Is that the sound of your life being eaten away by the trojan called work, infiltrating our personal time via portable devices? Or is it the sound of forgotten files? Hopefully, it is you conveniently dealing with work on your terms.

Lawyers have had a long list of tools to help with getting things done. One of the first was the ToDo button, the brainchild of Peter Hart of Legalware with his Project Modeler in 1986. Inspired by this, it became the trade marked Do button in another Practice Management System (PMS).

Now there is no shortage of ToDo tools to help the busy lawyer. Most recently, Salesforce has come up with

Here is a list of 20 online ToDo tools plus a summary of features. While seemingly simple, many of these have a ton of features behind them, which as it turns out is not necessarily a good idea. More is not always best. Apple has bravely tried to take some features out of its latest OS. They know that “perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away” (Antoine de Saint Exupéry)

Not everyone shares the “less is best” view. Henry Reckler in “How I Use My iPad For Legal Work” in the August 10, 2012 issue of Technolawyer, says:

I got my iPad 2 expecting it was mostly a toy. It’s not. I am an app junkie, with 105 iPad apps right now. Some I use often. Some I tried and simply haven’t gotten rid of.

The problem with just using a bunch of apps is that they are not integrated, and they don’t scale. So it is not easy to consistently do reporting/analysis, add staff, get in a locum or sell your practice.

While online tools and apps are interesting, by themselves they are not the way to go if you are serious about the business of law. For that you need a real PMS. Apps are great to extend your capabilities and learn about things that work for you. Historically, Microsoft Word and Acrobat are two common PMS integrations. Evernote and Dropbox are two “app-age” smartphone/iPad tools that have opened the eyes of many lawyers to the potential of IT. Hopefully your PMS vendor can incorporate the best ideas from these, or look to integrate them.

The essence of my “Lawyers Workstation” concept is to have your IT customized to each individual lawyer’s needs. Central should be a PMS as a firm-wide platform, supplemented with various applications. And it goes without saying that the lawyer needs to know how to get the most out of those tools, particularly the PMS. The firm luddites will leave holes in the matter file if they don’t use the PMS properly. All users of the system need to have confidence that the electronic file is complete, particularly with remote access.

In the US, and the UK, professional indemnity insurers give discounts on premiums for using a PMS. The reason is simple: claims are more likely to result from something slipping through the cracks, rather than from bad advice.

That’s why industries that take risk seriously, literally live or die by checklists. Two industries which are way ahead of legal in this regard are aviation and medical. And if you want to hear a riveting tale of teamwork under intense pressure, listen to this interview with the pilot of QF32 about an engine issue.

They had 1,200 checklists. Another interview I heard gave greater emphasis to the importance of checklists for pilots.

When I talk to lawyers about their PMS, I explain how it can make them “smarter”. By that I mean that relieving them of the burden of juggling ToDos, enables them to focus on the client issue, rather than being distracted by, “I musn’t forget X” thoughts.

Studies in hospitals have shown that when doctors doing their rounds are given tasks, they can only keep 7 or so in their mind before the first ones start to be forgotten. Some lawyers might have many tasks, including critical dates, hence, insurers interest in PMS for lawyers.

For that reason, I advocate that staff even run their personal life on the firm PMS as it frees them from the burden of remembering their personal ToDos, and makes the PMS the central platform for getting things done.

With some PMS such as Credenza and HoudiniESQ having free versions, there is no real excuse for not getting yourself into a PMS. You can extend them manually by sharing ToDos/checklists via interesting tools such as WorkFlowy which has an elegant outliner. If you want something even simpler, but more broadly useful to a lawyer, use Evernote with this tip for ToDos

While you can do much with Evernote’s easy clipping, tagging, searching and sharing capabilities, it should be an extension rather than a substitute for a real PMS. However, like its app-age peers, its beguiling convenience will further raise the bar for PMS developers, and inspire imitation, one tick at a time.

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