You don’t have to have a physical office to be a lawyer. In this episode of New Solo, host Adriana Linares talks to Greg McLawsen about the lifestyle of the nomadic attorney. Greg shares how he decided to wander the globe and how he built his law firm around his desire to travel. He also discusses the technology that enables him to run a mobile law office, from chatbots to visual project management.
Greg McLawsen is the founder of Sound Immigration where his job is to work behind the scenes to ensure their clients have an outstanding experience with the firm.
Special thanks to our sponsors, Clio, Answer1, Lawclerk, and Unbundled Attorney.
Mentioned in This Episode
The Secret Life of a Mobile Lawyer
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: Hello and welcome to New Solo on Legal Talk Network. I’m Adriana Linares, a legal technology trainer and consultant. I help lawyers and law firms use technology better.
Before we get started with today’s guest, I want to make sure and take a moment to thank our sponsors.
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Greg McLawsen: Good afternoon.
Adriana Linares: Hey, well, I am glad you are here. So, listeners, I have got Greg McLawsen on as a guest today who I hunted down through the social phenomenon that is Twitter. And Greg, before I tell everyone how and when and why I found you and asked you to come on the show, why don’t you tell everyone a little bit about your practice and yourself as a lawyer.
Greg McLawsen: So, I sometimes refer to myself as a nomadic immigration attorney. I run a small immigration firm that’s based in Seattle, Washington and we work primarily with families in the immigration system. But, maybe one thing that’s a little bit different about what we do is we are almost entirely virtual and cloud-based in the services we deliver. Our team is decentralized across different office locations, and I tend to be pretty nomadic myself. I just got back from Mexico City, split my time between Seattle and Vancouver with a shout out to Clio, who has graciously given me an office there.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, that’s awesome.
Greg McLawsen: Yeah, I mean, I spend one or two months bouncing around somewhere in Asia with the family every year.
Adriana Linares: So, you totally gave away why I spotted you or just we’ve been following each other I think, no, that’s actually not true. I was following you on Twitter for a long time and really thought it was amazing that you are able to run your practice and be successful from anywhere in the world and I wanted to talk to you about that.
So, having said all that let me ask you just a couple of basic questions. Are you Canadian because you have a little bit of a Canadian accent, but I am not really sure?
Greg McLawsen: Well, I am Cascadian.
Adriana Linares: Cascadian, how interesting.
Greg McLawsen: Cascadian, yeah, born and raised in the Seattle area and many of us in this neck of the woods kind of identify ourselves with the suave and beautiful Pacific Northwest kind of running from British Columbia down to Oregon. So, no, not a Canadian, my son is a dual citizen, but I am just an American.
Adriana Linares: Oh, maybe us southerners down here just think you North-Westerners have some sort of weird accent that sounds Canadian-like.
Greg McLawsen: Well, and also now that I hang out at Clio again, and this is the second time they have given me an office, I try to go with the Vancouver pronunciation and try to buy a little credibility in their circles.
Adriana Linares: Right, right. So, tell me a little bit about that whole — so are you a Clio user?
Greg McLawsen: Yeah, I have been in Clio firm since we opened, I think about six years ago.
Adriana Linares: Oh good, so you’ve had them for a while and then obviously you have developed a friendly relationship with them because I saw your tweet that said, hey, thanks Clio for lending me an office while we are in Vancouver for a while. So, how did that come about?
Greg McLawsen: I think it — I mean I don’t want to toot the Clio horn too ridiculously hard but they are very, very, very customer-driven organization and that’s something that I have tried to learn from with my own organization as well. But I am through knowing Josh Lennon and they brought me and later some other attorneys kind of into the fold they are in the office and give us a desk it’s not even an office, they are all open office plan there. And the idea is kind of to put us into their environment so they can watch us work and see how we use the product which is a value to them to be able to see how the actual users interact with their product.
Adriana Linares: And I think my question to you is more along the lines of — so you are nomadic and you travel around and while you probably work pretty efficiently out of a coffee shop or out of your hotel room or out of your home when you happen to be at home, you have a relationship with someone who lends you an office, that means that your practice has to be mobile and I assume that there are other occasions where maybe you put out there whether it’s intentionally or not that you are visiting some city, and certainly somebody would say, hey, if you need an office let us know, we have got a spare, you are welcome to come sit in here. And I think, again, like my questioning is does that work for you and your technology that you use in the way you have developed your law firm which we are going to talk about more in a minute must lend itself to that sort of lifestyle.
