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.

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.