invoicing. So actually, you can just use time and billing software that helps you invoice your clients based on that time tracking information and then payments which is another one that I found that lawyers during the pandemic.
In addition to e-signature VoIP, video conferencing software, payment processing, there was a big uptick in that because people want to get paid even though social distancing wasn’t affecting. You want to touch those payments, and the best way to get paid without having to interact with people is online and it’s also the most convenient way for your clients and it lets them pay any time day or night, and you get paid instantly rather than having to prepare an invoice, printed out in paper form, not even addressing the back and forth that goes on when you’re preparing an invoice to get it correct, you know, the time entailed in that. But then, send it out on a piece of paper through the mail using a stamp waiting for it to arrive to the client. Client asked to review it, eventually writes a check within 30 days usually. Then, it has to make it at your office. Someone has to go deposit that check. Wait for it to clear. You know, a month and a half, two months later, you finally get paid.
When you send a digital invoice with a payment link, they can click on that payment and pay within 10 minutes of receiving the bill. And so, that’s why I think that time tracking billing and payments either all together and the XO billing solution, the time and billing or else just standalone functionalities are some of the best ways for lawyers to kind of dip their toes in those features before they actually go all in a law practice management software tool.
Jim Calloway: Thank you for that, Niki. That’s good advice. Before we 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 What’s New in Law Practice Management Software. Our guest today is Niki Black of Rochester, New York, attorney, author, journalist, and the legal technology evangelist at MyCase legal practice management software. So, what are the best ways, Niki, to learn about legal software options and what’s right for you?
Nicole Black: Well, there’s lots of blogs that you can start to follow. I always recommend that lawyers do that. The law sites blog. I remembered I used blog. It’s a great blog both for industry news and also to learn about different types of software because it also has demos and even a directory now. They can help you choose legal technology tools. Above the Law also has a tech column. There’s a tab at the top where you click technology and you can follow the legal technology bloggers. I happen to blog there.
The ABA Journal also has technology columns, one of which I’m going to go ahead and recommend my own column. I write a month a column on legal software. It’s written from a neutral perspective. And what I do is I pick a topic, a particular category of software every month. I explain why lawyers might want to use that software. Then, I talk about the considerations. You need to think about before choosing that software and the ethical issues you need to think about. And then, I provide a brief rundown of some of the most well-known software tools in that category. You might want to look at including their website address, their pricing if it’s available on their website and any standout features that that particular company offers. And I’ve been writing that since 2017. And so, pretty much any category, I would suggest that I’ve probably got about 75% of the legal tech software categories excluding e-discovery tools because I try to focus more on solo and small firm tools for the most part, but that’s a great resource.
Again, I write a from a neutral perspective and I think I do a pretty good job of covering those things. There’s ABA Legal Technology books. Attend ABA tech show. That’s a great way because it’s an entire conference devoted to technology. Other conferences to consider are Legal Link in New York City, International Legal Technology Association, ILTA cons conference which is in August. Oral conference is that your bar associations put on. And then, the free trials and demos that we discussed earlier are also a great way to really get a sense of if that’s all for is a good fit for just the intuitiveness in the future that your firm needs.
Jim Calloway: Niki, I ask you about the basic tools. So, to close today, what cutting-edge legal tech tools show the most potential for lawyers in your view?
Nicole Black: Well, I love this question because these are some of the things that I get the most excited about are the emerging technology trends. That’s always been my sweet spot. That’s why I wrote a book about ‘Social Media in 2010’ and ‘What About Cloud Computing in 2012’ and that’s why I love the tracking industry now. So, the two that really stand out to me in this regard, the first is I think a pretty obvious jump here and you’re not going to be super surprise, Artificial Intelligence. It’s really coming of age. And so, AI tools offer a lot of potential. And some of them actually does not potentially offer a lot of functionality and value right now and it’s because the technological foundation of these AI tools is finally sort of coming to fruition which would include like natural language processing and machine learning. And some of the tools and the processing power that you need to make AI truly functional and useful is finally available. And so, that’s why you’re finding that in the last five to seven years, there has just been an increasing number of artificial intelligence-based tools available to lawyers.
The ones that interest me the most are in three categories, the legal research, litigation analytics, and contract review. So, little research to all the major platforms are finding some really interesting ways to use natural language processing to serve up better results, to make better connections based upon the full information you stored in a particular folder, the AI will scan it in your research folder and identify specifically what ties all that. All the stuff is stored in that folder together and then serve up other similar things based upon the similarities in those documents and the topics that they address. Litigation analytics is really interesting especially when some of the bigger players get into it because they own all the data and that data and the mining and analysis of it is what can be so useful to litigator. So, you know, LexisNexis, Thomson Reuters, Bloomberg, they all have in fast cases increasingly adding to its library of data.
