Guest Tom L. Drew is a longtime attorney in Des Moines, Iowa. He reached out to New Solo and host Adriana Linares for help modernizing his practice and getting the most out of today’s tech.
Drew is comfortable with computers, but he’s always looking for newer, better, more efficient methods. As a long-time paperless operation, Drew’s office was in a good place when it went remote during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As his office went to a work-from-home environment, Drew was quick to incorporate training sessions and provide the necessary tools to help his team set up comfortable, efficient home offices. He found that money spent on tech is money well spent, and speed and efficiency matters more than cost.
Hear how Drew upgraded software and replaced an on-site server with the cloud for a faster, on-the-go setup. Still unsure about cloud technology, OneDrive, Office 365, remote access, and document sharing? Learn how and where these pieces fit in a modern office.
Plus, we have a special upcoming mailbag edition on Office 365 and all things Microsoft. Got a question? Contact us at [email protected]
- Guest Tom Drew, longtime solo practitioner, talks about his recent tech makeover and moving from a server to the cloud.
- It’s not about cost, it’s about productivity and efficiency.
- In today’s work-from-home environment, being able to collaborate, schedule, and share information is more important than ever. Tech isn’t only for new solos, it’s for established firms too.
In our series New Insights, veteran attorney Jennifer Smith Thomas answers questions from new attorney Jennifer Townsend about the challenges of working with her father in a small, family-owned firm.
Question 2: “I work on cases with my Dad. In the South, it is uncommon to address your parents by their first name. How should I introduce myself and explain our relationship to new clients while being respectful of my Dad and not undermining myself as a new attorney?”
Special thanks to our sponsors, Lawclerk, Alert Communications, Abby Connect, and Clio.
Adriana Linares: A few weeks ago, I received an email from a listener that says this. “I’m a regular listener of your New Solo podcast. Thank you for providing your listeners with such interesting and informative content each month. I always learn something new or find inspiration with each episode.” Okay, so I’m actually reading that line because I thought it was so nice and I completely appreciate it but that’s not the point of reading you the email. It was a little self-serving. I wanted to say thank you for all of you who regularly send me tweets, emails or notes on LinkedIn for appreciating the content on New Solo. The email goes on. “I’m a solo attorney. My practice area is commercial real estate transactions. I’ve been in practice for more than 35 years and up to now, for better or worse, I have served as my own IT person. I have a home office and I’m interested in having someone evaluate my current tech setup and offer suggestions for possible improvement.”
So, I’m Adrianna Linares and I’m the host of the New Solo podcast on Legal Talk Network. Thanks for tuning in. The reason I’m reading that email is because this podcast is called New Solo. And as you can see from that email, I don’t always have new solos that are listening to this podcast. So, when I replied to the gentleman that sent me that email, of course, I thanked him very much for the nice comments about New Solo. And then I said, “I’m going to interview a gentleman that sounds a lot like you. Someone who’s been practicing for a long time, has no intention of giving up his law practice anytime soon and really just wants to make sure he’s improving and using his technology as best as possible.” So, that’s who I have with us today, Tom Drew. Hey, Tom.
Tom L. Drew: Hey. How are you doing? Long time listener, first time caller. Good to be here.
Adriana Linares: Oh, I love it. That’s awesome. I’ve always wanted somebody to say that to me. No, that’s great. So, Tom, you came to me the same way that that other gentleman did which you’re a listener and wanted to improve your practice. I mean, you were ready to make some pretty monumental changes which is why I have you on the show today. But before we even dive into what happened to your practice which is all good, tell everyone a little bit about your background and your area of law and your law firm and how long you’ve been practicing? Tom, you are definitely not old enough to have been practicing 35 years.
Tom L. Drew: It will be 35 years in January and I very much appreciate you saying that. I don’t get that very, very often. So, yeah, I’m an Iowa lawyer. Actually I grew up and my dad was an attorney, last of what you’d call a country lawyer, grew up in a small town in north central Iowa. My dad was a lawyer there. My brother is a lawyer as well. He’s actually a district court judge. So I always knew that I wanted to be a lawyer. I’m one of those people. My dad would take me to the office when I was young, growing up. I actually had occasion to sit in with clients when they agreed to let me do that as a high schooler and I’d go to court with my dad and I just knew this is for me.
Adriana Linares: And you love it? You’ve always loved it?
Tom L. Drew: I do.
Adriana Linares: And I love talking to lawyers that love practicing law.
Tom L. Drew: Yeah, I feel very fortunate to be able to counsel people, help people through difficult times. It’s been a great career.
Adriana Linares: I love it. So you wanted to modernize your practice. So tell us a little bit about your staff and your setup and why it was important for you to do this, not only for yourself, but for them?
Tom L. Drew: I have been a solo practitioner most of my career, 25 years now. I started out in a firm in law school that did the type of work that I do, personal injury work, work injury cases. So I wouldn’t call myself a full gadget freak but I’m a gadgety type person. I’ve always been comfortable working with computers and I was one of the first trial lawyers I think in Des Moines to be walking around with a laptop way back when.
