In today’s episode, we sit down with Melanie Leonard. Melanie is an attorney who ran her own successful practice for 12 years and now helps other law firm owners and their teams learn how to better utilize their case management systems to increase productivity and profitability.
We’ll chat with Melanie about what you need to think about when it comes to exiting your business, the emotions that come with a business sale, and what she loves about helping other attorneys with their technology, as well as…
- How coaching can help you get clear on your goals
- The tools you might be missing out on
- Factors to consider when choosing software for your practice, and
- Why automation is important
Mentioned in this episode:
Davina Frederick: Hello and welcome to the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast. Our mission is to provide thought-provoking, powerful, and practical information to help you in creating your own sustainable wealth-generating law firm without overwork or overwhelmed so you can live your best life. I’m your host, Davina Frederick, and I’m here today with Melanie Leonard, attorney and founder of streamlined.legal.
Streamlined.legal offers consulting, training and education to the law firms looking to increase efficiency in their daily workflow with practice management tools. So welcome, Melanie. It’s so nice to be speaking with you today on the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast.
Melanie Leonard: Thank you. It’s great to be speaking with you and I’m glad to be here.
Davina: So tell us before we get into talking about streamlined.legal, could you give us your sort of, I always find it fascinating how people wind up becoming attorneys and what their career as an attorney is like because it’s always so varied and interesting, you know, how people come to that decision. Would you tell us a little bit about your background?
How Melanie Found Her Way to Legal Practice Management Software
Melanie: Yeah, I’d be happy to. So I went to the University of Illinois and I studied sociology. And at the end of that, decided that I was not really excited about getting a job in any particular field. And thought that it would be much more interesting. I actually fell in love with law school when I went to visit a school and just sat in on a contracts case class of all things.
And during that contract class, I just thought it was so fascinating and so engaging. And so I decided that I wanted to go to law school and so I did that, of course. And after graduation, went straight to a firm. I started working and I guess the rest is a bit of history. That history includes, of course, working for a couple of different firms and then eventually starting my own practice, which I had for about 12 years or so.
Davina: Wow. Wow. So how long have you been practicing?
Melanie: So I was licensed. Okay, that’s gonna make me feel old. But I was licensed in 2002. So it’s been a good while.
Davina: Yeah. Now and then you started your own firm.
Melanie: I did. Yeah, I started my firm. And I started doing different types of law, but then eventually settled into doing residential real estate. And so we’re in the Chicago suburbs and people use attorneys to purchase and sell their homes out here. And so I did that for a number of years, probably last 10 years or so.
And just, it was such a great experience having my own firm. It really taught me a lot about myself, that’s for sure. And about, you know, growing and running a business. I had no business experience to speak of before I started my law firm. And so all of that I was figuring out as I went and, you know, trying to use examples of other lawyers and what I liked and what I didn’t like and what I wanted my practice to look like. And so that was a real adventure for me if you will.
During that time of running my law firm, I also had two children over that 12-year period. And so, you know, figuring out how to deal with the realities of being a working mother and how to handle all of that was, of course, another adventure in and of itself. And eventually got to a point where I was feeling a bit burnt out with the practice and decided that I was at that point, really helping other attorneys with their systems and processes and practice management software. It just got to a point where it was too much to do both.
And so I decided that was a lot more appealing to me and I enjoyed it a lot more than I did practicing law. And so I made what was a hard decision at the time, but now, in hindsight, has been just wonderful. But I made the decision to sell my practice about a year and a half ago. And so after selling my practice, I went full-time with Streamlined Legal and developed, am in the process of developing that business. And it has been just an awesome, awesome experience.
Davina: Oh, that is so wonderful. That’s such a wonderful story. And I love hearing, you know, stories of successful women business owners and how you started with no knowledge or understanding how to run a business and learned how to do it, you know, and grew it successfully to the point where you’re able to sell it.
I mean, that’s a story that a lot of women law firm owners that I talk that haven’t, you know, they’re just at the beginning of growing your practice, or they’re a few years into it, and they’re not thinking about the end game of what it’s like to actually sell a practice. So I mean, that’s a minority, you know? So I imagine that was a real learning experience.
Melanie: It was. It was. And honestly, it was a rather quick decision. I mean it well, in some regards, I had been toying with the idea of imagining the idea and kind of thinking it through for a number of years, probably about two years, by the time I actually sold the law firm. But once I got to that point where I thought, you know, of course, it’s always a risk starting a new business, no matter what the business is or, you know, what you’re doing.
