Automation is a wonderful tool created by technology to make the lives of lawyers (particularly solos) easier. Many are intimidated to approach this potentially massive change in their practice, but it’s actually quite easy and inexpensive when you start small, and you will begin to save time immediately. How, you ask?
In first of a two-part New Solo, Adriana Linares interviews Andrew Legrand, a solo lawyer who started his practice immediately out of law school using technology to increase efficiency. His tips start with something as small as an autocomplete for your signature to auto filling forms he regularly uses. Tune in for great application and automation advice that applies to novices and tech gurus alike.
Andrew Legrand is general counsel to small business owners, helping clients start new businesses, draft operating agreements, employment contracts, review leases, and file for trademarks. After graduating law school, he started a paperless, technology-driven solo practice in an effort to be more efficient. Two years later, he started working with another attorney and law school classmate on a partnership. In August of 2014, they renamed the law firm Spera Law Group.
Special thanks to our sponsor, Solo Practice University.
Mentioned in This Episode
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Adriana Linares: Hello and welcome to New Solo on Legal Talk Network.My name is Adriana Linares, I’m a legal technology trainer and consultant; I travel around the country helping lawyers with their technology and their computers and hoepfully a lot of new solos to this show talking about the things that we think new solos are really interested in learning about. Today, I’m actually in New Orleans. I’m recording from the Paperless Chase studios, which is run and owned by Ernest Svenson, a well known technology consultant. He goes by Ernie the Attorney, I’m sure many of our listeners have heard of him. So I’m very excited and I want to thank him very much for letting us use his studio today. Before we introduce today’s topic, we want to make sure we thank our sponsor, Solo Practice University. Make sure you visit that website, especially as a new solo. Even as an old solo, there’s a lot of great material and content on there. So please make sure and pop by their website any time and check out the great offerings they have as far as education and information for solos. On our last episode, we talked about marketing for a couple of episodes. We did some really cool episodes on different ways that lawyers can market. Today, I’m very excited to have Andrew Legrand in Ernie’s studio. Andrew’s an attorney here in New Orleans. He’s well known as a business lawyer and helps a lot of small businesses. Welcome, Andrew.
Andrew Legrand: Thanks for having me.
Adriana Linares: I’m glad you’re here. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Andrew Legrand: So as you said, I’m a business lawyer, I’m a general counsel of small businesses, ranges in size from small one person operations to restaurants with 20 or 30 employees to some construction companies. So really, just a general counsel. We work with them, we figure out what their legal needs are, give them a monthly price, and then kind of fit them with those needs and that price. We don’t bill them other than that and just kind of go with them as a general counsel, figure out what the issues are and help them work through the everyday issues of running a business.
Adriana Linares: That’s pretty cool, that must be fun. You must have all types of different clients. And wait, remind me, did you ever work at a big firm or have you always been solo?
Andrew Legrand: No. So I graduated from law school in 2011 and about halfway through law school, right when people started to realize the job market just hit rock bottom, started thinking about going solo. The more I read about that, the more I realized it was possible right out of law school. So rather than trying to find a job in 2011 when the job market was really tough, I just put that all to the side and kind of went gung ho. So I had about a year and a half to plan before I was even a lawyer and knew that the day that I got my certificate in practice that I would be a solo practice lawyer.
Adriana Linares: So when you say, “I knew that was going to be a good time and that it was possible,” what were some of the things that made you believe that it was possible to just get out of law school and launch a new practice as a new solo?
Andrew Legrand: Well, there’s a lot of resources out there for a new solo. You mentioned Solo Practice University, Carolyn Elefant. That was actually one of them out there that she talks about that you can do this. There are other lawyers blogging about this out there, there’s this podcast; the more and more you look at these resources, the more and more you realize other people are doing this, this has happened. Connected with other lawyers here in the community who have done it before me and realize that when push comes to shove, it’s tough, but it’s not terribly hard.
Adriana Linares: And New Orleans is a great legal community, so I’ve been coming here and working a long time and I feel like this is one of the best legal communities where people are so helpful. The city’s gone through a lot and maybe that’s why, I don’t know how much that has to do with it. But I feel that if I was you at that time, like you said, I’d talk to a lot of people, there are all these great resources. I think it’s really interesting that you were able to do that. So one of the things I really wanted to talk to you about because you’re well known for this and I find it amazing every time I watch you talk about it and watch you in action is how automated you are with your practice. So tell us a little bit about when you decided that automation was going to be important and why.
Andrew Legrand: Before I decided to be a lawyer I was a tech geek, I was a tech geek way before that. So I know I had technology skills and eventually I met Ernie and Ernie was also a mentor early on in those early days and convinced me that I could also start this practice. I knew I wanted to build a practice from the ground up to be very tech heavy and very cog based. The more and more I started doing the practice of law, practicing law, the more I realized there were mundane parts that used to be done by a paralegal or a secretary or something along those lines. Starting out early on, I really don’t have access to the resources to hire a paralegal or a secretary or something along those lines to do that work for me. So I turned to technology and that’s when I figured out what automation is is how do you take a repetitive process that’s consistent every time and instead of paying someone to do it, program a computer to do it for you.
