Episode 9 – Paul Purdue: Tips for Law Firms on Using Technology to Scale
Founder, Attorney Computer Systems
Paul Purdue is the founder of Attorney Computer Systems, a technology infrastructure company that helps law firms optimize operations. They do this by installing and configuring software for practice management, document management, and back-office operations. They also work with firms to help them design optimal workflows and improve efficiency, enabling them to scale rapidly. Paul shares his top tips for law firms, hard-won through 35+ years working with the best firms in the country.
Full Interview Transcript
Michael: My guest today is Paul Purdue, the founder of Attorney Computer Systems, a leading provider of Tabs3, PracticeMaster, and Worldox implementations and customizations. Paul and his firm are in the cutting edge of legal technology, because every time a new firm leader comes up with some new metric, report, or dashboard configuration, they are the people figuring out how to make it happen. Thanks for joining me, Paul.
Paul: Sure. Thanks for having me, Michael.
Michael: You bet. Tell me about your company. When did you start, and what kind of work were you doing initially? And then tell me a little bit more about the type of work you do presently.
Paul: Well, we incorporated in 1980, the year before IBM released their first PC, and we were originally providing computers, and networks, and printers, and legal software and word processing software to law firms. We basically were a one-stop shop, because back in the early ’80s, that’s what had to happen. You could not get your hardware from one person and need a software from another because of incompatibilities between machines, and types of printers, and things like that. Somewhere in 1985 we sold our first Tabs3.
Somewhere in the middle of the ’90s we realized that at that point, not in the ’80s but in the ’90s, there were a lot of people I should say that were capable of providing computers, word processing, printers, networks, and that sort of thing, and there still are, of course. But there aren’t many people that understand the intricacies of hourly versus split fee versus flat fee versus contingent billing. There aren’t many that understand what practice management is or what document management is to a law firm, and so that became what we focused on.
We stayed with the Tabs3 and PracticeMaster products. We added Worldox, because it integrates very tightly with PracticeMaster. My focus over the years has been practice management in law firms. I have other people working with me that get into some of the more intricate areas underneath that and some people that get into the billing and accounting that’s not really my focus. My focus has been all along automating the practice of law.
Michael: Just for folks who maybe have never had exposure, those three programs that you mentioned kind of fit together across a whole organization. What are their different areas of focus, like Tabs3, for example?
Paul: Tabs3 is a billing and accounting package. It basically takes care of what we would call the back office functionality.
Paul: Of course, billing, time keeping, but also check writing, and trust accounting, and those sorts of things that somebody who’s not an attorney, not a paralegal is not really going to be concerned with except that they want to make sure their time gets billed and that they get paid.
Practice management is kind of an umbrella term, and PracticeMaster does all the things that a practice management system would do. There are others. There’s Amicus, and Time Matters, and Clio, and Rocket Matter. There are a lot of practice management systems these days. They do things that are more front office. In other words, things that would sit on an attorney or a paralegal’s desk or a legal assistant’s desk: things like calendaring, keeping track of the details in a case, keeping track of e-mails and documents, moving cases through the firm with workflow, organizing data, reporting on data.
A lot of firms are using practice management to automate document production to automatically be able to take the information that’s in the system and generate a motion to compel, or a pleading, or a letter to the client, or a letter to the medical provider requesting medicals.
Document management, which is what Worldox does, is kind of a subset of practice management. PracticeMaster and a lot of the other practice management systems have a document management functionality built into them, but Worldox and other packages, like iManage and Hummingbird, take that to a different level. For some firms, document management is something that they need something very robust to handle. Other firms will try and successfully manage their documents using their practice management system like PracticeMaster. So that’s what it is.
It’s basically the front office and back office management. We don’t get into and these products don’t get into what people think of as litigation support or e-discovery. That’s a whole different realm, and that’s something we’ve chosen to stay out of, simply because it’s not the day-to-day operation and management of the cases that e-discovery does, e-discovery focuses on managing things within a single huge volume matter, a litigation matter.
Michael: Right, and then, you know, I think another piece that’s central to a lot of law firms is Outlook, lots of defense firms, and I know that integrates pretty well into that world of the other three tools that you mentioned.
Paul: It does. I mean, your e-mails end up in Worldox or in PracticeMaster or in another document management or practice management system. Your contacts and your calendar should be coming through to Outlook from your practice management system. I look at everything, and in my perfect world, everything is talking to everything else, so that your contacts are managed centrally in practice management, and that feeds your billing system, and that feeds your Outlook contacts and your phone, and that feeds your marketing.
I mean, everything should be tied together, so Outlook should talk to practice management. Practice management should talk to billing and talk to document management. Everything should be working together instead of fighting each other.
Michael: Right, right. So those are the basic building blocks, and like you mentioned, there’s a lot of other tools out there. Why doesn’t a firm just buy the products they deem most useful and turn them on and get going? Where do you guys come in?