But it just got to a point where I thought, you know what, I’m so not enjoying this law firm anymore, that if, for me, it was worth the risk to be able to enjoy what I was doing that much more. And my hunch ended up being correct, but at the time, you know, I thought, well, this is crazy. I mean, I went to school to be a lawyer, I’m a lawyer, you know, I’m doing all the things the lawyer does. And now we’re just gonna all of a sudden change and not practice law?
And that was a very scary concept for me and took a while to, for I think my subconscious and my conscious to grapple with and decide that yes, this was worth taking the risk. And like I said, looking back on it now, you know, 18 months out or whatever, it doesn’t seem like such a big risk just because the payoff has been so great as far as, you know, I’m enjoying it a lot more. It’s been very well received from attorneys out there that need this kind of help. So it doesn’t feel as risky now, but at the time, it felt very, very risky.
Davina: Yeah, it’s interesting because there’s so much emotional baggage that sort of goes along with it. It’s so challenging to become an attorney. And then you have to learn how to actually practice as an attorney. I mean, I had a mentor tell me one time it’s like three different lives to go to law school and then take the bar and then become an attorney.
I mean, you know, practice. And then you add to that if you started your own firm, there’s another level of learning and it’s all unique learning and you go through that process and then you feel like okay, I put all this work in and now I’m gonna move away from this, but I did something similar. And it was the emotional part was harder.
And then finally, one day somebody said to me, actually, my former law partner said to me, she said, Well, you know, you’re always going to be an attorney. Meaning like, even if you’re not practicing full-time, and this is another part of your journey to do something else different and, you know, that can be rewarding as well. And we still use those skills that we learned as an attorney just in other ways, you know?
Melanie: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.
Davina: Yeah. So tell me about Streamlined Legal. Tell me about what, how you serve your clients. And you mentioned that you were sort of doing this before you even sold the practice that people were just kind of asking for your help, or you recognize that people needed help with other attorneys needed help with their technology and you started helping. Tell us about that story, how that evolved.
How Streamlined Legal Serves Clients
Melanie: Absolutely. So I started when I was, when I had my own practice. It was very apparent to me very early on that I needed some type of tool to help me manage things. And whether we’re talking about calendars, or tasks, or people or clients or whatever, just all of it. And so it was very natural for me to want to find that in a software product. You know, because I’ve always been drawn to technology, I’ve always had an affinity for it. And so that was a very easy place for me to start looking.
And this was at the time when practice management software was first starting to go online. So this was right at the time when Rocket Matter started and Cleo started and, you know, these kinds of things. There were products already out there, you know, from LexisNexis and other big companies that you could buy and put on your computer. But this was the very beginning of the online access to those kinds of softwares.
And so I started looking at that and playing around with those and just through the years, really embraced that type of a tool, and really was able to just get a lot of value out of it, you know, to the point where the money that I was spending didn’t feel like it was any big deal, because we were getting so much use. You know, my whole team was getting so much use out of the software. And so I became very passionate about the idea that, you know, saught this type of software can really change the way that you practice law, at least it did for me.
And, you know, when I was trying to manage, you know, babies and I was trying to manage a law firm and I was trying to manage a number of things, you know, employees, it was very, very integral in helping me to do that. And it really took my firm from practicing and more of a reactive manner and to a more of a proactive manner. So it really made me feel like I could really stay on top of things.
And so just through my passionate feelings about this type of software, I would talk to other attorneys, you know, that I met and, you know, being in real estate, I was meeting a lot of other attorneys, you know, what I really closing. And so we would inevitably just start talking about our practices. And, you know, while we’re waiting at the closing table for money to show up, and talking about how we did things and it just inevitably would come to, you know, well, are you using this?
Well, have you tried this? And, you know, how can we make things better? And so that was a very natural conversation for me to have when I would meet attorneys. And so it came to a point where my firm itself, I decided that I wanted to really just, you know, step on the gas and continue to grow this practice and ended up joining a coaching group that allowed me to really learn more about the basics of building a business.
And at this point, I had tried to build my business for last 10 years and, you know, you learn a lot through 10 years. So I had learned a lot of information but the coaching group really helped me to focus on what my goals were and why I was growing the group and all that kind of, growing the practice and all that. And so I, again, natural conversation for me to have with other attorneys that I need in this coaching group, you know, how are you managing your practice? What tools are you using?
And it just got to a point where, you know, that conversation became so prevalent with other attorneys that I was meeting that I just fell in love all over again with the whole practice management aspect of a law firm. And from there decided, you know, started looking at what was out there. You know, there’s a lot of and I’m sure you’ve seen this, too, there’s a lot of great people and companies that are trying to help attorneys with technology itself. Y
ou know, so they’re really great with if you want to accomplish this, you click here and if you want to do this, you use this button, then, you know, export this and do this, and that’s great. And then there’s also some really outstanding, you know, business coaches, you know, that are going to help you build your business in general. But I didn’t see that there was a very good intersection of those two different types of people.