Adriana Linares: Sounds like a no brainer. And where did you learn about what your options were? Let me back up. Mac or PC?
Andrew Legrand: I’m Mac.
Adriana Linares: 100%?
Andrew Legrand: 100%. iPhone, iPad, I was very hardcore PC for a long time. Then I went iPhone and eventually got the Mac and the iPad and now it’s too easy to be in the same ecosystem.
Adriana Linares: Okay. So you decided to go Mac, and what was the first thing you decided you should automate?
Andrew Legrand: Well, automation is a very broad term, there’s everything from, “Can you automate that big, huge motion for summary judgement?” I don’t know if you could get that far, maybe you can if you’re really good. But the things that I find that are easy to automate and the things that I started automating are small snippets of text. People would ask me for my email address or I’d have to type in my email address to log in to whatever service I’m using. TextExpander is an app that I use to automate the process of typing out my email address.
Adriana Linares: And is that kind of like when I start typing on my iPhone – let’s talk about something that a lot of people might be familiar with – I created a shortcut. I have a long name, Adriana Linares, and my email is long and annoying, [email protected], so I created a shortcut so that when I type, “ALTP,” it spits out, it sort of explodes, from ALTP to [email protected]
Andrew Legrand: Right, and that’s kind of the basic automation that I started with. People would ask me for my fax number and I hated remembering it every time and I always feared that I would type the wrong digit somewhere and they would get the wrong number. So instead of typing a number every time, if you have a snippet for it, you’re able to give someone your fax number and it’s perfect each and every time.
Adriana Linares: And the tool you mentioned for the Mac is called?
Andrew Legrand: It’s called TextExpander.
Adriana Linares: Do you know of any for the PC?
Andrew Legrand: Breevy is the PC equivalent and we’ve used that and they actually sync together. So if you’re Mac and PC, they can play friendly.
Adriana Linares: So if you’re bi-tech, as they call it?
Andrew Legrand: If you’re bi-tech, you can have it.
Adriana Linares: Well that sounds like a good place to start. And then there is that type of automation with mobile phones and mobile devices. So you start at small snippets, and then perhaps, do they get bigger?
Andrew Legrand: Sure. The small snippets can evolve into bigger, common phrases that you use all the time. For example, there’s usually a paragraph or two that you put in a cover letter to the clerk when you’re trying to file a pleading. Please find enclosed, please find the yada, yada, yada, and file this into the record and have it signed and this and that. That’s an example of a snippet that I added that I created to where I wasn’t having to type that out each and every time.
Adriana Linares: And what a lot of lawyers do, painfully, is they’ll go find an old document that had that text, copy, paste it, bringing it into a new document. So I think one of the benefits to doing it like this is one, you’re not wasting the time by going to find or trying to remember, “When was the last time that I used that ADA clause that has to go into this document,” and then leaving out metadata and code from the past document which is a problem I see all the time in law firms. It’s a great benefit to automating those text snippets whether they’re small or large. With your text snippets, are you able to save formatted texts like your signature block which is pushed over to the right and it’s bold and maybe your bar number is in italics. Does it also save formatting?
Andrew Legrand: Yeah, to an extent, although I find that it works best if you use it in plain text. The reason I like TextExpander and I guess to an extent Breevy over something like Word autocorrect or programs that have autocorrect built in or snippets built in is that these apps work across platforms. So sometimes I’m in an email, sometimes I’m in Microsoft Word. Sometimes I’m sending a text message. I have all these different places and I want all those snippets to be available to me all the time. So what I learned is that keeping them in plain text works best.
Adriana Linares: And then formatting after if you have to.
Andrew Legrand: Formatting after if I have to. I’ve learned to try to just avoid formatting. Because when push comes to shove, if I could avoid that, I save a lot of grief on the automation part.
Adriana Linares: Alright, so what was the next thing you automated?
Andrew Legrand: I think it grows from simple snippets of text to bigger phrases as we get to. And then it goes into document automation and producing whole documents based off questionnaires. And the tool I really love for that is called the Form Tool, and it is a plugin for Microsoft Word.
Adriana Linares: On the Mac?
Andrew Legrand: It does not work on the Mac.
Adriana Linares: I tricked you earlier. See?
Andrew Legrand: That’s the one.
Adriana Linares: And I remember. So if it doesn’t work on the Mac, how do you run it?
