Do you practice People Law? There has long been a perceived difference between large law firm practice and small law firm practice. But, in my view, the major difference is not the size of the law firm, but the type of clients primarily served.

Those who study the data of law practice have noted that the practice of People Law, helping individuals with their personal legal matters, is now so different from business and corporate law that it is becoming a completely different legal business. This impacts everything from marketing to operations to the material you share with clients.

One of the leading experts studying law practice is Bill Henderson, Professor of Law at Indiana University Maurer School of Law where he holds the Stephen F. Burns Chair on the Legal Profession. I strongly recommend his Legal Evolution blog. The blog posts tagged “People law” are located here: https://www.legalevolution.org/category/peoplelaw/. I suggest you begin with The Decline of the PeopleLaw Sector for some statistical analysis of the spending on the consumer side versus the corporate side for legal services. There are some concerning trends.

A business and corporate law-based practice means satisfying client representatives who are lawyers working in general counsel’s offices or corporate officers. Hopefully, those clients result in a relationship of many years with new matters and projects. The clients are sophisticated and there is a trend toward more routine legal work being handled in-house, leaving the litigation and other challenging work for outside counsel. Attending the right industry events and showcasing the firm’s deep subject matter expertise is critical.

People law, on the other hand, often involves individual clients who had no idea they would have this legal problem. Being sued, fired, arrested or foreclosed on isn’t planned. The client may have no idea what to do and may receive bad information and poor advice from well-meaning friends and relatives. These clients need information, guidance and often a fair amount of emotional support. Much of the legal work is somewhat routine and subject to standardization. But it is critical that the client receive individualized advice meaningful to them. Handouts for the client to take home to review after a meeting with the lawyer has been a traditional part of doing this practice well. But in a society where fewer clients will read a 10-page handout all the way to the end, some People Lawyers will consider providing videos exclusively available for the firm’s clients to watch.

Automation, particularly automated document assembly, can be very beneficial in making a People Law practice run efficiently. These clients value face-to-face time with the lawyer, including video conferences, with the lawyer to discuss their situation and reduce their anxiety. Knowing that one drafting project took 2.1 hours while another took 1.6 hours is meaningless to them except for its impact on their bill. A clear path to success for People Lawyers is to automate as much document creation as possible and bill those projects on a flat fee basis. Automating administrative nonbillable matters is also important. Potential people law clients often are very concerned about the cost of legal services. So, to the extent a lawyer can provide them a fixed fee or a list of tasks that might be needed and the cost for each, there is an advantage over law firms “selling” the traditional hours times dollars method, where the final cost is not known.

But the primary distinction for People Law is the business model. Individuals come in with a legal problem, the lawyer solves the problem and the client moves on, hopefully with a good experience that means they will recommend others to the law firm. That means that the successful People Lawyer must have a constant stream of new clients coming in. Traditionally these lawyers have had a network of those who refer them legal work. Those are great networks to maintain and nurture. But increasingly, people are individually shopping for lawyers online, just like they shop for many other goods and services. Counting on referral sources remaining constant into the future likely reflects more hope than reality. Today almost every People Lawyer needs to market online. But paying a large amount to an online marketing firm is not realistic, or even advisable, for many. Some lawyers will need to learn the basics of doing this and may experiment with several approaches. One interesting aspect I have noted is many law firms target their entire online marketing outreach toward getting prospects to call their office telephone, apparently unaware of how many individuals are shopping online at odd hours or precisely because they do not want to talk with someone on the phone just to schedule an appointment.

The combination of more automation and more online client acquisition leads to the next predicted trend in People Law—the rise of one-to-many legal service delivery models as opposed to the traditional one-to-one consultation and legal services delivery. The more automation the law firm has adopted, the greater the ability to scale up a practice to serve more clients without adding staff or lawyers working more nights and weekends. There will be winners and losers resulting from this predicted trend.