Paul: Well, frankly, my favorite job is a PracticeMaster, Tabs implementation that we didn’t put in, either one that bought the software directly from the company that makes it, and in this instance, software technology, or somebody that bought it from another reseller that put it in and maybe didn’t do quite as good a job as we would. Because that’s the most rewarding to me, because these packages can do so much, and it’s not the kind of thing that a typical attorney is capable of or has the time to make happen.
And beyond that, they don’t really know how to make these packages do the things they want them to build. Every attorney, well, virtually, every attorney, wants to buy a practice management system, load it on their computer, and have it instantly do what they want it to do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work that way.
Just like a client may want to instantly have a will that does a couple of the unique things that he and his wife may need done, but that doesn’t happen usually with that client doing that. They go to a lawyer, because a lawyer knows how to draft the right phraseology, the right terminology, the right agreement, the right will, the right trust agreement to make those things happen.
It’s the same with practice management. The client may know where they want their money to go, who they wanted to go to when they die, but they don’t know how to make that happen. The lawyer may know what he or she wants to do with practice management, but they typically don’t know how to make it happen. I may know how to use a hammer, and a screw driver, and a wrench, but if you give me a set of the finest tools in the world and told me to remodel my kitchen, it would not come out good for me.
Michael: It’s interesting, because there are two elements to it. One is the one that you described, which is to say they know what they want to do, they just don’t know how to do it. But I think the other thing is recognizing, and I’m sure you guys do this all the time, is when you see somebody doing something in a very cumbersome sort of way that has a reason out of the fact that they have done things manually for so long, and you’re able to identify, “Hey, you know there’s functionality in this program that can just completely eliminate all that work you’re doing by hand to get from point A to B three times faster.” I imagined that’s got to be…
Paul: “Well, why are you doing it that way?” I’d say, and they’d say, “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Even though the way they always did it 35 years ago, they weren’t even using a computer to do it, it’s still the way they’re doing out on a computer, and yes, we get that a lot. A lot of times people come to us, and they say, “I’d put in PracticeMaster myself,” or “I want to put it in, and here’s how I want to do things.” That is an extension of the way they did it 10 or 20 years ago without any regard for what the software can do now.
That’s part of our job, is to say, “No, you really want to do it this way.” We do that by trying to put content out there on YouTube, on the web to kind of direct people and say they find us, and they kind of have an idea that they want to use PracticeMaster to do this or that, and they come to us, and they see these things, and they say, “Ah, that’s what I want to do.” That’s kind of how we try to chorale people into what they can do versus how they might want to do it.
Michael: Yeah, that’s interesting. Well, let me ask this, too. We were chatting a little before we started about workflows, and I’m curious, maybe you can define that. But my question about workflows is also, how many firms when you propose that to them is that a novel idea? What are you finding? Are people keyed into that, or are you blowing people’s mind with that?
Paul: Workflow is one of those things that we usually use into after we’ve gotten into a firm, because it’s not something that somebody comes to us and says, and not very often at least, that says, “I want workflows.” Because for one thing, unless they’ve watched one of our videos or heard of this concept and kind of flashed it out, they don’t really know what that is.
First, a definition, workflow is automating something, so that it happens when something else happens, whether that be because this task was marked complete, so that means it’s time for this person to do this next task. And when that next person does that next task and marks it complete, it would be time for Sally, the paralegal, to do this, and that’s one example of workflow. Those are calendar-based workflows, that when this gets done, this gets done, when this gets done, this gets done.
One of the reasons that workflows are so appropriate for that sort of a situation is…let me give you an example. Let’s say an insurance company says, “Within a day of receiving a case from us, you need to send us a letter acknowledging it, and then within 10 days, you need to send us an initial assessment along with an initial budget,” let’s say.
Our workflow can schedule that 10-day deadline, but then the insurance company goes on to say, “And within 90 days, thereafter, every 90 days, we want to follow up a summary,” let’s say. So you do that initial summary, and you send it to them, and you do it four days early. If you had simply scheduled 10 days off and then 90 days from then, and then you did it 4 days early, and then you waited probably 90 days from 10 days, you’re going to be 6 days late.
Workflows are based on what’s happening, when it’s happening, not on what’s supposed to happen under a very rigid plan, so one workflow will trigger off the last scheduled event, and that will trigger off the previous scheduled event. That’s very important. The fact that they are triggered based on something else happening is key, and there are all sorts of things you can do with workflows.
If you don’t want people to mess with certain parts of the program, you can write a workflow that if somebody does, it informs the right person. If you want the primary attorney in the matter to be informed when the case is finally marked closed, and we’ve received the final payment, a workflow can take off that e-mail or take off that notification. If you want a case that’s open for travelers to be set up in a certain way as opposed to a case that’s open for all state, when it comes to these groups of fields, a workflow can make sure that’s happening.
