How to run an online law firm: delegating and task management

I often receive emails from other lawyers asking me questions about my online law practice.  Some of them are big and existential.  But many people just want to know about the nitty gritty practical details of practicing law online.  This blog series is for you, plus other non-legal professionals wanting to move their work online.

First up, I’m going to share some of the online tools I use to communicate with my team, delegate and monitor work and organise my own workload.

Whilst I’m a sole practitioner, I have an ever-growing team of people who help Nest Legal ticking along.  Only one of them do I regularly have physical contact with, and everyone else I communicate with online.  I have been perfecting my systems to delegate work and project-manage for the last two years. 

My goals in developing these systems are several:

  • first, to communicate via means other than email as much as possible.  My inbox is busy enough with external emails and I don’t think it is the best way to project manage, preferring means where the communication is automatically attached to the task;
  • second, to use available technologies and the simplest tool for the job; and
  • third, to make sure important steps aren’t missed and everyone is clear about who is responsible for what.  

My Wills clerk, Jemima, automatically receives an email from Formsite when a new client provides instructions online.  She then opens a file in LEAP Cloud and creates a first draft of Wills, Powers of Attorney and Binding Death Benefit Nominations (following our detailed process document).  She highlights in the documents where we require additional instructions and any tricky issues requiring my drafting.  She checks the Google Calendar as to when the client has booked in for a conference (via Youcanbookme which talks to the shared calendar) and then adds to my Wunderlist to-do list that I need to review the draft documents and by when.  She keeps track of all Wills clients in a table saved on Google Drive so we know which stage each client is up to (i.e. booked in for a conference, waiting on instructions and when we last chased them, and where the signed Will is stored).

My conveyancing clerk/office manager, Maddie, and I share a number of lists on Wunderlist, which is a shared to-do list, broken into sublists (Wills, Conveyancing, Office and Grand Ideas).  Each task is given a due date and a person responsible.  We can both forward emails or Dropbox documents directly to the task list or jot down/check off items, either from our iPhones or laptops. The app talks to Sunrise, which combines the shared Nest Google Calendar and any Wunderlist due items (as well as Facebook events and my family’s personal calendar) so I can see at a glance what is on for the day and what needs to be done amongst those commitments.

This means that when Maddie attends our physical office (once a week or so), there is a list of tasks ready to go (with any necessary attachments), including some recurring prompts such as checking stationery levels.  There is also a list of ongoing projects to work on should she not have anything to do one day. On the day a task falls due, Wunderlist lets us delegate to each other, depending on who has capacity that day.  We can annotate tasks with notes or questions for the other to answer. We also share a Google Drive table to oversee the status of all conveyancing matters, which we share our paralegal team in India who do the initial data entry to open each conveyancing matter.

I did play around with Slack and Trello and some other team collaboration apps but they seemed designed for larger teams and overkill for our purposes at this time (even though they are SO pretty!).

Other platforms I use include Xero to liaise with my accountant, and Upwork to talk to my bookkeeper and graphic designer, catching up via a Skype chat if we need to talk.  I communicate with my virtual receptionist via the Virtual HQ platform and she emails me any phone messages.

I do talk to barristers via email so the emails can be filed directly to LEAP Cloud but I share large documents via Dropbox wherever possible.

Maybe at some point in the future we will swap to a more integrated system or someone in Australia will design a cloud-based legal practice management platform that has all the automated conveyancing precedents and trust accounting of LEAP plus automated workflows, a client portal and the functionality of the team collaboration apps (hint, hint!). But until then, the above mix of platforms works well and we will continue to tweak our processes as we go.  I hope you found this breakdown useful and it they will provide some inspiration for your own practices.

What online tools do you use? How do you find them? Have you had success using Slack or Trello in a small law practice?