By Legal Futures Associate Quill 
When we talk about the top technologies for smart law firms in 2021, what exactly do we mean? Legal practice management software? Online file storage? Cloud-based word processors? Scanners? VoIP phones? Time recording? Online payments? E-signatures? Zoom?
In the modern world, law firms are expected to provide their services in the same way as every other business – at the push of a button. To meet the demands of their clients, law firms are investing huge amounts of time and resources in the smart technologies listed above, integrating every piece of software or device within their organisation from the ground up.
But with hundreds of options out there, each as valuable as the last, identifying what technology your law firm actually needs can be difficult.
Which begs the question: what tech do law practices need?
Remote working capabilities
Let’s start with the obvious. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us all the value in being able to work remotely with zero obstructions. It’s no surprise that those law firms which had already invested in smart technology prior to the introduction of national lockdowns were the same firms which adapted quickest when employees were told to work from home. And when 97% of employees don’t want to return to the office full time, it’s important that you have the infrastructure available to support their new work habits in the future, whatever their working preferences – home, office or combination.
This goes beyond simply supplying stationery, decent laptops or additional hardware. One of the unfortunate side-effects of people working from home was that the UK saw a 400% increase in reported cyber crimes during the first wave of the pandemic, so it’s crucial that you have a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy in place to protect your employees and your data. Encrypt your remote devices, install anti-virus software and, most importantly, use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to secure your network from people who shouldn’t be in there.
Online payment processes
Chasing fees from clients can be one of the most time-consuming tasks at any law firm, but it doesn’t have to be. Using an online payment platform will make it as simple and as smooth as possible for clients to pay their bills first time, every time. Remember, what’s better for your client is also better for you, as more on time payments will improve your cash flow and help you budget more accurately.
There are plenty of options out there, such as Legl, GoCardless or Invoiced. For the best results, choose one which integrates with whatever legal practice management software you’re using, just like we’ve integrated GoCardless (and soon Legl) with Quill.
Speaking of Quill…
Using cloud-based legal accounts, document, practice and case management software like Quill is absolutely essential for performing all your law firm’s daily tasks whilst keeping you fully compliant. The very best legal software gives you all the tools you need to see a case through to completion, from signing initial contacts to locating crucial documents later down the line to submitting invoices. With accurate time recording and straightforward document management solutions, you can be more efficient with your time, and clients can see where their money is going, right down to the last penny.
The sign of an effective legal software is that, once you start using it, you barely notice that it’s there. Legal software is the silent hero that works away in the background, removing the headache that comes with endless back-office tasks so that you can focus on doing what your law firm does best.
Email and phone systems
From a client’s perspective, this is the most important area you can invest in. It’s essential that your clients feel like you are there for them, which means having the communication infrastructure in place to make that possible. Older landline phones and copper internet connections have a tendency to break at the most inconvenient times, but that is no excuse in today’s day and age – especially when there’s fibre internet out there!
When choosing your email system, it’s best to go with something that complements whatever word processing software or creative suite your firm uses (ie. Outlook with Office 365, Gmail with Google Workspace). But when it comes to your phone systems, you can be a bit more flexible. There are multi-line phones, cloud phones and PBX phones, but VoIP phones are probably the most popular as they allow you to run multiple lines and calls simultaneously over the internet. Each system comes with its own benefits, but again what you choose will generally depend on the demands of your business.
And what’s the one thing you don’t need?
Okay, we’ve cheated here a bit, as paper isn’t really a technology. But the point still stands – in a modern law firm, paper should be the last thing on your list!
Going paperless is actually a lot easier than you’d first think. It’s basically just a case of storing all your important paperwork according to the same organising system as before, only instead of locking it all away in a labyrinth of filing cabinets, you can store, locate and edit it all from within one screen. When clients send in paper copies, scan them immediately, organise them accordingly and then shred and recycle the paper copies once they’re no longer needed. Be consistent – by using naming protocols and documenting defined procedures – and diligent with sticking to this process, and you will reap the rewards.
In the short term, this makes it quicker and easier to manage crucial documents. In the long term, it takes up less storage space, reduces operational costs, helps comply with data regulations and is a more sustainable solution in general.
All of these technologies are useful in their own right, but the question you need to ask yourself is whether it is right for you. Depending on the size of your firm, the strength of your infrastructure, the type of work you do, and how many employees are working from home, some tech will be more valuable than others.
Start with the essentials: quality legal software. Once your practice is running smoothly, that’s when you can start adding in all the bells and whistles which will take you from a law firm to a smart law firm.
This article has been repurposed from the ‘Quill Uncovers: Secrets from real partners on the tech you really need’ webinar. View the webinar for free and download Quill’s ‘Guide to the essential smart law firm technology in 2021’ here .