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Tools And Tech For Immigration Lawyers: How And What To Choose

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Sat Oct 30 2021 8 min read

There are a vast number of tech tools designed to help you optimize your life and make the most of your time. We sat down with immigration tech guru Jared Jaskot to help us make sense of many of the tools available to immigration lawyers and how to decide what tech is best for your immigration law firm.

This article is not so much about the tech behind these tools itself, but more about how to choose wisely. Our goal today is to help you raise your tech IQ and choose tools that really fit your immigration law firm’s needs with confidence.

Basic questions to ask yourself when choosing tools and tech for your immigration law firm

Time is perhaps our most precious commodity. However, there are only 24 hours in a day, so saving time should be at the forefront of your mind when you’re choosing tech tools for your immigration law firm.

Here are some helpful questions you should consider when you’re choosing technology for your immigration law firm: 

  • Does the tech alleviate a pain point? Don’t go after every shiny new thing.  Ask yourself: does the tech solve a problem you have? For example, if you’re spending a lot of time sending client contracts back and forth for signature, an e-signature platform would solve that pain point and save you time. Or if you’re constantly frustrated with collecting client payments, consider an invoicing solution.
  • How user friendly is the tech? If a tool is really complicated and requires a lot of training just to get started, you may end up losing more time learning the tool than you get back using it. Plus, think about user friendliness in relation to your staff and clients, too. Just because you can use a tool and understand it doesn't mean the rest of your staff will, and perhaps more importantly your clients.
  • Is the company that makes the product open to customer feedback and improvement? Bugs and other tech issues occasionally come up, and knowing that the company is open and responsive to your feedback, which could potentially make the tech even better, is important. Otherwise you might be stuck on the phone with tech support for longer than you’d like and grow frustrated when issues aren’t resolved in a timely fashion.
  • Does the tool support APIs? In simple terms, an API, otherwise known as an application programming interface, is the ability for two pieces of software to talk to each other. Think of it as a tunnel in cyberspace linking two endpoints. A good example of this is syncing your case management platform with your calendar to allow you to create a calendar event right from your case management dashboard - you’re interacting with the case management tool, but the invite is showing up on your calendar app. One of the major reasons APIs are so important is the ability for an update in one tool to carry over to another in order to save time and avoid the need for double data entry and the potential for errors, etc.

Choosing a tech tool can be overwhelming, and thinking through these questions, and in some cases asking the company, can help you feel more confident and comfortable saying yes to new software.

Choosing tech tools for different aspects of your immigration law firm

We’ve gone through some universal principles and questions to hopefully help you decide on the tech you need. So let’s dive into a few specific aspects of running an immigration practice to think about how tech can make each of them potentially easier. 

Billing, accounting, and payment systems

Accurate and timely billing and clean accounting is key to running a healthy immigration law practice. Most billing software solutions these days are good - they allow you to create electronic invoices, track whether an invoice has been paid or is overdue, and more. If you’re currently billing manually, creating invoices manually and tracking payments in a spreadsheet or checkbook, almost any tool will be a step up.

That said, when deciding what billing system to use, here are a few other things to consider.

One is the type of client you have and how they will be able to pay. For example, relatively sophisticated clients, whether individual or corporate, will be able to pay you by credit card through an electronic invoice. Other clients, such as recent immigrants without many resources or who have not been able to open a bank account, may be unable to do so and will need to bring cash or a money order to your office to pay. Meet your clients where they are and make sure that the software you choose can accommodate accepting payments in whatever form your clients are able to pay.

Additionally, consider allowing payment plans too. It’s not uncommon for immigration clients to request payment plans, especially for high fees. If you’re dealing with a clientele which requests such arrangements, make sure your tool has the ability to split an invoice into parts or create an actual payment plan.

Templates to automate repetitive tasks

At their core, templates can help you automate your commonly filed paperwork. In immigration law, many firms specialize in specific types of cases, so a good portion of those cases will likely have at least some level of standardization.