As a part of the OBA Summer CLE series, I have done a one-hour on-demand CLE program, The Changing Dynamics of a “People Law” Practice. Oklahoma lawyers can register for the seminar here. The program is priced at $40. Those who are not members of the Oklahoma Bar Association or taken CLE from us previously can easily set up an account to do so by emailing our CLE Registrar Renee Montgomery at Reneem@okbar.org. Setting up an account carries no financial obligation.

Known nationwide for her technology and legal management expertise, Natalie Kelly has recently brought her skills to the Southern Poverty Law Center to help them modernize their legal department operations. Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway talk with Natalie about her new role and the work done by the center to advance civil rights and racial justice. Natalie discusses the technology used to help the center refresh its operations, highlights her focus on promoting collaboration, and gives an overview of how the center’s practice areas work to advance human rights. Check out our Digital Edge podcast The Southern Poverty Law Center: A View From the Inside.

Natalie has been a great source of wisdom and encouragement for my colleagues who are bar association Practice Management Advisors (PMAs) for a long time. Her wise counsel will be missed. But she is obviously engaged in important work.

Sometimes adding a signature to a document before you print it is a big timesaver. Many lawyers have scanned their signature and added it to their email signature as an image so they can “sign” their emails with their own handwriting.

But you can also do that with a Microsoft Word document. Even if you do not use it frequently, setting up Word so you can insert your signature as needed is a tool you need to have at your disposal. The instructions to do this are contained in this article, How to add a signature in a Microsoft Word document on a PC or Mac. There are several steps that are used to set this up and it will take a few minutes. But once you set it up, inserting a signature is simple and quick.

Ransomware and other online attacks have been in the news recently, from shutting down the Colonial Penn pipeline to schools, hospitals, and a meat processing company. FBI Director Christopher Wray has asked victims not to pay ransoms. But the cybercriminals now have a new threat. If the ransom is not paid, in addition to not decrypting the victim’s files, the new threat is all the stolen data will be posted to the dark web for other bad actors to view and download.

Lock and keyThat should terrify every lawyer. In addition to client’s phone numbers and email addresses being shared, the idea of every deposition transcription, every confidential settlement agreement, every email you have written, every QDRO, every salacious allegation in a contested child custody case and more being shared openly on the dark web is terrifying. Imagine having to tell all of your clients their confidential information is online and that came from an attack on your computer system.

Review the ABA’s Law Firm Guide to Cybersecurity for some great tips and priorities. Just subscribing to a password manager that allows you and all your employees to use long, complex passwords without having to remember them, talking with your employees about how to recognize phishing emails and requiring multi-factor authentication can dramatically reduce your risks.

Recently Attorney at Work published my feature Client Portals: A Must-Have Service for Today’s Law Firms. After I covered this subject at virtual ABA TECHSHOW 2021, they reached out to me to write this feature. If you have not yet read it, I strongly encourage you to do so today. The benefits of providing client portals are numerous and I covered many of them in the post. I assume that many of my blog readers have read it as I frequently encourage lawyers to subscribe to AttorneyAtWork. In fact, subscribing to AttorneyAtWork is included in my list of items to do when setting up a new law practice.

I’ve prepared a Continuing Legal Education program on client portals (using the same title as my post) that the Oklahoma Bar Association is offering as a part of a summer CLE series. After purchasing the CLE program, it is available on demand throughout the summer, with initial availability scheduled July 27, 2021. You can register for individual programs or the entire series of six. The other two programs I am teaching in the series are The Changing Qualities of a “People Law” Practice and Alternative Fee Agreements & Alternative Methods of Legal Service Delivery. I’ll be posting more about those here later.

But the benefits of using a client portal are significant for the lawyer and the clients. Lawyers have to sleep, but your portal can be operational 24 hours a day to receive inquiries and documents uploaded from clients as well as allowing them to review documents on their own schedule..

Oklahoma lawyers can register for the seminar here. The one hour CLE is priced at $40. Those who are not members of the Oklahoma Bar Association or taken CLE from us previously can easily set up an account to do so by emailing our CLE Registrar Renee Montgomery at Reneem@okbar.org. Setting up an account includes no financial obligation.

