Practice Tips: Software solutions that can help you work faster and improve your ROI

David J. Bilinsky, Practice Management Advisor

One of the most common questions lawyers ask me is: “How can I make my practice more efficient?” To help set you on the right track, I have outlined different classes of software that offer the best return on investment (ROI).

Integrated accounting and case (practice) management software

Communication management and accounting offer a very high return on investment for automating all the necessary systems that are required to practise law and handle time and billing. Some examples of this class of software are Amicus Attorney, Time Matters, LawStream, SmartWeal and PCLaw.

Please refer to my column in the November-December 2006 issue of Benchers’ Bulletin for a more complete view of the benefits of case (practice) management software.

Document automation

Before you create an existing document based on an old file, consider the danger points of this methodology. The file may have been modified over and over resulting in both the exclusion of important clauses and the inclusion of clauses that are inappropriate. Instead, develop a standard set of precedents in the discrete areas of law in which you practise and work from the standard precedent. This will ensure that you start from a common point each time. And, you can take any special clauses and add them to your precedent bank, thereby increasing your knowledge assets while ensuring that the precedents are not corrupted or distorted. A standard precedent bank will allow you to increase your ROI in a number of areas:

1. you can market your practice to attract files in areas where you can reuse your precedents;

2. by having a standard set of precedents, you can deliver a legal service quickly and efficiently, which will increase client satisfaction and word-of-mouth advertising; and

3. you can easily modify your standard precedents to incorporate changes in the law.

Document automation products include HotDocs and Ghostfill/Amicus Assembly.

Desktop search

These nifty applications solve the problem “Why can’t I find that darn file on the computer?” Desktop search applications work by indexing everything on your hard drive (or network if you wish), thereby enabling lightning-fast searches for email, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, contacts, videos, images and the like. Document management software such as Worldox, which automates document storage and retrieval, offers definite advantages.

Desktop search software, which is more commonly used at the present time, can minimize lost time in trying to find and retrieve documents that have been named and/or stored obscurely on computer hard drives. Examples of desktop search software are: Google Desktop Search, Copernic Desktop Search and X1.

Voice recognition

Voice recognition has now come mainstream, courtesy of tweaked recognition engines and other “under the hood” magic that has vastly improved this groundbreaking technology. The surest sign of this change is that Vista, Microsoft’s new operating system, incorporates voice recognition. With voice recognition, you can dictate directly into Word or Amicus Attorney, open and close applications, navigate within applications and perform other tasks — all without your fingers touching a mouse or a keyboard. To do this magic, you will need the software, a good microphone, appropriate processing horsepower, hard drive space and patience to train the software to your voice (this is greatly improved over past versions).

The latest version of Dragon’s Naturally Speaking (version 9) is fast, accurate and much easier to use compared to prior versions (see my column in the September-October 2006 Benchers’ Bulletin). Once you are familiar with voice recognition software, it can save you a lot of time.

The software you already own

I constantly talk to lawyers who do not use various features of the software sitting on their computers, yet wish to spend further hard-earned dollars on acquiring more software. You can increase your ROI without spending a dime simply by learning to take advantage of the software that you already own. For example:

  • PCLaw can track your time and billing directly from your desktop, thus eliminating the need for lawyers keeping paper time sheets and secretaries trying to read scrawled writing to input the time into the system;
  • Amicus Attorney has “communication” or “contact” modules (dependent on the version you have) that eliminate pink telephone slips and allow you to integrate your email directly into the Amicus communication centre;
  • Microsoft Excel can perform financial calculations and you can save the spreadsheet as a precedent for future use.

There are many ways to pick up the ROI in your practice and take it for the distance by applying readily available software that makes your job easier, more efficient and more effective.

For more information on how to make your practice more efficient, contact Dave Bilinksy, tel. 604 605-5331 or email