The Oklahoma Bar Association has a new digital publication called Courts & More. It is sent to OBA members and features links to the recent Oklahoma appellate court opinions and other Oklahoma legal news. I write a practice management feature for that publication and will republish it here the week after it goes out to OBA members.

Every law firm needs the ability to securely share information electronically with clients. Email is not a secure communication tool. Every law firm also should have a goal of providing superior client service. Providing your clients a secure location to log-in to review all the documents in their matter at any time and securely communicate with the firm demonstrates a commitment to great client service and careful attention to securing their confidential information. Let us briefly discuss how to affordably set up a secure client portal and the ethical considerations about managing one.

Even a small law firm can easily set up secure client portals by subscribing to one of the cloud-based law practice management services. Client portals for all clients are included in the basic subscription fee for those services. Some basic tech support and information for clients is supplied by these providers. Six of these services provide new subscribers who are OBA members a discount: Clio, CosmoLex, MyCase, PracticePanther, Rocket Matter and Zola Suite. To access the discount codes, go to your MyOKBar account on www.okbar.org and select the “Practice Management Software Benefits” link.

We at the OBA Management Assistant Program believe practice management software solutions are important for lawyers to use for their digital client files. We also believe these tools provide best solutions for most lawyers because it is simple to share documents from the digital client file to the included portal. Citrix Sharefile provides a nice option and Office 365’s One Drive can also be used to create sharable folders.

One of the common ethical questions about portals is when it is appropriate to close the client portal, meaning the clients no longer have access to their information via the portal. The answer is that the portal should be considered an extension of the client file and ending portal access should be addressed in the attorney-client engagement agreement as matters like file destruction are addressed. 30 to 45 days after a file is closed is a good target. Personally, I do not believe you do clients any favors by leaving a portal open for many months after a client’s matter has been concluded. The idea is not to exclude the clients from their information. Rather it is to assist them in saving their information before the portal is closed.Virtual handshake

So, the file closing process should include reminding the client (more than once) when the portal will be closed and they should print or save the documents before this date. Printing is simple and does not involve digital security issues. Giving the clients a few words about saving digital information securely is warranted. Many clients now have access to secure cloud storage and understand how it works. But others are very lax with their digital security. One suggestion might be to save everything to a flash drive and put the drive in the family safe in an envelope identifying the contents.

What about the client who misses the deadline and wants or needs something later? At that point you no longer have a client portal, but you still have a closed client file, whether digital or physical. Your attorney client agreement should address obtaining documents from closed files and whether there will be a charge for such retrieval.

Ambitious law firms may develop different types of client portals in the future. If you represent clients in a particular industry, it might be full of news, information and downloads related to that industry. The law firm may decide that indefinite portal access for current and former clients is in the best interest of the firm. A law firm catering to individual consumer clients may build a portal with a wealth of basic information, downloads, statutory forms and even some do-it-yourself forms for consumers. (If reading that strikes you as too risky, then your law firm will not be doing that; but other law firms will.) The model for that type of portal  that may be 90 days complementary access after all client matters are concluded and afterwards there is a annual fee for a subscription to that service. Maybe a few simple questions would also be answered at no charge under the subscription. But I also see models like a consumer bankruptcy law firm portal providing months of largely automated “after care” helping clients to make better financial decisions in the future.

Client portals are at the top of my mind right now as I’ve been invited to speak at ABA TECHSHOW 2020 on Client Portals: The Cornerstone of Virtual Practice on the virtual practice track. This year ABA TECHSHOW will be virtual, beginning March 8th, which means it has never been more affordable for you to attend. Using OBA discount code EP2109 when you register reduces your registration fee to $295.

I added a new category of posts to my blog for occasionally called Words of Wisdom. After doing daily tips since the pandemic began in March 2020, it’s time to focus on  longer blog posts and directing readers to some longer essays in 2021. The first one was Clio CEO Jack Newton’s essay on The Future of Law: A New Vision for Legal. Now I’m directing readers to an essay on building trust written by George P. Shultz on the occasion of his 100th birthday.

Lawyers are in the trust business. If our clients do not trust our judgment, will they take our advice about the critical decisions that must be made on legal matters?.

Today I submit for your enjoyment and enlightenment an essay on trust written by a 100 year old man. George P. Shultz served our country as a former U.S. Secretary of State, Secretary of Labor and Secretary of Treasury. His reflections contained in The 10 most important things I’ve learned about trust over my 100 years contain lessons for anyone, but especially for lawyers who are in the trust-building business. Whether it is a client, a judge or opposing counsel, having the trust of others is critical for lawyers. If the paywall blocks you because you have already read too many free Washington Post articles this month, it is worth putting a note on the calendar to revisit this link.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be passing along what I am calling Words of Wisdom. Some of these will be longer reads, although not this one. We at the Oklahoma Bar Association were so thrilled that Clio was a sponsor of our 2020 OBA virtual Annual Meeting last month and Jack Newton gave a presentation based on his book The Client-Centered Law Firm: How to Succeed in an Experience-Driven World. His presentation was very well-attended. Jack’s observations are important and useful. So for today’s wisdom, read his short post The Future of Law: A New Vision for Legal. One thing seems certain to all of us who are following changes in the legal services delivery. More changes are coming and coming fast.