I didn’t see a lot of coaching with respect to how are you using the technology? And how are we using these particular features to help us accomplish these goals and our growth of our firm? And so that’s really what I was, what I did and I what I continue to try and provide to attorneys is meeting them at that intersection of where the technology meets the coaching and being able to talk them through how they’re implementing this software to accomplish those goals.
Davina: Right, right. And tell me some of the challenges that you’ve encountered with attorneys struggling with technology. Like what are their, what are they telling you that is the problem? Because I know that so many, you know, attorneys that I’ve spoken with, of course, you know, we see in online forums and things like that, social media groups, a lot of discussion about technology, and should I use this, I use that?
And I know, I’m working with clients myself, you know, it, depending on where they are in their practice, you know, they don’t know how to use the case management, which one to pick, there’s a lot of fear around, you know, am I making the right decision? Should I spend all this money? Is it a bit, you know, it’s a big investment. And you also find the ones who, you know, get the tools and then don’t use them. Don’t really learn how to use them because it feels like I don’t have time. It’s too much effort. It’s too overwhelming or whatever. So talk about some of the challenges you found. I mean is that worth talking about?
Melanie: Yeah, that’s a lot of what I see. I’ll tell you, one of the things that I guess surprised me more than I expected, is the idea that there are a lot of attorneys out there that have these tools, you know, in one form or another, but they’re not using them. And so when I talked to them about why or how and, you know, a lot of times, it’s just simply an experience where they are feeling, you know, they buy the tool because they feel like this is going to be an answer to a problem of theirs, which is great.
But then they don’t always take the time or energy necessary to learn enough about the software to have it help them. So they really, really want like a plug and play, like just stick it in and it starts working. And unfortunately, the way practice management software is designed these days, that’s not necessarily something that’s easy to do.
So you know, no matter what software you pick, there’s going to be a certain amount of setup or design that is going to be necessary for you to get the most benefit out of it. Now, what I see is I see people buying software, and then they use it for the things that are most urgent to them. So for example, almost everyone is using the billing and their practice management software. Because, you know, without billing, we don’t have much of a business, which makes a lot of sense. But it’s almost like once those bills go out, and then the urgency is done, right?
So they don’t always appreciate or anticipate the needs that they have for other features within the tool. And so those other features kind of take a backseat and well, one day we’ll get around to learning that or figuring that out. In the meantime, you know, there’s never a good time, right? I mean, there’s never a right, great time. It’s not like you’re just gonna sit there and lounge around with your practice management software all day and not have to worry about anything else. So it, a lot of what I find is it’s a mindset, you know?
You have to be able to recognize and appreciate the idea that these are tools that will take some investment of time and maybe money in the short-term. But in the long-term, it’s going to pay off dividends, because now, maybe you never have to draft that same form letter again. Or maybe you never have to, you know, look at another deed again, because they’re all prepared automatically. You know, your staff won’t ask you that same question for the fifth time because you wrote it down in the task of how to how to do that.
Davina: It’s that CEO mindset. That systems making and CEO mindset versus the technician attorney thinking.
Melanie: Absolutely, and there’s, you know, obviously, all attorneys are different. So some of them have a lot more of that than others. But I think that mindset really does come into play when we’re talking about a software that’s intended to help you manage. But if you’re not using it for that purpose, then, you know, it’s not helpful. And people get really frustrated, understandably so. But they, you know, what I find is people will jump around, you know?
They’ll get frustrated that they don’t know how to use what they have. And so instead of learning it, they’ll jump to the next shiny object and say, Oh, this is supposed to be better anyway. They jump to the other one, and then they don’t necessarily take the time to learn that one either. And then the frustrated cycle just continues, unfortunately.
Davina: Well, you know, and there’s also the issue I’ve, you know, I found in working with clients that, you know, they may say, Okay, I’m going to decide on this or I have this case management software. And I talked with them about, you know, can you get help, can you schedule a learning day, a training day with, you know, the creator of the software.
And I find it in Interesting that there are some software companies that don’t, you know, that their training consists of, well, what do you want to know, instead of, you know, looking at it and saying, Okay, here are some things that you need to take advantage of, right? You might get that in the sales process, but you don’t get that when it’s time for training. So what you’re doing really sort of helps fill that gap, I would imagine.
