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Growing Your
Law Firm with
Video Conferencing

By Harold German

With so many efficiency-boosting technologies available today to help you manage and grow your law firm, it is sometimes difficult to identify the right ones to implement. Given recent trends, it is abundantly clear that law firms are focusing their investments on technologies that can have the greatest impact on growing their bottom line. Due to its numerous benefits, including significant productivity gains, cost savings and employee safety, video conferencing is at the top of the list. Video conferencing has been used by law firms for many years, but only until recently has it become affordable for even the smallest of firms. Equipment that cost tens of thousands of dollars only a few years ago, can be purchased for a fraction of that cost today. The products have become more reliable, easier to use, more compact, even portable, and their capabilities and features have been enhanced drastically. Popular thinking seems to indicate that now is the time to get your firm started with video conferencing, but not surprisingly, many firms encounter unnecessary technical obstacles and set backs due to poor planning.

Here are some questions you should ask before getting started with video conferencing:

  1. How will you utilize video conferencing? Can video depositions and video-based communications help grow my practice?
    For many law firms, video conferencing is first used as a way to reduce traveling for internal meetings between practices located in different cities. But there are other factors to consider. How far are the courthouses your firm serves? Do they allow video depositions or other video-based communication for legal procedures? Are some of the firm's clients equipped with video conferencing?
    If the addition of video conferencing will save many, or all, of your attorneys significant amounts of time in commuting and improve the productivity of their work day, then video conferencing will definitely help to grow your practice.
  2. What kind of resources will be needed?
    With respect to network considerations, although many firms still use ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network), for optimal business quality video conferencing, it is recommended that you use an IP (Internet Protocol) network. If you have 384 kilobytes of bandwidth available to and from each video conferencing device, you should be able to enjoy a good quality video call. Realize however, that if your network is shared with other resources, it may compromise the quality of your conferences. A dedicated network specifically for video conferencing, or a managed IP video network like IVCi's IntelliNet (http://www.ivci.com/intellinet_index.html), would ensure the best user experience.
    Once you define your network, you need someone to manage it. Will you? Your I.T. department? Does your firm have an I.T. department? Although, your firm's technical staff may be able to manage your conferencing network, there are more efficient ways to ensure steady and healthy performance of your video conferences. Some conferencing providers perform 'managed services' that take all of the work out of your hands. IVCi's Managed Conferencing Services (http://www.ivci.com/international_videoconferencing_managed_conferencing_services.html), for instance, allows you to reap all of the benefits of video conferencing and eliminates your need to purchase expensive network equipment and hire additional support staff.
  3. How many of your attorneys have used the technology before and are ready to implement it into their work day?
    Talk with your attorneys and identify those individuals who are ready to reap immediate benefits from the technology; those who would be ready and willing to start using video conferencing right away.
  4. How much ROI can I expect?
    Once you define the extent of usage, you can calculate the amount of time that your attorneys will be freed up to work on other cases. In many instances, the time saved adds up to dozens of hours per month, per attorney. With more time available, they can work on additional cases, thus growing the practice.
  5. Have I created the right budget?
    As with most technology implementations, video conferencing is best executed in phases. Features that satisfy the most important needs of the practice should be implemented in the first phase. Define what you need, find out what it costs and budget for that phase. As need and demand grow, you can budget for future implementations as they arise. Always work with conferencing providers that create scalable solutions.
  6. Can I afford video conferencing?
    Do some simple math. Once you define how much usage your firm will have (question 3), you can compare that figure to your budget (question 4).

A User's Perspective

User: Hal M. Stewart
Firm: Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker LLP
Title: Chief Executive Officer
Size: 21 U.S.-based offices
Headquarters: New York, NY

“It's amazing how some of the most basic things can be so critical when it comes to laying out a plan for video conferencing. Things like security, a simple and friendly user interface and pre-programmed intra-firm conference numbers all help to create comfort and ease-of-use, which is key when you are starting out. Of course, probably the most important thing is to make sure you select the right vendor. We use Polycom products throughout our nationwide network of offices and the units work very well for us. We use them primarily as a way to avoid costs related to traveling, which, without video conferencing, would reach into the hundreds of thousands per year. Having recouped our investment in the technology, we also use video conferencing to perform depositions, firm training and Mandatory Continuing Legal Education. We have even used it to interview candidates that are out of state, which eliminates the need to send our employees on the road. Our usage continues to increase, which improves our firm's efficiencies.

