D. Todd Smith is a civil appellate lawyer based in Austin, Texas. He launched the predecessor to Smith Law...
Adriana Linares is a law practice consultant and legal technology coach. After several years at two of Florida’s largest...
In this episode of New Solo, host Adriana Linares, along with guest Todd Smith, cover a wide range of topics, including bar association benefits, outsourcing IT support, and transitioning from large firms to solo practices. While discussing these subjects, they dive into the relevant technology and software that will help your own solo or small firm thrive. This includes full desktop search tools, wireless scanners, and video conferencing software.
Todd Smith is a civil appellate lawyer based in Austin, Texas. He launched the predecessor to Smith Law Group LLLP in 2006 after practicing for nearly a decade with Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P.
From Desktop Search to Video Conferencing: Technology for Solo and Small Firms
Laurence Colletti: Hello listeners. It’s Laurence Colletti, Executive Producer at Legal Talk Network. I want to tell you about one of our longest running and most informative shows, The Digital Edge. Each month our expert hosts Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway talk with renowned authors, speakers and legal technology gurus about tools, tips and tricks for running a successful legal practice. If you are seeking a competitive advantage for your firm, make sure to catch The Digital Edge on our website at HYPERLINK “http://www.legaltalknetwork.com” legaltalknetwork.com, in Apple podcast or on your favorite podcasting app.
And now, on to the show.
Intro: So you are an attorney and you have decided to go out on your own, now what? You need a plan and you are not alone. Join expert host Adriana Linares and her distinguished guests on New Solo. Tune into the lively conversation as they share insights and information about how to successfully run your law firm, here on Legal Talk Network.
Adriana Linares: Welcome back to another New Solo episode on Legal Talk Network. This is your host Adriana Linares. I am a legal technology trainer and consultant. I spend all my days helping lawyers and law firms figure out how to use technology better. It’s a job I really, really love.
Before we get started I want to make sure and thank our sponsors. So I am going to take a couple of moments of your time, don’t fast forward me, to tell you about the four great sponsors that help make this show possible.
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That’s it for our commercials. Of course I always want to thank our sponsors very much otherwise we wouldn’t be here with D. Todd Smith. Hey Todd.
Todd Smith: Hey Adriana. How are you?
Adriana Linares: I am great. How is Austin, one of my favorite cities in all of America that I don’t visit often enough?
Todd Smith: Well, you should come to visit more often. It’s really good right now. We are in the throes of summer, 100 degrees plus pretty much everyday at this point, but we are used to it, we are used to it, at least we don’t have — in Austin we don’t have Houston’s humidity or the humidity from Florida. So it’s bearable as long as you can go in between air-condition zones pretty quickly.
Adriana Linares: That’s how I do it in Florida, all I try to do is move between bodies of water, pools and lakes and rivers and oceans. Tell us a little bit about your practice and what you do in Austin?
Todd Smith: I am a civil appellate lawyer. I represent plaintiffs and defendants so I am not committed to one or the other. We just view cases on their own merit, no matter what side they come from.
And so being a civil appellate lawyer can mean a lot of things. I write briefs. I research. I take over cases that are going up on appeal from lawyers who handle them at trial. But in addition to all that, I do personally, and my firm generally does a lot of law related work in trial courts that’s sort of pre-appeal. We will get involved in cases even before they are filed sometimes. If we are brought in by a law firm that’s got a lot of forethought and can tell from the get-go that there might be some thorny issues that come up in the case.
And so we will work on the initial strategy really throughout the life of the case even, but we also do sort of traditional law work, like motions for summary judgment and responses, jury charge work, objecting to jury charges and also the post-verdict sort of prejudgment motions phase and then even post-judgment motion. There’s really a wide gamut of things that we do that fall under the rubric of appellate work that don’t involve just sitting behind the computer and writing briefs all day.
Adriana Linares: Because that is really sexy stuff.
Todd Smith: It’s hard. When I was practicing at the big firm I used to be jealous of my compatriots who did a lot of travel and took depositions, because their hours billed sitting on an airplane, reading a magazine were just as good as my hours billed reading cases on Westlaw and actually drafting, and I did a lot more that kind of thing and it’s hard to achieve the same level of billable hours doing what I do than it is in other areas like just regular litigation.
Adriana Linares: And how many, when you say we, at your busy law firm, how many of you are there?
Todd Smith: Currently we have three lawyers and two staff. I say currently because we are very soon, hopefully by the time this airs, we will be able to announce that we have added another partner to the firm.
Adriana Linares: Oh cool. Congratulations.
Todd Smith: Thank you. It’s been a long time in the works and it’s very, very exciting. I won’t say on the show even who or where it might be, except to say that it would not be in Austin. So we may soon have another office to springboard from.
Adriana Linares: That’s great. We will have you come back after that happens and talk about kind of opening your first second location.
Todd Smith: Well, I actually already have a second location.