Adriana Linares: Way back when they weighed 20 pounds?
Tom L. Drew: Yes, exactly. So I’ve always been in touch with efficiencies of practice, I would say. And that isn’t necessarily always computer based or software based but efficiencies of practice have been important for me. One of the things I’ve always said to my lawyer friends who are trying to grow their practices, I’ve always said, “Don’t tell me how you’re going to get bigger. Tell me how you’re going to get smaller.”
And that’s how I’ve looked at things is, how can we efficiently do what we want to do and do it well?
Adriana Linares: And what happened during the pandemic when everyone was being forced to work from home? Did you panic or do you regularly see clients in your law office or how did the pandemic affect your small practice in a small town? Well, Des Moines is not that small of a town but mid-size town.
Tom L. Drew: I’m going to say that we were pretty much ready for that. I’ve been working paperless and we had access through GoToMyPC which ends up being clunky. And then we went to VPN service which is still kind of clunky. And as you know, seconds matter, right? So when you’re sitting and waiting for things — and that evolved into this cloud based thing that we’re doing now but we did okay. But I think for a lot of people, it forced people to re-evaluate how they were offering their services to clients. Some embraced it and just considered it to be the new normal and others not so much.
Adriana Linares: You are definitely the embracer because you kept your practice pretty busy. You kept your staff busy. You have a physical office but everyone also was and is still able to work from home. So you were just using GoToMyPC and then a VPN to be able to do that?
Tom L. Drew: Yes, and so I’ve had long term legal assistant, long-term secretary who’s been promoted now to legal assistant, part-time bookkeeper and then contracting staff. But I have embraced the concept of remote working. I think it’s consistent with what I do in my practice and I’m 60 years old this year. I come from what I would call the old school practice where people spend all their time in the office. And I just thought, you know, that’s not a real good way to live. And so, we’ve embraced the fallout of COVID if you want to say it that way of embracing remote working.
Adriana Linares: And you have one assistant who’s a little older and then one who’s quite younger so you’ve got the full gamut of ages in your office between the three of you. Everyone uses a PC but you also practice sometimes on a Mac when you travel, right? So you’re bi tech, as I like to say?
Tom L. Drew: Yes. When I travel, I’ve got my MacBook Pro and then I also have an iPad that I use with that when I travel.
Adriana Linares: That’s great. So I think one thing I just want to say out loud is a lot of times I get asked, “I’m a PC, should I switch to a Mac? I’d really like a Mac” or “I’m a Mac, should I switch back to a PC?” My answer is you practice with whatever is most comfortable for you but I think there is a lot to be said with being comfortable with both platforms because why not? We’re not launching rockets here, we’re typically building documents and sending emails. So, I think it’s great that you use both operating systems. I’ll also say this now in case we forget later, all the changes and transitions that we’ve made to your practice through technology, it did not matter which device you were on, they’re device and platform agnostic.
Tom L. Drew: Yeah, this has been seamless for us.
Adriana Linares: I love it. And then tell me a couple more things. I think I said this a minute ago. You have a physical office but everyone also is able to work from home. Did you come up with a specific schedule on work from home or how do you all manage when someone works from home or when you’re all in the office, is there a schedule?
Tom L. Drew: I think it has gone in in phases. When I look back at how we’ve done this and I would say it’s been starting probably around the time of COVID I’d say two years ago when we really kind of started embracing the work remote. And so, what I wanted to create was a seamless environment and so my staff, we started out where Fridays were going to be remote days for everybody. My wife and I have a lake home and so, I work remotely as well. That was a big stretch. I’m going to be honest to do that. It was to be up there and not here, how’s that all going to work and the fact of the matter, it worked. It worked quite well.
And it was important to me to get setups for my staff at home similar to what they’ve got here at the office. So, if you go into their homes, I’ve got four monitors here in the office. I don’t have that up at the lake but my staff does have their multiple monitors at home in their workspace and I’ve got four here. The only reason I don’t have five is that the fifth one won’t fit anywhere but it was important to me for them to be seamless.
We’ve gotten there now. I think we’ll get to this when we talk about the OneDrive but we’ve gotten there now. We’re pretty seamless.
Adriana Linares: That’s amazing. And did you buy the new equipment, new computers for their homes?
Tom L. Drew: I did.
Adriana Linares: Okay. That’s awesome. So, you bought a couple extra — are they laptops?
Tom L. Drew: No. They’re a full desktop system again mirroring the desktops that we have here in the office.
Adriana Linares: That’s pretty smart and incredibly gracious and kind of you to spend that kind of money. I mean, obviously, you need to run your business. What did they think about that when you said, “Hey, I’m going to buy you all the setup to work from home and we’re going to work out how to work from home sometimes?” Did they embraced that or did anyone say, “I kind of really like coming into the office and I don’t want to go home and work?”
Tom L. Drew: Yeah. Actually I would say, I kind of had it from both sides. My more experienced legal assistant, understandably she had never worked that way. She’s been in the industry for over 30 years too. And then my newly experienced legal assistant was like, “Pass the mashed potatoes. What are we even talking about here? This is not a big deal.” And that’s kind of how it went.