We've been using video conferencing for seven years and have seen it evolve from a technology that was bulky, expensive and unreliable to an indispensable tool that is light, affordable, full of new features and much more capable of delivering on its stated objectives. In a nutshell, it finally works. Without question, now is definitely the time to get started with video conferencing.”

User: Gary Peet.
Firm: Lewis and Roca, LLP
Title: Chief Information Officer
Size: 4 U.S.-based offices
Headquarters: Phoenix, AZ

“Law firms starting out with video conferencing should keep things simple. Establish three or four basic configurations from which your lawyers can choose from. Be sure your I.T. support staff knows those configurations inside and out. Resist last-minute changes; it's great to have a "can do" attitude, but if it results in problems during a conference, it may not be worth it. Consider implementing a room control system to facilitate the setups of a conference. These systems handle all the physical layer connections and put all the variable options at your fingertips through a touch-screen monitor. They are very easy to use and take most of the guesswork out of a conference setup.

We began using video conferencing back in 1999 and we use it primarily for internal meetings, specifically partner, attorney, and practice group meetings. We also use it for internal training classes and less frequently for client meetings, depositions, and lawyer recruiting interviews. The technology has come a long way and we especially like the flexibility we now have to do our own conference bridging between our remote offices. We really take advantage of many of the features and options that are available today. Things like picture-in-picture on your screen, dial-in telephone numbers for audio-only participants, content sharing with computers and document cameras or recording conferences with VCRs or DVDs are all great and add that extra dimension to your set up.”

A Pro Weighs In

Pro: Ira M. Weinstein
Organization: Wainhouse Research, LLC
Title: Senior Analyst and Consultant
Headquarters: Brookline, MA

Law firms interested in using video conferencing to improve productivity, decrease costs, or increase revenue need to consider how they'll be using the technology. Which meeting rooms (or offices/employee desks) will be video capable? What type of performance do you really need (higher performance often equates to higher cost)?

For example, for video sessions involving clients (perhaps a legal consultation or video deposition), a high quality experience would be required. For internal training and continuing education sessions, however, that level of performance may not be necessary.

Law firms can avoid many video conferencing project-related mistakes by performing a careful and accurate audit of their needs and requirements before signing the first purchase order. Here are some of the common faux-pas:

  • Implementing specialized/proprietary systems. These systems typically only support "like-to-like" video calls, which means that only internal video calls will be possible. For maximum flexibility, the use of standards-based systems that easily interoperate with standards-based systems, are recommended.
  • Going too big. We often stumble across firms that have "over-implemented;" firms whose actual usage doesn't justify their initial (and recurring) investment. To avoid this problem, companies should limit their initial purchases and expand the deployment as necessary in the future. For example, if your firm's usage of video conferencing will be limited to a few executives holding one-on-one sessions, purchase only a few desktop systems. Similarly, if only a few users in a few locations expect to utilize the technology, video-enable only a single room in each of those locations and carefully watch the usage trends for a few months.
  • Going too small. We've also observed other organizations that "under-implement" solutions. These firms try to squeeze ten people into a small office for a video conference call. Alternatively, they equip too few conferencing rooms with video, only to find that their users are frustrated by their lack of access to these resources.

Ideally, organizations should carefully evaluate their needs so they can make the appropriate purchases today while setting themselves up for an efficient, cost-effective expansion tomorrow.

The Law Firm of the Future

The law firm of the future will look very much like the wired enterprise of today. It will consist of a team of attorneys who are plugged into a collaborative network that allows them to share ideas, plans and strategies, instantly and seamlessly. Each attorney will be able to leverage the firm's global skills and knowledge at any time, regardless of the physical location of those resources. By properly leveraging conferencing solutions, lawyers could double, or triple, the number of face-to-face (and billable) client sessions they hold each day, while decreasing their time in the office. Interestingly enough, the technology to create the scenario above is already available and ready for deployment. In essence, the law firm of tomorrow is really the intelligent law firm of today.

All trade names, trademarks, and/or service marks herein are owned by their respective holders.

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