Law firm planning: 5 ways to get ready for the new year

Nicole Black

The holiday season is already upon us, and you know what that means: 2022 is right around the corner. Is your law firm ready for whatever may come now that COVID-19 surges are occurring all around the country, and the Omicron variant is a looming threat? With mask mandates once again in effect in many areas, it’s impossible to predict what the future will look like.
That’s why business planning for the upcoming year is more important than ever. You need to ensure that your firm has the necessary procedures and technologies in place to prepare for any eventuality. If you’re not sure where to start, here are five ideas to help you build business resiliency into your firm that will ensure a foundation for success in 2022.
First, assess your practice areas. The pandemic’s effects have changed the legal landscape and have created an increased demand for certain types of legal services. By expanding your areas of expertise, you’ll build resiliency into your firm and provide a foundation for success despite the uncertainty of tumultuous change. That’s why it’s important to fully understand how the pandemic has impacted the practice of law and how the specific practice areas that your firm handles will be affected. Then, consider pivoting and taking on practice areas that are more likely to be in demand, including bankruptcy law, employment law, cybersecurity law, and M & As.
Next, take steps to automate your firm. Choose technology that will streamline your law firm’s processes, from the initial client intake to the close of a case. The software you choose should be cloud-based so that everyone in your firm can access it even if your workforce is unexpectedly displaced from your law office. Whether you invest in standalone software or all-in-one programs like law practice management software, put tools in place that will automate 1) billing, invoicing, payment processing, and collections; 2) tasks and deadlines; 3) document assembly; and 4) your firm’s common workflows. Automate those processes, and efficiency — along with increased revenues — will follow.
Next, set up secure communication. For years, email was the gold standard for law firm communication. But technology advances, pandemic-related cybersecurity issues, and recent ethics opinions are changing the security standards applicable to confidential communications. In 2017, the American Bar Association acknowledged the security threat posed by unencrypted email when it issued Opinion 477R. In this opinion, the committee explained that due to “cyber-threats … it is not always reasonable to rely on the use of unencrypted email … (and lawyers should consider) a variety of options to safeguard communications including … (a) secure internet portal.” Since the onset of the pandemic, several other ethics committees have adopted this standard, which means that moving forward, your firm should establish communication channels that are encrypted whether via encrypted email or the secure online messaging portals built into different types of legal software.
Speaking of client portals, they’re also a great way to offer flexible payment options to your firm’s clients. When your firm uses client portals to invoice clients and accept online payments, invoices can be generated by your firm’s staff no matter where they’re located. Upon receipt, your clients can pay immediately, via ACH or credit card. It’s that simple. Not only does this process provide your clients with much-needed flexibility, but it also ensures that your firm is paid more quickly.
Last, but not least, as you head into 2022, a top goal should be to incorporate technology learning into your daily routine. These days, technology is changing faster than ever, and as a result, staying current on the latest technology can be a challenge. But if you prioritize technology and set aside a few minutes each day to learn about the latest advances, you’ll be able to build a strong foundation of knowledge that will assist you in making better technology choices for your firm heading into the new year.
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase legal practice management software. She is the nationally recognized author of “Cloud Computing for Lawyers” (2012) and co-authors “Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier” (2010), both published by the American Bar Association. She also co-authors “Criminal Law in New York,” a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for Above the Law, ABA Journal, and The Daily Record, has authored hundreds of articles for other publications, and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. She is an ABA Legal Rebel, and is listed on the Fastcase 50 and ABA LTRC Women in Legal Tech. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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