What are the top tools for lawyers in 2021, to help them set their firms up for success this year? After the global pandemic sparked a year of change and challenges for the legal profession, many lawyers are now operating in a virtual reality—whether they’re working remotely part of the time or they’ve embraced a fully virtual law firm.
Many firms have rapidly adopted more technology throughout the past year, and consumers have also done the same. As the 2020 Legal Trends Report found, 58% of consumers said that technology is more important to them now than before the coronavirus pandemic. The report also found that the shift towards remote work is not likely to disappear once the pandemic is over. What does this mean for law firms? It’s now more important than ever to embrace technology and tools that support remote work for lawyers.
In this post, we’ll cover the top tools for lawyers based on data from industry reports and trends we’ve observed in the legal profession. By understanding what lawyer tools and equipment other legal professionals are using in our new, more virtual world, you can decide what your firm can use to help it operate as effectively as possible.
What tools do lawyers use?
The most successful law firms today use technology tools to work more efficiently and securely in an increasingly remote workplace. Since what works best for your firm depends on factors like your firm’s size and practice area, not every firm needs the same tech stack. But it’s a good bet to start with the basics, then add in tech tools to fill gaps, enhance productivity, and better serve your specific client base. For example, legal practice management software is an essential starting point for most modern law firms (more on that below).
Let’s look at the key types of tools for lawyers that thriving firms are using today.
Online file storage
Whether you’re working remotely or just want convenient, streamlined access to documents to work and collaborate from anywhere, online file storage tools for lawyers are key. They’re also incredibly common, with 79% of lawyers noting in the 2020 Legal Trends Report that they rely on cloud technology to store their firm’s data. Look for online file storage tools that are cloud-based, secure, and easy-to-use.
When it comes to online file storage, Dropbox—one of the world’s most popular document storage apps—is likely your first option. In fact, according to the 2020 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report, Dropbox was the most popular cloud service—with 67% of survey respondents indicating that they were Dropbox users.
As a lawyer, you’re constantly drafting documents and letters, so a word processor is a highly necessary lawyer tool. But we recommend using a cloud-based word processor to take your document and letter drafting up a notch—by having the ability to work and access your legal documents remotely.
Microsoft 365 (formerly known as Office 365) is a popular business tool for lawyers that offers word processing via Word, as well as numerous other productivity tools. Did you know that Microsoft 365 came in second place for being the most-used cloud-based service for lawyers, at 49%, in the 2020 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report? This shows that cloud-based word processing tools are quickly becoming an indispensable part of a lawyer’s arsenal of tools. Microsoft Office 365 also connects with Clio Manage, for even more streamlined productivity between tools.
The ability to digitize documents is essential for lawyers in 2021, so a scanner (or scanner app on your phone) is key. From legal documents to expense receipts, lawyers deal with papers and documents daily that they need to easily and access on demand, from anywhere.
For a physical scanner, this guide for choosing a scanner for your law firm can help you pick the right model. If you go the app route, Evernote is a good option. The app integrates with your smartphone camera to empower you to capture (and organize) notes and documents.
VOIP phone provider
No matter where you’re working, you need to be reachable at your business phone number. A Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phone service (options like Vonage, Corvum, and GoToConnect are good choices) lets you answer phone calls remotely by forwarding calls made to your business line to wherever you are.
Virtual receptionist service
Missing a call—whether because your law firm office is working remotely or you’re just away from the phone—means lost business. A virtual receptionist service like Ruby (which offers live virtual reception and chat options) eliminates unanswered calls. This means better service for clients (and cuts the cost of having a full-time in-house staff member fielding calls).
Paperwork is an inextricable part of practicing law, but dealing with documents doesn’t have to be as tedious or time-consuming as it has been in the past. Document automation tools for lawyers streamline document creation (like letters and motions) by using information you’ve already collected (like key dates or contact information) to populate forms for you. Document management tools then help you safely store and access those documents.
While legal practice management software like Clio Manage offers a simple, all-in-one solution for dealing with legal documents, document automation tools for lawyers like LawCloud streamline document creation. Clio Manage lets you compile documents with easy-to-use templates, then keeps documents secure in the cloud, so you can edit, store, and organize files as needed.
Time tracking and billing solutions
Accurate time tracking and billing are key to law firm profitability. But spending a lot of time manually monitoring time and dealing with billing takes away from your productivity.
If you aren’t using lawyer tools to help with time and billing, start by looking at your practice management software, which may offer features to cover this. Clio Manage, for example, includes legal time and expense tracking and billing features.
Now more than ever, the majority of discovery is electronic, or eDiscovery. While the move towards more electronic discovery saves time in itself, you can also use tech tools for lawyers to streamline your discovery process.
Logikcull’s cloud-based Instant Discovery software, for example, automates thousands of previous-manual steps (such as Bates Stamping and virus scanning) while also offering smart filtering options to save you time and effort.
Legal research tools
High-quality legal research is essential for your law firm’s success. Today’s tools put searchable law libraries, decisions, and other key details right at your fingertips. This way, you can conduct your legal research faster and more effectively.
Fastcase, for example, has one of the largest online law libraries in the world. Using Fastcase, which integrates with Clio, gives you remote access to documents like case law, statutes, regulations, constitutions, and more.
Effective legal research doesn’t have to be expensive, either. This post covers a few of the best quality free legal research tools you can find today.