Adriana Linares: Oh, you do? Tell us more.
Todd Smith: We are based here and myself and one of the other lawyers are here and all the staff are here. We have an office down in far South Texas in a town called Harlingen, which is, if you throw a rock really, really hard, you might hit across the border to Mexico, it’s just that close.
And so there’s a long story behind having an office there, but one of our lawyers lives there and we decided that that was a good place, there was a lot of litigation down in that part of the state. It tends to be very active in litigation, even more so than some of the more urban areas, the kinds of cases that come through and the verdicts that juries will render there and the appeals that come out of it. So it’s a good place for us to have our official second office and then the new location would be the third, which sounds incredible really to even say it out loud.
Adriana Linares: Oh really, so it’s your first third office, I don’t even know what I was saying.
Todd Smith: It’s my first third office.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, it’s your first third office, it’s great. That’s pretty exciting. I want to talk about how you got there. Were you at a large firm and then went solo or did you and a partner — how did you start your firm to begin with?
Todd Smith: I know the focus of your show is solo and so —
Adriana Linares: We get a mix.
Todd Smith: But to answer your question, yeah, I mean I was a solo, so I am certainly qualified I think to be a guest on the show. I did practice in a large firm. After I finished a judicial clerkship I was at a firm called Fulbright & Jaworski, which is now folded into a global firm called Norton Rose, now known as Norton Rose Fulbright, and at the time I think we had about 700 lawyers.
Adriana Linares: Right, an empire. I call those firms that size empires.
Todd Smith: It was a big law firm.
Adriana Linares: It’s a lot to manage, right.
Todd Smith: Right. And now I think in the current form, I think it’s actually more like 3,000 or 4,000. It’s incredible. So I did come in at a large law firm and was trained up in their system, which it looked pretty different; it certainly looks different than what I am doing today. But after, I think I was there nine years, I left and hung my shingle, which was a really big, big step to take.
Adriana Linares: It always is.
Todd Smith: Oh, it really was. And looking back I have no regrets at all about doing it and things have gone very well for me in my career, and as we sort of suggested earlier, we are in growth mode, so I cannot complain at all. So the solo life was great and very interesting and it brought a new set of challenges for sure to my practice.
Adriana Linares: So I am trying to decide which direction to go in with that. I think what I want to ask you, because it’s always interesting to me when I get someone who has been at a firm that size, because the expectations that you have of the technologies that are going to be available to you, because I like to talk a lot about practice management and technology and business development is typically if you are an associate at one of those large firms, you don’t tend to do a lot of business development, so marketing is something completely new and different.
You have a lot of your technologies sort of issued to you and handed to you and when I meet lawyers that come from those big firms, they are just not even sure where to start, because first of all, they can’t imagine life without something like a document management system and then other times I meet someone who can’t imagine why I would ever want to profile a document. So it’s such a funny thing.
But I don’t want to spend too much time in the past because I know you said it was about nine years ago and technologies were different. So I think what I really want to ask you about is when you decided to go out on your own or at least the path you have taken over the past few years to develop the tools, the partnerships, the arrangements that you have in your firm, those are the types of things that I think are really interesting.
So you and I met the last guest I had too, we met at Ernest Benson’s small firm boot camp and we started talking, and I always really appreciate these very nuanced conferences because any lawyer that shows up at these really sort of boutique conferences have a different mindset about the way they approach their practice and the things that they’re going to learn and the things that they’re interested in.
So I guess my question to you is, as a successfully solo now growing law firm and if you were talking to someone who was just thinking about going solo other than saying I did it nine years ago and I have no regrets, which is one of the greatest things any new solo could ever hear. What are couple of the other things that you would say to them to get started and to think about and what are the experiences you had?
Todd Smith: Well, one thing I would say is, they’ve got a lot of tools available to them that were not available to me.
Adriana Linares: Yeah.
Todd Smith: I actually started — I was with a firm for nine years, it’s been 11 years since I started my firm. So go back to 2006 and remember what things were like technology wise and I had to — you’re absolutely right about in big firms, people just sort of taking the equipment and the support for granted. You go from the level of support that a 700 lawyer firm would bring, a dedicated IT manager in each office.
Adriana Linares: 24×7.
Todd Smith: Yeah, emergency contact numbers in case your BlackBerry goes out, I mean, seriously, BlackBerry.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, yeah.
Todd Smith: Which is kind of funny to me today, but — so you go from that level of support to, if you’re going to go solo, it’s literally just you unless you have the forethought to make arrangements to get some services provided to you that are now available that just frankly weren’t available back in 2006.
So you got to make all kinds of big decisions. What computer you’re going to buy, what software you are going to use, I’m an Apple guy and you really can’t go wrong with Apple but I came from a PC environment, and that’s what I knew.
Adriana Linares: Yeah.
