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The technology ghosts of law firms past — and present

By Amir Tajkarimi

Many businesses have come to rely on the office trifecta: WordOutlook and the fax.

Law firms are no different, but there some pretty convincing reasons to question whether these general-purpose technologies are really the best choice.

These tools were designed for general users, and are therefore not adapted for the increasingly complex reality of producing, handling and transmitting legal documents.

Some things to consider are how factors such as human error, administrative burden, consolidation issues, and, most of all, security might be costing your firm lost revenues.

As a result, you might be paying a higher price than you think for these one-size-fits-all solutions, one that you may be passing on to your clients. 

Don’t take our Word for it

Everyone uses it, but there are some serious downsides to using Word in your law firm.

Many of us aren’t aware that Word saves a lot of data we can’t see, and even some we’ve deleted, called metadata. This includes information about the authors and editors of a document, which could potentially reveal confidential client information.

Furthermore, Word has a built-in function called Recover Text from Any File, meant to allow you to retrieve deleted text. The Track Changes function can also restore information you thought was in the trash.

These are useful functions, but when you send off your legal document, you certainly don’t want the recipient to be able to recover passages deliberately removed, as it can lead to serious breaches in security and privacy.

If you’re using the cloud-based Office 365, another thing to consider is where your data is being stored. Unless you specify that you want your firm’s data kept in the U.S., it could end up anywhere in the world, potentially putting your clients’ data at risk and possibly jeopardizing your case.

A third drawback of using Word or any other stand-alone word processor is that it’s notoriously hard to keep track of files. They are saved here, there and everywhere, on various hard drives or cloud accounts, in any number of versions. Hunting around for files wastes your staff’s time.

A new Outlook on email

When it comes to using regular email in a law office, security should be your primary concern.

Encrypting files is, therefore, a necessary step in keeping clients’ information safe, as evidenced by a number of high-profile hacking cases where security flaws were exploited to gain access to sensitive information. These cases even led the American Bar Association’s Ethics Committee to revise its guidelines on lawyers’ confidentiality obligations with regard to regular email last year.

Where your emails are being stored is also something to pay close attention to. Even if you’re not using cloud-based services, your hosting provider may be using facilities outside the U.S. If so, you might consider switching to one specializing in law practices that will ensure your data remains on home soil to avoid unwanted access.

As a matter of fax

Though abandoned in most realms, fax machines remain a well-loved fixture in many law firms.

And with good reason: they’re actually pretty secure. It’s extremely complicated to intercept a fax, as it’s sent over an inherently secure regular telephone line, also known as a Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). Still, it’s a big hassle to send faxes: they’re excruciatingly slow; they require a dedicated line or monopolize a shared one.

For these reasons, many law firms have switched to internet fax services such as eFax or Sfax, which allow transmission of files via servers handling the conversion. Essentially, you send a fax to an email address or an email to a traditional fax machine. Though believed to be more secure, the use of regular email throughout this process means your documents are often travelling through insecure servers in order to reach their final destination.

What now? Time for a software update

Most of these technologies remain deeply embedded within law firms’ cultures. 

However, when considering their impact on your bottom line, it might be worthwhile to consider some upgrades that could save you and your staff time – and therefore money.

Thankfully, the legal tech ecosystem is rich with options built specifically for law firms, allowing them to tackle issues faced by conventional tools. Capterra Legal Software ResearchThe Long Nine: Essential Software for the Modern Law Practice, and Starting a Law Firm – Essential Software and Services are great places for you to start your research.

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