My article last month on dictation using voice recognition generated more feedback than any other article I've written in the last 14 years. There is clearly an appetite for better productivity and cost efficiencies in small to medium practice. A simple time and motion study will show that direct transcription will halve the man-hours required to get text down compared to one person dictating and then another person transcribing.
Another common task is the production of cost estimates and invoicing. I recently installed eSlip in my Google apps domain to test basic accounting software as a service (eSlip is just an example of many similar products). Click "New estimate", insert client details if necessary, enter the quantity and unit price, watch it calculate the totals and add GST, then click to e-mail it to the client. The client receives a link to the estimate where they can pick "approved", and you receive an e-mail telling you you can start work. When you are ready to invoice it is a single click to turn the cost estimate into an invoice, with reference to the original estimate, and the invoice is mailed to the client. If you have PayPal as a payment option the client can immediately pay the invoice by clicking another link. If you want to send paper copies eSlip will do that automatically for a small fee.
A little tweaking of the process is required to ensure compliance with the Legal Profession Regulation 2005. The point of this example is that by becoming aware of available tools and either having the time or a suitably qualified consultant you have the opportunity to streamline processes. As a colleague said to me recently, "I feel like I'm not getting the maximum benefit out of my IT."
Sit back and consider the practical issues in running your practice as they affect you. You might prefer to be much more mobile rather than sit in an office or even have an office. However, how would you have access to your billing system, documents and e-mail? Using a product such as Google Apps for Business and something like eSlip means you have access to all your information on any other computer anywhere in the world, the same as if you were at home or in the office. Tie these in with online research tools such as LexisNexis and legislation and some practitioners will have just about all they need. Again, there's a bit of tweaking involved to get the best out of this setup, but it's the one I adopt without hesitation. I don't need to worry about backup, disaster recovery, business continuity or security as these are professionally managed for me. However when selecting a solution you need to consider the type of support that you need. I would not suggest that Google support is particularly terrific, but I am the sort of user who knows more than the person on the helpdesk.
While iPads are popular, they are useless to a practitioner straight out of the box. You need to know which software to purchase and how best to use it. Just because you own a box of crayons doesn't mean you're a good artist - the same applies to information technology. If your practice is principally conveyancing then you will need a completely different set of tools to simplify your life.
This column was written on the production version of Windows 8, released to subscribers in August 2012, and generally available in October 2012. There is absolutely no reason to upgrade any of your computers from Windows 7 to Windows 8, and the interface change is such that you should continue to ask for Windows 7 on new hardware until we see how the new interface pans out in business.