Electronic signatures are more convenient to coordinate (and less back-and-forth means less room for human error). They also make legal work faster and more efficient for lawyers and clients, and save paper (which is key as more firms are going paperless). While e-signatures don’t work in every situation, e-signatures are legally binding in many situations, as long as they meet the right criteria. However, some states require wet signatures for documents like wills.
Tech can help make e-signatures easier and more secure. The Clio Suite, for instance, offers easy online document signing tools as part of Clio Grow’s client intake and legal CRM software and Clio Manage’s document management functionality. Clio’s mobile e-signature functions also empower clients to sign legal documents remotely—which means a more user-friendly experience.
Video conferencing software
Communication and collaboration are central to a lawyer’s success, but in-person communication isn’t always possible, or preferable. According to the 2020 Legal Trends Report, 37% of consumers now prefer to meet virtually with a lawyer for a consultation or first meeting. Even more (50%) would rather follow-up meetings be via video conference.
As our guide to video conferencing for lawyers explains, the best video tools for lawyers should be secure, easy to use, and clear (in both audio and video quality). Legaler is a good option that fits the bill with end-to-end encryption and simple online meeting solutions.
Mobile apps, whether they’re designed specifically for lawyers or just support a lawyer’s needs, can instantly give your productivity a boost by allowing you to work from anywhere—a must for 2021.
A few of our favorite mobile apps that double as tools for lawyers?
- iAnnotate. Review and mark-up documents from anywhere with iAnnotate, which also lets you sync documents from multiple sources online.
- Feedly. Stay informed on the industry’s trending topics and must-know content (without getting overwhelmed or wasting time sorting through social media on your own) with easy-to-consume (and share) content streams.
- Clio for Lawyers and Law Firms. The Clio mobile app lets you track time, view client information, create new matters and contacts, and more—all from your mobile device.
Practice management software
Legal practice management software is an essential tool for law firms in 2021, especially for smaller firms. The ABA’s 2020 Legal Technology Survey Report noted that the use of practice management software was trending upwards for solo attorneys (with an increase from 1% to 29% in 2020) and smaller firms. In fact, the percentage of people personally using practice management software rose 2% over the last year to 45% for law firms with 2-9 attorneys.
While many law firms likely took on cloud-based software as a result of the pandemic, it appears that they’ll continue using them in the future. The 2020 Legal Trends Report noted that 96% of lawyers are planning to use practice management software beyond the pandemic.
Running a practice is complex, and practice management software makes managing a firm easier. Cloud-based practice management software like Clio Manage, for example, centralizes and streamlines running your firm, organizing cases, and collaborating with clients.
Online payments—that is, accepting credit card payments through an online platform such as Clio Payments, LawPay, or PayPal—make it easy and more convenient for clients to pay, so lawyers can get paid faster.
The 2020 Legal Trends Report looked at data from tens of thousands of legal professionals to assess the impact of tech solutions like online payments on business performance. During the pandemic’s social distancing recommendations, online payments helped firms maintain business continuity. Firms that accepted online payments saw more growth in 2020 than those that didn’t. Specifically, firms using electronic payments saw up to 6% more growth compared to firms not using electronic payments in the early months of 2020, and collected 2% to 3% more through the summer.
Client portals like Clio Connect allow lawyers to securely share information like documents, bills, and calendar details with clients. Making this information accessible to clients helps them stay in the loop on their cases—with less manual updating from lawyers.
Client portals are especially important tools for lawyers during remote work, as the 2020 Legal Trends Report showed by looking at data during the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report found that firms using client portals mitigated the negative impact on caseloads by 5% in April, during the pandemic’s initial onset. Firms using client portals continued to outperform firms not using client portals by at least 2% in the following months, and saw positive growth in June. In terms of year-over-year growth in revenue, firms using client portals saw consistently higher performance than those not using them, both during the months leading up to and during the pandemic’s outbreak.
Client intake and CRM
Client intake and CRM solutions like Clio Grow help firms coordinate the communications and intake that take place before a contact becomes a client. This enables firms to create a more efficient and smoother intake experience for new clients via the ability to take care of initial tasks—like filling out forms, paying up-front fees, or booking consultations—online.
As the 2020 Legal Trends Report showcased, client intake and CRM software are food for law firm growth, even during remote work times. Firms using online client intake and CRM solutions saw better year-over-year performance compared to those that didn’t, both leading up to and during the initial months of the coronavirus outbreak. Revenue wise, in the first months of 2020, firms using client intake and CRM solutions saw nearly double the growth than other firms; they then maintained better annual performance during the pandemic’s initial months, and achieved positive growth from June onward.
Security and ethics considerations for lawyer tools
Remember: As with any measure involving law firm data, it’s critical to vet any tools for lawyers that you’re considering for their security before using them. Know (and abide by) your ethical and regulatory obligations when it comes to security. Always follow best practices for keeping law firm and client data secure to ensure that no lawyer tools will do more harm than good. Using this Cloud Due Diligence Checklist may be helpful, but it’s your responsibility to properly evaluate any potential tools for your firm.
Using the right tools for lawyers can make all the difference when it comes to law firm growth. Adopting some (or all) of these types of tools could help your law firm be more efficient, profitable, and client-centered.
While there are plenty of tools for lawyers available, you don’t have to do it all at once and can start with just a few tools. You can always reach out to a consultant if you need help setting up a tech stack for your firm.
Whatever tools you choose, ensure that they’re secure, and then watch your firm become its most efficient, profitable, and best self this year and beyond.
We published this blog post in January 2021. Last updated: .
Categorized in: Technology
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