Melanie: Yeah, I think so. I think that you hit the nail on the head as far as there’s a lot of software out there that has different levels of resources. You know, there’s some that have a ton of videos and articles and stuff, but a lot of them do not. And I think it’s unfortunate because that subset of products contain some really great stuff. I mean, there’s some really good programs out there that just have terrible training and support. So I feel like yeah, I’m not a product developer, obviously, or software developer, but I feel like if they were able to boost that aspect of their company in their business, then that would really pay off dividends for them.
But as a consumer and a user, we don’t have a lot of control over that, of course. So it is a big challenge. I do tell people though, when they’re looking for software or thinking of switching, definitely that support, whether it comes in the form of live support, or videos or, you know, chat or whatever support they have, is critical because you don’t want to have to be sitting there trying to be productive. And now you have to wait three weeks for a response from the tech, you know, the technical people. So that’s definitely a huge factor I would take into consideration when picking software.
Davina: Well, so let’s talk about what you prefer and what you teach because I’m sure that you’re not training on every software out there, right? There’s one you train on. So let’s talk about what those are and why. Why you like them. Why you prefer them.
Melanie’s Preferred Software
Melanie: Yeah, so as a consultant now I am certified in Clio, PracticePanther, and MyCase and Lawmatics and Clio Grow. So that is a bit, we do have a client on Casepeer as well. So that is a bit of variety there, but I will tell you, I do have an unabashedly not secretive, preference for Clio. The original reason was because I started my practice on Clio, you know? And then used it for a number of years, you know, well past a decade.
So it was something that I was very familiar with, but the more that I get to know other software products now that, you know, I’ve taken the time to do that, and the more that I interact with them and interact with my clients through using them, I really think Clio stands out in two main areas. Number one is that customer support that we talked about. Both in their live support, but then also in their resources. You know, they have a ton of videos, they have a ton of articles, they have a chat. My favorite is the chat feature.
You know, I would very often just be working on something on the software, and just need a quick answer to something so that I can move on with my life and get some other business done. And their chat support was very responsive and very helpful. So I am very fond of that aspect of it. But I’ll tell you the second reason is might sound a little unusual, but they’re also one of the easiest software to get information out of. And I think that that can be very critical because it is software and it is technology.
And, you know, the new greatest best thing might come around another six months. We don’t know. So to be able to have that access to your data and to be able to get it out in case you ever wanted to leave or switch software’s or just to archive it for any number of reasons, I think is definitely something that I took into consideration when I was choosing and think that is a really strong factor in what you should be looking at when you purchase software.
So, you know, since then I’ve helped a lot of people switch from other software to, you know, a new practice management software. And I don’t care what software you’re going to are coming from, it is a pain. And so, you know, having the ability to get as much information out of the software as possible, I think is just going to make your life easier, you know, whether it’s next week or next month or 10 years from now.
Davina: Yeah, that’s great. That’s a great point because, you know, it’s ever-evolving, and we need to be able to be, but the data is ours, and we need to be able to have that data and access that data and do with it what we want. I found that what’s, you know, in speaking with a lot of women law firm owners, you know, marketing is a huge issue and having things in integrate and work with your case management so that you can take that, you know, those client lists and export them and do things with them and that kind of stuff.
And I know that Clio and PracticePanther, I don’t know about MyCase, have like, a special module basically, like Lawmatics and then what was formerly Lexicon as now Clio Grow, if I’m correct on that, right? And having, so having that piece and part bear and having something that integrates with what you’re using in other parts of your practice, you know? Yeah. Tell me a little bit more about that.
Melanie: Yeah, I think there’s, I like to say that people there is no one ring to rule them all. Like there’s no perfect practice management software. You know, if that’s what you’re looking for, I think you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I think maybe in the future there will be. That would be awesome. But if you’re looking right now to practically run a business as a law firm in the United States, I think that you’re going to be looking at a combination of software.
You know, maybe it’s only a handful in the best-case scenario or a bunch in the worst-case scenario. But I think that ability to get data out of the software where whether we’re talking about, you know, moving to another platform or whatever, it also comes into play when we’re integrating with other software, right? So Clio does have the most integrations and it does play nice with other software, so to speak. So that does give you a lot of opportunity. And I know PracticePanther has a lot of integrations as well.
So those are the types of software that I look for because I know there isn’t going to be one software that’s going to solve every problem I have. So I want to make sure that I’m using a software that will least work with other things in my office. So yeah, I absolutely agree that integration is critical if you don’t want To be, you know, hiring someone to do a lot of manual data input.
Davina: Right, right. And, you know, it’ll be very interesting to see what these different companies, like, I know MyCase has fairly recently updated and upgraded their interface. And a lot of people are really liking that. They say it’s very intuitive. So it’s interesting to see how all these players out there are constantly evolving and improving what they can do with, you know, with apps and things like that, you know, so that they’re, they challenge each other to constantly improve and come up with something better, a better product and a better product, or intuitive product. And that really is fabulous, works to our advantage as attorneys, right?