Todd Smith: So it was the easy decision for me at the time was I’ll just go buy a PC machine, PC laptop and because all the software that I can get through it I already know, it’ll be — the learning curve will not be as steep. That was true, but the consequence of that was somebody’s got to maintain this thing. And it was pretty easy for the software to get bloated out and for the thing not to run; even on brand-new machine back then.
So over time, I phased out the PCs and now running all Apple environment and I think someone looking to start a practice. If you’ve got any inclination toward Apple products at all, they’re just easier to use.
Adriana Linares: And you’re using and you must be using mostly cloud-based applications and solutions then to help you or do you have some that are not?
Todd Smith: Well, no, you’re right, and that’s kind of the next point where I was going is the next decision I had to make of course after what computer to buy, is what software to get, and those are the days of going and actually getting those CDs and installing the software on your hard drive, on your 120 gigabyte hard drive, if it was that big or whatever the size was, that was about the limit.
You’re exactly correct, Adriana. Today is, okay, I can get — even if you’re going to get a PC machine, your software is going to be largely, if not entirely cloud-based, which my view of that is that’s a huge advantage to the modern-day person hanging out their shingle. You can pretty much plug into practice management timekeeping and billing software, that’s updated on a regular basis without you even knowing about it. You don’t have to go and buy the licenses for the updates, install the updates and so forth.
So that just in terms of the mechanics for a soon-to-be sole practitioner, actually acquiring the tools that you need to do your job, some of them you already have, you’ve already got probably a smartphone, that didn’t exist…
Adriana Linares: Right.
Todd Smith: …in the form it is today and 2006. Between a smartphone, you’ve probably got an iPad, that certainly wasn’t around. If you can add a decent laptop computer to that and get connected with some cloud services, you pretty much have everything you need to practice law.
Adriana Linares: You kind of really do.
Todd Smith: It’s true and that’s why people are so mobile these days. It’s such a great advantage for the folks that are inclined to make the job. It doesn’t take away any of the fear or anxiety, they go along with making that decision and moving in that direction, but at least, you’re not going to face the technological hurdles that I had to face back 11 years ago, just large decisions and not really having the kind of service available that just makes it so much easier to get rolling.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, it’s true. Listen, before we move on and I ask you a couple more questions, let’s take a quick break, don’t fast forward me listeners, and hear a word from a couple of our sponsors. We’ll be right back.
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Adriana Linares: And we are back. All right, so we are talking to Todd Smith, an appellate attorney in Austin, Texas. My name is Adriana Linares, I’m your host and Todd was just sort of reminding us of some really good basic getting started tips as far as thinking about what type of computer you’re going to have, what software and services you’re going to use.
Todd, something made me think to ask you this, do you look toward because you’re in a big Bar, obviously Texas, and you don’t have to be in a big Bar for this question to be applicable, but when you either went out on your own or now as an experienced attorney, do you ever turn to your Bar Association to learn about its member benefits because most Bar associations have remember benefits, where you get discounts on all sorts of tools, services, and providers.
Todd Smith: Absolutely, the Texas Bar is very good about that.
Adriana Linares: They really are. That’s why I wanted to mention.
Todd Smith: In fact, I was just looking — just today, I can tell you a little story —
Adriana Linares: Oh funny.
Todd Smith: That ties directly into this. I was kicking around, thinking about whether the law firm’s URL for our website is going to change with our impending change and I was looking around at the .law options.
Adriana Linares: Oh sure.
Todd Smith: And there’s something about that that I just find appealing.
Adriana Linares: I think all lawyers do.
Todd Smith: Something.law, it just carries a certain air about it that I think lends some credibility. So I just happened to remember when I was doing this that I saw on the Texas Bar web page that they were offering a discount for the purchase of a .law domain.
And so, kicked it on over to the Texas Bar page and sure enough in the Member Benefits section, there it is along with car rental, and I think even mobile phone service and —
Adriana Linares: Yeah, and Clio, which is one of our sponsors I know is a benefit with Texas.
Todd Smith: Travel. They do, they sure do.
Adriana Linares: For sure, yeah.
Todd Smith: And so yeah, you can definitely shop — if you’re looking for almost anything really that one of the first places to look would be that page on a big Bar site for sure. We even have that here in our local Bar and I am heavily affiliated with the Austin Bar Association.
Adriana Linares: Good.
Todd Smith: And we’ve even got those kinds of member benefits on a local level. So there’s really multiple levels potentially of those kind of benefits that anyone can take advantage of if they happen it belonged to a Bar that offers that.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, that’s good. Well, good, I wanted to make sure to mention that because that’s actually something I think we’ve not brought in as a good tip before but that’s a good one.
Todd Smith: Sure.
Adriana Linares: I’ve been trying to get running from the as a .law but they won’t sell it to me, but I’m going to work on it, I know people.
Todd Smith: Hmm.
