For me, finding the right law firm technology is just like falling in love.
Every interaction is effortless.
You feel a magnetic, almost addictive attraction that makes you want to spend more time getting to know everything about the object of your affection.
You become a better person because you’ve found something that to bring out the best in you.
You can envision a future together.
This is exactly how I felt when I met my beloved husband, and that’s how it feels on those sadly rare occasions when I encounter a promising legal technology product. (Just for the record, I’m pretty sure that my techno-genius husband would be thrilled to know that he serves as my gold standard for evaluating legal tech tools).
Of course, like love, both software and those who fall for it with it change over time. At the beginning of this decade, I’d found a staple of basic tools like Freshbooks for billing and Google for business and a website and LinkedIn and Avvo profile for reviews and PB Wiki for collaboration (remember wikis?). I experimented with platforms like Zoho for CRM for online sales and something called DimDim (awful name, great product) for webinars that was free and reliable a decade ago. As the decade came to a close, however, things changed. Avvo was acquired by Internet Brands and now focuses on promoting paid ads, while Google Reviews offers far more SEO bang for the buck (because Google Reviews are free!). Meanwhile, so many tools offer collaboration features that wikis have gone out of fashion, and DimDim was acquired and has only recently been replaced by reliable webinar products.
But as a lawyer, I’ve changed too as have my clients. Today, there are tech tools with capabilities like self-scheduling products which back in the day, weren’t ready for prime time. And there are products that I never dreamed would be available in my lifetime – like AI-powered tools which also happened to be my husband’s grad school focus back in the early ‘80s. These days, we solo and small firm lawyers no longer need to settle for the proverbial boy next door when it comes to software – we can access sexy, sophisticated options as well once available only to biglaw.
So what software made me swoon this decade? Read on…
Box – I’ve been using Box for document storage since 2009 largely because it focused on security and offered full search capability across files long before many of its competitors like Dropbox or Google Docs. I’ve used Box to give my contractors and team members access with the click of a button to whatever files they may need for a project, to share discovery with opposing counsel and as a repository for ECF downloads and to synch with Trial Pad, another one of my favorite tools. In the decade that I’ve used Box, it’s never gone down, lost files or caused any problems – and overall has been a dependable workhorse partner that serves as the backbone of my practice.
Slack – Slack is a tool that helps teams work seamlessly by replacing email with a robust internal messaging system. Although Slack is, in my view, a bit of a hot mess for large groups, it works well for teams because it reduces the barriers to asking questions and communicating with team members. I’ve found Slack particularly useful with law clerks because somehow, the casual interface reduces barriers to associates asking questions.
Zoho – Truth be told, I don’t use many Zoho products anymore – but I’ve always carried a torch for the company for making so, SO many low cost products available for small businesses, and by extension small law firms. Every time I check into Zoho, it has new tools – ranging from CRM products, email accounts, contract worker management and even its own app creator. Zoho has no plans to go public so it can retain the flexibility to pursue lots of different creative ventures. If you have a need for a tool, check Zoho before you build from scratch or purchase something pricey that you might not need.
Typeform – I’ve had dalliances with virtually very form tool under the sun – Google forms (free), Jot, Wufoo, you name it – but Typeform is my hands-down albeit favorite simply because it’s so beautifully elegant and like a dream romantic partner, always does what it’s supposed to do which is to create forms that make users want to fill them out. That said, Typeform can be expensive so unless your firm is a bulk-user of forms, Typeform may not be worth the expense.
Calendly – I’ve explored lots of different online scheduling tools – summary chart here but Calendly has won me over. Calendly’s free version is highly useable, and the product is readily figure-outable. Plus, from a user perspective, Calendly offers follow ups by email and text messaging which means that if you use it to schedule your clients, you can cut down on no-shows.
Substantive Legal Tools
Casetext – Though I’m a forever fan of Fastcase because of its two-decade, unwavering commitment to making QUALITY legal research affordable, Casetext is one of the most exciting and innovative products to come along in legal research in a long time. If you’re curious about why, you can read my past love letters to Casetext here and here.
Docketbird – A new tool in my legal research arsenal Docketbird which allows me to manage my PACER accounts, share docket sheets and filings with my team, rename documents and automatically transmit them to Box and run a search of Docketbird’s document data base. I’ve tried DocketAlarm as well – which has a more extensive searchable data base of PACER documents and analytics tools – but it’s also $99/month compared to $25 for Docketbird which is also speedier system. Presumably both products as well as other competitors will grow but if you have any type of federal court practice of significance or simply like to track federal dockets, Docketbird’s price point and features makes it a no-brainer.
Trial Pad – This past decade found me in my first serious trial in a number of years and a need to get up to speed fast. Trial pad worked like a charm as I wrote in this extensive summary and I’m forever loyal.
Appellate Oral Arguments As an appellate attorney, of the best developments has been federal courts’ publication of oral arguments online. As a young attorney, I’d try to take a day in the weeks before an argument to court-watch, but these days, I can listen to arguments in bed to prep. This is definitely a tech tool that makes me a better lawyer.
Video, Webinar and Email Tools
Zoom – I’m a klutz when it comes to webinar software – and after my beloved DimDim was sold, I experienced more than my share of webinar mishaps. Fortunately Zoom is the most dependable video and conference call service to come along in a long time – making it easy to offer webinars and other online video – which I swear, will help your firm gain online traction, even though I’ve been skeptical. As for Zoom, it went public earlier this year so watch for continued improvements to the product.
Soapbox – Video can be tricky, Soapbox makes it easy to cut CLE demos or mini videos right from your laptop and edit from the browser without any need for additional software. Another idiot-proof video-platform.
BIteable.com – Still on the topic of video, if you’re interested in making an explainer video to describe the work that your firm does, you can find a bunch of resources here. But the tool that captured my heart several years ago was Biteable which enabled me to hack together this proof of concept for a solo/small incubator space a couple of years back.
Mailchimp – There are plenty of platforms for email, including Aweber which I’ve loyally employed for over a decade. But Mailchimp is still where my primary affection lies. Mailchimp has always offered a forever free option and templates that make my newsletters look amazing and provide me with really useful and near-instantaneous analytics.
Tailor Brands – Need a quick and dirty logo? Tailor Brands is my go to. See how easy it is in this video.
PicMonkey – I often want to crop or play around with a picture or experiment with a logo but I don’t have a graphic designer on staff. I’ve experimented with lots of tools Canva which gets high ratings but always fall back on PicMonkey which like Canva has a free version, but unlike Canva is more user friendly for non-designers. In fact, I used PicMonkey to hack up the photo for this post.
As I said at the outset, for me, choosing tech products for my law practice is as much about heart as it is science – not really about what the tools can do but what they can do for me. No tool just like no person is perfect but we fall in love when we find the product that’s perfect for us – just as my husband was perfect for me.