Michael: Right, so as…
Paul: It’s taking…
Michael: Go ahead.
Paul: It’s taking information, it’s taking things that need to happen and putting them in the hands of the computer rather than in the hands of a person that would have to be retrained every time a new person comes in. It’s taking that knowledge and building it into the system rather than building that knowledge into the person that you want to hire to replace that person, to augment that person as you grow, and so it makes your organization more scalable, because the knowledge of how we do things is built into the software rather than being built into or assuming that this person knows what to do.
Michael: That’s really awesome. It addresses a couple of issues. One is sort of growing complexity of client requirements. They’re all using computer systems. They expect their vendors, their law firms to be able to handle complex requests, and they expect to make…obviously, I’m talking about corporate counsel type or rather firms that are serving corporate clients. But a lot of times what will happen is they’ll make a single request to one person in your organization, and they expect from now on your entire organization complies with that request.
Paul: That’s exactly right.
Michael: Having a process for getting…I just learned something. I’ve been with your firm for two weeks. I got this call I barely understand, and yet, I got to get this to someone, and it’s going to propagate throughout the system, and so the idea that presumably there’s an internal contact who’s managing that in conjunction with you is the way to get that done. You communicate it, and it propagates properly.
Paul: That’s true. We’re relying on the employee to recognize that this is something that is not just for me to do this one time but for the firm to do from now on. And then in the old model, that would get added to a procedure manual, or to a job description, or something like that, and so every new person that came in would have to be trained to do that and to recognize that. It’s kind of like playing operator. By the time you get to the end of a couple of people having gone through that cycle, it’s getting done differently. Whereas, if we get right in there and get it into the system, then everyone that comes in is going to be operating under that set of guidelines.
Michael: Right, and the other thing it does is even if your folks are capable of handling that level of complexity in detail, they may get it right 8 out of 10 times or 9 out of 10, but on the day that they get interrupted 4 times while they’re trying to just finish up, put this last little item to bed, and then they close the file and move it on, and they just fold…I have just seen circumstances where if you interrupt people often enough, even the very best people will forget to do something.
Paul: Even if they got it right. Even if they don’t ever, ever forget, this just makes it easier and faster for them to do. There’s a lot going for workflow automation. Number one being scalability. Most funds want to grow up, and the faster you grow, the harder it is, because more and more people have to be brought up to the same level that it took this person a year to get to by learning how to do all these things. Now, you’ve got somebody new that’s going to do exactly the same thing. They have to be brought within a week up to the same level as this person, and scalability, speed, the lack of air, the lack of omission, all those things, beautiful reasons to automate workflow.
Michael: How often do you encounter practices that are so dynamic, that they really can’t create workflows, because they’re getting us to do all sorts of different things all the times?
Paul: Well, I’ve got a good example of this. One of our clients is a very high-end boutique of state planning firm who has some very, very high value clients, and so they have less clients, more money coming in from each client, and they’re managing huge trusts and the maintenance of huge trust agreements and complex state plans.
Each of these four partners has their own drafting style, their own set of language that they like to use in unique situations, their own little nuances as to how they handle different things. They are not suited to this type of automation. They are a very specialized boutique, high touch, high dollar sort of practice. They’re getting a lot of money per hour, and their clients are willing to have them spend as much time as it needs to get done what they need to do. They’re not a good firm for that sort of automation.
Whereas, our newest client that we picked up today is a workers’ comp firm. A workers’ comp firm is a perfect example of a firm that is right for this sort of automation, because in your state, there is one way of doing workers’ comp. There is one set of rules. There is one set of guidelines. It’s very high volume. You can scale very quickly, and things really never change. So that’s an example of one that this really does apply to it.
There are situations that just aren’t really, really nearly as prone to or nearly as…they don’t benefit as much from this sort of workflow automation as others. It really depends on also the willingness of the people that are running the firm to adapt this sort of approach to it as opposed to the old way of doing things.
Michael: Got it. Also, I was kind of curious. Do you have a sense of your clients just from a percentage standpoint? I mean, do you have mostly your billable clients, or is there a split with billable versus contingency? I’m just kind of curious.
Paul: Well, we do a lot of work with insurance defense firms. We have maybe 1,300, 1,400 clients, but the people that we do considerable amounts of work with I’d say we’re probably 40-60 as far as plaintiff versus defense of those that are on either side of the equation. I mean, we also have clients that aren’t in litigation at all, a lot of transactional firms.
Most of our clients are still on an hourly basis except, of course, the contingent firms. We do see a percentage of people moving toward flat fee type of work or value type billing, which is kind of the new frontier as far as legal billing. But I’d say that maybe we’re half and half transactional versus litigation, and we’re probably 40-60 as far as plaintiff versus defense on those that are litigators.