Adriana Linares: I am working on it. So tell me a little bit about you were at Ernie’s boot camp and I’m wondering after nine years of your own firm, 11 years out on your own, do I have that right.
Todd Smith: You got it backwards.
Adriana Linares: I got it backwards, okay.
Todd Smith: Nine years on the big firm, eleven years on —
Adriana Linares: Oh, all right. What were the types at this point in your career and obviously successful with growing law firm, what are the types of things that you still feel you don’t know about and what you were sort of looking for when you go to these conferences, and did you find it?
Todd Smith: Well, I love legal technology and so —
Adriana Linares: That’s why you are here, Todd.
Todd Smith: I do not profess to be an expert in it. There’s always things to learn. I’ve known Ernie for a long time and I think he and I decided we met more than 10 years ago for the first time. So I was really pleased to be able to go to his conference this year, it’s typically been like between Christmas and New Year’s and that was always a tough time for me to get away. He did it in May this year, which was fantastic, and the timing worked out beautifully.
I learned so much from Ernie just through his online course.
Adriana Linares: Yeah.
Todd Smith: And you see different perspectives that different folks bring to the same basic problem, and we all tend to get kind of locked in to our viewpoint. And sometimes it’s hard to breakthrough and you can research and figure out tools that work for you individually, but there may be other tools that you just don’t have the time to get into, but if you talk to other sort of like-minded people, it’s real easy to compare notes and potentially come up with solutions that are basically you wouldn’t have thought of on your own.
The one great thing about that conference is just — there was a great blend of perspectives among not only the attendees but also the presenters. And covering everything from the actual technology side and tools that really if you think about it everyone ought to use is just a matter of convincing yourself that this isn’t really a gimmick, like let’s take for example, TextExpander. It seems a little — not really gimmicky but our Word Processors do some of the same things that TextExpander does.
Adriana Linares: I live and die by TextExpander.
Todd Smith: Right, but think about and you were there and the listeners wouldn’t appreciate if I just said, think about the presentation on TextExpander.
Adriana Linares: Well, I can’t believe it was an hour long. I was like, holy shit, how much can we talk about TextExpander and there it was, a full hours worth of information. It’s amazing.
Todd Smith: But the way that Ernie presented that was these are ways to use this tool that you probably haven’t thought of.
Adriana Linares: Right, and very practical uses. I mean —
Todd Smith: Exactly.
Adriana Linares: So, we should explain real quick what it is, sorry Todd.
Todd Smith: Oh sure.
Adriana Linares: In case we have a listener who hasn’t heard about TextExpander. So if you explain what it is and then I am going to explain one of the reasons that I love it so much.
Todd Smith: Okay. Well, you think about if you are a Microsoft Word user or even if you’re using another software package, they typically have macros or shortcuts that’s built into the software that if you execute some combination of keystrokes, it will take that combination and literally expand it into some pre-programmed universe of characters. So you could have an entire paragraph of text that if you just typed in a few characters and it sometimes a trigger like a period or a semicolon the software will know what you mean to type by using that trigger is the entire paragraph of text.
So you can use it — this is just one example, but you can use it to enter text that you frequently enter with only a minimum of keystrokes and thereby cut down the time for getting that text in it as well and not have to go and cut and paste between documents which is sort of a cardinal sin in document creation, it just tends to carry errors.
Adriana Linares: It’s a cardinal sin but it’s what everybody does. The Paste button if you look at all your programs is always the biggest button because that’s what we do, we copy/paste.
Todd Smith: Yeah. I’m as guilty of it as other people but if you study this long enough you would become convinced that one way to cut down on errors in your documents is to use the tool like TextExpander and get the text in a form that’s perfect and start from there and then you reduce a number of errors in your documents, for things you do over and over. I also kind of — I like to call it a poor man’s document assembly or document origination program because you don’t have to have — you can get some of the benefits of those more expensive and comprehensive programs with this little tool that just kind of lives on your desktop and you just enter the characters and the beauty of it and what makes it I think better than just using the Microsoft Word equivalent is that you can use it — it’s cross-platform, so you can use it in any software package that you happened to be running, like if you’re in Clio or whatever your timekeeping software is, if you’ve got the shortcuts set up properly in TextExpander you can use it in your time entries and it will carry — it will expand the text literally to fit the criteria that you set forth and that will greatly cut down on your time spent entering time. So that’s just one example of the efficiency that you gain from it.
Adriana Linares: Wow, it’s just — it’s crazy. I always like to say that one of the reasons I love it so much and it’s sort of in my top five technology tools is because it’s by platform, so they made it cloud-based now and I live in both the Windows and a Mac environment. So it synchronizes my snippets across all my devices and my iPad which I completely love.