Andrew Legrand: You can install it on the Mac, there’s a roundabout way of doing it. Installing Crossover and this and that and I think you can get there. The way our firm runs it is we have a remote server on Microsoft’s hosted system and we run it on there. So whenever I need to create a document in the system, I fire up remote desktop connection or to a remote server that’s somewhere in the world, somewhere in Eastern US, and connect to that and run the Form Tool on that.
Adriana Linares: So the reason I wanted to bring that up specifically is because you’re a Mac guy and you’re really smart and you’re a techy and I think it’s amazing that there’s this tool that is so valuable to you that that’s the extent you go through to be able to use it. Are there no tools for the Mac that do as much as the Form Tool does for you?
Andrew Legrand: I couldn’t find any, and Form Tool is so simple, really, in what it does, but yet it’s so complicated at the same time.
Adriana Linares: Simple to create with complex output?
Andrew Legrand: It’s an addon that you install into Microsoft Word, so it’s not a separate program. It doesn’t seem like maybe under the hood it’s very complicated, but on the surface there’s maybe 30 buttons that you can access to do various things. So I would say on the fun end, it looks very simple. But when you start digging down into what this program can actually do, it’s as complicated as some of the more commercial solutions like HotDocs or something along those lines. And the reason I choose the Form Tool over the commercial product is that the Form Tool starts at about under $100 for a lifetime license, which is silly cheap compared to the time it saves me.
Adriana Linares: And definitely, HotDocs has always been the Cadillac of document automation in legal, but it almost took a college degree to figure out how to use it. I always had a hard time – I mean it wasn’t that hard, but to try and teach a lawyer who isn’t interested in learning how to do complex automation, it was hard. So I think the Form Tool is a very powerful and simple tool. So when you said earlier through a bunch of questions and complexities, walk our listeners through what you mean by that. How do you create the question? Give us an example of a form that you use.
Andrew Legrand: Sure, so let’s use an example of last will and testament. It might be a question where you ask who is the person making their last will and testament. You would label that and you would ask the question and then you’d have a blank to fill in. You can ask for that person, a pronoun for that person, he, she, it, that sort of thing. So based off just that one question-
Adriana Linares: You get a lot of its?
Andrew Legrand: Not too many its.
Adriana Linares: It’s New Orleans, it could be weird here.
Andrew Legrand: It can be useful.
Adriana Linares: The world is changing.
Andrew Legrand: Yeah, I have thought about making my forms broader in the sense.
Adriana Linares: Sure. Genderless.
Andrew Legrand: Genderless and great and I guess more politically correct, but I’m not that far yet,
Adriana Linares: But when you decide to do it.
Andrew Legrand: One small example of how powerful this is is that it can do a lot of programs through the merge field. Let’s say it’s your will and you’re making it. It will take your name that you just filled in and plug it in to all the blanks. There’s a lot of programs out there that will do that. Mail Merge does it, there’s plenty of web-based tools that do it.
Adriana Linares: Right, it can be baked right into your word processing system.
Andrew Legrand: What the Form Tool does that i haven’t find any other program that does – at least that’s at an affordable price range – it will take your he, she, it, and it will change all the pronouns that you used throughout the document from his and hers to he and her and him and her.
Adriana Linares: Does it do an us? A we?
Andrew Legrand: It can do an us or a we based on if there’s multiple people entered there. But it can also do more than programming. So for example, when you’re making a last will and testament, I would be a testator as a male. You’re a testatrix as a female.
Adriana Linares: Don’t talk to me like that, Andrew.
Andrew Legrand: So it recognizes you can program the male and female versions of words. That really might not be a big deal, but this is something that a program wants and now my last will and testament looks a little more advanced than one that just calls everyone a testator.
Adriana Linares: Excellent, I love it. So you write all of your own questions and then you obviously pick what – if it’s a multiple choice, you write the question but then you also pick what the multiple choices would be. And then, do your clients fill those questionnaires out themselves or are you sitting in front of your computer saying, “
Andrew Legrand: No. Part of what I realized in automation is that I do have a lot of forms that i use. But trying to give a form to a client means that the form has to look good if I’m going to give it to them, and that’s a lot of time and effort and I’m not good at making things look good. I’m not creative in that sense, I have no penchant for design or aesthetics or anything like that.
Adriana Linares: You’re a lawyer.
Andrew Legrand: Right. And I’d much rather have a good form and I can walk through that and ask them the questions. And at the same time, I kind of know some of the answers myself.
Adriana Linares: And it’s helping you to get to know the client and the matter, but you’re inputting it all into the form.
Andrew Legrand: Right. And in theory, they do allow you to send it to somebody to ask you those questions. But I’d rather just call you up to ask those questions and that way there’s not a back and forth. And like I said, I use a lot of forms and I think it’s easy to ask people to fill out forms. When push comes to shove, it’s more personal for me to fill it out or have my assistant call them and fill it out. And if we have questions along the way, we can enter those as we’re going.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, that’s really great. Well, before we move onto our next segment, we’re going to take a quick break to hear a message from our sponsors.