Here are some of the tasks you can consider creating templates for, and thus consider when exploring what tech to adopt at your firm:

  • Cover letters that might accompany various government filings.
  • Routine government or client correspondence, such as email templates to clients with case status updates.
  • Attorney-client agreements to use at the outset of a client engagement. We discussed the importance of clear agreements in our previous post about ethics for immigration lawyers. Most of the language in service agreements is standardized and does not have to be written from scratch every single time, so templates are helpful here.
  • Motions, pleadings and petitions for review, especially if your immigration practice requires you to go to court.

Of course there can be any other number of tasks that you firm handles that might be ripe for automation, so don't take this list as exhaustive and be sure to audit your firm's processes and see what else you can create templates around or otherwise automate.

Telephone systems

While some law firms still have landlines, or perhaps even give out their cellphone numbers, we recommend voice over internet protocol systems (VoIP) to set up your phone line. What is VoIP? According to the FCC, VoIP is “a technology that allows you to make voice calls using a broadband Internet connection instead of a regular (or analog) phone line.” In other words, if you have an internet connection, you have a phone. No traditional landline is needed.

Vonage and RingCentral are some of the better known VoIP services, though there are a number of competitors out there worth looking at. If you’re going to deploy your staff remotely as many firms have had to do during the COVID-19 pandemic, a VoIP service allows you to set everyone up with their own line, hire people in other geographical locations , and set up your office anywhere you want or need. 

Email systems: Not all are created equal

We’ve spent some time speaking about email and its importance in our article about how to get your immigration law firm started. Here, let’s focus more on how to know if an email system is any good.

Some of the basics you want to see your email system  include are: 

  • Read receipts - you want to be able to see if your email was read or seen.
  • Calling back sent emails - in case you mistakenly sent incorrect information or forgot something, having the ability to “unsend” an email before the recipient opens it can save headache and back-and-forth.
  • Bounce back for undeliverable emails - if you have a faulty email address or typed the wrong address, you want to be able to know that your email didn’t go through.

While there are many email services, Google Workspace, which includes email, video calling, phone and more is easy to use, provides multiple email accounts with your domain name, and helps you integrate other tools like Google Docs for team collaboration.

Office equipment such as scanners: what really matters

Yes it’s 2021, but immigration law still relies heavily on paper. That means scanners are still important. That said, instead of recommending a specific machine, let’s go over two important factors that may influence your decision.

First, and this might sound controversial, price should not be one of them. Don’t waste time trying to figure out how to save a few dollars; instead, make sure you choose a piece of equipment that is reliable and that you can get serviced easily if something goes wrong. You don’t want to be the lawyer that was late responding to a Request for Evidence (RFE) because their scanner broke down at the last minute.

Second, see if you can lease the machine instead of buying it. With such a large piece of equipment, leasing instead of buying gives you the option to upgrade as needed.  Because the company still owns it, they may make it easier to maintain it and upgrade as needed.

A few other tech tools immigration lawyers love:

Calendly: Calendly is one of the most popular appointment scheduling tools because they make scheduling, rescheduling, and canceling incredibly easy. It’s important to have a scheduling system that’s easy for your clients to use in case they have to reschedule or cancel a meeting or appointment with you. This helps reduce no-shows, manages expectations, and helps you keep track of your appointments.

Quickbooks and LawPay: These two systems work hand-in-hand to help you keep track of your firm’s billing and finances. And if you’re a Docketwise user, both Quickbooks and LawPay integrate seamlessly - when you generate an invoice through Docketwise, your client will get an option to pay using LawPay, and once this is done, everything will be recorded in your Quickbooks account for easy bookkeeping. 

Docketwise provides immigration law forms automation and case management and connects with other tech tools too!

As you continue to introduce new technology into your law firm, Docketwise is working to build a one-stop solution for immigration law firms across the country. With Docketwise, you can streamline and automate the administrative parts of your work - from client intake to invoicing to form filling - and focus on what’s most important: supporting your clients.

From a full library of immigration forms to client questionnaires in multiple languages to an industry-leading set of API integrations, we help you stay up to date on all your cases, communicate easily with your clients, and otherwise build and manage your firm.

If you want to learn more about Docketwise, schedule a demo at the link below, or sign up for our Immigration Briefings newsletter for daily and weekly immigration updates!

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