I haven’t promoted many of the traditional 2020 “year in review” roundups. Perhaps it is because we have all disliked 2020 so much and I just want to have 2020 over and done. But some of my favorite legal tech journalists have been hosting regular video roundups this year and the discussions have been very interesting. If you haven’t seen any of these, then Legaltech Journalists Pick the Top Stories of 2020 is a great one for you to watch. I’ve known some of these participants for decades. For those in my field of work, the need for objective legal tech journalism is so important to help fact check vendor claims and deal with questions and misinformation online.

As regular readers of this blog know know, Sharon Nelson and OBA MAP Director Jim Calloway host a monthly podcast, The Digital Edge: Lawyers and Technology. For our final podcast of 2020, we decided to forgo having a guest and instead have a discussion of the many changes occurring in our profession, both Covid and non-Covid-related.

From changing ideas about how many square feet a law firm needs to occupy to the future of lawyer-client video conferencing to technology tools that actually deliver legal services, there is a lot to discuss and frequent listeners will know Sharon and I never lack for opinions where law office operations and legal technology is concerned. Certainly, things won’t go back to normal as 2021 is rung in. But despite the pressure and the angst of 2020, our profession learned a lot, as did everyone.

What is your most important law office operations takeaway from 2020? Listen to What’s on the Horizon for Law Firms in 2021? to see if Sharon or Jim agree with your pick.

For an end-of-year feature the ABA Law Practice Division Legal Technology Resource Center (LTRC) asked several panelists from the editorial team to reflect on their 2020 technology experience and what changes they have experienced. The group included Oklahoma Bar Association Practice Management Advisor Julie Bays, Dennis Kennedy, Alexander Paykin, Lance Johnson and Sofia Lingos. The feature is called LTRC Roundtable: The 2020 Technology Experience.

The idea that Google would run out of storage for its many premium services is unbelievable. Google did not run out of storage, but a misconfiguration which limited storage access did knock out many services from the Gmail app to YouTube offline for about 45 minutes. My colleague Sharon Nelson covered all of the important facts in her Ride the Lightning Blog post Google Global Outage Caused by Critical System Running Out of Storage.

A 45-minute outage can seem like an eternity when you are working on a deadline. But you know what might have been even worse than not having access to your email for an hour or so? Maybe it would be not having access to your Contacts! At least with that you can easily telephone the people who are expecting that email from you.

My personal Gmail account is mostly non-urgent email. But perhaps we all should download our Gmail contacts to a file we can access if Gmail is offline. So here from WikiHow is How to Export Gmail Contacts. It is a very simple process. Whether you do this once a year or more frequently depends on how dependent you are on this Gmail account.

Do I think there’s a realistic chance Gmail will vanish without notice and leave you permanently without access to your contacts? No. But if there’s data important to you

Unfortunately, few people see an advertisement on a website and click on the ad to see more about the product or service. And by “few” I mean not enough to make that online advertising effective. So advertisers soon began to rely on popup ads that site visitors could not ignore because they at least had to click on the little X in the upper corner to close the ad. Of course, some didn’t like that and soon there were popup ad blockers. Usually these were added as a browser extension. Websites fought back with anti-popup blocker technology. These came in the form of a full screen message stating “We have detected a popup blocker. Our site depends on ad revenue to survive. So, either disable your popup blocker— or go away!” That means it is time for the web users’ next move.

My friend Shawn L. Holahan is Practice Management Counsel/Loss Prevention Counsel for the Louisiana State Bar Association. She just shared this video with me that details four ways to defeat these “blocker blockers” in Chrome. While I’d encourage you to watch the entire video, here’s her summary:

  • Right click on popup “Please disable adblocker to support us” or something like that
  • Click inspect
  • Control F
  • Type in “please disable” or a string contained in the popup (e.g., “Welcome to NBC news”)
  • Delete where it appears.
  • Poof. It’s gone.

Of course, given the history lesson above, it’s likely this will not work “forever.”

For many lawyers, 2020 upended their marketing plans, with industry conferences, customer events and other marketing opportunities cancelled. Who would have predicted that even offering to buy a prospect lunch would become impossible this year?

Micah Buchdahl is an attorney whose company HTMLawyers works with law firms on marketing and business development. He is also past chair of the ABA Law Practice Division, the only past chair who came from a legal marketing background if memory serves.

Micah Buchdahl
      Micah Buchdahl

I note his credentials because his recent post What Does Your 2021 Marketing Plan & Budget Look Like? contains a wealth of great information, including a discussion of that other vexing question “When will I be able to start my marketing again?”

The first point he notes “Never Stop Never Stopping” is perhaps the most important point one can make about any form of marketing. Next year is going to get better. Your marketing plan for 2021 will likely be much better if you read and follow Micah’s sound advice.

Making predictions about the future can be useful and entertaining. Although I certainly hope no one in 2019 making predictions about 2020 made any large wagers on being correct.

Law Practice Today is an ezine published by the ABA Law Practice Division. Anyone can subscribe for free. This set of predictions, Crystal Ball: Our Editorial Board Makes Their Predictions for 2021, is really top notch because of the talented group of people the ezine has assembled who have very different perspectives on the legal professional and work in many different settings. They include several people I have worked with on various ABA projects like former Law Practice Magazine Editor-in-Chief John Bowers, two of my fellow practice management advisors and Oklahoma attorney Mark A. Robertson, who co-authored a pair of books on alternative billing with me for the ABA long ago and who also authored Alternative Fees for Business Lawyers and Their Clients a few years ago.

There are some great takeaways in this collection, even if the predictions don’t all come true.