The coronavirus pandemic, which has both literally and figuratively shut down much of the world, is bad news for the global economy. Yes, the “r” word – recession – has been floating around, both by news agencies and international bodies alike.
Believe it or not, however, there is a bright side here. It’s not immediate, but it exists. According to Reuters, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stated that “the coronavirus pandemic will cause a global recession in 2020 that could be worse than the one triggered by the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.” But they added that “world economic output should recover in 2021.” In other words, at least from an economic perspective, things will be back to normal by 2021.
So what does this mean right now for immigration lawyers who are worried about potentially losing their jobs or have already lost it? It may actually be a good time to start your own law practice.
Hear me out.
Following the 2000 market crash and the 2008 recession, immigration lawyers who experienced layoffs seized the opportunity to lay the foundations for their own solo practices. Many of them weathered the storm and eventually flourished.
How do we know? INSZoom launched in 1999, and many of the solo and small law firms that launched and signed up with us after the 2000 and 2008 down markets continue to be with us to this day, and in many cases have grown. It’s not uncommon for attorneys to launch successful solo practices during such times.
So whether you’re motivated to start your own practice today or you’re just preparing, here are ten tech tools you need that will help get your solo or small immigration firm up and running.
1. A reliable computer
It’s obvious that you need a computer, but when you start looking into it, you realize that there are lots of options. The big divide is between a Mac and a PC – if you’re a Mac person, then the choices are fairly slim – a Macbook (the laptop), or an iMac (the desktop). For most lawyers an iMac is unnecessarily large and expensive – it’s truly meant for graphic designers and can be overkill for a lawyer. A simple Macbook Pro or even Macbook Air can suffice, especially in the beginning. If you’re a PC person, there are way more choices, but make sure that above all you get virus protection and good insurance policy so that if the computer ever breaks or needs to be repaired, it can be done easily, smoothly and without breaking the bank.
2. Basic workplace tools
Many existing law firms use PCs that come with Microsoft Office, and lawyers often grow used to programs like Microsoft Word for word processing, Excel for tables and charts, PowerPoint for presentations, and so on. But the reality is that there are other options for product suites that are worth noting, such as Google Suite, which comes with word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and lots of other native and third-party plug-ins. Macs also come with similar products pre-installed under the iWork brand, including Notes, Pages and Keynote. Depending on the kind of computer you get, you may either have these workplace tools pre-installed or you may have to purchase them separately. As a note, most of these services come with cloud storage, so you can store your entire firm in the cloud, or at least back it up there.
It feels like everyone in the world has a Gmail account, but when it comes to work, there are multiple email providers. There’s Gsuite, which provides a business email as well as cloud storage and the Google-built workplace tools mentioned above. There’s also Microsoft’s email client that’s part of Office 365. There are other third-party email clients out there which you can research, but these are the big ones.
4. Finance and Billing
Managing your finances is central to keeping a new law firm afloat. Whether it’s invoicing, keeping track of expenses, eventual payroll, etc., and whether you charge flat fees, hourly, or a combination of the two, you need a system to centralize and manage all of it. You need a system that can handle credit card payments, bank transfers and checks, will sync up to your bank and maybe even kick start tax prep throughout the year. There are plenty of robust finance and billing solutions out there, but here are a few that are particularly popular with immigration law firms: LawPay, Quickbooks and INSZoom’s billing module.
5. Internal communication
If you’re a true solo practitioner, you probably won’t need an internal communications tool. But if you hire a freelancer, part-time paralegal or take a full-time staff member or partner, especially if you work remotely, you’ll need a way to communicate. And yes, with a team that size you can get away with a text message and email, but if you can get organized from the start, why not start off on the right foot? Here are some of the most popular internal communication tools: Slack, Microsoft Teams and Workplace from Facebook.
6. Video conferencing
Video conferencing has become more and more commonplace, even before the coronavirus forced most of the world to work from home. It enables business continuity from anywhere in the world, can easily accommodate clients who aren’t geographically close to you, and otherwise adds flexibility to your practice, even if you want to have a brick and mortar location. Plus, aside from client communication, you can chat with team members as the firm grows, set up video networking calls as you grow your firm, or even start a podcast or create other content right on your computer. Some of the best-known video conferencing apps to consider are MSTeams from Microsoft Office365, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Skype, GoToMeeting, BlueJeans, and WebEx.
7. Calendar automation
Scheduling calls is exciting when you first get started, but as your firm grows, it can take just as much time scheduling calls (deciding a mutually open time slot, sending the email invite, resending it when it goes to the wrong address, etc.). Luckily there are now calendar automation tools that sync right to your calendar and allow your client or prospective clients to simply pick a time that works for them without all the back and forth. The best and most popular option on the market today is Calendly.
8. Email marketing
Email marketing is a great way to keep in touch with existing clients, keep others in your network updated on your firm and progress, and find new clients. With an email marketing platform you can set up newsletters, periodic reminders, email campaigns and more, and leverage pre-built templates and other suggestions to craft the best possible emails that have a high open-rate. Some of the best email marketing platforms include Constant Contact, MailChimp and Campaign Monitor.
9. Password management
Running a small business, especially in 2020 and beyond, means you will likely need to use multiple web-based products and solutions. And of course, each of these products requires its own set of credentials, that is, a username and password. However, one of the worst things you can do is use the same password across all or even several services as this can severely compromise your security. On the flip side, though, that means managing lots of different passwords, right? Well yes, but luckily there are tools out there that can help you do that in a safe and secure way. A few examples of password management tools include LassPass, DashLane, and OneLogin.
10. Case Management
Finally, when your entire law firm is set up and you’re ready to take on cases, it’s crucial to have a robust case management platform that’s specifically built to manage immigration cases, that has the most up-to-date immigration forms and processes, and that is constantly working to make the practice of immigration law easier, more secure and ultimately more successful for both the lawyer and their end client. And that’s exactly what INSZoom brings to the table. From visa-specific forms and useful templates to a robust foreign national portal and robotic process automation, INSZoom’s innovative software gives you the edge that you need to provide the highest level of service to your immigration clients.