Melanie: I absolutely agree. Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. I saw a graph the other day that charted how much money had been invested in legal technology companies over the last 15 years, and the numbers are just staggering to begin with, but to see that chart, you know, just basically spike up within the last, you know, eight years or so is just amazing to me. And you can tell by the proliferation of technology that is out there geared towards attorneys. You know, and not to mention the non-legal resources.
I mean, there are many attorneys in this world that are running their firms using, you know, technology that is not legal-specific and having great success with that. So, I think that there’s just a ton of opportunities out there and a lot of choices. But again, as a law firm owner, especially a small law firm owner, that can make the process that much more overwhelming, you know? So I often tell people when you are picking software, whichever one you think you’re going to actually use, that’s the one you should buy.
I mean, I don’t care if you like the way MyCase looks or you hate the way PracticePanther does this or you love the way that, you know, smoke ball does that, like whichever one you’re drawn to and you think you’re going to love actually clicking the buttons on a daily basis, that’s the one that you should probably buy. Because there’s so many similarities to the software, so many more similarities than differences in some cases, that I think that, you know, whichever one you’re going to be most likely to use is the one that you should focus on.
Davina: Yeah, and it’s really interesting to me too, because you also have to take into account your team and the team you’re cultivating and their ability to adapt. And, you know, let’s say I know I’ve spoken with one-woman law firm owner recently who’s bought a firm and she has people involved in her firm who are not, they were with the attorney that she bought the firm from and they’ve been with him for 30, 40 years or whatever.
And so she’s sitting here going, Okay, I need to bring technology into this environment because it’s still very old school. And so a lot of these case management systems that are so comprehensive and, you know, have a lot of bells and whistles, she’s looking at them going, I can’t. I need something that’s going to get the job done but that’s going to be really straightforward and easy to use and simple.
And they’re not, you know? So you also have to take into account like, Who’s my team? Who are the people using this? Are these people who are technologically savvy, who are going to be like looking for something that they can have on their phone, you know, and access from anywhere? Or are they going to be, you know, somebody who’s like, okay, we’re just trying to get them using software instead of paper files, you know?
Melanie: Yep. And regardless of what software you pick, you know, there is going to be a learning curve obviously. Steeper for some people and some software than others, but I really look at it as a process. I mean, I used Clio for three and a half years before I ever touched the document automation, you know? So and then once I did, of course, I’m kicking myself for wasting three years. But it’s really, I look at it as more of a process, you know? Don’t jump in thinking that you’re going to be able to take advantage of it all right away. It just doesn’t happen.
So instead, if you can focus on, okay, you know, this month or this quarter, we’re going to try and focus on keeping really great notes in the practice management software, you know? That’s it, just update your files and keeping notes. That’s what we’re going to focus on. And after a while, that becomes second nature. And, you know, eventually you add on an additional feature. And pretty soon by, you know, three years in, you’re using every feature in the software. But I think to think that that’s going to happen, you know, within the first month or within the first quarter is a bit unrealistic.
Davina: Right, right. And so the way you work with clients, are you working with the law firm owner as a sort of a coach on technology? Or are you doing, do you do some training with them or with their team? Or how does that work?
Melanie: Yeah, it’s a combination of all actually. We typically start by doing a two-hour interview just to learn about the firm. Because like you said, a lot depends on who you have and how much staff and, you know, what they’re used to and what tools you’re using already. So we learn a lot about the firm in those first two hours. And then we come back to them with recommendations as to how we think they can make changes that will make their firm more efficient and more, you know, more focused on the client experience.
And so once they have those recommendations, they can take them and run if they want to. A lot of them will center around the practice management software, and a lot of them will center around building out processes that support that software. So, you know, a lot of times I’ll go into firms where they’ll have the technology but they’re not quite organized enough in the backend to really take advantage of that technology.
So we give them recommendations for that as well. And then assuming that they’re not, you know, feeling up to the task of figuring out themselves, then absolutely we help with training and we help with implementation. So we’ll work with the firm owner or their staff, depending on you know, what it is we’re trying to accomplish. And we will help them to both implement different features of the software and create those processes and document them to be able to support their staff and support the software as they grow. So it’s a combination of training and implementation.
Davina: Right, right. That’s great to know. Because, you know, what I’m, one of the things that you pointed out that I think is very, very important to note and to tease out here is that systems and processes aren’t necessarily about automation. Automation is what we apply to systematic thinking of processes, right? They help us with our processes.
