Guest Post: Flying Solo In The Cloud

Christopher G. Hill is lawyer, LEED AP, 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.  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. You can follow him on Twitter at @constructionlaw.

First of all, I’m thrilled to cross post for a third time here at the Studio. Today, you can check out Martha’s great post on changes and fun with Google after you read this.

When I contacted Martha for what she’d like for a post, we decided on “the Cloud.” I know, this has been done to death. The “cloud” is everywhere. SEO and other tech buzzwords rule Twitter and blogs. I feel as if it’s all around us and that we can’t escape it. Smarter folks than I have discussed the ethical, practical and legal implications of the use of the “cloud” (read Internet) in legal practice. If you are looking for a discussion of those types of high level thoughts and implications, you are in the wrong place.

As anyone that reads Musings will know, I am not anti-cloud (and I love to read the Advocate’s Studio to keep up on the latest tech). I use Web 2.0 (or whatever we call it now) for marketing, client development and other helpful things, so please don’t turn away at this point because you think I will be panning use of internet based practice tools in legal practice (or construction practice for that matter).

When I went out on my own on July 1, 2010, I embraced the mobility available through cloud based tools. I am the entire staff of my law firm, so I needed to streamline and go paperless (to the extent possible in legal practice) to keep my practice manageable. I signed up for Clio, hooked my trusty laptop to the internet, later purchased a ScanSnap scanner, bought a Blackberry Playbook (yes, I’m still using a Blackberry), and charged forward. While the scanner is not in the cloud, it keeps my paper to my goal of a two drawer file cabinet.

Now, when documents come in, I scan the documents; send them to Clio through its great document mail drop service that files the document to the right matter; and, stamp it “scanned” and either shred or file it away (there are still documents I need to keep in original form). I also keep a record of e-mails that go back and forth in the same manner. With the documents redundantly saved on Clio’s servers, I can get to them wherever I can find a web connection.

I bill clients by e-mail (often with just a web link allowing them to see and pay their bill). I accept credit card payments over the web. I occasionally collaborate through Dropbox and/or Google Docs. Without web based practice tools, my practice would not run as smoothly.

On the other hand (and you knew there’d be one, didn’t you?), I do not think that the Web is the be all and end all of legal practice and marketing. Particularly with my clientele (contractors and subcontractors), the value of a handshake, and having boots on the ground cannot be underestimated. While having a web presence is, in my opinion, necessary, it cannot be all that I use. The flood of web based possibilities seems endless, but trying to use all of them would kill my productivity and, frankly, cause my eyes to hurt from staring at a screen.

In other words, the cloud is great, but there’s way too much out there to use it all so take what you need and leave the rest. I have on more than one occasion referred to myself as a “MASH unit lawyer,” dealing with claims and practical, non-cloud based issues, with what I hope to be a level of pragmatism. I take this same ethic to the “cloud” with me. Judicious use of the cloud allows my practice to run and it can help yours too. Just be sure to get your head out of the cloud on occasion.

Guest Post: Tech Tools & A Trip To The World Of Solo

Thanks again to my good friend Christopher Hill at Construction Law Musings for this awesome guest post! Check out all his great posts at his blog Construction Law Musings (link here). You can find him on Twitter at @constructionlaw.

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to post yet again here at the Advocate’s Studio.  The last time I posted here, it was about my journey into the world of social media.  This time, Martha asked me to discuss my adventure into solo practice that began on July 1, 2010.  As is traditional here at the Studio, I of course will be discussing the tech tools that I use on a regular basis in my practice and how they help out.  Well, here it goes:

I really started my law practice 13 years ago without a whole lot of knowledge of computers aside from the fact that e-mail was a big deal and Microsoft Word was good for typing.  Now, in my solo practice, I don’t know that I could survive without certain tools that I have at my disposal.  When I think about my dad, a solo dentist, I wonder how he was able to just head off for a week and relax knowing no one was “minding the store.”  These days almost constant communication is expected by my clients and has become a necessary (if occasionally unwanted) part of legal practice.

While I am still learning the tricks of the cloud based trade, I do find Clio to be a great cloud based billing and storage solution.  I can keep my time, produce invoices (a feature that gets better with each new update) and use a drop box type e-mail feature to keep track of documents and e-mails to clients by matter (check out Martha’s Guest Post about Dropbox).  Clio is consistently updated and seems to get better with each upgrade.  One major advantage for me is that I don’t have to keep up with the software and don’t use the precious space on my trusty Toshiba laptop for this software.  Couple that with almost universal access from anywhere with an internet connection, and I was sold.

I of course could not get by without my trusty Blackberry (I know, the IPhone is great, but the Blackberry is what I am used to).  The use of Google Apps and Google Sync keeps my tasks, contacts and calendar at my fingertips.  While I don’t get as many apps for my smart phone (though Blackberry seems to be catching up), I don’t use the phone for a lot more than e-mails and Twitter/web surfing.

On the non-cloud side, I love my Brother MFC all in one Fax/Scan/Printer and my CardScan business card scanner.  Both of these pieces of hardware make my life as the sole member and entire staff of the Law Office of Christopher G. Hill a lot easier.  The three-in-one allows me to scan and keep documents in .pdf format for easy hard drive storage and easy filing by matter in Clio.  The card scanner keeps me from having to input contact information from the cards manually and is a real time saver.  Throw in my web-based backup through Backblaze (though Carbonite and Mozy have great reputations for this) and my trusty Passport external hard drive and even the most paranoid of us (including me) is backed up and ready to roll.

Of course, without WordPress, Host Gator and Headway, I couldn’t run either Construction Law Musings or my firm web site.

In short (if it’s not too late), my trip into solo practice has been a great adventure.  However, the adventure is made more fun and easier through the use of these tech tools and, yes, my pen and legal pad.

I would love to hear about some of the tools others use in their practices.  Please comment here or contact me with your thoughts.

Christopher G. Hill is lawyer and owner of the Richmond, VA firm, The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC, a LEED AP.  Chris has been nominated and elected by his peers to Virginia’s Legal Elite in the Construction Law category on multiple occasions. He specializes in mechanic’s liens, contract review and consulting, occupational safety issues (VOSH and OSHA), and risk management for construction professionals.  Mr. Hill authors the Construction Law Musings blog where he discusses legal and policy issues relevant to construction professionals. You can reach him on twitter (@constructionlaw) or through his blog or firm website.

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.