Michael: Let’s see, we talked about workflows. I’m also curious, too, about some of the…you mentioned metrics is something you’re getting a lot of interest in, and I understand on your website you guys do dashboards. What are some of the things you’re seeing around that? Are you being asked to do things that are kind of exciting in terms of new projects and sort of cutting-edge stuff?
Paul: Well, the metrics are kind of the first indication we got that there was any interest in metrics, especially on the defense side, and the reason was that, well, it kind of became a hot topic in the insurance defense industry.
A lot of firms, some firms, I shouldn’t say a lot of firms, early on, a couple of firms, a handful of firms, became interested in tracking metrics, so that whoever then the insurance company presenting them with their side of the metrics, because insurance companies have been doing this for years and years, they wanted to jump the garment and get in front of the insurance company and say, “We’ve been tracking metrics, and this is what we’ve been able to do. This is how many cases we’ve been able to close within a six-month period. This is how many we were able to bring from being a high-dollar volume down to medium-dollar volume.”
They are tracking value. They are tracking speed. They are tracking different sorts of speed, not just speed from beginning to end, but speed from receiving a case to initial assessment, speed from initial assessment to making an offer or refusing an offer. They’re tracking speed in a lot of different ways. They’re tracking dollar value. They’re tracking it by attorney. They’re tracking it by insurance company, and they’re tracking it by a type of case being catastrophic versus serious versus not either of those, so getting very heavy into that. I’ve got several clients that are getting very heavy into the metrics and the insurance defense side.
The plaintiff’s firms were a little slower as far as what I’m seeing to come around to this, but we’re seeing that, too. We’re seeing the plaintiff firms, but they’re tracking from a different perspective. They want to know what’s working from an advertising standpoint. They want to know what’s working from a type of case standpoint, which they are more successful with, which they are less successful with, which they are able to get bigger settlements on, which they are able to settle out of court on versus getting involved in a real litigation. That’s become a hot topic, metrics.
Michael: Do you see plaintiff’s firms sort of track implied hourly rates, things like that?
Michael: Is that something good to look at?
Paul: More and more we do. A lot of times it’s not so much from an implied hourly rate. They’ve been banned by a judge that’s wanted to see how much time they’ve put into a case or logged into a case, and they haven’t been able to do it. They’ve had to go back and try and reconstruct this. I think that as we’re getting them into tracking their time, some of them still don’t really care about that, but as we’re getting some of them into tracking their time, they are able to go back and look at an actual implied hourly or reflective hourly rate, but I think a lot of them, the empathy that’s getting them there is having had judges demand lists of what hours they’ve spent and what days doing what things.
Michael: Other thing, too, I kind of wondered about on the defense side is do you see…you mentioned they’re looking at metrics by client. Are they sort of trying to do analysis on which client relationships are most profitable? Is that something you see them doing?
Paul: Which client relationships are most profitable? That’s been around for a while, because that’s always been kind of a focus of billing software even in the ’80s. But which ones are given in what types of cases and which ones they might want to try and get more of a certain type of case? They’re looking at it by client, because they want to go back to the client and say, “We have this track record.” If they find a client where they have an extremely good track record, that’s the client that they want to approach and say, “This is what we’ve got on our relationship and our history with you, and we think that that warrants more business form you on these types of cases.”
Michael: That makes a lot of sense. Are there things that you have implemented that have been surprising request or things that, I don’t know, just seem to be creative or a little bit out of the box, some new things that you’re hearing about or being asked to facilitate?
Paul: Well, I’ve got a PI attorney, a plaintiff’s attorney down in Atlanta who’s young. When I met him, he answered his own phone, and he thinks like I do. That’s very unusual. He already is talking metrics before anyone has ever mentioned it to him. He is already talking workflow, and scalability, and being able to build accountability into the system, being able to build manageability into the system, being able to have him have a team of lawyers and paralegals working underneath them that can be managed by him with a little effort as possible and yet where there’s much oversight as possible.
When I see something like that coming from an attorney, that’s probably the most surprising thing I can see, because we don’t get that. Attorneys don’t typically think that way. They don’t think in a systematic approach. They don’t think in a logical approach, at least not from a systems perspective. They may think in a logical way about the law but not in a logical way about systems and how they run that law or practice. That’s usually the most surprising thing to me, is when I get a client like that that’s already mapping out things that usually most of our other clients are coming to us to do.
Michael: What would you say is the case or how often is the case where your client, the primary contact, is an attorney versus maybe an administrator?
Paul: I think it’s 50-50. A lot of times the administrator is the initial contact, but then we end up working with an attorney. I think obviously the larger a firm is, the more we work through an administrator, but a lot of what I do needs to be done on an attorney in a paralegal level. We’re automating their ability to practice law. We’re automating what they do, and so we need to work directly with an attorney or with a paralegal that’s intimately familiar with what it is that they need done. The people that work here on the billing and accounting side tend more to work with administrative people.