But you have to first do that thinking work of how do I want this client to flow into my business? How do I want this case to be fulfilled and flow through my practice? And, you know, who’s going to be responsible for what and how are we going to do this and not replicate, you know, recreate the wheel all the time? And looking at those places where you can create efficiency, there’s a lot of thinking that goes into that.
Long before you apply technology you can, in what technology can do is open your eyes to opportunities, or cutting, really cutting down the time for some of those processes, because you’re sitting there okay, we did this manually. This is what we got to do. But this software says, Oh, all you have to do is push this button. Yay. But you have to do the thinking first about what you want. You have to know what you want.
Melanie: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. And honestly, I didn’t anticipate that as much when I started this business. I was really looking to help people with the software and how they were applying it. And it was just through working with more and more clients that became very clear to me that, you know, what they really need help with is putting together those systems. And when I say a system, I just simply mean, you know, first Jan is going to talk to on the phone, and then Susan’s going to write them in the confirmation email.
And then Carolyn is going to call them to have them come in for their first appointment and, you know, whatever you’re doing in your firm, and whatever that workflow looks like, that’s what we want to go ahead and make more consistent and document so that other people can help us keep that consistency. And that’s what really lends well to automation and to the software that we’re talking about. Because without all of that your software is going to be just as much a mess as your processes are to begin with.
And, you know, I have people come to me all the time wanting to do automation. And when I talk to them and figure out, you know what they’re doing right now to support that automation. And it’s really nothing. I mean, you know, maybe we put the data in here, maybe we don’t. Sometimes we put it in late. Sometimes we’ll put it in early. But that’s not going to be helpful when you have a computer that is not discriminatory and it will just take what you put in there and run with it. And if it was not what you intended, or at the time that you intended, that that’s going to mess up your automation and make you look really ridiculous, if you will.
Davina: Right, right. Right. So what do you say to people who have a lot of fear around investing in these type, kinds of case management tools and stuff? Because I know a lot of people, a lot of women, law firm owners look at it and go, Oh, gosh, it’s so expensive. Can I afford this? And what kinds of things do you say to them when you hear that?
Creating More Value For Your Time
Melanie: So I think that number one, we’ve been talking a little bit about people, you know, the experience of people buying software and then really not using it very extensively. And I think that if that’s what’s going to happen, then you’re right. It will be, you know, no matter what you’re paying it’s gonna be a waste of money. So, I would first say that you do need to make a bit of a commitment as far as this is something that I want to see happen in my firm and I’m going to give it some time and or money and or whatever resources required to make sure it happens. So if that’s your attitude going into it, I think you’ll be very successful with that.
I think the second thing though, if we’re talking strictly money, is the idea that, you know, we’re fortunate in that, as licensed attorneys, we’re often able to collect higher value or price for our time. And so I feel like, if you’re the person that’s preparing and just as an example, preparing and sending out the bills each month and you’re the licensed attorney on staff, then that’s really not a financially helpful use of your time. And if instead, you were able to delegate that to someone else, maybe, you know, with oversight, of course.
I don’t mean just to let them run with it, but to train and give that to somebody else, whereas now you’re taking 20 minutes a month to review your bills, as opposed to the four hours a month that was taking you or more to prepare them, then you’re really coming out ahead financially because now you can spend that time either building other clients or going out and getting more clients. And I think that if we’re looking at how to run a business, that’s a much more financially responsible use of your time. And a software is going to just help you to be able to do that in my opinion.
Davina: Right. And then using these that have the marketing modules to integrate, I mean, it’s going to be huge too in getting those clients coming to you. You know being able to communicate with your past clients and your current clients and remind them that you’re there and of your expertise and how you can help them and having that function automated and, you know, all of those things will just really buy you back a lot of time.
So it’s efficiency plus than the ease of outreach and things like that. You may save a lot of time in going in person places, if you know how to use your tools, you know? So tell me what have you found to be some of the drawbacks of case management or, you know, the technology sort of this march of technology. Have you found any sort of negatives?
Melanie: I think one of the biggest challenges right now is just the idea that since there are so many options, and there are so many choices, that a lot of attorneys will, not just attorneys, but in our case, we’re talking about attorneys, but will have kind of that shiny object syndrome, where it’s like, Okay, well, but this one says it’s going to do great for this, you know, problem I’m having.
But this one says it’s going to do awesome for this problem. And, you know, so they sometimes will get so distracted and start jumping from software to software, which is not good for your business flow to begin with. You know, it’s hard to get stuff done when you’re constantly switching systems, but then also it can become very frustrating to your staff. And in a lot of situations, your staff may be using the software, trying to use the software even more than you are, frankly.
