Donna Seyle is an attorney and consultant who helps small firms and solo lawyers with innovative law practice strategies. She has established herself as a thought leader in the field and was kind enough to discuss these topics this week for the NetDocuments blog.
Q: Thanks for joining me Donna. First off, can you tell me a little bit about what you do?
A: My business, Law Practice Strategy, is all about the evolution of the legal profession resulting from technology and the recession. Given the nature of the job market for lawyers, I developed a strategy that enables solos and small boutique firms build successful practices based on the principles of cost-containment and project management, and the integrated use of content marketing, technology and fixed pricing. I work with lawyers, individually and in groups, helping them to develop a proactive mindset, understand the principles of the strategy and use the tools to start or redesign their practice.
Q: You mentioned that you help lawyers with technology, so how are new technologies changing the way lawyers are working?
A: Technology is revolutionizing the profession. The use of virtual law practice platforms has significant advantages that enable lawyers to offer their services to consumers who otherwise could not afford to hire an attorney or take time off from work to meet with lawyers in person. Because they are so cost-effective, they also allow lawyers to be more comfortable offering fixed pricing, which essentially shifts the risk of cost from the client to the lawyer. Using technology creates efficiency and extends the reach of availability of legal services to so many people that would otherwise be unreachable. But it also creates security concerns and ethical considerations that need to be addressed. Currently, several state bars have issued opinions, and the ABA's Law Practice Management Section is trying to deal with these issues, largely through the eLawyering Task Force. The use of technology is so significant that it has forced us to redefine what it means to practice law, perhaps creating divisions between what Jordan Furlong calls "legal services" and "lawyer services."
Very insightful information. At NetDocuments, we have built integrations with other legal SaaS solutions such as AdvologixPM to offer lawyers an integrated, fully featured law practice platform.
Q: In talking about cloud computing and SaaS, how has it leveled the technology playing field between large and small law firms?
A: Saas/cloud platforms have been designed for solos and small firms to provide a cost-effective way to offer the capabilities and convenience of technology that previously could only be afforded by big law with large IT departments. For example, the recession has forced business, large and small, to contain their costs, and legal departments are no exception. To do so, in-house counsel has been demanding that outside counsel reduce their hourly rates or institute fixed pricing or other terms. If outside counsel refuses to do so, there have been instances where a few lawyers from those firms leave and open their own boutique firm, take the unhappy clients with them and agree to different billing arrangements. Because of the cloud platforms that now exist, they can offer the same level of service.
I have definitely worked with a number of lawyers who have broken off from large firms and use SaaS technology to efficiently manage their practice.
Q: What are the most critical technologies needed to start a new law firm?
A: The most critical technologies needed are communication, case management and document storage, although I personally prefer comprehensive packages that do it all in one place. But maybe a more important question is not what the technology does, but how it works. [Traditional] Software is a huge waste of time and money and, in my mind, raises more security issues than cloud applications. It also does not address the communication issue, since everyone communicates through email (or some version of it). And if you're talking about Saas, then the most critical questions relate to security and privacy. No matter what kind of program or application you decide on, you must do vendor due diligence to be sure they provide the highest level security available, both technological and physical.
Q: You seem to be pretty active in the social media scene. What advice would you give to a lawyer debating the merits of social media?
A: I think it depends on your playing field. I live in a small California beach town where more than half the lawyers don't use social media of any kind and they're enormously successful. And that's because they've established themselves in a very small community where they've been able to get their foot in the door before it slammed shut a few years ago, and they like playing in a small arena. For them, social media is unnecessary and probably not worth their time. On the other hand, if you're just getting started, or if you like being on the cutting-edge of the profession, participating in social media is absolutely necessary. You just have to do it. It simply is the state of interaction of our times, it's where everything's happening and where you find out about it. But you need to use your head. Pretend you're a little kid and your mom's hearing or reading everything you say or write online. And not only you, but everything your friends say and do. Before I became professionally active in social media, I was on Facebook with the standard profile. Then I wanted to add a business page, and I realized you could not separate your business page from your profile. Since I didn't want my professional connections to have access to my personal page, I closed that account and opened a brand new one with only professional connections. Some people were offended, but I did what I thought was necessary to insure against anything popping up that might not be appropriate or helpful.
Q: What is your favorite social network and why?
A: Twitter, hands down. But it's a personal choice. Twitter is where I started interacting online, where I've met (online and off) some of the greatest people I know, where I do lots of research & get almost all of my information, where I get involved in terrific conversations (or arrange a time to take it offline). Sometimes I stay off Twitter because I need to get just focus on getting work done. After a few days, I feel totally deprived and need to jump back on just to catch up and participate.
I can personally vouch for that as I met Donna via Twitter where she can be found at @DonnaSeyle.
I'd like to thank Donna for the informative and valuable information. For more information on what she does or to continue the discussion, you can reach her on Twitter or visit her website at www.lawpracticestrategy.com.