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Michael L. Goldberg has seen the good and the bad of law office automation. Before forming Strawinski & Goldberg with James S. Strawinski two years ago, Goldberg was part of a large Atlanta-area law firm that used a specially designed time and billing program. “It was unbelievably cumbersome,” he said. “The computers ran very, very slow. It required you to enter a lot of things that just weren’t relevant.” As a result, he said, attorneys cobbled together their own organizational tools, and many had gone back to keeping paper calendars, which made tallying hours that much more difficult. “The end of the month was a nightmare,” he said. So when Goldberg and his new partner decided to automate their Atlanta firm, they chose “the simplest program that would work for us,” he said. Their selection: Amicus Attorney for case management and PCLaw for time and billing. The time is entered on Amicus, and transferred to PCLaw. According to Goldberg, the two programs work together seamlessly. “There is no paper whatsoever,” he said. “[Hours are] sent to billing and to the client. It’s very efficient, very simple. It saves us a ton of time.” Setup — which includes licensing, software, installation, training and some new hardware — cost them roughly $6,000 to $7,000, Goldberg said. With a small office and a small staff, the firm pays $90 to $115 hourly for trouble-shooting as needed. “It has worked very well for us,” he said. Without automation, the firm would have had to hire at least one more full-time staff member, according to Goldberg. He estimated savings at $20,000 a year, plus the cost of benefits. A KINDER, GENTLER OFFICE The concept of office automation sometimes conjures visions of cold, futuristic environments that are paperless, robotic and hyperefficient. But automation is making the practice of law much more humane, freeing attorneys — especially those in small and midsize firms — from mundane clerical tasks so they can concentrate on their clients. Automated products do a variety of jobs. They can access online research, organize case files, track hours automatically as a lawyer works, make files available to clients 24 hours a day through a special Web site, and organize contacts so lawyers and staff can place calls with the click of a mouse. Yet relatively few attorneys take advantage of the technology, according to a report the American Bar Association will release next month. The ABA’s 2001 Legal Technology Resource Center Survey Report found that although 91 percent of firms have a word processing program, just 20 percent use any kind of case management software. “Lawyers still have areas where they could be using technology to make their lives better and improve the way they handle cases,” said David Whelan, director of the ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center in Chicago. The problem is greatest in small and solo practices, he said, adding, “We were surprised there was a lot of law office automation that had not been picked up. And at smaller firms and solo offices, you were just as likely to find nothing.” Andrew Z. Adkins III, director of the Legal Technology Institute at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, divides office automation for attorneys into six basic categories: � Document Management: These are programs such as Docs Fusion, iManage or Worldox that help lawyers organize and find their files. � Financial Management: This includes time and billing programs, such as Timeslips, Quicken, Juris or TABS III. Many of these, when integrated with other programs, help attorneys track their hours and analyze how they spend their time. � Case Management: Programs such as Amicus Attorney, Time Matters and ProLaw help lawyers tie together everything associated with a particular case. Some programs will create a phone list for each case or let lawyers dial from that list by clicking on a particular name. Some programs feature a pop-up clock, prompting attorneys to bill time whenever they open the file. � Litigation Management: These include programs such as Summation and Concordance, which manage specific documents and images. They’re particularly good for organizing litigation involving years of research and what otherwise would be tons of paper. � Legal Research: This includes tools such as Westlaw, Lexis Nexis and any other Internet-based research. � Client-relations Management: Programs such as InterAction and LegalEase let attorneys capture personal client information — birthdays, anniversaries, client hobbies and interests — to jog the memory. “It carries marketing to a more personal level,” said Adkins. “We don’t see a lot of it right now.” PRICE BRAKE The biggest barrier to automation technology? Probably the cost. “It may be that what we’re seeing is that technology is not priced at a point where these people will use it,” said the ABA’s Whelan. The products can be pricey, especially for small firms. Case management software may cost between $300 and $400 for the first user in an office, plus $150 to $300 for each additional user, said Natalie R. Thornwell, director of law practice management for the State Bar of Georgia. Time and billing programs may cost an average of $400 per license, she said, while integrated accounting programs — those sophisticated enough to handle the back office of a law firm — go for up to $1,000 per user in a large office. For smaller offices, such programs range from $200 to $500, she said. Thornwell’s