So today I spent half of my day, here’s what happens to me. I’m buzzing along and I am just being as efficient as one could possibly be, and I’m so proud of myself. I’m like, oh, I’m using TextExpander, I have got all my documents well-organized. I am not wasting any time. I am moving data left and right. I am building proposals. I have invoices going on like everything is great. And then all of a sudden it will be like that sound in a movie where the record player stops and something annoys me that I realize I do all the time and I’ve got to find a solution for it. So that’s what happened today.
And it’s funny that we mentioned Ernie because Ernie is the person that I thought of because he is a Mac and I forget what program it was. I don’t think it was something native. I think he has an add-on tool that allows him to search his entire computer including email. Anyway, I was just looking for a desktop wide search tool that includes Microsoft Outlook emails and attachments.
So I spent half of my morning testing out a couple of them. I am looking at a product called Lookeen right now for Windows and then I also had Copernicus installed this morning and I tested it out for a little bit. Do you have anything like that that you use or on the Mac do you pretty much just use Finder?
Todd Smith: Finder, I use Finder for a pretty shallow level search and sometimes it will give me what I need. I got turned on to a program called HoudahSpot or HoodahSpot I can’t pronounce it, but it’s spelled funny, it’s HoudahSpot and it has a really deep functionality in terms of. It will do exactly what you just described. It will find —
Adriana Linares: Oh good, but for the Mac.
Todd Smith: For the Mac.
Adriana Linares: Great.
Todd Smith: It will define or it will find rather documents in your emails literally across every package, every bit of software, Word Suite or Office Suite, email, everything.
Adriana Linares: What I am trying to do usually which I think might be different than a lot of lawyers who are looking for an old document, they are not really sure which one it was. I just remember that we use this clause and what I’m typically doing is I’m just trying to get there quicker. I know exactly where the document is stored or filed but if I have to dig my way through a bunch of folders that’s a waste of my time. So I was really looking for a way to be able to put in Todd Smith and it just takes me straight to a folder called Todd Smith, but then also all the emails and the document.
So anyway, I just wanted to mention that that’s another tool that our listeners should add to their toolkit along with TextExpander and a practice management program is a tool that helps you quickly and efficiently search through everything.
Todd Smith: Yes.
Adriana Linares: It’s important. What are your other favorite like give me one more before we go to a break, one other — you love legal technology, tell us a little bit about your technology setup?
Todd Smith: Oh gosh. Okay, well, I invested the money in a fiber Internet connection here in the office and so my latest gizmo, if you will, is I am — not too long ago, in fact, right after this conference we decided to let Ruby Receptionists host our phones and I had to come up with a new solution for conference calling because the provider that I had before that I was frustrated with him, they were a voiceover Internet provider, had a good conference calling service.
But I needed to be able to get around the limitation that Ruby had which was they don’t host conference calls. So there’s some good choices out there but the one — the option that I decided to pursue really is I’m going to almost exclusively do video calls, because —
Adriana Linares: Ah, interesting.
Todd Smith: Yeah, one of the things that’s a bit challenging given what I do I’m working with lawyers from all over the State and all kinds of practice arenas and I have — I couldn’t tell you how many clients, they have hired me over the years and I have never met them face to face.
Adriana Linares: I love hearing that because I want lawyers to know that you can successfully manage a case without meeting face-to-face, not every time but that it’s just — I just want them to believe it can be possible.
Todd Smith: So we’re wireless here but with the fiber connection and the way Wi-Fi is these days – if you’ve got good Internet and a good Wi-Fi, you’re good to go, and so we’re — I’m just getting started on this but just this week I signed an agreement with a video conference provider and I am going to use the heck out of it. I’m really going to push it because I’m — one of the things that I would like to say is I will find whatever the software package is and I will find a way to push the envelope on it, and I will ask the questions that other people don’t ask for some reason. I don’t — I think I’ve said in other places that I’m technologically curious and think that things ought to solve problems and I think of the problems that they should solve.
And so I thought about why in the world I’ve got — I’ve got three cameras, I’ve got two monitors in my office with cameras plus my MacBook monitor, if you add my iPad, I’ve got monitors all over the place.
Adriana Linares: Yeah.
Todd Smith: There is no reason in the world why I should just sit here and be on an audio call with somebody that’s however far away they are and because you pick up so much in a nonverbal communication that gets lost on the traditional conference call.
So I’m really starting to invest time and money in a video calling service that’s really just going to be one of our main communication platforms for our clients.
Adriana Linares: I think that’s great. So are you going to tell us which one it is?
Todd Smith: I don’t mind telling you which one it is it, it’s Zoom.
Adriana Linares: Ah, I was so hoping you would say that because otherwise I was going to have to say, well, my favorite is. So I’ve been using Zoom for a really long time. It’s super inexpensive, $1499 a month.
Todd Smith: For one host, I believe that’s correct.
Adriana Linares: For one host. Yeah. So even if it was for three, I mean you could triple that and it would still be inexpensive. It is such a good service, it has an add-in just so for Outlook for the PC so I don’t know if it has it for the Mac, but I can click inside of Outlook to schedule a meeting, start a meeting and then it creates an appointment and then it sends all the details.