Adriana Linares: And today, how are they both doing with this hybrid environment that you’ve created?
Tom L. Drew: Again, it’s amazing how seamless that it is gone. I think it’s just simply a process of embracing the concept and I’ve just said multiple times this is the direction that we’re going and I have no intent on slowing down in my practice. I’m having more fun than ever. I think it’s a great time to be a solo. It’s a great time to do the type of work that you want to do. And I just made it clear that this is where we’re going and come along.
Adriana Linares: Yeah. I love it. I love that you have really led the initiative. A lot of times its staff or younger attorneys that are the ones behind this but I also love that you just sort of put your foot down in a very nice way and said, “This is what we’re going to do,” and they came along. But you also did a lot of right things and we’re going to talk about the transition to your new tech environment in the next segment but I will say that in speaking about your assistance, because I’m the one that got to help you and gets to work with you, you have been very wise and generous in making sure they have the right training and that they’re comfortable with the transition they went through.
So, I think that’s an important part for everyone to hear that is you can’t just throw technology and changes at anyone but specifically in this conversation, support staff, and expect them to “figure it out.” They’re going to end up stressed out, maybe mad so providing them with the support and the right equipment is just really, really important. So, I absolutely commend you for the way you have done all this, Tom.
Tom L. Drew: You know I’m going to say on that, comfortable workspace has always been very important. We have very comfortable offices here at our building and the remote capabilities with the technology is equally important to me. I never thought for one minute about really the cost associated with setting them up at home. I wanted to have it where it was seamless, where they felt like they had top-of-the-line equipment and speed is everything. So, I wanted it to be fast.
Adriana Linares: That’s another thing I really appreciate about you is you will say, “Well, that’s reasonable,” or “I don’t really care what it costs.” You’re not Daddy Warbucks looking to spend a million dollars on a server or anything else close to a server but you’re just not afraid to put money where it’s going to be best spent. Could you take a moment and inspire maybe younger attorneys or other attorneys to put that investment into the right resources especially in the context of technology?
Tom L. Drew: Sure. My mindset is speed matters and it really does matter. And so, I upgrade my equipment to the latest, fastest information software programs, internet. Speed matters. And I think a lot of frustration that comes along with a technology movement is there’s not enough speed there. Maybe it’s a little bit clunky. And GoToMyPC is a great platform for certain things but it’s just too clunky. So, I never even considered it to be a budget item to be honest with you. It was just important to me that that we have top of the line equipment and then I equip my staff with the ability to do their job. That pays back in spades. It’s an investment no different than buying your staff a nice chair and a nice desk so they’re comfortable in having the environment where they could be comfortable, that’s got to translate over into the technology that’s being used.
Adriana Linares: Wonderful. Well, let’s take a quick break. Listen to some messages from some sponsors and we’ll be right back with Tom L. Drew.
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Adriana Linares: All right, we’re back. I’m Adriana Linares, the host of New Solo, and with me today is Tom L. Drew. And I’m going to ask Tom now to talk about the technology heart transplant his firm went through and in full disclosure, Tom hired me to help him do some of this. It’s one of the reasons I have him on the show is because I really wanted him to tell the story, not just for young attorneys that are looking to modernize their practice, but I think it’s so awesome when I get experienced attorneys that are just still so interested in technology and wanting to continue to make their practice better. It does not stop no matter how old you get.
So, Tom, thanks so much again for coming on and talking to us about this. Tell us a little bit about your initial setup, what we were looking to change. And before you start, I will say this one thing. You have an IT person so you have had a good and helpful IT person that had helped you with getting the VPN and setting up GoToPC and all that stuff. So, give us the background about where you started when we first started working together. What was the setup?
Tom L. Drew: Yeah. So, I think I’d be similar to a lot of attorneys or law firms and that I had an IT person that I still use today, great person, very in touch with what’s going on but I think he would admit that the end of his horizon was the cloud. And so, he operated fully in an environment that was desktop-based to an interoffice type thing. GoToMyPC and a VPN was kind of the next step for him but once we got into the cloud, I think he would admit that that’s just an area where he wasn’t heading. And I was convinced after listening to your podcast and the other podcast that I listen to, this is where it’s at. And when I talk about they’ll tell me how you’re going to get bigger, tell me how you’re going to get smaller, that’s instrumental in that.
And so, we had typical desktop environment but I knew that we had to get out into the cloud to get where we wanted to be which is efficiency and software products in support of that to be what I called a seamless. And I wanted this all to be seamless and that’s where we had to go to get there.
Adriana Linares: So, you had a physical server in the office and all the computers were connected to that physical server and that is what you all would remote into whether it was your individual PCs using GoToMyPC. So, Tom would remote into Tom’s machine. Betty, that’s not her real name but we’ll just call it Betty, would remote into hers and Wilma will remote into hers. I don’t know why I picked the two Flintstones. I guess because I’ve always got The Flintstones and The Jetsons on a –.
Tom L. Drew: Because I’m Fred I guess is why you didn’t. I must look like Fred.