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Adriana Linares: Welcome back to New Solo, I’m Adriana Linares. With me today is Andrew Legrand. Andrew, before we pick up where we left off, let’s talk about your last name, because it looks like, “Le Grand.”
Andrew Legrand: It does.
Adriana Linares: But that’s just not how we do it.
Andrew Legrand: No, you’re down here in New Orleans so you have to take any word that you see and if there is any possible way of pronouncing it in a French way, you have to pronounce it in a French way.
Adriana Linares: My mom – quick little side story – is not from this country, so she has really funny ways of pronouncing a lot of things. And New Orleans is challenging. It’s, “cali-ope,” not, ”calliope.” It’s, “bur-gone-dee,” not, “burgundy.” So she came back from Arizona and she was telling me, “I went to this great place, ‘Anty-lopey Canyon.’” And I thought about it for a minute and I said, “Mom, you spent too much time in New Orleans, I think you meant antelope.” She was so funny. Alright, so when we left off, we were talking about form automation. Are there any other specific tips you want to talk or tell our listeners about form automation?
Andrew Legrand: Well I think what’s important about form automation, especially with the Form Tool is that the document can grow over time. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time you use it.
Adriana Linares: Just start using it?
Andrew Legrand: Just start using it.
Adriana Linares: Or something like that.
Andrew Legrand: You can use it for something as simple as – we started using it for our engagement letter, and just this past week there were some changes I wanted to make in there to make it easier for us to collect payments from people. So I went in there and changed the form. And now the entire template for every engagement letter we create after that is fixed.
Adriana Linares: Right.
Andrew Legrand: I’m not copying and pasting or I’m not reusing an engagement letter from a previous client every time. That template is now in a fixed spot and me or my partner know where to go when we’re created an engagement letter. So let’s go here and start, so all these documents are fixed in the future.
Adriana Linares: From a technical perspective and from an ethics perspective and from the consultant’s side, I think that’s great. Because a lot of the issues that I see with old documents – and I talk about this all the time – when you dupe and revise and take a file save as, if there is any old information in those documents: previous clients, previous numbers, previous addresses, whether it’s in the actual document itself and you miss something or in the metadata, that’s very dangerous. But when you are birthing new documents from forms and those forms are clean, you will never have that problem, and I think that’s really important for lawyers to understand.
Andrew Legrand: Yeah, I definitely think that’s important. And just from the lawyer’s side, I don’t want to look to see a meta document for you, I don’t want to look to see where your name is every time.
Adriana Linares: Right.
Andrew Legrand: It saves me the time and the stress of scanning every line because you know that the document I just produced for – Ernie, for example – is clean and doesn’t contain any past information.
Adriana Linares: And a lot of people do a find and replace, which works fine, unless in one place in the document, the name was misspelled or you included a middle name where everywhere else – or middle initial – and everywhere else you didn’t. So I think those are really important points to make sure we talk about. So we’ve been rattling on for a few minutes now, and I feel like you probably have a lot more information that you want to give. So we’re going to do something we’ve never done before. Are you ready? You’re going to be the first one. Are you excited?
Andrew Legrand: A good thing? I don’t know what you’re doing.
Adriana Linares: I think we should split this in two episodes. And this one now, which is a shame because it’s been very, very helpful and very useful. But I think what we’ll do is I’m going to ask you to come back. Do you want to come back?
Andrew Legrand: I’d love to.
Adriana Linares: Okay, well let’s do this again. But before I let you go for this episode – our first out of two, because then we’re going to come back and we’re going to go on – tell our listeners how they can follow you, stalk you, send you questions and learn more about you on the internet.
Andrew Legrand: Twitter’s obviously an easy way, @LawByLegrand. You could find my firm website, SperaLaw.com, or NOLASmallBizLaw.com is where I blog to small business owners about the everyday ins and outs of running a business in the great state of Louisiana.
Adriana Linares: I think a lot of your tips are actually very helpful even if you’re not in Louisiana on the blog. You don’t have to be in Louisiana just to pick up all your tips.
Andrew Legrand: I try to provide practical advice wherever possible.
Adriana Linares: Good!
Andrew Legrand: I can’t say I enjoy legal writing a whole lot, so you’re not going to get any sort of big analysis there. But I try to provide practical advice to small business owners who are looking for something that’s just straight and to the point.
Adriana Linares: That’s great. Well, that brings us to the end of our first show, because I’ve invited you to come back. Nobody needs to know when, but we’re going to do it later. I’m Adriana Linares and thank you for listening. I want to thank Andrew Legrand one more time for being a great guest. Such a great guest that we’re actually going to do this again in the next episode. I’m really looking forward to talking to Andrew a little bit more. Join us next time for that next great episode and remember: you’re not alone, you’re a new solo.
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