Trisha Wright leverages legal technology and litigation lessons into upstream operations solutions and legal project management. With over a decade working in small firms, governments, and ALSPs, she threads together each puzzle piece to design and implement comprehensive solutions. Trisha currently works at DecisionQuest as a Litigation Research and Data Coordinator. Follow her for content about litigation, legal technology, and legal operations.
How do small and solo law firms benefit the most from automation?
It’s all about performing as if you have a much larger staff. The only way you are going to do that is through some automations and standard operational procedures. These benefits are exponential and scalable. If you have multiple children, you understand this. Yes, each child individually is ridiculously expensive; but after the first, you have developed some systems and retained equipment. Short on cash? Prioritize your front end. Start with an intake form, Word Form Field mapping, and a macro. You can plug-and-play nearly every type of local pleading. Develop a library not just of templates, but sections for specific issues and carve out for things like deed variances and to initiate unique divorce pleadings.
To those who fear having to learn a new technology or spend money or time or both on a new tool, what would you say?
First, acknowledge the fear and understand that it is valid. We work in high-risk, high liability industry and change is anxiety-inducing. Second, keep in mind what tech needs to be effective for you - discipline and structure. If you’re new to running a legal business or you have been purely reactive for years, it will be challenging.
Then, I would invite you to picture what your life could look like. Documented SOPs, triggered events for docs, automated/template communications, metrics - not only will you feel more in control, but you will be better equipped to find balance. Bringing in new virtual assistants or associates is less daunting. Bottom line: you spend less time managing and more time practicing law. More billable hours, more revenue. It’s like starting a diet or exercise routine: the hardest work is up front, but eventually you get into a groove. If you learned how to tie your shoes, use a knife, and did law school, you can get this. It’s just an outline with actions.
What are some examples of tools that you've seen small or solo law firms benefit the most from and why?
Billing and time tracking have the most impact on the business aspect of a small or solo firm. Whatever system you choose to use, make sure the components can build upon each other. Going lower-tech, forms are your best friend. Mini-step? Templates with macros for automating repeat editing needs like captions and service lists can inch you toward automation. A notch higher? Have that intake form and have that feed directly into you case management system and eBilling. Then in your initial meeting, your notes will also feed into that system and no one has to decipher handwriting. Mega? Have virtual AI assistance on your website to evaluate potential clients with functional questions to make sure you are getting quality clients in the door.
What would you describe as a significant threat to law firms and legal departments when it comes to use of contract management solutions?
The greatest risk coming around the corner is the hyperfocus on requiring specific software suite experience. There are legitimate concerns from employers that new hires are not staying long enough to justify that up-front training on specific systems. The other cause is the lack of internal understanding of the products they bought. Unfortunately, this has manufactured as perceived talent shortage by not investing in training and development. There are tons of transferable skills in the market and if you understand relational databases and SQL, picking up a new tech product or service is not a heavy lift. There will always be a learning curve due to company-specific workflows, terminology, and structures. Finding auto-play talent is going to come at a premium; or, you can bring on consultants which will run up your expenses 50% more than challenging that new hire to become your new expert.
Unfortunately, there is not much that candidates can do to bridge the gap due to IP protection. My advice to those looking: keep your ear to the ground for demos, watch YouTube walkthroughs, and get familiar with common scripting languages and structures - for example, if you can understand Microsoft products like Power BI, Sharepoint, and SQL, you can handle just about anything from these new products on the market. I would love to see more legal tech companies sponsor introductory courses on their tech using virtual machines because it would spread the reach of their products.
If someone is forming a solo or boutique firm after leaving a large firm, what would you recommend they prioritize?
Pay attention to the business aspect first. To get these new firms off the ground, things paperless systems, virtual assistants, and a stable of experts to turn to are the new bar of entry. You are going to have a book of clients from your time with the large firm; the work will come as the market dictates. But if the business isn't straight, you're going to start seeing real struggles by the 9-month mark. Get your IT house together, accounting and billing. If you are not network and security savvy, get someone to set that up so you have constant, secure access to your files.
Self-reflect and understand your limitations as a business organizer and personnel manager. It's a whole other level of self-discipline because you're coming from a structure with specializations and support to where everything is on you - literally everything - and that can be very overwhelming. Be real with yourself because nothing will sink you faster than not being reliable to your clients through missing deadlines, data breaches, and mistake-riddled bills. Vet a good virtual assistant to handle your calendars, incoming documents, and data entry in your CLM/CMS to be able to maximize your availability for billable hours.