By Dan Moshe
Growing at a rapid pace since 2013, Minneapolis law firm SeilerSchindel, LLC needed to find technology to manage the cases, the contacts, and the billing. With Tech Guru and The NT Group, they transformed the way the office’s information was stored, organized, and accessed. What they learned along the way became a blueprint for small firms with big plans.
Attorneys Jon Schindel and Scott J. Seiler partnered in 2011 to create the St. Louis Park-based law firm SeilerSchindel, LLC. At the time, the technology systems used by the pair were good enough. The database was in Microsoft Outlook and a third-party CRM. Billable hours were painstakingly entered on spreadsheets with edits made by hand. A part-time secretary used QuickBooks to take care of the invoices. “We had to manually put IOLTA balances and transactions on each invoice,” says Jon Schindel, “and as we added attorneys, it made the firm very unmanageable.”
Today, with 6 attorneys and more to come, SeilerSchindel, LLC is ahead of the technological curve for firms of its size. Specializing in corporate law, employment law for employers, and estate planning, the firm is also adding family law to its core of practice. “Big firms have their own custom-made technology platforms,” says Jon Schindel. “We’ve adopted a platform that would work for small- to mid-sized firms. It’s scalable, and I don’t see us outgrowing this for quite some time.”
Getting Up to IT Speed
SeilerSchindel, LLC’s change in technological course came about in 2013, when the firm hired an experienced office manager, Jacqueline Snyder, to help coordinate some of the bigger projects that would be needed to expand. They engaged with Joe Nemastil, of technology solutions company The NT Group, to help weed through the platform options for law firms.
It was through Nemastil that the firm was introduced to the idea of “managed services,” where an IT support company is paid a flat monthly fee to keep technology current and running smoothly.
IT providers typically offer a choice of “project-based services” or “managed services.” Of course, each option has benefits and drawbacks. Project-based services, what SeilerSchindel, LLC had used before, allow a firm’s expenses to take only a one-time hit, but will leave the budget in a lurch if additional IT needs come up later. Managed services give firms the peace of mind of ongoing IT support, but may give the illusion of being a drain on resources in the months when IT systems are running harmoniously.
After interviewing a few IT support firms, SeilerSchindel, LLC management met with Minneapolis IT support company Tech Guru. The bulk of Tech Guru’s work for clients is managed services for several reasons. “We’re incentivized to get things working and running as smoothly as possible,” Chief Operating Officer Micah Thor says. When people pick up the phone with a problem, he explains, it costs the tech service provider employee time to deal with that problem. “Because we provide service in addition to materials, we’re not just sitting around waiting for servers to break,” Micah says. The care and attention put into a client’s onboarding process benefits both the client and Tech Guru. Clients have everything 100% in order with users fully trained, and Tech Guru can focus on giving clients an optimal experience as their technology needs grow.
In short, with managed services, a tech service provider is less likely to sell a firm equipment or applications it doesn’t really need. Greater upkeep ensures that if there’s a better, cheaper, or faster solution, a reputable provider will prefer that route.
The Big Tech Overhaul
After evaluating the current IT landscape, Thor shared Tech Guru’s vision of a hybrid-cloud solution for the firm. Thor recommended Microsoft 365, an online version of the traditional Microsoft Office suite of software, and Dropbox for cloud storage. Nemastil was then enlisted to help find the perfect law practice-management software.
Nemastil walked the SeilerSchindel, LLC team through the options by viewing demos of various products. Some were way out of the firm’s price range or better suited for bigger firms. The team looked most closely at Clio and Amicus, attending demos for both. “Clio was very visually appealing, and they spent a lot of time with Joe, Tech Guru, and us,” says Schindel. “Right away, we found the Clio demo to be very succinct. It looked intuitive and clean-looking. The Clio representative walked through the concerns of our CFO, who wanted to look more closely at how it integrated with QuickBooks.” With all the pieces in place, Clio was clearly the better fit.
Once the decision was made on Clio, the group started looking at migration dates. At the time there were 400 names in the database and hundreds of client files in a separate cloud system. Instead of rushing to an early deadline, the firm took it slow. Two months were spent on formatting files that were transferred in batches of 100, with the goal being to open documents directly through Clio or Dropbox from anywhere. Tech Guru staff made sure the Dropbox folder matched up with the Clio matter. “We took our time, but we wanted to do it right before we went live,” says Schindel.
In anticipation of the July 1 date to go live, staff training was scheduled two weeks ahead of time. Thor trained the staff on how to use Dropbox, and Nemastil trained on Clio. It was crucial that the attorneys be able to bill starting on the first day of that month.
“We had a flawless migration,” says Schindel. “It had everything to do with the team.” Thor, Nemastil, and Snyder joined forces to ensure the entire system worked beautifully from day one. The inevitable post-migration glitches were minor. Invoicing hiccups needed to be ironed out, and some staff had issues with usage and learning the system. “It took a few months for things not to feel clumsy,” Schindel notes, “but now we have invoices going to clients on the second day of the month. That’s what the system is designed to do.”
Overall, SeilerSchindel LLC has been thrilled with the work of Tech Guru and Joe Nemastil. “What we paid is well worth the value they’ve brought to us.” Regarding the switch to managed services with Tech Guru, Schindel is happy to hand off IT responsibilities completely, “Tech Guru knows where everything is, how it works, and they’re responsive all the time.”
Schindel attended a Clio Cloud Conference conference in Chicago in September – dubbed ClioCon. The experience proved to be worthwhile. Clio had content tailored for attorneys (“Content Marketing for Lawyers,” “Building Culture in the Workplace,” “The Mobile Lawyer”) and support staff (“Time and Billing,” “Going Paperless,” “Documentation Automation”). Clio had a well-staffed live help desk, which Schindel took advantage of numerous times.
What may have been most impressive was Clio’s readiness to take customer feedback. Program developers were on hand to listen to ways in which the software could be improved. Schindel admits Clio’s accounts receivable books are still clumsy – not as good as QuickBooks. “I showed them what an AR report should look like, “Schindel said. “They’ve implemented changes even since the September conference, and they are improving their reports.”
Clio may be so capable of improvements because the dollars behind the company demand it. In the last year they have received $20 million in funding. The company has hired 100 people, doubling its employee count, and has expanded office space from Vancouver to include Dublin, Ireland. By all appearances, it will only do more to make good on its claim as “the most comprehensive cloud-based practice management platform in the legal industry.”
Though the tech improvements were a major stepping stone in the company’s development, the SeilerSchindel does not intent to slow down. Current plans include a move to new, larger space – also in St. Louis Park – in the first quarter of 2015. Depending on the demand, the firm may also expand to include property attorneys or litigators. With Seiler Schindel, LLC’s IT systems supporting the firm so well, there’s little standing in its way.
Dan Moshe helps business owners in the Minneapolis area with all things tech, and is the CEO of the Caring IT company Tech Guru. He cares about your business as much as you do!