That can be very, very disconcerting. So I would just say much with, you know, the same with a lot of things in your law practice, that constant communication and being in touch with your staff as to how they’re using the tools and what they’re feeling about the tools and that constant buy-in from them about how the tool is serving them, I think is critical and should be taken into consideration before thinking about any kind of changes or anything. So I think that flopping from you know, switching from software to software can be very challenging. I’m trying to think if there’s something else.
No, I mean, not with the software, so to speak. But I do think that, you know, when we’re at a point in time where there’s still a lot of attorneys and a lot of staff that doesn’t use software for a lot of functions in the law firm. So I think that it’s a real challenge for them to as you alluded to earlier, just start trying to use something. It can be a huge challenge, you know, because maybe they’ve spent 20, 25, 30 years, you know, doing it this way, and it’s worked well for them, and they don’t necessarily see a reason that we need to change. So getting that buy-in from them can be very difficult as well, but I think is integral and having a successful implementation.
Davina: Are there certain case management tools that are better for particular practice areas than others? You know, this may not be a question that you have a good answer to, but I’m just curious, it just kind of came up to me. I know that I have, you know, clients who are in real estate, some are in family law some are in criminal law. I mean, you know, do the softwares the case management softwares tend to work better for some practice areas than others?
Melanie: Yeah, I mean, there’s definitely some software that is geared towards different practice areas. So for example, if you’re talking about like Casepeer, that’s very focused on, you know, personal injury and the contingency type practices. So I think that same with Filevine is another great product. But again, that’s very geared towards contingency type, non-hourly billing type of files.
And so I think that if that’s the way your firm is focused, then those can be some really great options for you. But I do think that if you’re working in a framework where you have different types and not just different types of cases, but even different types of billing, you know, maybe on these cases you charge contingency in these cases, you do hourly, these cases, you do flat fee.
And then I think that those may not serve you as well, because I do think that there’s some benefit in having the entire firm, or at least large groups of the firm on the same software. And so in those types of cases, it may be more helpful for you to pick a Clio or PracticePanther or something that is more geared towards a general practice and not practice area specific. So it just really depends on what your firm is structured like and what you’re hoping to get out of your software.
Davina: And so the best way that a law firm owner should go about picking a case management software, what do you recommend that they do? I mean, I usually tell them to go check out two or three and then see what works for them and get demos and things like that. I mean, what are your thoughts on that?
Melanie: Yeah, I agree. I think a demo is a great place to start. Especially if you’re just not, you know, sure of you know, you don’t have much direction to know to go in. I think demos are fantastic. I think that I would start even before the software, I would take, you know, just basically sit down, look at my practice and figure out, what’s the priority for us?
You know, are we really struggling to communicate with our clients and stay in touch with them as often as they want to be communicated with? Or are we really struggling to figure out our billing and have that be a smooth process? So I would sit down and first analyze what’s important to your firm? What are your current struggles? And, you know, figure out what’s a priority for you. Maybe the billing is only a problem because Susan’s on maternity leave and, you know, three months later, it’ll be no big deal.
Then obviously, that might not be high priority. But I prioritize those things before you go looking at the software so that way when you have these conversations with the software companies and with the sales representatives, you can say okay, here’s the scenario. I’m looking to apply this to, you know, how these things the software will help me in this scenario. And they should be able to tell you but it, you know, sometimes I feel like people just go in and pick a software because they think the software is going to solve things, but they haven’t really analyzed what they’re trying to solve, frankly.
Davina: Right, right. That’s great advice.
Melanie: Yeah, I know, a lot of times, it takes extra time, right? I mean, that takes some thought and introspection and some time, but I do think that’s time well spent and I do think that’s time that will make that shopping process a lot easier for you.
Davina: Yes, definitely. Having that, I mean, anytime you have a strategy, you know? Anytime wen you say do strategic thinking and think through what, you know, what are my problems I’m trying to solve and take a more strategic approach, it’s much better than the shotgun approach usually. So tell me before we wrap up here, I’d love to know, I’m going to ask you kind of a futurist. You get to play futurist here.
Haven’t you always wanted to have that on your business card, thought reader, futurist, you know? Tell me what you’re excited about that you see maybe coming on the horizon, coming down the pipeline for some of these companies? What kinds of things excite you when you hear about, you know, we’re working on this, we’re working on that? Give us that since you kind of got your finger on the pulse. Give us your insight into that.
The Future of Practice Management Software
Melanie: Yeah, well, I absolutely agree with what you said earlier about the idea that each of these software companies coming out with new features and, you know, new things that they can do, are really challenging the others because, you know, it really puts the pressure on each of these companies to continue to grow and continue to provide their clients with new and better things. And so I’m really excited about just that atmosphere to begin with. The second thing I’m excited about is the idea of creating what Jack Newton, the co-founder of Clio, calls the client-centered law firm.