Greg McLawsen: Yeah, I wish I got these invitations more often.
Adriana Linares: Oh, well maybe you will now.
Greg McLawsen: Yeah, open invite to the world. Usually when I am setting up shop somewhere — just to use the most recent example we were in Thailand on the island of Koh Samui for all of February and a little bit more, definitely no US-based law firms there.
And so when we are setting up long term, typically, I will be sure to select an Airbnb or VRBO-type option that has something that can function as office space because I am kind of particular about work environment and the tech part of it, which I guess will circle back to you later, is really a piece of cake. I mean, it’s long been the case that setting up a virtual practice really involves tools that are off the shelf, you really don’t have to reinvent the wheel to have the mobile functionality.
Adriana Linares: And as a consultant I don’t want you to reinvent the wheel — maybe that’s a takeaway for listeners, which is, it’s hard to build a better mousetrap at this point and to be able to sort of test and test drive different software and services is going to be helpful in getting it to that place where building that mobile law office can be pretty easy.
Let me back up a little bit then and ask you this. When you built sound immigration or opened it up, was your goal to be this mobile or did your life somehow change and it became mobile and you had to adjust or was this the goal from day one?
Greg McLawsen: Yeah, I mean — you asked me very nicely by a Twitter private message if we could kind of go personal — and if you want I can kind of keep it a personal story of that.
Adriana Linares: Well, I am a nosy host, so any personal information you want to give us is always welcome.
Greg McLawsen: Yeah, I mean, let me just give you the real story that I think it is kind of important. I had wrapped up a two-year clerkship which sounds fancy but definitely was not, this was at a small trial court here in Washington State, not with a bunch of really great judges. Wrapped that up and worked briefly for a solo immigration practitioner and kind of decided that I thought there were a lot of things I could do better which is kind of arrogance that it takes to open a small practice, I guess.
And it started off being a pretty traditional brick-and-mortar but trying to incorporate some creativity to make things more efficient and better for clients, but it was kind of a – it was more or less heading along a trajectory to be just another firm, and kind of in that timeframe my father, who was a really wonderful guy actually a software developer himself, killed himself, he took his own life.
Adriana Linares: Oh my gosh.
Greg McLawsen: So, that’s a — it was a huge, huge wake-up call to me —
Adriana Linares: Wow.
Greg McLawsen: — to really take stock and think big picture about what — what are we doing here, what are we going to use this life for.
Adriana Linares: What’s my life purpose?
Greg McLawsen: Yeah.
Adriana Linares: I’ve had my midlife crisis without that sort of trauma for about six years now.
Greg McLawsen: Okay.
Adriana Linares: Yeah.
Greg McLawsen: And it’s just so easy to make kind of one mundane decision after another, and that’s kind of becoming your trajectory, and right in this timeframe my wife got pregnant and we — pretty shortly after we discovered she was pregnant we kind of sit down and kind of wanted to decide big picture of what are we going to do over the next 10 years and we had traveled extensively before law school and decided that was going to be one of our main objectives that we wanted to make time for. So, we had a beautiful house in Tacoma by Pat Palace, I am sure you know Pat.
Adriana Linares: I love Patrick Palace.
Greg McLawsen: Yeah, Pat Palace. So, we sold the house. We gave-away almost all of our possessions or sold them. We had moved in with my mother who has a house up here in the Seattle area and committed to traveling the world for at least one or two months every year.
Adriana Linares: Wow.
Greg McLawsen: So, to do that — kind of decided that from a professional standpoint, I was going to have to prioritize building the type of firm that would function in that setting.
Adriana Linares: And is your wife a lawyer too, then?
Greg McLawsen: No, she would have been a brilliant litigator but she is a forensic psychologist. She does evaluations for incompetency to proceed and in some other legal contexts.
Adriana Linares: Okay.
Greg McLawsen: And the part of her professional life that is compatible with travel is she has pretty quick cycle time for her work; so, she can kind of turn on and off the spigot she needs to.
Adriana Linares: Amazing. Good for both of you, that’s a lot of really good circumstances coming together from a personal and professional perspective. So, all right, so this thing happens, you all take stock in your life which — thank you for sharing that incredibly — that’s just very personal and I appreciate it, because I think we both know a lot of lawyers and then people expect lawyers to be a certain way and we forget that there’s a lot of humaneness that comes with being a lawyer.
