Guest Post! Living in a (Mostly) Paperless World

Chris Hill, Attorney

Christopher G. Hill, LEED AP is Virginia Supreme Court certified mediator, construction lawyer and owner of the Richmond, VA firm, The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC.  Chris has been nominated and elected by his peers to Virginia’s Legal Elite in the Construction Law category on multiple occasions and is a member of the Virginia Super Lawyers “Rising Stars” for 2011 and 2012. He specializes in mechanic’s liens, contract review and consulting, occupational safety issues (VOSH and OSHA), and risk management for construction professionals. 

Chris authors the Construction Law Musings blog where he discusses legal and policy issues relevant to construction professionals.  Additionally, Chris is active in the Associated General Contractors of Virginia and the Board of Governors of Construction Law and Public Contracts Section of the Virginia State Bar.

Thank you to Martha for allowing me to spend a Friday here at the Advocate’s Studio with her audience.  Be sure to head on over to Construction Law Musings to read here great insights into the latest Android based legal applications.

Now, on with the invasion! (insert sound of coconuts knocking together here)

The web is full of references to a “paperless” law practice.  First of all, this is a misnomer.  No such thing exists, except to the extent that an attorney like me does not keep much in a file cabinet.  So long as courts exist and lawyers need to produce paper exhibits for judges to read and rule upon, we attorneys will continue to “kill trees.”  Until every courthouse has the capability and the desire to allow “virtual” exhibits and pleadings and to spend the money to make this type of exhibit easy for the average (read non-huge firm) lawyer to present such exhibits in an easily digestible form, paper will be a necessity.

This is not to say that one cannot go mostly paperless in your practice.  When I went out on my own over three years ago, I bought a two drawer file cabinet.  It started relatively full and now is getting emptier and emptier as the files I brought with me from my old gig are resolved and closed.  I went “paperless” by necessity (I’m the only employee of my solo construction practice).

Essentially, the fact that when I’m not sitting in the office no one is “minding the store” so to speak made cloud based access to most documents and e-mail a necessity.  Be extension, scanning those documents into my computer and sending them to the “cloud” was a requirement.  Couple this with the somewhat fireproof nature of cloud based documents and fact that I hate to look at clutter and you have the motivation to go “paperless.”

So, how to do it?  Well, I started with a Brother MFC printer, scanner, fax and a computer.  I then upgraded my scanning ability to add a ScanSnap s1500 (since updated to the ix500) so I could scan and OCR (make searchable) documents faster and directly upload them to my Clio practice management software.  I also use Acrobat XI to create .pdf letters and pleadings for those cases (luckily most of them) where opposing counsel will accept e-mailed pleadings to avoid having to print and mail the documents.

Of course, the printer gets a workout when I have to prepare deposition or trial exhibit books, but I don’t keep “pleading notebooks” or paper documents.  I prefer to send clients .pdf copies for their records and I scan and return original documents provided by my construction clients.  In truth, most of the time, my clients provide e-copies of documents that don’t need this treatment.

With these three relatively simple tools (along with Google Apps for e-mail and the occasional use of Google Drive) I can access my practice, bill clients and review documents from anywhere that has an internet connection or from my tablet at home or, if I have to, my phone.

Even as an advocate of paperless practice, don’t go paperless just for the sake of doing it.  All of this paperless activity has one primary goal in mind: saving me time on administrative tasks so that I can focus on client service and efficiently provide the type of in person counseling that I like to give my clients.  If a paperless idea doesn’t help with this, I don’t use it.

Now, if only I could talk some of my pals at larger firms to quit sending paper my way. . .

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Legal Tech Thoughts From A Relative Luddite (Guest Post)

Christopher G. Hill is lawyer, Virginia Supreme Court certified General District Court mediator and owner of the Richmond, VA firm, The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC, a LEED AP. Chris authors the Construction Law Musings blog where he discusses legal and policy issues relevant to construction professionals. Additionally, Chris is active in the Associated General Contractors of Virginia and a member of the Board of Governors for the Construction Law and Public Contracts Section of the Virginia State Bar.


First of all, thanks again to my pal Martha Sperry for the great opportunity to post here at The Advocates Studio yet again (this is my fifth guest post and the fourth cross posting between the Studio and Construction Law Musings). Please check out my other posts relating to my solo startup, social media and my use of the cloud once you’re done with this article.

Also, be sure to check out Martha’s great post on the iPhone 5 and productivity at Musings. Martha also adds some great thoughts, practical advice, and a bit of humor to the Guest Post Friday lineup.

Now, on with the show. . .

You are probably wondering about the title of this post. If you’ve read through Musings, or any of my other posts relating to the use of the cloud or tech here and elsewhere, you know that the “cloud” and other computer and web-based practice tools are a big part of my solo construction practice. So, why the “luddite” comment?

