Over the last week, I had two very unrelated experiences that were big eye-openers. The first happened on a phone call yesterday when I taught a lawyer how to cut and paste information into his bio on LinkedIn. He had been practicing the law and using computers for decades, but didn’t know you could highlight information, right-click, select “copy” and then right-click again and “paste” the information somewhere else. He was amazed by how easy it was, it was as if I had just taught the first caveman to make fire. The second experience happened in Tapei, Taiwan. I was speaking to a group of lawyers about incremental innovations (like faster internet, better software) and I compared these to breakthroughs like the introduction of the fax machine or the introduction of email. I broke the lawyers up into groups and I asked each group to come up with their best ideas for incremental innovations. What small changes could they make to their daily processes, with the help of technology, that would help them be more efficient?
The best idea that came out of the ten groups? Learn how to use Outlook. One highly efficient partner color codes his emails in four ways: one color for him, one for his assistant, another for his secretary, and the last one for his associate. 3 out of 4 of those he never reads, the subject line is enough for him to send it on to the right person to take care of it. Others set up folders that filter out all of the distracting messages that don’t need quick responses.
This example made me ask the question, what types of efficiency gains could lawyers experience if they simply understood how to use the best features of software like Word and Outlook? Partners don’t need to attend Word or Outlook training, I don’t think that would work, they literally need someone to sit down with them and follow them throughout their day to see what processes they are currently doing manually that the existing software could help them improve. These are two very simple pieces of software, we aren’t even talking about CRM systems like Interaction that firms aren’t even scratching the surface with.
Lawyers need to learn how to better utilize software, and I’m not sure the best way to help them get there. The problem is that they don’t know what they don’t know. The lawyer I taught to copy and paste, had heard the term before but had no idea there was such a simple solution. Another issue is that most law firms don’t have efficiency aligned as a priority. The lawyer that bills $750/hour takes 20 minutes to print and markup a document to have their secretary retype it when they could have a copy and pasted it in a few clicks. Teaching that lawyer to copy and paste may have just saved their clients hundreds or even thousands of dollars. But it cost the firm.
Efficiency and innovation are mission-critical concerns at almost every other type of company, it’s about time that law firms start taking them seriously as well.