Adriana Linares: You are George now. You’re George Jetson. We went from Fred Flintstone’s law firm to George Jetson’s. So, everyone would remote into their PC and then the shared resource for files was the server.
Tom L. Drew: That’s right.
Adriana Linares: Okay, so you came to me and said, “I’ve got the server. We’ve got a system that works but it’s a little bit clunky. How can we become more efficient?” And you already had Office 365 but we ended up sort of upgrading and changing your licenses a little bit. So, you had Office 365 but you weren’t taking advantage of it. So, the first conversation that you and I had if I can remember correctly was really about understanding how OneDrive might be able to work to replace that server.
Tom L. Drew: Yes, because conceptually it’s very simple but it’s hard to get your mind around what really is happening.
And I remember you saying to me, “Look, I’m going to be able to do what you want to do.” And I’m like, “Yeah, right? Okay, heard that before.” But it’s true. It’s just true. It’s been seamless.
Adriana Linares: I was very happy to receive an email from you in early January, because I think we did all of this. Our goal was to get you transitioned up and running by January 1. So at the end of last year, I must have said to you, “This is going to be a lot easier than you think.” Now, in the world’s defense, you had a really easy setup. You had a server, three computers connected to it, and really not a lot of customized or specific software. It’s really the server and your files being stored on the server was the heart of where all the productivity came from, all the documents were produced. So you sent me an email that said, “You were right, this was a lot easier than I thought.” And that made me really happy because I think a lot of attorneys panic about the transition and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to have you come on, was to say, “It was a little bit of work, technical work, but in the end, it was easier than I thought?
Tom L. Drew: No doubt.
Adriana Linares: Okay.
Tom L. Drew: Being a paid cynic, I didn’t know what to think. But it’s been seamless. That’s the best term I keep coming back to is seamless.
Adriana Linares: So let’s help everyone understand the decision that we made, which was, I said to you, with Office 365, you can have SharePoint, or you can have OneDrive where one person owns the files and then we share them out. And SharePoint is the obvious solution, and it’s also what Microsoft would want us to do is to use SharePoint as a server. What I have found is with really small practices, I wouldn’t do this specific set up, I don’t think with a five, six or seven-person firm, but you are the sole attorney and the shareholder and the owner and all the files are technically yours. And business wise, they’re yours, and then you have two people that need to access those. So we talked it through, and I said, if you decide to go with SharePoint, it takes a little more administration. You kind of have to have a little more technical knowledge.
And I don’t want to scare anyone out there. SharePoint isn’t that hard, but it does require care and feeding. And I said, well, here’s an option, where every single one of you gets a OneDrive slice of the giant pie. So everyone gets their own OneDrive, and what we could do is create a folder, and I’m simplifying this. A folder called clients. And inside the client folder, it would live inside of your OneDrive which you are the owner of the firm and then you would share that folder with your two assistants, and anything that goes in or out of that folder everyone has access to and can share. But I think we ended up using a generic user. Is that right for the OneDrive?
Tom L. Drew: Yes.
Adriana Linares: Okay, let’s talk about that real quick. Why did we decide to do that? And that’s another alternative that I will give people, and I think that was a good decision.
Tom L. Drew: Well, from my standpoint, I think we did that because it was consistent with kind of what we were doing. I’m trying to remember the process that went into it. I think that we had just said that you asked me what we were doing in our office and what we needed to do, and we needed to get in and pull and edit, and it was decided that that would be the most efficient way to do it, I think.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, and actually, I think it was your IT guy that said, “Well, we’ve got this extra account we use for generic email. There’s a whole account set up. Instead of attaching the shared OneDrive to one person, namely Tom, let’s just make it sort of an entity.” So there is a user account that’s called I think let’s just say it’s called admin. I can’t remember what you called it, but let’s pretend there’s a fake user named admin and with admin we sort of opened up all the right, so that the three people in the firm could access anything that the admin account had including and especially OneDrive.
We set that up, and then your IT guy sat there because he has good access to your server and your internal files, and he just copied and pasted, dragged and dropped. Maybe he used an automated service of some sort. I’m not really sure, but all you and I know is that one day we came in on a Monday and he had copied all your files from the server over to the OneDrive account that was going to be accessed by everyone. And you guys were pretty much off to the races.
Tom L. Drew: Within 24 hours, we were off to the races.
Adriana Linares: We had set up your Office 365 accounts correctly. I think there were like two or three different account types in the Drew Law Firm Microsoft account, but we synchronized all those. Everybody still has their own one TB of OneDrive where they can put their personal work files. And then the shared entity is what contains all of the shared files. And then each of you opened from and saved to an emailed from and worked through that OneDrive account?
Tom L. Drew: Yeah.
Adriana Linares: You all don’t notice the difference whether you’re navigating to a server or to a shared OneDrive, right?
Tom L. Drew: No.
Adriana Linares: Can you explain? Talk about that.