Despite the fact that a wise lady once told me that “there’s always someone who knows less than you,” I am constantly surprised by those who come to me for advice on social media, blogging or even tech related stuff. I have never seen myself as a computer or tech whiz by any means. While computers have never been scary to me, I remember when a great home computer was an Apple //e and the mouse was an innovation. In short, like many of us lawyers (particularly those over 40) I’m muddling through just like you are. That said, necessity has been the mother of invention.

You are reading the thoughts of the owner and only employee of my law firm. As such, when I’m not at my desk, no one is. When I went solo over 2 years ago now (who knew time could fly so fast), I needed to simplify, lower overhead and make myself portable. I also didn’t have time to learn a lot of new stuff.

On the marketing side, I sent out announcements by actual snail mail (who knew that the post office could still help out a lawyer?), but to do this I pulled my Outlook and Gmail contacts to send to the mailing service. I was able to “take” my construction blog with me, continued with the blog and social media efforts, and started meeting with folks in real-time (partly because contractors don’t really take to “virtual” meetings).

While my marketing is a seriously blended web/on the ground mix, my practice management is as paperless and cloud based as I can make it. For me, this is where the tech rubber meets the road. When I started my new firm I grabbed a Clio account, imported my contacts and started to store .pdfs of my documents on Clio’s cloud based system. Since then, Clio (among other cloud based systems) has gotten more feature-rich and easy to use, adding online credit card processing and easy one click billing.

The reason I like the cloud for this sort of thing has little to do with my love of gadgets (though that does have something to do with it) but with the need to assure client service by having access to my files from anywhere with a safe internet connection (read, not Starbucks). I can pull up my Blackberry Playbook tablet, hook to Clio through my bridged Blackberry Curve (really, I’m not kidding, I don’t own an iPhone or an iPad) or laptop and review a document while out of the office. I also don’t like to have any more paper than I can help because of the clutter and space issues with my one office setup.

Other tools I use? A ScanSnap S1500 scanner that allows me to scan to both my docked laptop and to Clio directly, Backblaze for offsite backup and, as a second failsafe a GoFlex hard drive that constantly backs all of this stuff up all help keep my practice running. I also use Google Apps for e-mail and occasional collaboration.

In short (yes, I know it’s too late for that), I see no reason to jump into the cloud full force unless it makes your practice easier and makes it easier to keep your clients happy. The telephone (not “smartphone”) is a great tool for actually talking to clients and potential targets. E-mail, Twitter, text messages and other uses for cell phones are great, just don’t forget that all of our clients are real people and that tech for techs sake is not necessarily the best way to serve yourself or your clients.

There are a ton of great tech tools and gadgets out there, just be sure to use the ones that help and jettison those that don’t.

Thanks again to my pal Martha and I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

Thoughts On Guest Blogging

[365 Toy Project: 032/365] Duelling Banjos
Image by nhussein via Flickr

Anyone who is anyone (o.k., anyone who follows @advocatesstudio or @constructionlaw on Twitter or subscribes to Advocate’s Studio and Construction Law Musings) probably saw our dueling guest posts this past Friday. Chris and I had a lot of fun doing it, from planning and sharing posts over Google Wave, to hyping the big event on Twitter and then following the feedback, RTs and comments throughout the day on Friday.

Chris’ My Journey Into Social Media post was the very first guest post in the Studio’s two-year history. I am asking myself “why did I wait so long?” Readers LOVED Chris’ post – what is not to love about a heartfelt, personal accounting of  the trials and tribulations over the same tools we webizens are all struggling to master every day. I feel honored that Chris chose the Studio to share this story and hope that readers enjoyed it as much as I did.

Guest blogging feels like a breath of fresh air. Sure, you make your cozy little WordPress (or Blogger or Typepad) home and deck it all out the way you like it. You get to know your neighbors, maybe share a pie and some coffee. But sometimes, it is good to get out on the town, visit someone else’s house, play with someone else’s friends and, maybe, learn something new. Or gain some new friends of your own. Share your song with a different audience, as it were. Strike up a duet.

I am now motivated to seek out and share some more social media stories from other friends and peers. With some luck, maybe I can persuade a few other social connections to open their book for Studio readers to view. Maybe it can become the start of a Social Media Mentors series, or some other less daunting title.

In any event, thanks for everyone who read, commented, shared, participated, and pushed our posts like paper boats in a current on Friday! Looking forward to more sharing and collaboration in the future.

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Guest Post: My Journey Into Social Media

When Martha asked me to do this blog switch, and to describe my social media experience, I was flattered and excited.  To have such a tech maven ask me, a relative luddite, to post here at the Studio was quite an invitation!  I hope the readers of the Studio find this informative and hopefully at least a little bit entertaining.

