|Getting the Most Out of Your Smart Phone for Your Law Practice|
There is a reason why they are called "cell" phones. Sometimes they make you feel like you're locked up in one. Whether iron bars or signal bars, they can both make you a prisoner. There are days I feel like I am chained to my phone with no hope of escape. The sound of my ringing phone can cause me to cringe in the same way I would when hearing nails scratching on a school black board. I began changing my ring tone every time I felt my sanity waning. Eventually, I ran out of ring tones.
Maybe I was being unfair. My cell phone and I had some nice memories. I remember that call from a buddy who told me I was on the list of those who passed the bar exam. I used it to call that pretty girl I met who would later be my wife. When I ran into the Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile, I used my cell phone's camera to snap a photo of me standing next to it. Maybe the relationship with my cell phone was worth saving. She gave me the world at my finger tips. I basically had access to the world's collective knowledge in the palm of my hand. I could look up information on almost anything. I could listen to music, play games, watch a movie or even check in with friends from around the world.
Of course, for a busy law practice all those great things proved to be colossal time wasters. When I should have been preparing motions, I was watching videos of cats pushing items off tables and liking photos of meals posted by dining acquaintances. Something needed to change. My smart phone needed to be more like my assistant and less like one of my time wasting college buddies. If I was going to rebuild our relationship, I needed to make our union a bit more professional.
While a smart phone can be a tremendous tool, many people don't use their full potential as a business tool. I included myself in that category. It was then that I decided to turn my smart phone from a time waster to a time saver. Here are a few ways I use my smart phone to improve my law practice.
(1) Making Calls the Right Way :
I know many attorneys who carry two cell phones. They use one for business and one for personal use. Carry around two cell phones was the last thing I wanted to do. In addition to another cell phone bill, I didn't want more things to carry. Of course, there were times I needed to call clients from my cell phone. Truth be told, I didn't want them to have my personal cell phone number.
I learned this the hard way. I made the eregious error of giving out my mobile number to many of my clients. At the time it seemed to be a great idea. If they could reach me 24 hours a day, it could mean more business. I learned the practice bred a bit too much familiarity and made me too accessible. While many clients respected personal boundries, others felt that they could call me any day at any time. It was hard to enjoy a night out with my wife, time with the family or even a weekend nap without the phone constantly ringing.
When I gave my number out, I followed it with the instruction that it was to be used in case of emergency. I thought that would solve the problem. I should have also explained what constituted an emergency. I once had a divorce client call me several times one late evening after a night of hard drinking. I can only assume he had been watching ASPACA commercials featuring sad eyed puppies accomplanied by a Sarah McLahlan soundtrack. "She's not getting the dog " my client barked tearfully in one midnight call. Another client called me while I was at a wedding. "I know lawyers have lots of money to burn. Do you want to make some great money selling jams from Budapest? You can be your own boss."
It got to the point, that if I didn't recognize the number, I balked at answering my phone. Friends and family got a bit flustered with me that they couldn't reach me. Clients began calling my cell phone directly in order to by pass the secretary. A big portion of my day was going through my cell phone messages.
My saving grace was a phone app called Business Call. For a nominal fee, I now have two lines on my smart phone. When I call a client, I click the app and the business number appears on their caller ID. The app also allows me to time calls and input notes on each call. With differing ringtones, I now know if the incoming call is business or personal. The app even allowed me to choose my new number from a selection offered in my calling area. It gives me a bit of privacy without having to pick up the expense of an extra cell phone bill. It is also convenient not to have to carry two phones. If necessary, I can forward my business calls to the office and allow my personal calls to come in.
(2) A Mobile Scanner
I thought everyone was in on this "secret". Every time I use the scanner app on my phone, some other attorney invariably asks me "how did you do that?" It's simple. You can download a multitude of free scanner apps for your phone. By using your phones camera, you can scan documents, convert them into PDF files and email them to yourself. I like to use this feature when I am reviewing arrest or accident reports. Not having to search out a copy machine can save lots of time and aggravation.
If you haven't heard of "Waze" by now, you may want to check out this great little application. I use this instead of the GPS feature that came with my phone. With millions of users, the app's data is constantly updated. Using input from users ahead of you on the road, it will tell you about traffic, constrution delays or even if police are lurking in the shadows as you zip to court. It will even tell you which area gas stations have the best prices that day.
(4) Mileage Tracker
If you include a record of mileage in your billing, taxes, or expense reumbursement, you might want to check out the Milog app. It will allow you to keep a record of the miles traveled as you cruise Route 66.
I find myself using the camera feature pretty often on my phone. From taking a photo of an accident scene to snapping a picture of the floor level sign to remind me where I parked, it is a handy feature.
(6) Marketing My Practice
Are you addicted to social media? Why not use it to your advantage? I began doing facebook updates of my visits to various court houses. If I was visiting a particular court, I would check in. To make it a bit more interesting, I sometimes snap a photo of the court house. In addition to helping my staff track me down, it let's people on Facebook know that I spend quite a bit of time in court. People are constantly reminded what you do for a living. In my situation, it let's people know that I practice in court houses across the state. It has actually lead to referrals from people who didn't realize I practiced in their neck of the woods. During down time in court, I can sneak in twitter updates on our firm's twitter account.
(7) QR Code Scanner:
Our firm uses a cloud based office management program. Using a little Yankee ingenuity, we now create QR codes that link to each client file. We then place the QR Code on a label. When I am in court, I can scan the code to get client contact information and relevant documents.
(8) Memo Taker:
You never know when a great idea will pop into your head. Like Don Draper barking into a dictaphone, I use my phone's memo feature to leave notes and reminders for myself.
(9) Wi-Fi Hot Spot:
My particular phone has a feature that allows it to serve as a wi-fi hot spot. This feature comes in handy when I have my i Pad or laptop with me in an area where I cannot access wireless internet service.
(10) Bank Apps:
I use the mint.com app with our office's operating expense account. With the tap of my finger, I can see how much we are spending on office supplies, our income vs. expenses, what bills need to be paid and exactly how many billions of doubloons I have locked in my bank' s vault. I also use our bank's app at real estate closings to help verify if wires came through.
I have a mini library downloaded on my smart phone including the Connecticut practice book and various state statutes. It helps to be able to look something up when you are away from your office and there is no law library in sight.
(12) Managing Your Docket
As I mentioned earlier our law office uses a cloud based management program called Clio. I love the fact that Clio syncs with the Google Calendar app on my phone. My secretary can take an appointment or input a court date and the information instantaneously appears on my calendar.
Do you have your own suggestions? We would love to hear them.
Editors note: We are currently upgrading our blog. You can also see this post at our new site thenutmeglawyer.com