And when they have all these data, they can tie it all together and make connections and tell you all about how judges make decisions in certain cases or on certain issues, which cases do they cite the most when they make their decisions, which federal judge is going to be, you know, which jurisdiction is the best of the filing because they judges not jurisdiction tend to find in favor of people with issues similar to yours, which particular judge that you’re assigned to one of the best ways to make arguments to them. So, if you want to accomplish something procedurally but they always deny one procedural mechanism, you can be creative and go about it in another way that they don’t deny it as much of it. They look at more favorably and even make arguments based upon the cases that they tend to cite in their decisions. So, you know, provide you with that information with litigation analytics, you can also get information on experts, on expert witnesses, on opposing counsel, on the opposing law firm, on companies that are involved in litigation.
So, there’s really a ton of information to be had there. And the AI is actually able to scan really quickly and make sense of it and provide you with actionable data. And then finally, there is contract review. I love this. It can provide such valuable and time-saving functionality. It’s where you can review the AI reviews, all the NDAs for you rather than you reviewing them gives you basic information that would otherwise take lawyers two hours to analyze and come up with and then lets you take the higher-level analysis from there. Law Geeks did a really interesting study. I’m not employed or in any way associated with Law Geeks. But they rolled out a study like in 2017. There was overseen by some law professors to make sure that it was neutral and they basically ran their AI against lawyers in terms of reading the NDAs and analyzing them and coming up with the determinations about what needed to be added or removed from the NDAs.
And, you know, if you looked that study up, you’ll see that it was shocking the AI did in 30 seconds, but it took both teams of lawyers to do in two hours a piece and it was like 95% accurate compared to the 87% or 85% accuracy as a lawyer. So, I can’t remember the exact statistics, but it was a very shocking and that is the trust that makes lawyers not want to use AI. And once you see studies like that or use it yourself and realize that you can trust the output by cross-checking the output initially, I think those are the hurdles and help lawyers rely and trust the AI a little more on the output. So, AI is one.
Now, the other one is hybrid and remote court appearances. Hybrid and remote technology for court appearances and trials, this is something that Richard Susskind had predicted prior to the pandemic. And I got to be honest, normally, when I read his stuff, I think he’s spot on in that one. I was like, I’m just not seeing it. You know, this is not happening in the next decade, certainly not within the next five years or whatever it was that he said. And sure enough, I don’t know how he without fail, he’s always spot on in the pandemic, ushered in this overnight practically change when it came to a remote tools and what court appearances and even Hybrid Court appearances. And so, I wrote my last three or four 88 journal articles on all these different tools that enable this functionality, whether it’s remote depositions which saves a ton of money when you don’t rather than flying an expert across the country and we all know how much that cost.
Remote court appearances, and I think you’re going to find post pandemic, primarily, it’s going to be routine court appearances not trials, especially in the criminal’s space because most criminal lawyers are going to make valid constitutional arguments in my opinion as a former criminal defense lawyer about having in person trials. And also, it’s easier to litigate in person. You want to assess the jurors and the judges you’re making your case and understand their reaction. So, you can tweak your argument as you go along. But at the end of the day, like as I talked about in my ABA Journal articles, I wrote about tools to enable remote depositions, tools to enable both virtual and in-person trials, e-filing tools like a sort of a bunch of different categories of tools that enable that hybrid and remote trials.
But the Johnny Depp trial was a great example of what I think trials are going to look like moving forward because you had — it was an in-person trial, but you had witnesses appearing remotely both live and recorded. One of them was even driving in his car as he was answering questions, but it was a really good example of sort of this hybrid trial and I think we’re going to see more of that going forward. So, those are really the two cutting edges of legal tech tools that I think are the most interesting.
Sharon D. Nelson: Niki, I got to thank you so much for being our guest today. It was very enjoyable conversation, and I think there was a lot of good learning points that the lawyers could take away with them. So, thank you again for your time and for your friendship.
Nicole Black: Oh, for sure. I really enjoyed this and thank you so much for asking me to be on the show.
Sharon D. Nelson: And that does it for this edition of The Digital Edge Lawyers and Technology. And remember, you can subscribe to all of the editions of this podcast at legaltalknetwork.com or on Apple Podcast. And if you enjoyed our podcast, please rate us in Apple Podcast.
Jim Calloway: Thanks for joining us. Goodbye, Ms. Sharon.
Sharon D. Nelson: Happy trails, cowboy.
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