It really has to do with what it is that we’re working on. If it’s billing and accounting-oriented, it’s typically with administration. If it’s practice management and back-end management-oriented, it’s typically directly with an attorney or a paralegal.
Michael: So that was interesting when you…I know it’s a generalization, but you commented that attorneys don’t necessarily think logically relative to the way that you look at systems. Well, what are the priorities that they’re concerned with that you feel cause them to not maybe see the way that you see things from a systems perspective? Do you have a sense of that?
Paul: Well, I don’t think a lot of attorneys or paralegals understand what can be done from a practice management standpoint. The number one thing that they usually zero in on is calendaring. That’s an obvious thing that you want your practice management system to do. It’s usually tied into your billing system, so it gets to be very, that part of it, easy. The calendaring is just a natural extension of that.
That area that they typically tend to gravitate towards they don’t really understand what the rest of it is that can be done. Some of them do, but the majority of them don’t. I’d say that the thing that they do zero right in on is calendaring, targeting, managing the dates, managing the trial, deadlines, the technical deadlines in practicing law. To them, that’s practice management. To me, that’s just a very small subset of what practice management is.
Michael: What are the big priorities where they can save a lot of time, add profit to the bottom line that they don’t necessarily cover?
Paul: Well, the holy grail of profit and time saving and money making is doc automation. It is also the most expensive thing to automate. It’s not easy. You don’t just wave a magic wand, and that complaint instantly assembles itself from the data that’s in your practice management system. There’s a lot of thought that needs to go into it, and a lot of logic, and a lot of understanding of both what you’re doing in word processing, and what you’re doing in practice management, and what you’re doing in law.
It takes those three things coming together for the person that has enough time. Therefore, it’s an expensive thing to automate, but when it’s done right, you can take the preparation of a pleading or a responsive, say, motion or a large time, and an answer at the same time that in the past would have taken a half hour to fully assemble now takes literally a minute.
That’s where your scalability comes from. That’s where your time savings comes from. That’s where your real profit of practice management comes from. It’s also usually the last thing that gets done, because it really relies on a lot of other stuff that the files are being set up right and the things that you’re doing with the other data being plot through and set up right, so that the building blocks are there to be able to build those documents.
Michael: Have you ever encountered anyone who maybe bills hourly that says, “You know the truth is we don’t want to automate that, because then we can only bill.”
Paul: That was the original reason not to automate that. That’s correct. That’s where it shifts to value billing to…for instance, let’s take a foreclosure practice, because they lend themselves to automation. If you were billing by the hour, and now, you can prepare the foreclosure documents in 30 minutes, and it used to take three hours, now, firms are charging, “When we get to this point, you owe us $400. When we get to this point, you owe us $300.”
They’re able to restructure how they’re charging those services, and I think that’s definitely a way that the legal market is headed, whether people like it or not, because there are people that are restructuring this way. There are people that are automating this way, and eventually, that’s going to be more and more what the client demands, and typically, what the client demands, the client gets.
Michael: Something else I saw on your site that I wasn’t previously familiar with, let me find this term, was snapshot programming, and I don’t know if that’s specific to the world of Tabs3 and PracticeMaster, or maybe it’s a general thing. I’m kind of curious what that is.
Paul: It might be. A snapshot to me is if you’re in the client file in PracticeMaster, and you have highlighted a particular client in the list, there is a snapshot that shows up on the right around the bottom that gives you details about that client. As you move from one client to the next, those details change obviously, because you’re highlighting a different matter. Snapshots appear in a lot of places: in the client file, in the calendar file, in what we call the people file, where we type people to matters. The people file is a beautiful example of where snapshot programming comes in.
When you are in a matter, let’s say Larson versus Belcor [SP], which in my world is one of our sample worker’s comp cases, and you click over on the people tab, and you want to see all the people that are tied to the case, and you’ll see a list, and there’ll be a name and what their role is. That’s great. That alone is great. But if you have to double-click on a certain person, go down to the underlying record, and then maybe even click on the link that takes you over to the contact record to find out what their e-mail address is, that’s bad to me.
If instead you’re on that people list where you’ve got a dozen people listed that are all tied to this case, and every person that you highlight, you get all their contact information, everything you want to know about them and how they relate to this case right there on that snapshot, that’s what I call bringing data to the surface, bringing what you’re looking for to the surface. In our tools, which are PracticeMaster and Tabs, we use snapshot programming to help do that. I don’t know in other practice management systems if that’s something that’s out there. It’s kind of a term that we coined to describe what we’re doing specifically in PracticeMaster.
Michael: That makes sense. What’s cool about that, especially for legal assistants and paralegals, they spend their entire day clicking around in the software. If you can take a test that used to be three or five clicks and bring it down to just one, that adds up to significant savings, time savings, and therefore greater efficiency in what they’re able to accomplish.
