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Missouri Solo & Small Firm Conference: Tech Tips & Trial Hints

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Lawyers & Video ConferenceA brief overview of trial tips and legal technology  resources  from Day One of MoSASF

Geri L. Dreiling, Esq.

Yesterday marked the beginning of the Missouri Bar’s Solo and Small Firm Conference. In lieu of my usual Friday roundup, this week I’ll bring you some of the tips and highlights from the three-day conference.

For those unfamiliar with the MoSASF conference, it is a three-day continuing legal education program packed with information that is particularly useful for the lawyer who not only wears the hat of an attorney but is also called upon to serve as the firm’s IT expert, head of HR and accounting and marketing and public relations pro.

In short, the attorneys who attend are typically actively seeking information and ideas for running better practices and providing better service to their clients.

I asked Kathryn E. Van Voorhees, a sole practitioner in St. Louis, what she hoped to gain from the conference. A former in-house lawyer for an insurance company, Van Voorhees indicated that she was mainly focused on practice management. She was trying to determine which technical aids for lawyers made the most sense for her to invest in.

Like many solo and small firm lawyers, she wants to use software that will reduce  her reliance on staff.

There’s certainly a variety of software offerings that can help make life for any small-business owner easier. The theme of technology carried over into the substantive session on personal injury I attended.

Several programs were offered simultaneously. Here’s a brief roundup of the ones I attended.

Session 1: Outlook Tips and Tricks

Contact Capture for Outlook

I really like using Outlook 2007 — I like that I can include my logo in the signature line and flag e-mails as to-do items. I went to this session, led by Kansas City attorney Zach Bickel and St. Louis lawyer Tim McCurdy, to see whether I could gather any new tips.

One of my favorites was Contact Capture, a program that you can add on to Outlook that will allow you to add information to your contacts that is contained in another document without retyping all of the information manually.

For example, Word documents — particularly pleadings — often contain other lawyers’ information, such as name, address, phone and fax numbers and e-mail address. Contact Capture will allow you to capture the information and import it into Outlook. The program is free for the first year of use. According to the website, a version for the iPhone is offered as well.

Another software program that interfaces with Outlook, Credenza, is also getting positive reviews. The feature singled out as one of the most convenient is that it tracks billable time.

Session 2: Making the Most of Your PI Case

Johnson v. McCulloughEven in a substantive session on how to handle a personal injury case, you cannot escape the influence of technology. In this session, Kansas City lawyer Tim Dollar and St. Louis attorney David Zevan discussed case handling from intake to trial.

One of the first things an attorney should do in an accident case, especially an auto accident case, is send out a so-called spoliation of evidence letter, warning various parties not to destroy evidence. Dollar noted that most cars are now equipped with a device called an electronic control module that stores a wealth of information. If the ECM is destroyed, valuable evidence is lost.

When it comes to presenting evidence to a jury, Dollar said, the old way of putting on a case is no longer enough. “We are in a different age of jury pools,” one in which video and visual evidence is increasingly important, he explained. The costs of such evidence have fallen precipitously over the past decade.

Zevan, who is also a LMM client, discussed the impact of a recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling, in Johnson v. McCullough, that state’s lawyers must use reasonable efforts to examine the litigation history of a juror on Case.net, the Missouri court system’s public database. For small law firms with fewer associates and cases in circuits that do not make the names of potential jurors available ahead of time, obtaining the information in a reasonable, quick manner will be a challenge.

Session 3:  Bootstrapping Your Practice: How to Develop Your Business Plan and Leverage Free, Low-Fee and Mobile Tools to Start a 21st-Century Practice

In this session, Washington D.C. lawyer Carolyn Elefant outlined the steps lawyers should consider once they decide to start their own practices. Elefant, who also publishes a blog, MyShingle.com, aimed at solo and small firm lawyers, discussed the need for a business plan to address the first 10 days, first 10 weeks and first 10 years of the practice.

Ann Littell Mills, a Springfield lawyer, uses free antivirus and antispyware security software AVG, a nice alternative to the more expensive offerings. She also recommends Vistaprint for business cards.

St. Louis attorney Jim Wieczorek cited the usefulness of LogMeIn, which allows him to remotely access his work computer from home, saving him the drive time and hassle of a commute.

Session 4: Using Technology to Enhance Client Communications

Mikogo ConferencingThousands of smart phones are accidentally left in taxis every year. If you’ve got confidential client information on your phone, you should have password protection, says Catherine Sanders Reach, director of the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center.

Sanders Reach discussed the use of encryption for confidential e-mails and named several services, including PGP Desktop Software and Hushmail. Hushmail is a Web-based free e-mail service. PGP offers a free 30-day trial.

Looking for free web conferencing and online meetings? Mikogo allows as many as 10 participants to get together, share a computer screen and conduct an audio conference.

More to Come

This is just a small sampling of the information I gleaned from the Thursday conference. Look for me again on Twitter tomorrow (@legalmediamtrs); I’ll be tweeting tips from the conference, using the hashtag #MoSASF. You can also follow @MoBarCLE and @blewski on Twitter for conference information.

I’ll also check out the exhibitors’ hall in greater depth and let you know which vendor has the best prizes, goodies and giveaways.

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