office advises attorneys on the use of automation and recommends and installs automation products. And though the ABA survey found that large firms are the most likely to invest in technology, most of Thornwell’s clients are small offices and solo practitioners. “These products contain so many features in terms of saving time and money,” Thornwell said. One example: An attorney or secretary can enter a changed phone number into the computer once, and the program “will update [the number] everywhere it appears,” she said. NEW TRICKS Another barrier is the difficulty — real or imagined — of learning new technology. Decker, Hallman, Barber & Briggs of Atlanta began using ProLaw prior to the Y2K scare. “What everyone uses it for is billing,” said associate Stacy L. Edelstein, who is also president of the Georgia Association for Women Lawyers. “The time system has really saved a lot and encouraged people to put in their time on a daily basis.” But Edelstein has noticed that attorneys tend to shy from the program’s more advanced features. “I don’t think there’s a distrust [of technology] — it’s just that people like the familiar.” With some types of automation, security is a concern. Lawyers at Atlanta’s Thomas, Kayden, Horstemeyer & Risley are considering a document management program that would allow clients to view their case files online, said partner Jeffrey R. Kuester. “It will let clients into the server to view their files, but lock them out of the others,” he said. Kuester, who several years ago served as chairman of the computer law section for the State Bar, admitted that the security aspect of letting clients into his firm’s server is scary. “We haven’t done it yet and that’s probably the reason,” he said. On the other hand, he added, “It may be the acceptable risk you have to take to have instant access.” CHANGE OF PERSPECTIVE Attitude also can be a barrier. “Lawyers need a reason to purchase these tools,” said the University of Florida’s Adkins. Too many times, he said, attorneys decide they don’t have a reason to automate. Also, lawyers who bill by the hour may view time saved by automation as unbilled time. Their question, according to Adkins, is, “Why should I spend money to buy a product to make less money?” The answer may lie in charging for the work, not the hours. “Billing by the hour is the old way of doing things,” he said. “And lawyers are moving more towards value billing. Law firms that bill by flat rate or lawyers that bill by contingency fee will find that they will be able to make more money because they are becoming more efficient. Their billings are based on value, not on time.” For Malvern “Griff” U. Griffin III, a patent partner in Atlanta with Washington, D.C.-based Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, Microsoft Visio has simplified his practice and saved time and money. Instead of trading drawings back and forth with clients via courier, then hiring a draftsman to clean up the results, Griffin does the corrections himself on the computer and e-mails the results to the clients. Then he submits the drawings directly to the patent office. This means no time or money lost to couriers, and no budgeting to hire a draftsman. Some firms find it difficult to quantify their savings in terms of money or people-hours, but they find that automation makes their working lives easier. “It allows us better use of our downtime,” said Kevin M. Farmer, a senior associate with Plichta & Associates, based in Marietta, Ga. “I don’t know that we’re handling any more cases, but we’re handling them a lot more smoothly.” Large firm or small, a smart tech purchase also requires a time investment. Attorneys who are do-it-yourself types need to read up before they buy. Even firms that hire a consultant should do homework. The first question to ask, according to Adkins: “What are the hot buttons? What do you want?” Once attorneys zero in on a particular product or set of products that will do the task, ask the consultant, “Who else has done this?” Adkins said. “Get three to five references.” When you talk to other firms, ask about every aspect of installation and implementation — including how long it takes to get up and running. Ask if firms were satisfied with the consultant, the products and the training. What was the firm’s plan for implementation? How did it work? What were the rough spots? What would they do differently next time? How is the product functioning now? Does it still do the job? To get the most out of new software, lawyers should budget for training. For document management programs, which simply help organize files, Adkins said that a half-day session will do. For more-complex case management software, he recommended two to three days of training, preferably spread over a week. “Do a half-day of training [at a time] and provide floor support,” he said. “It’s the most expensive [way to train] but it’s the best way to do it.” Plenty of lawyers still believe these programs make life more complicated — or believe that automation is just a fad. For them, Adkins has an answer: “Let me bring in some [IBM] Selectric IIIs,” he said, adding that it’s ironic that the same lawyers who make a living advising people have difficulty taking advice on running their practices more effectively. “They are comfortable in their comfort zone,” he said. “But sooner or later, with training, they realize, yes, I can do this.” Dana Dratch is a free-lance writer based in Atlanta.

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