But the cool thing about Zoom, the reason that — one of the reasons I like it so much is it is so easy to use. We were doing – I do some consulting for the Florida Bar Board of Governors and often have meetings that involve really random types of people. A judge from the middle of Florida where maybe they don’t have that good of technology, so he is going to come in on his Samsung iPhone because of security purposes. A librarian, a lawyer, a law student, and we have never ever, ever, ever had a problem with someone either connecting or figuring out how to use it or just having – if somebody has a bad connection, it’s not Zoom’s fault. It actually optimizes even I think some of the worst connections.
And it’s always a high-def video and you can record the whole thing and you can have a private chat and you can share documents. I mean it does all of the things that you hope a video conferencing system Canon would do. So I absolutely love that product and I think it’s affordable and great. So I’m glad you mentioned it.
Todd Smith: Yeah, I actually have gone ahead and spent the money for a more feature filled version of it and I’ve got a lot of plans for it. I would like to start a podcast.
Adriana Linares: Awesome. I know people.
Todd Smith: I know you do. I’m actually kind of thinking radically here it’s like, podcast yes, they’re audio only but why not have a video of the podcast, do video between the — or the guest and the host.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, can I take a self-serving moment?
Todd Smith: Go ahead.
Adriana Linares: I hope my producer is listening because I have had that same idea and wouldn’t it be wonderful if you and I, Todd, we’re looking at each other, maybe we can do, we should have done one.
Todd Smith: We should.
Adriana Linares: Okay, I know we are going to do.
Todd Smith: We will do it next time.
Adriana Linares: Exactly. When you — we said, we’re going to have you come back after your first third office opens up and how did that go and all the stuff and then we’re going to do that one by video.
Todd Smith: Yeah. Why not, I mean, there’s really no reason not to.
Adriana Linares: Why not.
Todd Smith: It’s kind of like a live radio show. I mean it’s the same thing.
Adriana Linares: I know.
Todd Smith: People will actually watch that right. So that’s one idea I have for it and we can wrap it back to the theme of the show, of course, the New Solo. This is something that again was not available to me in 2006, but it’s easy to purchase, and from everything I can tell, I’m still getting trained on it but easy to use as well and stable.
And think about what are the differentiators between lawyers and law firms? A lawyer who is willing to put this out there for potential clients as an option, it’s an instant differentiator.
Adriana Linares: Totally.
Todd Smith: Because lawyers don’t do it. They just don’t.
Adriana Linares: No, and clients love it.
Todd Smith: Right, right. So I’m going to offer it to all of mine who want to take advantage of it. The other use that I’ve have come up with for it besides video calling with clients, podcast recording, is they have a webinar option. So we’re looking just in terms of our marketing overall, there is so many uses for it. If we decided we wanted to host a webinar, an educational webinar for clients, it’s right there.
And you can screen share, it’s like me sitting next door or next to my partner in South Texas and we can see each other’s computer screens. It’s really unbelievable.
Adriana Linares: I love it. Well, listen, let’s take a quick break and hear another couple of commercials from our great sponsors and we’ll come right back and pick up where we left off.
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Adriana Linares: So we’re back. I’m Adriana Linares. I’m talking to Todd Smith in Austin, Texas. We were just rambling on about how much we love the idea of using more video conferencing in meetings and doing cool things with video in his law office, which I hope everyone starts.
I mean, it’s the future, everybody’s going to start doing that. It’s just going to be about five years before like you said, Todd. It’s a non-differentiator at least. So I think that’s really cool. What else? Tell us a little bit about your tech setup, so you’ve got — is everyone a Mac or do you have a mixed environment?
Todd Smith: It’s about 90% Mac and the only Mac computer that we have here in the office is the personal laptop of one of my partners. And that’s just his preference, he uses the Mac here in the office and of course with all the cloud software out there, it’s cross-platform and he can take it on the road or work remotely and really not miss a beat, working on that PC machine.
I’ve tried to bring him over to the right side and we may do that yet.
Adriana Linares: Okay, I am trying to get in the crossover.
Todd Smith: Yeah, so we’re Mac. Wireless printing, we’re paperless office, we’ve got the new Wireless ScanSnap scanners.
Adriana Linares: That’s pretty cool. At first, did you think I’ll probably never use this Wireless, the scanner is just awesome and then the first time you used it, you were like holy moly, I’ll use this all the time or did you go in knowing you would use the wireless scanner?
Todd Smith: I knew I would use the wireless scanner and I’ll tell you the trick that really convinced me that wireless – that was the correct decision is it’s not like the connected scanner, where it will feed whatever document you scan. It’ll only send it to that particular computer.
Dropbox and I think I don’t know if Clio does this, I think Rocket Matter may do it, where you can actually scan straight to the cloud.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, Clio has actually an integration with the ScanSnap.