So, anyway, let’s go back to you decided, okay, I’ve got to build this law firm and it’s got to be pliable and mobile, did you have employees and do you have employees and how many?
Greg McLawsen: Let’s see, I have no employees now and so briefly before this interview, can I go on a quick tangent?
Adriana Linares: Yeah, please.
Greg McLawsen: Okay, so I just got back from Mexico City.
Adriana Linares: Don’t make it quick.
Greg McLawsen: Okay, so my stupid — well I love it actually, my wonderful Asus laptop, its keyboard exploded before I left for Mexico City last week. So, I’m about to drop it off at a repair shop and I’m trying to find another machine in my house that works.
One of those machines, this will get back to your question, was one of those terrible all-in-one HPs that were popular about five years ago. So that machine belonged to the last employ I swear I would ever hire, he was a receptionist who walked out on me with no notice one day. I guess actually she wasn’t the last one. I did have an associate after that, but kind of restructured my business, so that we use exclusively contract labor now. So, we have five attorneys but they’re all I’ve counseled and engaged as independent contractors.
Adriana Linares: Oh interesting. Oh good.
Greg McLawsen: And then our support team, I think we have Ruby who I absolutely adore with apologies to your sponsor specialist and we have an outsourcing team based in Bangalore as well.
Adriana Linares: So, tell me a little bit so our listeners understand, I’m sure there must be a ton of attorneys that are interested in contracting other attorneys. How do you find them, get them on board, do you give them Clio accounts or practice management accounts whether it’s Clio someone is using or something else, how do you actually get the work done?
Are they the same contract attorneys every time or do you just kind of visit like walking into the buffet line for contractor attorneys or like, well, that one looks good today and well, that one looks a little dry.
Greg McLawsen: The fact that there are contract attorneys has more to do with the nature of their compensation and the formalities of their legal engagement with their firm more than kind of how we find each other. So, we have a long-term working relationship together. It’s not like every time I have a new case, I go out there today, Internet, looking for another attorney.
So, these are folks that I have known for a long time and have got a long relationship with. It’s more like an off-counsel relationship at a traditional firm, where you would have your guy or gal who you’ve known for ten years and she’s really great at L1 visas and so you hire her when you have another L1 come in the door.
Adriana Linares: Okay, that makes sense. So they all have accounts on your various practice management programs or whatever technology it is that you use?
Greg McLawsen: Right.
Adriana Linares: How do you share documents?
Greg McLawsen: We have — well, it depends on what we’re doing but Clio, of course is our home base for LPM and then we also have Google Suite that we’ll use for internal templates and so forth.
Adriana Linares: Excellent. That’s very good.
Greg McLawsen: And do you want me to just kind of run through the buffet line of our different tech solutions?
Adriana Linares: I would love that, yes.
Greg McLawsen: Okay. So the quick wrap-up is Clio is our hub for core LPM solutions. We use Docketwise, which is an API integrated immigration form generation tool that works with Clio.
Adriana Linares: Hold on. And so, yeah, let me just for listeners who don’t know what an API is. So what you’re saying is Docketwise is a program that plugs into Clio and is able to grab information from there or push information into it, so they work together.
Greg McLawsen: Right.
Adriana Linares: I love making this an important factor in choosing practice management programs, whether they’re traditional or new, you don’t want to be trapped inside of a box, you want a box that has holes and allows the right information from other boxes to pass through those holes.
Greg McLawsen: And Clio may be I think absolutely brilliant decision to embrace integration and has a completely open API application programming interface. So that it plays well basically with anything else that has open API because you can use Zapier or Zepier, I never know which one it is, to make Clio talk to other programs.
So, for example, continued on the buffet line, we use Trello for Kanban-style project management for all of our cases. And Trello is of course also up in API so we can use Zapier to make it interact with client matters on Clio. And the other kind of core tool that we’re built around is Slack, we’ve used Slack for a number of years now as an internal communication tool, kind of our digital water-cooler.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, that’s great. Anything else? We’ve got Ruby Receptionists, which while they aren’t necessarily a technology company and probably much prefer us to refer to them as humans, they also have an API. So the app for Ruby Receptionist works with Clio.