Paul: Well, especially if you were going to click three times on each of those contacts to find out which one is in Arizona, and when in fact, you could just hit your down arrow, and go down the list, and look at the snapshot, and find which one’s in Arizona like that, that’s huge. At least, in legal assistance, it’s even worse with lawyers and paralegals, because they are the ones who are looking for this stuff a lot of the time and who are much more significantly impaired by having to click to find it.
Legal assistants are pretty good at clicking around and now, “If I go here and try to dig down here, I could find this, and then I go back out, and I go down here.” They’re pretty good at it. It’s the lawyers and the paralegals that aren’t, and we’re bringing this information. We’re bringing this system to their desktop, and then we’re asking them to know where to go to find the information. And instead, if we can bring it all right out there, so that it’s all right there, right in front them, that’s huge to them. That’s the big part of what we’re trying to do.
Michael: Now, I get that. Well, let’s see, I was also going to ship out some of the trends that you’re seeing. One of the ones we were chatting a little before that you mentioned that’s kind of cool are clients having access to specific data points through your system. Maybe you could expand on that a little bit. What’s…?
Paul: Well, we’ve had some of our clients that have come to us and said, “We need to get certain bits of information to our clients.” Now, the client right now that does something called bordereaux, which are a special report that’s used in the insurance coverage industry.
It’s a very specialized area of law, and a bordereaux talks about a policy or a group of policies, and the claims that had been levied against those policies, and the charges that have been used to defend those clients. Their clients are one who just see the bordereaux on demand. They want to go somewhere, log in, say, “I need to see the bordereaux for this policy or for this group of policies.” They don’t want to have to ask the law firm to send it to them, because they want to be able to look at it any time they want.
I have another example. There is a firm, a Chicago-based foreclosure firm, that was dealing with smaller banks. Foreclosure typically is a very big…the money is in the big banks. Not to say that this firm wasn’t making money, but they were dealing with smaller banks. The big banks all have places that the firms go to push some data, so that the big banks can then accept this data and analyze it.
The banks have a portal that the firms push statuses and information about the cases they’re prosecuting, or defending, or that they’re pushing through, and they push that information to the clients. Well, this firm, this client, this law firm who is dealing with little banks, who didn’t have that, and so the little banks were constantly calling them saying, “Send us the status on this foreclosure. Send us the status on this property.”
Their attorneys were spending all their time in a way that may have been billable but wasn’t really pushing along them to focus on the work they needed to focus on. They were spending all their time assembling these reports and pushing much to the client. Same thing is that we built up a portal where their clients could log in and through an authenticated secure system would request information on whatever property they wanted to see information on and freeing up the firm to go about practicing foreclosure on.
Michael: Nice, nice. Are there other sort of new trends like that that you’re seeing? What are some of the other things that are kind of…?
Paul: Yeah, the cloud is a huge trend. People don’t know what the cloud is. They can’t quite put their finger on it, but they want to have it. Being able to keep track of time in the cloud is a huge thing. PracticeMaster, Tabs, they do that. There are third-party products out there that allow you to keep track of time. Being able to stand in line of Starbucks and make a time entry that goes into your system is huge, and we see that being the way people go, being able to really look at any information about your case.
What’s Bob in my office doing right now? Because I’d rather have him come to this hearing with me, and I’m going to call him, but I want to see what his calendar is. What’s the telephone number for this client? All these things need to be out in the cloud. The cloud is where we’re headed. It’s where practice management, document management, even times are going. Firms also want clients to be able to pay online. That’s something that I see more and more being offered, being flashed out, and more and more systems are being able to do.
Michael: I wanted to ask, too, about the cloud feature. It sounds like the way that the law firms are wanting that is or the reason they’re wanting it is for remote accessibility. Is that the primary reason people say, “Hey, I want cloud”?
Paul: Well, they see cloud as being less expensive, even though it’s more expensive, because it’s a monthly charge. They want that. That’s one thing that they want. They want their data to be accessible, okay? That’s another thing, and that’s what you’re talking about when you’re talking about remote access. They want their data to be safe. They’re tired of having to manage their own servers and worry about whether it’s backed up, whether or not…I mean, when Detroit flooded a year ago, I had one client who had all their servers in their basement, huge problem for them, obviously.
If you remember, Detroit kind of had these massive storms last summer beginning probably in spring, I’m guessing. It shut down the city for three days, and some people were affected infrastructure-wise. People got affected infrastructure-wise with virtually anything: lightning storms, power outages, floods, tornadoes, Hurricane Sandy. All of these things if you’re in the cloud, go away.
If all you need is a computer with an Internet access to get to what you’re doing, those worries all go away. Moving to the cloud is just an inevitable way that every computing infrastructure needs to have it. Whether it be a law firm, or a bank, or head of an accounting firm, everybody’s had it in that direction.