Todd Smith: Right.
Adriana Linares: And I think Rocket Matter might too.
Todd Smith: Yeah, so now I have actually two of those scanners in my office but I’m not even sure I need two because when my paralegal scans a document, it goes straight into Dropbox and we all can access it right away. So there’s really no advantage to having multiple wireless scanners in a small law firm, describe that ScanSnap and set it up where it scans straight to the cloud whichever platform you’re using and it’s really great. So wireless printing and wireless scanning are two huge developments that were —
Adriana Linares: Well, they can certainly save a lot of costs, like you’re saying because it doesn’t have to be directly connected or networked. So if you are setting up a new firm and you’re trying to reduce some infrastructure costs, then those are no-brainers and they all just work so easily these days. We used to complain about how hard it was with Windows, it’s not like that anymore everybody.
Todd Smith: No.
Adriana Linares: Get your scars healed, it’s become a lot easier. What about do you happen to use a client portal of any sort?
Todd Smith: Not directly, no.
Adriana Linares: Okay.
Todd Smith: And I tried that out. In fact, I was a Clio user for several years and don’t have any problem at all with Clio and that was something that they offered up pretty early on, and I think for me it was just that my clients didn’t want to learn a new portal. They didn’t want to take the time. That was several years ago now and I think it’s gotten easier to access.
Adriana Linares: Well, I think they’ve gotten easier to use too. I hear that protests from my clients who are lawyers all the time they say, my clients aren’t going to want to use that and I say if your client can get onto Facebook and upload a picture of their grandchild’s birthday, they can use these client portals today.
You know what’s really funny D. Todd Smith — C. Todd Smith, who is an who’s an attorney in Orlando that is actually a dear friend of mine that I had on the show a million episodes ago. One of his differentiators is his client portals. So I don’t know, maybe, you don’t take a look back in there one of these days.
Todd Smith: I will do that. I’ll tell you this is actually it ties back again to my decision to start using Zoom. Another feature that’s available to me is a secure document upload.
Adriana Linares: Sure, that’s pretty cool.
Todd Smith: So I can send out a link, I haven’t tested this yet, but one of the reasons why I went ahead with it was I can send a link out to a potential client and so instead of emailing me documents, they can upload it through Zoom and it’ll show up on my end.
So it’s not quite the same as a client portal but it gives some of the same functionality; mainly the concern of course being sharing confidential data.
Adriana Linares: Yep, which is kind of a number one goal for lawyers.
Todd Smith: Right.
Adriana Linares: Go ahead.
Todd Smith: Oh, I was just going say another thing to consider in all this is, is security for the new solo starting out now, yes, you’ve got all these great tools available but you have to be mindful of security. So it’s not really a toy, it’s a very serious function that we have here in our office but we do have a VPN.
Adriana Linares: Explain what that means and why you got it and how expensive or inexpensive it was?
Todd Smith: A VPN is a Virtual Private Network and it’s just the capability of creating a direct connection or a secure connection between your system and the Internet or your office system if you’re connecting to the office virtually, doing that securely even though you are using public Wi-Fi, it’s probably the best example. If you’re on the road you’ve got everything on your computer but you need Internet access, you hear all the stories about or even in a coffee shop, people being able to look at what information, what sites you’re visiting, if you’re using an unsecured provider and that ought to scare the heck out of all the lawyers because you just can’t afford to have your confidential data be compromised in any way.
So for me what a VPN allows me to do is to be on the road connect through the hotel Wi-Fi if it’s in my room or in the lobby or at a conference room, whatever, and establish a secure connection. So that other people can’t see what I’m doing and certainly can’t get a hold of my data. Cost it — I mean I think you can’t go out on the open market and buy a VPN to attach to your computer, I didn’t have to think about that because the IT group that we use basically set it up for us.
Adriana Linares: Okay, good.
Todd Smith: They do all the maintenance on our computers and it was just part of our overall —
Adriana Linares: Do you outsource your IT support then?
Todd Smith: I do, I do.
Adriana Linares: Okay, good, and they take care of it. What do you think someone should be paying roughly a month for outsourced IT support when it’s — maybe they just charge you hourly or you have a monthly, I’m not sure, but give us an idea of what you consider a reasonable fee for I think you said you were five people now with two locations adding a third.
Todd Smith: Well, think about what it would cost you to hire someone actually is it employee, or obviously you’d be talking about a contractor for most solos or small firms probably a rule of thumb. We have a flat rate agreement, it’s a monthly retainer and a good rule of thumb is you might expect to pay a few hundred dollars a month which sounds like a lot and that’s per machine. It sounds like a lot, but in the cosmic scheme it’s really not when it comes to even though Macs are relatively easy to maintain and typically don’t get viruses and are just pretty worry-free, they still have to be maintained to some degree.
Adriana Linares: Yeah.