Greg McLawsen: I guess just to mention a fun one that I’ve been playing with recently and really haven’t quite figured out how to use properly. I scorn the word “leverage”, so I won’t be an Intercom. So Intercom is really cool, it’s a real-time chat tool that sits on the corner of your website if that’s where you wish it to be, and basically, is a way to capture real-time traffic on your website.
So, people click on the icon and start a chat with the attorney. It’s a really powerful tool, it’s a little bit too powerful right now, we’re not a super-high-volume website but we get roughly 2,000 visitors a day. And a big enough slice of those are using the chat tool, but it’s kind of overwhelming and haven’t really figured out how we’re going to be able to scale our use of that, because I can’t sit around and answer chats all day.
Adriana Linares: That was my question, who answers the chats?
Greg McLawsen: I have been now, not because I think that’s a sustainable long-term option but because I want to learn more about how people are using it.
Adriana Linares: Yeah.
Greg McLawsen: And the questions are coming with.
Adriana Linares: Sure.
Greg McLawsen: But it’s too much, I just can’t handle it.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, I use one called Zopim, there’s tons of these for listeners who might be interested in having a live chat feature added to your website, some of them are free and some of them cost a little bit of money. But the thing is, if you’re going to turn on the live chat feature, you’ve got to have somebody there alive to chat with somebody who actually clicks on the button that says, hey, I have a legal question or I have in my case, technology consulting question.
And we won’t get into it in this conversation but I do want anyone who’s listening that’s interested to learn more about chatbots and we can mention Patrick again, Patrick Palace of Palace Law, also out of Tacoma and Washington has developed with a gentleman named Tom Martin who does LawBot. I can’t remember the name of that company, yeah, is it LawBot?
Greg McLawsen: LawBot and he is also out of Vancouver.
Adriana Linares: Oh he is? Oh, he’s cool. I should have him on the show. They developed the PatBot, I think that’s what they are calling it.
Greg McLawsen: Oh yes.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, so for those of you again that are listening and interested in this, just Google around, there’s plenty of law firms that are either using a live chat or these chatbots are interesting because they’re automated and they use some Artificial Intelligence on the backend that can sort of predict questions and/or answers that users are putting in, maybe for a couple of minutes, they don’t realize that they’re talking to a bot, but then the goal of that is of course to engage that visitor in a way where they become an actual client.
So, it’s not as easy, like you said, or like you’re making clear, it’s not as easy as just turning on this feature on your website, somebody has to be there to basically close the sale; whether it’s a bot or a human.
Greg McLawsen: We do have a chatbot as well so –
Adriana Linares: Oh you do? Oh cool.
Greg McLawsen: Yeah, which got delayed a little bit because Facebook pulled the plug on all app integrations after they got caught being naughty. But yeah, we created, it’s called Kestrel, it’s basically a public beta at this point, but it’s a chatbot that helps you screen for legal eligibility to pursue a marriage-based visa.
And if any of your listeners want to play with the development tool, it’s free, it’s really fun, it’s called Chatfuel, and if you go to our website HYPERLINK “http://www.soundimmigration.com” soundimmigration.com, there’s a button on the top menu and you can kind of play around with the bot and see what it looks like. It took me about eight hours to build, so it’s super, super fast and it’s again free.
Adriana Linares: That’s amazing. I’m going to go do that and then I’m just going to sit there and wait till the live chat feature comes on and I know you’re sitting there.
Greg McLawsen: Well, I was forced to unplug here, so don’t touch me right now. So there are two different ones, there’s the live chat with me feature and then there’s the fully automated, it certainly doesn’t qualify as a AI with the automated chatbot as well.
Adriana Linares: That’s amazing. Well, that’s great, and thank you for mentioning that and inviting people to come test it out on your site. You’re going to get all kinds of traffic on there.
Greg McLawsen: Please break it.
Adriana Linares: Oh yeah, that’s great that’s very cool. Listen, let me take a quick break before we move on to the second segment of the show and here a message from a couple of our sponsors.
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Adriana Linares: So, we are back. This is Adriana Linares, I’m on with Greg McLawsen today. Greg is a nomadic attorney based typically in the northwest somewhere between Washington and Vancouver, but you might find him on a beach. Hold on, he sent me a list of his recent trips. He was in — hold on standby — Mexico City, Thailand, Bhutan, and Sikkim, Northeast India drinking butter tea.
Greg, you sent me this list of places where you had recently traveled to and I thought it was hysterical that you went to Thailand for nothing more than ocean swimming; Bhutan for a marathon; Sikkim for butter tea, and Mexico apparently has good playgrounds.