Michael: What are you seeing in terms of our firms that rapidly adapting that, or you’re finding that there’s still a desire to kind of see the boxes that hold the data as a way to feel that the data is secure?
Paul: Well, security is a big issue, but to be perfectly frank, most law firms are less secure as far as being able to get into their servers from the outside world than any other cloud type solution, whether it be a software as a service, like Clio or Rocket Matters, or hosted desktop type approach. Those sorts of data center-based approaches to the cloud as opposed to having a server in your office are usually far more secure than the server in your office.
The other thing is they don’t really know…I’ve seen a lot of firms go to a Rocket Matters, Clio type approach and then come back, because those types of software as a service type of approaches are not quite as mature, not quite as robust a product as the Tabs, or PracticeMaster, or Worldox. These products have certain cloud aspects to them, and there are other ways to get them to the cloud by taking the entire server and putting it in the cloud. The market is still a bit immature, and especially on the billing and accounting side.
You see a lot of Rocket Matters, Clios, a lot of practice management approaches coming out in the cloud, and some of them have integrated accounting and billing, and some of them don’t, then the ones that do tend to have something that’s not quite there as far as what firms need to do their billing and accounting.
Michael: I know you interact with and you go into a lot of law firms, and I’m very interested to know, do you have a perspective or a take on what are the factors that the firms that really stand out in your mind seem to have in common? Is that something that you’ve drawn observations on over the years?
Paul: Well, to me, it’s all about people. I have found that the hardest thing to get right and the most important thing to get right in any environment, specifically, especially a law firm, but really in any business endeavor, is people, not just the people that are managing, but the people that are doing the work. If you have people that are accepting, people that are willing to try different things, willing to build these sorts of systems, that’s going to make it work.
People can make a system extremely successful, and people can make a system that’s not quite perfect more successful than bad people working with a system that is perfect. I’m not saying that quite as eloquently as I wish I was saying it, but people are the big deciding factor.
I can take a system that’s not quite as capable with the people that are running it extremely well and are using it extremely well, and I can give you another example of systems that are extremely well-designed, but people are pushing back, and they’re not embracing it, they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do with it. So people are the number one thing that can make or break any endeavor. Management is big on that, too. Of course, management are people, but management are a special type of people, and the existence of a good, strong management structure is key.
Michael: As you were talking about the people and the way they approach things, what was kind of jumping out for me is mindset, sort of the people that are oriented towards being effective in getting things done versus people that are oriented towards resisting change. Is that what you were getting at a little bit?
Paul: Yeah, I mean, you can have a mindset of “I am going to try this and be much more successful” than someone who maybe is very, very sharp or very, very capable who has a mindset of “I’m really going to resist this.” I think mindset is extremely important.
Michael: Well, one of the things that I know you must get involved in is helping firms roll out new implementations, new changes, maybe a whole new install. Have you picked up any tips over the years for what a firm has to do at the leadership level to make sure those things are effective or just observations when you see some firms doing it well and other firms not so well?
Paul: The firms that did the best bring in as many people as they can early on in the planning phases to help them decide what’s going to be the case there, what’s going to work there, what’s not going to work there. If you get people’s feedback, you can get people’s buy in. If you simply plot something down in front of them, whether it’s extremely well thought out or not, that’s going to cause resentment, and pushback, and problems.
Getting people involved early on is huge, not only from getting them to accept, and getting them to buy in, and getting them to embrace with open arms, but also in getting their feedback, because that’s important as well. You can avoid a lot of mistakes the more people you get involved early on.
Probably one of the most effective things I ever learned from an administrator was the people that are talking the loudest about how much this is going to not work should be on the committee to plan.
We have one person in one firm that she wasn’t nasty, she just had an Eeyore-like approach to automating her firm, automating her practice, automating her little slice of the firm. We got her on the committee. We had her help plan things, and there’s no one who is more of a cheerleader for what we’re doing at that firm than this person, probably one of my most important lessons that I learned from an administrator. That’s what she said. She said, “If she doesn’t want it, let’s put her on the committee to help make it happen,” and that was extremely effective.
Michael: I presume a lot of times the people who are predicting failure are the ones who…they don’t want to change.
Paul: Nobody wants to change.
Michael: That’s true.
Paul: Nobody wants to change, but the ones that dig in, yes, they definitely don’t want to change. There’s usually some other reason. There’s usually some other reason.
Michael: Maybe they’re afraid their job will go away or that kind of stuff.
Paul: That really almost never ever happens. People say, “Oh, well if we can do it that much quicker, then Sally can do all of it, and I won’t have to do any of it.” That’s not true. The firms don’t do this, so that they can get rid of people. Usually, they do it, so that they can scale, so that they can build and handle more business.