Todd Smith: And you still have to do the software updates periodically and — sometimes you get hardware problems too and the folks that do this they do it remotely and pretty much I’ll log out at the end of the day and any software updates are run on my machine and when I’m ready to turn it back on, everything is set up for me.
Adriana Linares: It just works.
Todd Smith: It just works, yeah.
Adriana Linares: Your tech stress free, which I think is incredibly important, I find too many lawyers wasting their time being the technicians and being frustrated and it just drives me crazy spend a little bit of money and take that stress away, put that that energy somewhere else. So I think that’s really good advice too.
Todd Smith: I would wholeheartedly recommend. There are certain things that you just shouldn’t do as a new solo. You shouldn’t be your own bookkeeper or your own CPA, you shouldn’t be your own IT person, that’s the hardest thing to let go of though, I think, because if you’re even at all —
Adriana Linares: Yeah, which is funny.
Todd Smith: It is but most of us have computers at home that we maintain on our own and we think, oh, it’s not a big deal we can do it ourselves. That may be true, but as soon as you start spending a couple hours a week dealing with computer issues think about how that time can be turned back into the bottom line and pretty soon you realize that, look, it’s an hour of my time that I’m having to pay the equivalent to or less for someone to maintain my computer and it’s done all remotely, it’s easy and they will support me anytime I have an issue. It’s really one of the things that I just consider to be a no-brainer. I want to wholeheartedly recommend find a CPA, find a bookkeeper, but also find someone to handle your IT support on an outsource basis, whether you’re using Mac or PCs.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, well, it’s been really great having you on this show, Todd. It’s been very helpful, I know, our listeners will completely appreciate all of your tips and suggestions and your life lessons. Tell everyone how they can friend, find or follow you out there on the Internet?
Todd Smith: Sure. I’m on Twitter and it’s @dtoddsmith just like it sounds.
Adriana Linares: You are so lucky.
Todd Smith: I grabbed that pretty early on and I’m really glad I did.
Adriana Linares: Well, I really mean that your name doesn’t have to be spelled every time, I mean, it’s D Todd Smith, don’t get crazy, don’t get funky, just it is what it is; try Adriana Linares, that’s not easy.
Todd Smith: Two “Ds” and an “I” I guess is the most complicated explanation I have to get. So, yeah, on Twitter, and I’m usually pretty active on Twitter. Our law firm website is HYPERLINK “http://www.appealsplus.com” appealsplus.com, also just like it sounds spelled out. I have a blog that I’ve had for 10 years now I think.
Adriana Linares: Oh, tell us about it, where do we find it?
Todd Smith: HYPERLINK “http://www.texasappellatelawblog.com” texasappellatelawblog.com.
Adriana Linares: What’s that about? Just kidding.
Todd Smith: Oh, I write – yeah, as if you can tell from the name.
Adriana Linares: It’s a great name.
Todd Smith: Yeah, so we write little short pieces of interest there, typical blog post kind of stuff, and everybody in my firm participates in that. So those are probably the best places to find me, and of course, all my other contact information is available on both of those — the website and the blog, but you got — people could always just reach out to me through Twitter.
Adriana Linares: Well, great. Well, thanks so much Todd for taking the time out of what I know is a very, very busy day. We look forward to seeing you back on the show after we get that third office up and running and learned some new cool things, maybe we can talk about marketing too because I think your website looks really good and I know you get into some pretty creative marketing ideas. So we’ll talk about that, but for now I just want to say thank you so much, appreciate you coming on the show.
Todd Smith: Well, thanks for having me.
Adriana Linares: You’re so welcome.
For all our listeners, you’ve listened to another episode of New Solo. Thank you so much, don’t forget that this podcast was brought to you by our sponsors. Please visit their websites, and if you enjoyed the show, please head on over to iTunes and give us a nice rating. You can always learn more about the show, our guests and catch up on past episodes at HYPERLINK “http://www.legaltalknetwork.com/newsolo” legaltalknetwork.com/newsolo.
So until next time, remember, you are not alone, you are New Solo.
Outro: Thanks for listening to New Solo with host Adriana Linares. Tune in again to learn more about how to successfully run your new practice, solo, here on Legal Talk Network.
The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.
New Solo covers a diverse range of topics including transitioning from law firm to solo practice, law practice management, and more.
Philip Mauriello discusses his path to becoming a solo attorney.
Kristin Rizzo describes her journey from a large law firm to solo practice to mediation.
Daniel Whitehouse guides lawyers in the process of choosing secure, ethically compliant cloud services.
Marco Brown shares how to change your mindset, stop chasing money, and get paid for the great work you do.
Amanda Moore, CPA, shares tips on how to manage your practice’s finances and your bookkeeper as well as keeping yourself off the IRS’ radar.
Liz McCausland shares some of the professional and personal services she uses to improve both her work life and her personal life.