Tom L. Drew: Well, again, I use the word seamless, but as a lawyer, you just want it to work, right? It’s just like a car. I don’t need to know how the pistons and stuff are working. I just want it to work. I literally, it’s like in the Sci-Fi movies, I can be sitting anywhere with an internet connection and I am in business, and that includes on my iPhone, that includes — and this is across hardware platforms. So, I’m sitting in my hotel room in Arizona, I’m in business. Seamless. On my laptop and my iPad.
Adriana Linares: And everything’s just there because Microsoft creates a centralized location where all of your devices, including your assistance, connect back into to synchronize files from. I just thought of something. One of your assistance is a Mac also. So you have your Mac that you work from and then I think she works on a Mac. Is it only at home and in the office, she’s got a PC?
Tom L. Drew: Well, she’s got a family with young children, so they go camping. So she’s got her desktop set up at home. But then I also just purchased for her a MacBook that she can take on the road. And I said an internet connection, but I can also access it through my cell phone. I’ve done it right. I can be riding in an Uber looking at my files and I’ve done that too or I can be sitting at the Lake in business doing anything and everything that I want to do. So that portability is absolutely freaky crazy to me that you can do that.
Adriana Linares: I wish I could have been there the first time after we kind of got everything set up and running, and the first time you logged in and looked and said, “Oh, my God, there it is.”
Tom L. Drew: Right. You talk about The Flintstones. It’s like, “Wilma! Come here! Take a look at this. You’re not going to believe it.” I mean, it’s that kind of wow factor to it and how it’s all gyrating in the background and all of that stuff. I don’t need my mind to go there. It just works.
Adriana Linares: And so, before we go onto our next segment, here’s how I’ll sort of summarized all this as working for Tom. It’s through Office 365, which I say all the time is the greatest gift ever given to any business specifically small businesses and in our world, especially law firms. And when you get it set up right which is often the hardest part because you might have maybe an IT person like Tom had who just isn’t necessarily comfortable with Office 365 isn’t up to speed or maybe you’re paying an IT company who wants you to continue paying them monthly service for maintaining your server, monitoring your desktops. Sometimes there are hurdles that can keep you from getting there. But in the end, at the bottom of Tom’s technology platform, holding everything else up is Office 365.
Tom L. Drew: No doubt. One thing that I said to my staff that’s important that I wanted to bring up is when you’re introducing remote working from home, I think there is a tendency for staff to think that this is going to be more work, not less, right? So the thought is, here we go. Now he’s wanting more –
Adriana Linares: He’s in my house now.
Tom L. Drew: Right, I can’t get away from this person. And I believe this in my heart and I said this to them. “This is your freedom to work less and more efficient. It’s not about more work, it’s about less and more efficient work.” And that concept especially in an attorney or staff that’s been in the industry for many years, that needs to get talked about and we still do talk about it. That it’s not — so you’re going to have to do more. It’s so you’re going to have to do less.
Adriana Linares: And from wherever you want.
Tom L. Drew: Wherever you want. It’s worked out great, and I said this is going to allow you to do the things that you want to do and my more experienced legal assistant. She’s got things she wants to do in her maybe retirement years or slow down years. It’s going to allow her to do that and with the younger, it’s going to allow her to do the things that she wants to do. We’re under a traditional model, being a mother with young children. You can’t do that so much.
Adriana Linares: I agree. When we comeback from our next break, I want to talk to you about staff expectations and then also just a little bit more about the transition and how you made them both feel so comfortable and have gotten along so well. and I don’t mean together, like along. They always get along. But I mean, gotten along the process. So, well, we’ll be right back.
Okay, everyone. It’s now time for Jennifer Townsend’s second question of new insights for Jennifer Thomas.
Jennifer Townsend: I started my own law firm and I work on cases with my dad and his solo firm. In the South, it is uncommon to address your parents by their first names. How should I introduce myself and explain our relationship to new clients while being respectful of my dad and not undermining myself as a new attorney?
Jennifer Thomas: Yeah. This is a good one and I really, really, personally struggled with this as a young lawyer. The quick answer is it depends would a lawyer answer that is. When I was young and joined my dad’s firm, I was really conscientious or concerned, even insecure that people would think that because I was working with my dad, I couldn’t hack at somewhere else, or that I wasn’t smart enough or talented enough to get a real job and daddy gave me a job. And as I’ve gotten older and a little bit more confident, it’s easier for me to handle those situations. But I would say this to anybody that works with their parents who either has the same last name or resembles their parent as I unfortunately do, you should assume that it will be assumed and you should be prepared for two types of situations. One is friendly. Do you work with your dad or is that your husband or whatever it might be. And I think some people find it very endearing that I work with my dad and they asked me about it and say how is that? And I have plenty of stories and we should probably be a sitcom. But a quick “Oh, I taught him everything he knows” sort of dismissal of it is a serious issue.
And then, the other thing that you must be prepared for, because it will happen, is when people weaponize that your parent is your law partner or your boss or whatever. And I’ve had opposing counsels say things like, “What does your dad think? Do you need to go talk to your dad” or assuming because I’m a young woman that he’s my husband or something like that or what does he say. And so, you need to be prepared to react to that in real time and confidently. For the weaponizing ones, I have found it easy to say that I haven’t asked my dad for permission since I was 12 and I’m not going to start for you. I’m the lawyer on this case. So, that has worked. I shut down the conversation several times. I have had to go ask my dad for forgiveness after not getting his permission. But yeah, you have to be prepared for both of those because it can be a double-edged sword.