Greg McLawsen: Mexico City has probably the best playgrounds I’ve ever seen anywhere. They’re absolutely epic.
Adriana Linares: That’s amazing.
Greg McLawsen: And I left Laos off the list, I forgot. We went to Laos twice as well.
Adriana Linares: For dinner?
Greg McLawsen: What did we do there? We ended up hiring a 4×4 huge pickup. The roads in Laos aren’t great. No, we basically drove up to the area by the Chinese border and checked out open-air markets. Laos is super, super rural. About ten years ago they really didn’t have a road network and Laotian cuisine involves a lot of forged stuff.
Adriana Linares: Wow.
Greg McLawsen: Including that’s kind of nasty actually to a Western palate but in one of the markets I got what looked like grilled honeycomb, which sounds like the best thing ever. So it was honeycomb wrapped in a banana leaf and put on a charcoal grill, which sounds like the best breakfast ever. But I had forgotten that that time of year, the Laotian folks will harvest wasp nests.
So, my first gigantic bite revealed that this was actually grilled wasp larvae, which is absolutely nothing like honey, except it is also in a waxy cone, not a fun mistake.
Adriana Linares: Super-weird, Greg.
Greg McLawsen: Yup.
Adriana Linares: How do you all pick where you’re going to go? Is there a business occasion for going someplace or is it purely curiosity and desire to go or combination?
Greg McLawsen: Yeah. So far not usually a business objective, sometimes we’ll use that as a happy coincidence. I’ve got a chance to speak on a conference on a cruise while going to Mexico, so I mean, how can you say no to that.
Adriana Linares: Awesome. Yeah.
Greg McLawsen: But no, usually it’s just pure curiosity. We absolutely love Southeast Asia, spent about a year in India, totally loved India. So, it’s just driven by loving those areas.
Adriana Linares: That’s very cool. Do your clients generally know, care or ask where you are? You must have a practice that doesn’t lend itself to necessarily having to meet face-to-face with tens of people every week. So, can you tell us a little bit about that sort of the client experience?
Greg McLawsen: Well, yeah, I’ll answer that in reverse order, so they never asked. They never asked, they definitely don’t care, but they do generally know.
To be fair, my work is primarily not client-facing. So, I’m primarily doing kind of the behind the scenes stuff like building chatbots and whatnot.
So, it’s primarily the rest of the team that’s doing direct client work, but they’re almost always doing it remotely. So, this morning I was talking to my attorney in Phoenix, Arizona who is talking to a client elsewhere here in the United States, and he doesn’t particularly care where she is.
Adriana Linares: Excellent. Yeah, I think that’s something I try to repeat on the podcast a lot because a lot of lawyers, especially maybe older lawyers who are thinking about going out on their own or might even be considering retiring, but wondering if they can just to stay in a solo practice as a hobby, I don’t even want to say that like it’s lightweight, but I mean, sometimes you just want to keep your brain operating. They worry that the clients are going to be concerned that they don’t have an actual address, that they have an office setup in their home or in their vacation home, and very rarely have I talked to an attorney who says that their clients have complained about where they are, where they practice.
So, as long as the work is getting done, the questions are getting answered, it just seems like — and I wouldn’t, and remember, I am not a lawyer, so I always think as the client would, I couldn’t give a crap where my attorney is going to be. As a matter of fact I don’t even care where my doctor is unless I have a physical problem that requires my doctor to touch my body. If I can explain to him or her what the problem is and they can solve my problem, I don’t even want to see them, I don’t even want to talk to their receptionist if I don’t have to and I tell my doctor that all the time, when I am there I’m like, hey, it’s great to see you. I really hope I don’t have to see you again for as long as it takes.
So, I feel like that’s a thing that a lot of attorneys just forget. So, to have someone again reiterate that I think is always powerful.
Greg McLawsen: Cannot agree more, I mean, I think a lot of attorneys are worried about the perception.
Adriana Linares: Uh-huh.
Greg McLawsen: I think it’s a little bit too self-focused and if the attorney is getting a little bit too much up in their own head and forgetting that clients come to you because they want a thing done and that’s what they are focused on, and if you can do the thing in a way that’s fast and easy for the client they could care less if you are sitting around the 26:55, which I am now.
Adriana Linares: I love that and in Vancouver no way — where are you today?