Michael: One other thing, too, I’m curious if you have encountered attorneys who maybe the leadership is on board, but there’s like senior level attorneys who just don’t want to spend time either learning the new approach or just even doing any administrative work other than the practice of law. And I know that’s a little bit out of your realm. That, I presume, would fall on the firm to make that stuff happen. But have you seen approaches that tend to be more successful than others? I mean, is it just, “You go nuclear,” “It’s my way or the highway,” or is there sort of an approach that’s nice, or is it the combination approach where you’re firm, but…I don’t know? I’m curious.
Paul: We tend to bathe them in love. We spend a lot of time with them. We spend extra time with them. We get them to where they can do what they need to do. We don’t expect them to change in ways that we know they’re not going to change. That’s key. I mean, if you’re 80 years old, and you’ll let Joan send you the document ID, so you can get the document up on your screen, but you’re not going to learn how to search the document management system for documents, because you’re never going to do that, then we’re not going to spend time trying to teach you how to do that. We’re going to teach you what you need to continue doing what you do, and we’re going to respect the fact that there are certain things you’re not going to learn.
Michael: So it’s sort of a strategy of…
Paul: Now, that’s not going to happen for the 22-year-old associate that just graduated from law school or the 25-year-old associate, but there are senior partners that had been in the firm forever, and they have a certain clause that enables them to get that special treatment.
Michael: So, Paul, man, so much cool stuff. I feel like I could chat with you for another couple of hours, but this has been fantastic.
Paul: Well, great. I’m glad. Thanks for having me.
Michael: Are there any sort of final thoughts or comments for law firm leaders who are intrigued by this idea of using technology to get an edge on the competition? I mean, what are some of the things that they should be thinking about as they continue to think about possibilities?
Paul: Well, I think that you really need to look. You need to spend a lot of time educating yourself. You need to understand what it is that you’re doing before you get into it. All too often people come to me, and they think that I’ve got a magic button, and I don’t have a magic button. They are just as responsible for their success as I am if not more so.
Knowing what it is that you want to do and researching with me or whoever you’re going to research it with, what you can do and how you’re going to do it before you pull the plug, before you pull the trigger, I suppose, is a better way to say that, before you pull the trigger and jump in, I think that’s important. There are no magic buttons. There are no magic buttons.
Michael: Right. Well, hey, what’s the best way for folks to get in touch with you?
Paul: Well, they can remember that we have the longest e-mail address in the world, and they can try and write down paul.purdue, like the school not the chicken, P-U-R-D-U-E@attorneycomputersystems.com, or they can just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paul: They just have to remember that there is a school somewhere in Indiana that shares my name, and there’s also a guy that sells chicken somewhere out in the East Coast that doesn’t share my name. So if they remember that it’s Purdue, like the school and not like the chicken, and it’s email@example.com, then I think they’ll be halfway there, and they’ll be talking to me.
Michael: I’ll certainly put on a link on the show notes as well.
Michael: Cool. Hey, well, thank you so much.
Paul: Thank you, Michael.
- Paul’s company: Attorney Computer Systems
- Paul’s contact page: http://paulpurdue.com/
- Contact options:
- Attorney Computer Systems was founded in 1980 [0:55]
- The focus of ACS all along has been automating the practice of law through implementation and configuration of practice management software [2:38]
- Paul’s favorite type of job to do [6:55]
- How a new software tool set can eliminate steps in your work [8:55]
- What a workflow is and how to use to use it [10:50]
- Putting the logic of things that need to happen into your systems, rather than relying on people to remember all the details [14:15]
- Clients expect any employee to be able to receive an instruction and know how to implement it across the firm [15:00]
- The work of Paul’s firm is split 40/60 plaintiff vs. defendant work [21:05]
- Increasing interest in firms tracking metrics and viewing data in dashboard displays [22:10]
- An example of a solo attorney who is thinking early-on about scaling his law firm [27:30]
- The priorities attorneys bring to systems upgrades [30:15]
- The holy grail of saving time and money through automation [32:05]
- Making the mindset shift away from holding onto inefficient practices in favor of billing hours [33:37]
- Snapshot programming eliminates unnecessary clicks in the practice management software [34:55]
- Providing clients with direct access to specific information in your system [38:40]
- How law firms should be thinking about cloud computing [41:33]
- Security as a consideration when considering the cloud [44:30]
- The qualities Paul sees that the very best law firms all share [46:25]
- The mindset necessary for a successful project implementation [47:20]
- What firm leaders need to do to create the conditions for a successful implementation [49:25]
- Many people who resist projects fear they’ll lose their job in the new paradigm but that almost never happens [52:00]
- Paul’s perspective on helping senior attorneys who don’t want to spend time learning new software tools [52:40]
- There are no “magic buttons.” The real trick is deep thought, analysis, and clarity about what you want to accomplish with technology [54:55]