Adriana Linares: Okay, we’re back. I’m talking to Tom L. Drew about modernizing his small practice in Des Moines, Iowa. Tom, I’ve seen a lot of comments from attorneys in some Facebook groups and LinkedIn groups and also, just anecdotally about attorneys being worried that when they did this, basically sending their staff home to work, they were asking for ways to monitor activity. Is my staff really working at home? You sound like you had no question in your mind that they were going to work just as hard at home as they did and do from the office. What put you there? And what do you say to attorneys who might say, well, how do you know they’re actually working their eight hours?
Tom L. Drew: Yes. One thing I would say, you may not be under estimating some inefficiencies that occur at home, but you’re way over estimating the efficiencies that occur at work.
Adriana Linares: Good point
Tom L. Drew: I mean, people get distracted at work every day, all day. So, I didn’t really view that, as a change. And so, I’m big on ownership. I really feel like my staff believe that this is their law firm. And that’s a culture that you have to create over time, I hope; and I think that I’ve created trust with them that it’s not just about work, so to speak. I want them to have successful families and feel like they can do the things that they want to do. So, I’ve never been in a stickler on vacation time and that type of stuff. And I’ve told them, “Look, I trust you, and you know that there’s work that needs to be done and I trust that you’re going to get it done.”
The work is the work, as what I say. And then, when the work is done, do what you need to do. I think I bought each one of them Tim Ferriss’ book on the four-hour workweek.
Adriana Linares: Which you said changed your life.
Tom L. Drew: It did. That book is a high recommend for people to get your mind right on what the possibilities are and what needs to be done. And so, I have created that culture that this transition into remote working is freeing for you. It’s going to be more not less.
Adriana Linares: The other thing you’ve done other than completely trust and support and give your staff the resources to be a successful as possible is give them training. So, tell me why that’s important to you. And also, tell everyone about how the three of you get together and practice using the technologies that we’ve put in place or have thought about putting in place.
Tom L. Drew: Yeah. So, what we try to do, most weeks better than others, is that Friday when they’re working remotely and I’m working remotely, we try to touch base on a Zoom call and that’s where we just talked about things. And then, we have and are going to continue to engage your services on the training which I think is a very important. I know that instruction matters and that gains efficiency and I don’t again view that as a budget item, I just view that as an investment in my staff and allowing them to get where they need to be. One of the problems I think that attorneys run into is there is as I say, you got to get through the socks. So you do have to do the work and play with the system or the software or whatever to get to where you need to be. But once you get through that, you literally bust through into the other side and then you’re freed up.
Adriana Linares: So, we had gotten rid of the server. Well, pretty much, is the service still there? I mean, I’m assuming you’re keeping it as a backup.
Tom L. Drew: Yes.
Adriana Linares: Okay.
Tom L. Drew: It’s drawing back down.
Adriana Linares: Okay. Right. So, you also set up — you still have the server and it’s just a backup for you. So, it’s still there to back up in case something goes wrong, it’s disconnected, the IT guy set it up as a backup. We installed the office apps on everyone’s computers. And then, I think I may have sent you a video or just — I send a lot of little short videos sometimes to explain things because they’re easier, showing everyone how to install their own office apps if they need it and I think it’s important, I guess, I’m just sort of saying this out loud for listeners, too; you really want to empower your staff and your attorneys to be able to do as much as they can for themselves. So, we did that. We got everybody set up running. We set up OneDrive, did a training session on how that works, you saved it on your desktop and then your assistant — you saved it from your computer, we said, “Assistant, go, look, do you see the file?” She’s like, “Oh, I see the file.” So, we did. And the three of you continue to do that.
So now, you’ve gotten to a place where we’re two or three months into this new environment. Everyone’s got their devices where they need them. Everything’s connected. You’ve got Office 365 installed. You’re using the local apps, not just or only the web apps. But I think I also did spend some time explaining what the web apps are and how they work because I wanted people to know how those work. And as of late, you have a list of other little things that you’re looking to tackle and become more efficient with. Do you want to sort of fill in some detail there or just comment on all that?
Tom L. Drew: Yes. The thing about the training, it’s not like we’re doing three-hour killer training sessions.
Adriana Linares: That would kill anybody.
Tom L. Drew: Yes. I think our training sessions have been very efficient, lasting 30 to 45 minutes to an hour max.
Adriana Linares: Mm-hmm.
Tom L. Drew: And I think that everybody’s been receptive to that. My intent on that is to continue that because there is some need for relearning. I mean, it is somewhat from the fire hose, you know.
Adriana Linares: Yeah.
