This article originally appeared on the Affinity Consulting November 2013 newsletter on legal technology.
Having just wrapped up a week of conferences in Florida, I'm happy to be back home in Ohio. Although, of course, it was pleasant to escape late fall temperatures and spend time in Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando, at Disney World. The first of my two conferences was mostly work, training default services law firms on case management software. But the second, MILOfest, which I mentioned in August's column, was a fun and festive opportunity to meet with fellow Mac-loving attorneys, and learn some new tips, tricks, and software. I thought an excellent article would be to recap some of the cool things from the conference and encourage you to mark your calendars for next October.
Mac Power Users
Katie Floyd, of Mac Power Users fame, gave two excellent talks. The first highlighted her life as a Mac-using attorney in a firm that is otherwise all PC. The impetus for her bringing a Mac to the office was her desire to use OmniFocus to manage both her personal and work projects. She was fortunate in that she worked in a relatively small firm (seven attorneys) and served as the unofficial IT director. In her setup discussions, she talked about how to get Spotlight to index network drives (a terminal command: mdutil /Volumes/volumename -i on), the use of a Hazel rule to record completed OmniFocus tasks in Day One, and how to use your TextExpander snippets on Windows with a tool called Breevy, if you're stuck on a PC sometimes.
Katie's second talk focused on advanced use of Evernote as her "everything bucket" for notes, webpages, and other "paperish" things that she wants to store. In addition to storing text notes, searchable text and pdf documents, Katie demonstrated how she used Evernote to track her home-building project. She scanned in everything from blueprints to paint can lids (for future color-matching) into Evernote. And since Evernote syncs to any mainstream device, she could pull that information up anytime, anywhere, such as when the contract put the window frames in the wrong place in her guest bedroom. Katie pulled up the blueprints right on her iPad and showed him how the physical building did not match the plans. Per Katie's recommendation, the best starting point for the Evernote newbie is Brett Kelly's Evernote Essentials book.
One of the presentations I felt was particularly helpful, and wish had been longer was Justin Kahn's dive into Adobe Acrobat. Justin has years of experience using Acrobat in the most advanced ways. He's not only a real-life magician (the card tricks at Thursday's dinner were amazing), but he's an Acrobat magician too. Justin's talk started with basic tips (like using the advanced "search" by hitting Shift+Command+F versus the simple "find" dropdown you get by hitting Command+F) and moved swiftly to more "Ph.D" level topics like the relative merits of OCRing with "searchable image" versus "Clearscan". His preference is generally for "searchable image" for its smaller file size, but "Clearscan" if you intend to copy and paste text from the PDF into a word processor. Finally, for additional information on Acrobat's capabilities and "how to" demos, Justin recommended Adobe TV's Acrobat videos.
The Legal Business
Macs are the reason MILOfest exists, but the conference doesn't just focus on cool tools, programs, and websites, although it has its share of those. It also focuses on the business of law and the practice of law. To that end, we had a couple of fascinating presentations on attracting business and working in growing practice areas.
Mark Merenda of Smart Marketing presented on how to attractive websites and how to draw people to your firm. Make sure your website focuses on people, not abstractions. Your site should have videos because the number one activity on the Internet is watching videos. But, be sure to post a transcript as well since search engines cannot index videos. Videos are popular because most people view reading as work whereas watching is entertainment. Videos should be the "welcome mat" for your site.
The three most important pages on a website are the videos, the "meet the team" or "about" page, and directions to your office. In Mark's experience, people who hire an attorney are generally not qualified to judge an attorney's competence. They will hire you because they like you. If you have the choice between being a great marketer and a great attorney, be a great marketer. You can always hire attorneys. There are plenty of brilliant attorneys who need jobs.
In conclusion, Mark said that if you're not happy with your site's ability to draw in business, try something new. Life rewards action and ruthlessly punishes inaction. Every inch of a website is someplace to be creative.
On the last day of the conference, Steve Riley of Atticus discussed guiding your practice into profitable, growing markets. He began by discussing shocking statistics. In 1968 there were 168,000 lawyers in America. Today there are 1,250,000. In Washington D.C., there is one attorney for every 25 people. The proliferation of lawyers is driven by law schools which, after football programs, are the most profitable part of most universities. According to the Wall Street Journal, in the 2011 class of law school graduates, only 50% had a job utilizing their degree. The "do it yourself" LegalZoom does $125 million per year. A foreclosure firm is now hiring associate attorneys in Panama to do American foreclosure work. Pretty shocking stuff.
To compete with this market, Steve encouraged us to narrow your niche of practice to avoid being commoditized, where technology and automation can compete on price. Second, create experiences that clients appreciate. Anytime you can improve a commodity product, you're moving closer to something unique and valuable. Use technology strategically, such as document assembly, because you want lawyers being face-to-face with clients, not spending their days drafting documents in front of a computer. Build a referral portfolio where, ideally, at least 100 attorneys see you as the go-to guy for a particular niche. Try to build recurring revenue streams so that overhead and payroll can be met by this revenue, freeing you from thinking month-to-month and focus on long-term growth. Finally, look for new practice areas. Steve mentioned a story about two granddaughters who spent $25,000 fighting over a deceased grandma's pie plate. It might sound ridiculous, but digital profiles like Facebook pages are the pie plates of the future.
In addition to those presentations I described, we had many fabulous Mac tips and tools talks including: Mitch Adel & Bob Kueppers of Cooper, Adel & Associates discussing their experience of running a 45-employee law firm on Macs; Brett Burney on iCloud; Randy Juip on Keynote presentations; Mark Metzger on 1Password; and Larry Staton on powerful automation and macros using Hazel and Keyboard Maestro. Not to mention Disney World and beautiful weather. It was a blast.
Next year's MILOfest is set for October 23-25, 2014. Mark your calendars!