And he just put out a book a couple weeks ago, entitled The Client-Centered Law Firm. And, you know, so much of what he talks about in that book, it just makes so much sense. And basically what he’s saying, in a nutshell, is that law firms need to start thinking about how they’re servicing their clients more in a more up to date way, but then also in a way that makes life easy for their clients. So for example, in the past, whereas we might have said, you know, we need you to pay by this date, and we need you to pay by a check and mail it into our office and whatever.
Now it’s like, Okay, well, how quickly are you going to pay and here’s the credit card link, and, you know, that kind of thing. So it’s really taking a different approach to looking at how you’re doing things and how it’s serving your client. And the argument is that not only will that make the client happier, of course, but then it’s also, the byproducts will also be that your firm will run smoother as well because it’s not a client wins or you win, it’s in serving the client better we’re able to better serve ourselves as well.
And so, you know, he’s pointing at examples of, you know, modern-day life that we all take for granted, like, you know, Amazon and Netflix and things like that, where, you know, we’re not always adopting that kind of thinking in the traditional law firm. And so I think that the more that we can do that, the more it’s going to help all of the law firms using that technique grow. So I’m very excited about that and to see firms implementing that kind of thought process in their businesses.
Davina: I think you really hit the nail on the head there. And, you know, we’re seeing a real rise of virtual firms, attorneys who, do not, you know, want that. They don’t have the dream of that traditional law firm. They want, you know, freedom, but they want to be able to do good work and grow a successful business and make the money and serve their clients and all of those things that, you know, we’ve always wanted, right? And a successful business. But they, you know, they want to be able to do it from anywhere at any time and, you know, there was a time.
I mean, I certainly know I’ve had people say it’s me, you know, but I started my firm, you know, your. And I remember when I first went virtual, you know? Well, your clients are going to like that, you know, they’re going to expect to come into your office and see the receptionist and whatever, whatever. But we’re seeing a change in how people buy services, how people buy products and services, right? We all want, love that convenience, being able to just hit this button and start the process and pay and not have to talk to anybody, you know, right? Right away, whatever.
Melanie: Yeah, I agree. And I think that the more that we start thinking that way in our businesses, the more that it just really makes sense. I mean, you know, when you, the clients are much more concerned about the results that they’re getting than they are about meeting you in your fancy office, you know?
Davina: They’re driving in the traffic to meet you. I mean,
Melanie: Exactly. They don’t want to drive
Davina: If you live in a city of any size, you know, nobody wants to be out of that.
Melanie: Exactly. So I think the more that we can kind of question our beliefs from the past, the more that’s going to help us grow for the future because those are stories that I think we tell ourselves because maybe it was true at one point, but maybe not so much anymore. And so the more that we can question those and identify those, the more successful we’re all going to be.
Davina: And the automation tools are really going to be a part of that and help with that. We can’t do it without the technology available to us, you know, and it’s exciting. It’s an exciting time to be in business and to be a consumer and just to sort of see the innovation that keeps around. Who would have thought that you could use an app on your phone and have groceries delivered within a couple of hours, you know?
And if they can, if grocery stores can do it then, you know, why can’t attorneys figure out a way to deliver services without, you know, anybody having to meet face to face or anything like that? So I think that it’s exciting to see what’s going to be happening in the coming years in technology, case management is gonna be a huge part of it.
Melanie: I agree.
Davina: Well, thanks so much for being here. Tell us how we can find out more about streamlined.legal and I think that’s kind of self-explanatory, streamlined.legal. But tell us more about you and I know you have some YouTube videos and things like that that are helpful to people.
Melanie: I do. Thank you. Yeah, we can be reached at www.streamlined.legal. And we also have a Facebook page that we’re very active on. I post a video up there probably daily. And then those videos are then put over on YouTube as well, if that’s your preferred platform. But it creates a nice, you know, there’s probably, gosh, I don’t know, probably well in excess of 200 videos up there by now.
And really, we’re just looking to create a resource for people, whether it’s for building your business or using technology or doing both. That’s kind of our focus. And that’s what we like to help people with. So please go check out those videos. I’m sure you’ll find something in there helpful, if not all of them. And we’re just, it’s been a great pleasure to be talking to you today. And I really appreciate the invite.
Davina: Oh, yes. I’m so excited to finally have met you at least this way. And having you here today, I’ve learned a lot and I’m sure our audience has to and I’m super excited for this to come out and for them to hear this conversation. So thank you.
Melanie: Thank you.