I basically got into social media a couple of years ago on a whim.  I heard about LinkedIn and various other tools to get my name out there.  I posted profiles at JDSupra, and other business “networking” sites and didn’t see much return, or even communication. I had a Twitter account (@constructionlaw) and was occasionally posting but found no followers until, at the urging of @copelandcasati (aka @greenmodernkits) I just started talking. I quickly found several folks to follow and things just took off.

I really had no idea what I was doing and, frankly, decided that a blog would be fun so I experimented with Tumblr and Posterous (the Posterous account is still active), and finally landed at Blogger.  After about 6 months there, I decided to join the WordPress brigade and thus was born the present incarnation of Construction Law Musings.  Too many people have helped (and continue to help) me along the way for me to thank here, but you know who you are.  Once I got Musings up and running, the rest, as they say, is history.

For some reason, there are people out there who like to read about construction law and, despite some initial frustration, I kept plugging along and posting what I hoped was good content.  The real breakthrough came when I read about guest posts.  The idea sounded great, so I started Guest Post Fridays.  For one, I didn’t have to write something (always good for the readers!) and secondly, and most importantly, I get other perspectives on construction, social media, and business that I feel both help the readers connect with Musings and gain some insight into construction marketing and other non-legal issues.

I can’t thank those who contribute every week enough and hope that they got a marketing boost and had as much fun posting at Musings as I do.

The advantages of all of this Web 2.0 stuff?  I have met some great folks that I never would have known without it and formed some real life relationships that I never would have had (including with Martha).  Also, the viral nature of the internet allows me to get information out to numerous sources using Musings, Posterous and other tools (such as Twitterfeed and Friendfeed) to get my message and thoughts across in an efficient manner.  Coupled with real life, handshake, non-web marketing, I have grown my practice a lot in the last year or two and attribute much of this success to my social media efforts.

Most of all though, I found that this is fun!  For this reason alone, I recommend social media as an add on to any legal practice (or other professional practice).  Just dive in.  I had no clue how to do this “properly,” but have learned that no one way works for everyone.  Do what feels right and your personality will come through.  Blogging and other social media allow a less formal style and a way to show your true colors in a way that your static web bio (or a court pleading for that matter) does not.

Try out different tools.  I have no idea how many I’ve tried, bookmarked, installed and uninstalled, or just plain forgotten about.  Use whatever you feel lets others know who you are in a professional manner.  For instance, Martha and I occasionally get on a binge of last.fm music sharing.  On the other hand, you will not likely find out what I’m having for dinner tonight from my twitter stream while others I follow regularly make such tweets interesting.  Figure out what works for you, whether it’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Google Reader sharing, or a desktop tool like Tweetdeck or IPhone app (check with the Advocate for some great ones) that allows you to connect on the go.

Most of all, start.  Fumble around.  Make mistakes (lord knows I did!), don’t quit and have fun.  Don’t get frustrated or worry about SEO and all of the other things that you’ll hear out there about the “right” way to do this.  Frankly, you’ll learn more from the errors than from any blogger out there (though there are many that have helpful tips).  The best advice I can give you (and take it for what it’s worth) is to write what you care about, engage others (whether through guest posts, comments, Twitter or even, yes, the telephone), and show your personality.  If you do all of this the frustration will ebb and the interest level of your audience will grow.

Do I have a metric of time to dollars?  Not that I could figure out.  I do know that I have gotten more out of state inquiries after the dawn of Musings than before.  Between this and the relationships, I can say this has been more than worth it.

So jump right in and join all of us tweeps, bloggers and other professionals in the social media pool, we’d love to hear from you and promise not to bite.

Christopher G. Hill, LEED AP, is a construction lawyer in Richmond, VA and has been elected to the Virginia Legal Elite in Construction Law in each of the last three years. You can reach him on Twitter (@constructionlaw) or contact him through his Construction Law Musings blog.

The "Green" Coats Are Coming!

Around these north-of-Boston parts, we usually cry about Red Coats. Nonetheless, this Friday, a different color will be invading Advocate’s Studio, the normally peaceful little virtual hamlet dedicated to law and technology. My very good friend, lawyer, and fellow blogger Christopher Hill (@constructionlaw on Twitter), who maintains a fine blog on construction law over at Construction Law Musings (link here) with a decidedly green bent, will be breaking down the doors this Friday to take over blogging duties from me! I am very excited about this. Not because I will be getting a blogging break, mind you, as I agreed to invade his blog with my own post!

So, what will the two intrepid law bloggers do with each other’s blogs? Will they invite all their friends over, play loud music and trash the place? Maybe. What will they write about? Who knows?

I do know this – you will get a double dose of excellent writing to entertain and inform if you visit both Advocate’s Studio and Construction Law Musings this Friday! I hope readers enjoy it as much as Chris and I have enjoyed pulling it off. Want to know something cool? Chris and I used Google Wave to discuss, plan and collaborate!

Can’t wait for the fun!