Tom L. Drew: So, you got to I think sometimes come back. So, I would anticipate in the upcoming year, we’re going backwards a little bit in re-engaging on how we’ve worked with things and what we need to do better. And we joked about this before, but you truly are that person that you’ve got a guy, right? If I needed anything, you’ve got a guy or a gal who can get it done. That’s bacon, cookies, or you know, whatever — or software.
Adriana Linares: You got to have a guy.
Tom L. Drew: You got a guy. So, that’s been very helpful. And where we’re going to move on this, I think, is we talked about doing training videos for clients.
Adriana Linares: Mm-hmm.
Tom L. Drew: It’s the next thing where I will have a video that I’ll send to a client before their deposition comes up, same thing with interrogatories, have staff do that too. And then we’re working towards the calendaring program, which I should have even been on this before we were talking about, my staff was talking about this last week. The calendaring issues that we have is a huge time suck, because we’re doing the old emails going back and forth with the other lawyers and clients. We need to change that. So, that’s going to be the next thing either with the Microsoft product or this Calendly. Am I saying that right?
Adriana Linares: Yeah.
Tom L. Drew: Which is what you use.
Adriana Linares: I do. I run a technology Highwire Rack. I don’t even think I could ever explain what goes on in Adriana’s tech world because she’s got her arms in so many places. But really quick, let’s just talk about this and I can help you at the same time, because these were the questions you had for me. So, instead of Office 365, there’s an insane amount of tools and resources that you can take advantage of. So, Tom, you had asked me how can we solve this calendaring problem or how can we make it more efficient. I gave you two choices within Microsoft and talked about third-party alternatives. So, the first choice, which I want everyone to hear about this, because I think it can be helpful, but I want you to tell us why it’s a bit of a speed bump right now is in-Office apps. So, if you all open up Outlook, you will see if you’re using Outlook for the desktop or Outlook on the web, a little button. It’s like a square cut into square. So, it’s a square with four squares. It’s orange I think and it says something like, “Install apps,” or Office apps or I don’t know. There’s little add-ons in there.
Pretty much what you’re looking for is the app store for Microsoft, which is very much like the app store for your iPhone if you’re an iPhone user or the PlayStore if you’re a Google user. Microsoft has that too and they have all these add-ons. Some of them you pay for just like app store you use too on your mobile phone, and some of them come free. So, the first thing we tried with you, Tom is a free add-on that comes from Microsoft called FindTime. I’m pretty sure the words are together. FindTime. You go and you install the add-in and what it does, it connects your Outlook calendar to your email and you can reply to someone and say, “Let me insert some times for you to choose from when I’m available.” So, the three of you downloaded FindTime, added it to your Outlook and tried using it. What were the speed bumps you hit with it?
Tom L. Drew: I just felt like I had this all email each other like we were a client doing that. And just a visual that comes up in what you need to do was confusing to me, which means it’s probably confusing to others and we all agreed. I know it just didn’t seem in intuitive.
Adriana Linares: Clunky.
Tom L. Drew: Yeah.
Adriana Linares: Okay. Let me explain really quick because I’ve had people say this to me about FindTime. I use it a lot to do a meeting poll. So, there’s two things you can do with FindTime. You can either insert specific time slots or you can do like a meeting poll. And I’ve had a couple people who couldn’t find the click-here to look at the options button. And I think that’s what you mean, right?
Tom L. Drew: Yes.
Adriana Linares: Because what it does is if you pull nine times, it’ll say nine times available but it doesn’t say, “Click here,” “Click here to see those times.” It’s inside of a little table. It’s kind of weird. It’s inside of a little table. It says, “Meeting title,” “Link to join,” and then it’ll say, “Nine times.” And most people can’t figure out, which is so funny and weird to click on the link. It’s a link, but it’s a text link and it doesn’t look. So, that’s the first thing. So, I can totally understand how that would seem clunky. I guess I probably should have told you this too when we first tried it. I told you to remove the promotional link that says, “This is made available by FindTime.” I think I just sort of said, “Oh, I always take that little piece out where it says.” And then what I do is I also write in next to the time in parentheses, “Click here to select the time,” because it’s the exact problem people don’t realize that’s where they have to click.
So, that was the first option that you all tried, and we’re going to attack whether we can leave it that way or the other solution that I had given you but I told you was very simple and I don’t know if this will work, but we can try it of course, is Microsoft Bookings. So, Bookings like book a time. It’s called Bookings. It’s inside your apps. So, if you go to office.com and you go to your homepage for Microsoft 365, you click on all apps, you’re going to see an app called Bookings. What Bookings does is it actually creates a webpage where you can choose what times to “publish” where people can grab any time slot they want.
So, with FindTime, you are saying, “Here are the times I want you to pick from like 9 o’clock on Thursday, 4 o’clock on Friday, 2 o’clock on Monday, because I’m looking at my schedule, these are the times I want you to have.” That’s FindTime. With Microsoft Bookings, it actually creates a booking link a lot like a Calendly and Acuity or any other calendaring service where you can send the link, and then the recipient of the link goes to a calendar page and picks a time slot. I know there are listeners right now who are saying, “Holy crap, Adriana. I do not want anyone having open-ended access to my calendar.” Fear not, because what it does in the settings for Bookings is you can choose. This link shows times only available on Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:00 to 11:00, on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 2:00 and 4:00. So, you actually can filter the times that they can choose from. So, that’s Microsoft Bookings, which you and I will look at later, but that’s the difference between the two is you are publishing a calendar link versus selecting specific times. And it’s not a group calendar. It’s your one person’s calendar for either of those services.