Greg McLawsen: Oh, I am down in beautiful, beautiful Seattle now.
Adriana Linares: Oh yeah, then it’s pretty good today.
Greg McLawsen: Right. We are going to interview a new attorney for the firm today, walking around a playground with her kids.
Adriana Linares: Excellent. I love that. I love your life. Tell me about what’s been a couple of the hardest things for you in developing a mobile virtual practice in office, because it can’t be all sunshine and puppies?
Greg McLawsen: Absolutely. I think the thing that I worry the most about and the thing that I feel I really haven’t solved for very well is building the internal cohesion of our team. Developing an office culture that’s really durable is something that is a real challenge. To blow their horn once again it’s something Clio does super-well, but trying to develop really core values with a team that never meets face-to-face is really tough.
Fortunately, I know each individual lawyer very well, so I know kind of their core professional ethos, which is very well-aligned with my own but still building something that kind of lives and breathes by itself is difficult with the remote team.
Adriana Linares: Well, that’s really interesting. Well, I will have to have you back on a little later and see — well once you solve that problem let me know, so I can have you back on and you can tell everybody else how you figured that out because I am sure that’s a question, every virtual or mobile lawyer — yeah —
Greg McLawsen: Yeah, it’s a tough one, I mean what would qualify as success, how would you measure, what’s your KPI for office culture, I don’t know.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, anything else that’s been sort of a pitfall, but that’s a really good one, although it’s certainly not insurmountable with all the technology and communication tools that are headed our way, I am sure you will figure that one out. Do you do video a lot? Do you all use video conferencing a lot?
Greg McLawsen: We don’t as a team, part of that is time zone, and it’s difficult for folks to block off a weekly a time which I did try to do for a little while. The other hard thing candidly it’s the thing that every single solo and small firm deals with is just client acquisition.
One thing that’s challenging for us is local marketing is hard but it’s a pretty manageable target. Our potential client base is so diffused. It’s a different game to try to target folks who could be potentially anywhere out in the world. So that’s – it’s certainly an ongoing struggle, for sure.
Adriana Linares: Very interesting, all right, well, when you figure that one out let me know, we will talk about both of those things in the follow up podcast.
Hold on, before we move on, let me take a quick break and here a message from a couple of our sponsors.
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Adriana Linares: We are back. I am Adriana Linares and with me today is Greg McLawsen.
I want to make sure that we close the circle on your technology. So, it was Clio Docketwise, which is specifically for immigration law, is that right?
Greg McLawsen: It is for now, but I anticipate they will probably branch out to other areas.
Adriana Linares: Excellent, and you use Ruby Receptionists to help with answering phone calls and managing communications that come in through a main line. You’ve got a chatbot, you’ve got a live chat to help communication with clients and hopefully client acquisition once you get that streamlined, I bet that will help. Anything else? I mean, it sounds like you are a Windows user, you are between laptops right now?
Greg McLawsen: Yes, this is the big one and the most important piece of technology that we’ve ever adopted is the use of a visual project management.
Adriana Linares: Oh god, drum-roll.
Greg McLawsen: Yeah, it’s a freebie, is a visual project management using Agile and Kanban.
Adriana Linares: Okay, you are going to have to really break that down.
Greg McLawsen: Yeah. I will do that by deferring to someone else who’s the expert, I am John Grant, have you had John Grant on?
Adriana Linares: I think I have actually. I love John Grant. Yeah, let’s give him a shout out and point to his website and tell people to learn more about what he helped you do.
Greg McLawsen: Yeah, basically the long and the short of it is getting all of your actionable to-do items out of your head and out of the interminable hell of to-do lists and putting them into —
Adriana Linares: So hard for lawyers to do.
Greg McLawsen: Yes, well, we think it’s so easy.
Adriana Linares: So hard.
Greg McLawsen: They think it’s hard but all they have to do —
Adriana Linares: Say that again.
Greg McLawsen: It’s so easy, just get a freaking stack of post-it notes. I am looking at my wall right now. I am working on a project and there are about 100 sticky notes, and the simplest approach is you break it into three columns, doing, things you are waiting on and things that are done, and every post-it note goes into one of those columns.
Adriana Linares: Like you’re physically moving post-it notes.
Greg McLawsen: You’re physically moving post-it notes. When we adopted this for our client management, we broke the case lifecycle into are we waiting on an attorney for something, are we waiting on a paralegal, are we waiting on the client for something, is the case filed? Every client matter got one post-it note and we put them up on the wall, and a wonderful insight we got from that immediately was that clients were our bottleneck in the production cycle.