During the previous year, many people got more Amazon deliveries than ever before. But on June 8 Amazon stealthily delivered something to you that you should reject.

If you use Alexa, Echo or other Amazon devices, Amazon just enrolled you in a bandwidth-sharing service called Amazon Sidewalk. While it theoretically could have some benefits to a few, the potential risk is simply not worth it— in my opinion.

Simply put, Amazon will share your bandwidth with your neighbor’s devices when it deems it appropriate. So, Amazon will tout white papers saying Sidewalk is secure and tug at your heartstrings about the possibility of Sidewalk helping you find a lost pet. But if it was that beneficial why wouldn’t Amazon persuade us to sign up instead of forcing everyone into the system and making those who do not want it opt out? I strongly suggest opting out today. If it turns out you are missing something great, you can opt in again later.

But even if you assume it is totally secure today, Sidewalk is obviously a great target for hackers and with what we pay for bandwidth today, maybe we do not want to share any with our neighbors. Wasn’t that one reason we set up WiFi passwords at home? It is possible Sidewalk could prove beneficial. But I believe lawyers, who often work at home on confidential client matters, should opt out of this coerced sharing now until convinced there is a reason to opt in. We love our Echo, but we keep it unplugged mostly for similar reasons.

Opting out of Sidewalk is simple:

  1. Open the Alexa app
  2. Open More and select Settings
  3. Select Account Settings
  4. Select Amazon Sidewalk
  5. Turn Amazon Sidewalk Off

For more information, read Amazon devices will soon automatically share your Internet with neighbors from Ars Technica.

This is not to say Sidewalk is a terrible. You may decide to opt in later. But lawyers need to be very sensitive to any sort of bandwidth or data sharing because of the highly confidential information we hold.

Our latest Digital Edge Podcast is 10 Features of Microsoft 365 That Lawyers Love featuring Ben Schorr, senior technical writer at Microsoft. Ben has been involved with technology for lawyers for years, having previously served on ABA TECHSHOW planning board.  While everyone loves a good Top Ten list, this podcast is really special in that Ben provides a ton of information in a relatively short amount of time. Both Sharon Nelson and I found ourselves taking a few notes during the podcast, including each of us noting that we should have those who work with us listen to this podcast. Thanks for sharing your expertise, Ben.

One of the creepiest things about modern technology is shopping for something with your phone and then ads for that product will be displayed on websites you visit and other apps you use for many days following. iPhone users now have a new tool to avoid this type of tracking and many will want to download and install the iOS 14.5 update now, instead of waiting for the automatic update. See iPhone apps are tracking you. Here’s how to stop them in iOS 14.5 from C|Net for more details. Early statistics indicate 95% of users are opting out from being tracked, which cannot please Facebook, Google and others.

Many lawyers, particularly in martial dissolution cases, have clients ask if it is possible someone is using their iPhone to track their physical location. The answer, of course, is that it is certainly possible. But that’s not really helpful, is it? So here’s a short piece you can share with clients: How To Tell If Someone Is Tracking Your iPhone. Of course if some tracking software has been installed it can be challenging to determine, since there are many products that do this, even though it is generally not legal to track someone without their permission.

Online reviews are growing in importance where legal sector marketing is concerned. In January 2021, I published Responding to a Negative Online Review after an ABA Formal Ethics Opinion on the subject was released. This is a challenging area for lawyers to understand. So if you missed my comments before, here is another opportunity.

Today I direct your attention to what I would consider a free advanced course on Google Reviews  posted on YouTube. My counterpart at The State Bar of Wisconsin, Christopher Shattuck, asked me to participate in a virtual program on lawyer networking and marketing. While attending that program I had the opportunity to listen to Joy Hawkins, owner and founder of Sterling Sky, discuss online reviews. It was a great program covering far more than the title of her talk indicated. I subscribed to her email newsletter after watching the program. The State Bar of Wisconsin has now posted her presentation on YouTube. It is over 40 minutes in length. Her talk covers many of the nuts and bolts of how reviews work and is highly recommended!