Now, the third-party option, which you mentioned Calendly and I use, which by the way, I use Calendly, I use FindTime, I used VISIDA. I use all kinds of things depending on the need that I have for sending out a link. One quick note, side note, if you use the Outlook app on your mobile phone instead of using the native mail app, but if you actually use the Outlook app, it has a wonderful insert-available-times option on the phone app. So, when you’re emailing someone on your phone, you can say, “Here are the times I have available.” Back to Acuity and Calendly. Those are third-party services that work really well and you will pay for these. So, there’s a free version, but you’ll also pay. I think I paid $15.00 a month for Calendly where I can set up various booking links. So, I have six, for example. I have one for a free 15 minutes. It’s called Quick Chat with Adriana. When somebody emails me, says “Hey, I’m interested in your services,” I will say, “Here’s a link to free 15 minutes.” I also have a link for free 30 minutes, free 60 minutes, paid 30 minutes and paid 60 minutes. So, you can create sort of these formulas for your links based on what you need a calendar link to do. And I think that’s one of the really nice things of paying for a third-party service that allows you to do that.
Tom L. Drew: On the user end, what I liked about Calendly is it appear to be very visual to me, which with my client base I think is important. And so, I’m as much in tune with the intuitive presentation of the option that they have. So, I suspect we’re going to head that direction.
Adriana Linares: But what I will say to you and your staff is use both, because there’s going to be an occasion where FindTime makes more sense, there’s going to be occasion if we set up your Bookings where that makes more sense, and then there’s going to be the time where Calendly makes the most sense. And the good thing is you can actually use all three of those and they’re all going to connect to the same central calendar, so nothing is booking over another booking. You’re not getting a double booking, but there’s certainly some control there that you can put in place regardless of which solution or solutions you choose to use. And like I said, sometimes you just need more than one option.
Tom L. Drew: Yes. And I think again, the calendaring and time and inefficiencies that go along with that is a huge fertile ground of area to look into for efficiencies of staff time and your time. It’s a lot of time.
Adriana Linares: It’s a lot of time and that’s what you sell is time.
Tom L. Drew: No doubt.
Adriana Linares: So, we got to make the best of it and use it as efficiently as possible. Tom, you’ve been an absolute wonderful listener to get to help. And I hope this episode of New Solo didn’t sound too self-serving. This is not about hiring me or working with me. This conversation is really about Tom and listeners like Tom who have decided to be efficient and embrace technology and to not be afraid of it. So, Tom, I thank you so much for your time. Do you have any other last words of advice, some sage advice from someone who’s gone through this about making these decisions and actually getting to them?
Tom L. Drew: I think it’s very important for me to say I don’t have all of this figured out and I don’t want any listeners to think, “I’m like everybody else. I got up in my tighty-whities this morning and looked at myself in the mirror and said, Dude, you got to get yourself squared away.” So, it’s a process and it’s worthwhile to explore the process.
I think it’s an exciting time to be a lawyer. I really, really do. There’s tools out there that can be utilized to make life and practice better for everybody. So, thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
Adriana Linares: It’s been a lot of fun and I look forward to continuing to help you. And I think you’re right, it’s a process. I mean I’m in the process every day, all day. I’m always looking for installing new software. I’m constantly updating my website. I’m studying what Google tells me to do. I’m learning about Microsoft 365. Even when you are embedded in the tech side of the business, not necessarily the consulting and the usage side, it’s still important to stay up to date. And I agree with you, Tom, I think it’s a really exciting time to be a lawyer. I’m in awe every day of the young attorneys that I meet and how available and affordable this technology is, but I’m also in more awe every day of the attorneys just like you who said, “I’m sticking to it and I’m going to make sure I’m doing it as efficiently and painlessly as possible.” So, thanks so much for your time, Tom. If anyone wants to find friend, follow you or maybe ask you a couple questions, how can they do that?
Tom L. Drew: I’m on LinkedIn. And my website is simpledrewlawfirm.com, and Drew is just like drew a picture. And email address is [email protected].
Adriana Linares: Thanks so much, Tom. I appreciate your time.
Tom L. Drew: You bet.
Adriana Linares: Well, everyone. We’ve reached another end of a great episode of New Solo. Thank you so much for listening. If you appreciate New Solo, please give it a five-star rating on Apple iTunes. Share it with your colleagues who might be interested in learning more about technology and practice management. And don’t forget, this is not just for new solos. I appreciate everyone that listens to New Solos, especially those of you who reach out. If you have any outstanding questions about Microsoft Office and products, make sure you send me an email on [email protected]. In the next couple of months, we’re going to publish an episode where we answer a lot of listener questions about Microsoft 365. Thank you everyone. Hope to see you next time on New Solo.