So, basically the reason that client matters weren’t moving faster is because clients weren’t getting back to us and that’s neither a good nor a bad thing, but it told us that the thing we needed to solve — if we wanted faster cycle time with our cases was making it easier for our clients to get documents back to us.
Adriana Linares: So, I want to know if you solved that problem or are in the process of solving it by using a client portal because I love client portals and I wish more lawyers use them.
Greg McLawsen: Yeah, we use Clio Connect exclusively for getting client documents and it’s not a technology problem so much and using Clio Connect is quite easy, it’s really a client management issue and dealing with getting clients to adhere to the behavior of using the tool versus defaulting to email, which is a horrendous idea if you are emailing secure docs —
Adriana Linares: Right, there’s million reasons, emailing and texting your phone calls isn’t the best way to communicate with clients, but of course, it’s the way we do it.
So, let me just unwind this a little bit hoping that you will say the things I want you to say so listeners will hear, because this is how I would do it but I hold this. When you engage a client, do you explain to them by the way for security and efficiency purposes, this is the way we want you to upload and download documents? It’s so easy, if you can put pictures of your kid’s quinceanera on Facebook, you can use this client portal.
Do you make that expectation clear from the beginning? Do you show them how it works, like how do you get them — I know not every client is going to use this, I get that, but if you could get even six out of ten to use something like this it must help, so how do you make that happen?
Greg McLawsen: Yeah, so this is codified in our Office Manual and the Office Manual is actually a website. Very quick deviation, if anybody is building an office manual I would suggest checking out Google. I think they just call it Google Sites. You can build a super basic internal secure website and it’s much, much easier for your team to navigate around the website than it is dealing with a long, like Word document or PDF document.
But in that Office Manual website we have first of all a description of how to explain the value of the secure portal to the clients and then kind of also an intervention protocol, kind of suggested bullet point of, here is why you might not want to do that.
Adriana Linares: Oh, that’s great, I love that. And let me also just clarify in case listeners are not sure what Google Sites is, you must then be a Google Apps for Business firm, right?
Greg McLawsen: Yeah, it just seems to change its name every month or two, but yeah, Google Suite, yeah, G Suite.
Adriana Linares: Okay, so your email and calendaring and services that a lot of people use Office 365 for, and it doesn’t have to be this or that; a lot of us use both, but for you, your firm is then routed in G Suite and then part of that service is, this internal website is basically like an intranet and it’s called Google Sites and you could just go in there and make it an information portal for internal employees or people?
Greg McLawsen: That’s exactly right. It’s just an internal facing website. And you reminded me by referencing Google Calendar. We also used a tool called ScheduleOnce for client scheduling, which integrates very nicely with Outlook and Google.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, that’s another thing I just want to take a minute to say out loud, because this is confusing. The Office Suite stuff can be confusing. So I am a Google — I am a G Suite user too, so LawTech Partners is my little company and our email and calendaring and all that stuff runs through Google.
I also though have an Office 365 account so that I can have Microsoft Office on all my devices, including my PC and my Mac, and I love Outlook. I cannot live without Outlook and I don’t care what anybody tells me, I will go fisticuffs on anybody that tries to tell me that the interface is less efficient than trying to use three different screens in Google.
Greg McLawsen: I kind of feel like we can’t be friends anymore.
Adriana Linares: Oh God. And who is next? Sam Glover, let’s get him into this conversation because he is another one.
So I love Outlook because I want to be able to drag and drop information. I want to take an email and I want to move it onto my calendar and I want a new person that lands in my inbox to easily become a contact. So I love Outlook.
And then in a minute we are going to talk about why we can’t be friends. But the point is you can have Google or G Suite, Google running the back end of your business and still use Outlook as your email client, if you would like.
Now Greg, what do you use?
Greg McLawsen: I of course, of course use Google Suites directly. So email is Gmail.
Adriana Linares: I am going to start torturing you by asking you for things like send me a VCF, so that you purposefully have to step on like 20 clicks in order to just send me somebody’s contact card. No, I am kidding.
Greg McLawsen: I have not once had that use case scenario.
Adriana Linares: Oh my God. I do that all day long. That’s so funny.
Well anyway, we could talk about that all day long. And here’s what I have to say about technology, I don’t care what people use, I just want them to use it well and safely. So however, whatever combination of technology you pick off of the buffet line, you just want to make sure that it’s efficient and secure and you are using it really well.
Greg McLawsen: And I should make my core point which is I absolutely detest, with the capital D email. I had made a very strong push to completely divest myself from email a couple of years ago, which wasn’t quite possible, but we have almost a no email policy at the firm. So usually I will get fewer than two work-related emails within the firm each week.
Adriana Linares: So all your communications pass through Clio Communications, Client Portal and Slack?
Greg McLawsen: Right, it goes to the tool that makes the most functional sense for whatever type of communication is happening. So people default to email without thinking what is this communication for and what’s the best way to manage the information I am trying to communicate.
So if we are having a roundtable powwow discussion at the firm, we will go into a Slack channel. If we are trying to document something that’s happening on a case, we will make an annotation in Trello, or if a client is communicating with us, we want it on the Client Portal, so it’s secure and it sticks with their client matter. So we don’t just dump everything into the unholy inboxes’ email account.
Adriana Linares: I think we just caused like car accidents and slip and falls all over this country with lawyers hearing you say that.
Greg McLawsen: My clients will never do that and my team has to have emails, it’s the only way; no, it’s not, you are just being lazy.
Adriana Linares: And stuck. And I think that’s so true because everyone hates email. I think I do more email management training than anything else, and the biggest problem is you use your inbox like it’s the dumping ground for everything, including eBay and Southwest and Facebook and LinkedIn.
I will tell you, I see some inboxes, lawyer’s inboxes that have, this is not even a lie, 60,000 items in that inbox. I know. Oh God, are you there? Greg, are you with me, are you with me?
Greg McLawsen: Oh yeah.
Adriana Linares: No, it’s really horrifying.
Greg McLawsen: What I tell clients with respect to using Clio Connect is their communications are the most important thing that transpires at our law firm. The whole reason we exist is to serve them and make sure that we are hearing what we need to hear from them and so we don’t want their communication dumped into the same pile as ads for pizza and the latest offer from the haircutting salon. We want to give them their own place for their information to live.
Adriana Linares: I think that’s really smart. I totally love that and I hope that some lawyers hear this, maybe even their paralegals and their secretaries and start to see some light.
I mean that’s sometimes where I have to go to make change in a law firm and see the light that that’s really true. I like the way you explained it that if you all are having a conversation about something, let’s go into a Slack channel, which is essentially a virtual conference room. It’s basically like saying, hey guys, let’s grab this empty conference room over here and hash this out in a way that makes sense instead of going round and round an email.
Greg McLawsen: Bingo.
Adriana Linares: So hopefully that will — and Slack is an interesting tool. It’s still a little bit newish. I can say that to a group of lawyers and most of them have heard the word, but they don’t know necessarily how it works and what it is, so I would encourage listeners to learn a little bit more about that.
So before I let you go Greg, I just want to first of all thank you of course for your time. Sounds like you are very busy with your life and your practice and obviously very successfully and I love hearing these stories. Make sure you tell us real quick, if you don’t mind, how people can find, friend or follow you on the Internet.
Greg McLawsen: Yeah, probably easiest way is on the Twitter and I am @mclawsen.
Adriana Linares: And no email, right?
Greg McLawsen: Yeah, let’s stay off email.
Adriana Linares: You must have died when I hit you up on Twitter and I was the opposite of you, I was like, I don’t look at Twitter that often, can I email you, you must have been like, oh, this bitch.
Greg McLawsen: We made it to the email part of our friendship, so that’s okay.
Adriana Linares: We did. Okay, next we are going to battle out the Outlook thing in another conversation.
Well Greg, thank you so much. I really do appreciate your time.
Greg McLawsen: Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks a lot and enjoy the spring transitioning into summer here.
Adriana Linares: Definitely. I think the whole country is welcoming that.
Greg McLawsen: Yeah. I mean, it’s a fun time if you are up here in the Pacific Northwest. I am not quite so sure about New Orleans, but have fun.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, it’s about 95 and 100% humidity right now, but you know what, that’s why we live here. We love swarming termites and cockroaches down here. It’s just the best.
Greg McLawsen: Nothing that a nice cold hurricane can’t fix for you.
Adriana Linares: Right. All right everyone. Thanks for listening to New Solo on Legal Talk Network.
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See you 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.
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