September 2018 • Volume 106 • Number 9 • Page 20
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More Bang for Your Buck
- "A number of solo and small firms around here-the only research tool they use is Fastcase because it's so good," says John Phipps, a general practitioner and litigator in Champaign who chaired the ISBA special committee on electronic research.
- "We're always trying to keep abreast of learning styles, and people from different generations like to receive their CLE in different ways," says CLE committee chair Ed Huntley. About 80 percent of ISBA MCLE hours are consumed electronically.
- "If I were a solo or starting a new practice, or already a solo practitioner, in any stage of the game-starting, expanding, thinking about succession planning-[Practice HQ has] got every tool you could possibly want. It has things you wouldn't necessarily be thinking about without it," says Julie Johnson, Board of Governors member and matrimonial attorney.
Have you noticed ISBA benefits keep getting better?
You've just renewed your ISBA membership for the new bar year-or are about to. Either way, it's time to consider all the benefits that come with ISBA membership, especially since the association has launched several new and improved benefits during the past few years and as recently as this summer.
For ISBA members, this means access to an ever-increasing number of resources that pay for themselves several times over. Among benefits that recently have been enhanced: robust online peer-discussion communities; checklists and best practices that will help you manage your firm; in-person, online, and on-demand continuing legal education; federal and state caselaw research guided by artificial intelligence; a fully automated document assembly system tailored to Illinois law; a robust fee-sharing lawyer referral directory; and a marketplace full of professional discounts.
What follows are summaries of new and improved benefits that the ISBA has rolled out over the past couple of years. Catch up on each one or pick and choose. Regardless, they are all waiting for you at www.isba.org.
ISBA Central Communities
One of the more recently launched member benefits is ISBA Central, an online discussion portal consisting of 51 different communities organized by sections, section councils, and committees. In ISBA Central, members can pose questions to one another, engage in group discussions around a wide range of subjects, create community libraries, and share files. While most communities are hosted by a section, which costs $30 a bar year to join, some communities are open to all members.
Tim Moran, property tax appeals attorney with Schmidt, Salzman & Moran, says he uses ISBA Central constantly and belongs to the ISBA Central communities on the Future of Legal Services, Unauthorized Practice of Law, and State and Local Tax.
"Each one of them has their own ISBA Central page," he says. "I actually keep it on my…screen so that if we want to have a quick group communication, I just click on it."
Moran finds it useful that ISBA Central allows participants to send messages to an individual member or an entire group. Users also can attach a wide variety of computer program files. Several communities, such as the Trusts and Estates and Criminal-Traffic-DUI communities regularly upload new and practical materials relevant to their areas of law.
Moran says the State and Local Tax community has separate pages for the section council and another one for the entire membership, "so that if there is a recent [court] decision that you want to get to the entire group, you can attach and blast it out to everybody," he says. "Conversely, on the page limited to the section council, if you're talking about, for instance, legislation where only council members get to vote, that's a nice option [to only include the council]."
Moran also belongs to the Real Estate Law and Local Government communities, where members regularly request advice from one another about legal intricacies.
"It's fascinating-someone has a question about easements, and someone else at the other end weighs in with an answer," he says. "People are very generous with their time."
Rory Weiler, treasurer of the ISBA Board of Governors and a matrimonial attorney at Weiler & Lengle in St. Charles who mostly spends time in the Family Law community, says that even as an experienced attorney, he's learned "a few things myself" from ISBA Central. "It's a learning forum, it's a social forum," he says. "You can post your own experiences. You get to know the folks who are [frequent] posters."
The service is even more valuable for younger members, Weiler says. In an age where in-person mentoring of junior attorneys has become more of a rarity, "guys like myself who have been practicing for 25, 30, 40 years can post a quick answer and steer [younger lawyers] in the right direction. It's kind of like your virtual mentor," he says. "The old practice paradigm of learning under an older, more experienced lawyer-in many cases it still applies, but in many it does not. The ISBA Central communities fill that void."
New lawyers and people at smaller firms perhaps benefit the most, Moran says. "In terms of the opportunity to connect with vast numbers of people in these fields who have experience in everything from torts to civil procedures-you don't have the time to research every new wrinkle," he says. "From a time standpoint, from a cost standpoint, getting that experienced direction is invaluable."
Lawyers new to ISBA Central should do their homework and post succinct, clear questions, suggests Zisl Edelson, an elder law and estate planning attorney in Skokie. "The purpose isn't to provide one-on-one beginning instruction," she says. "It's for more advanced questions. But there are usually nice people willing to point people in the right direction."
Edelson says ISBA Central has been "an excellent learning tool" for her as well, especially as a small-firm attorney. "I try to read through it every day," she says. "There are often very interesting topics that come up, and I try to file away that information [for possible future use]. It's also a great networking tool. I've made friends with other lawyers and gotten referrals. I've met interesting lawyers from across the state."
That provides some of the camaraderie Edelson misses from being at a larger firm. "It's a way, for sure, for solo attorneys to connect with others," she says. "But I think anybody would benefit from participating. You don't have to post. You can just read it. It's a great way to learn because you're learning from real-life examples."
ISBA members who are starting a firm or trying to improve their existing business can learn a great deal from the ISBA's Practice HQ portal, another relatively new benefit. The resource covers best practices for the entire life cycle of a firm, with checklists that help members with what to do when you're first opening a firm, building it, managing and protecting it, and then winding it down.
Practice HQ covers technology; practice management; document management; client management; and time, billing, and accounting. The checklists also cover how to start, merge, or close a practice. Practice HQ includes resources that walk you through emergencies, such as recovering from a natural disaster or a communications crisis, and provides white papers, CLE links, and videos covering topics such as e-filing, time management, and working with clients.
"Practice HQ is a wonderful tool for solo practitioners and small practices," says Julie Johnson, a member of the ISBA Board of Governors and matrimonial attorney with Aronberg Goldgehn Davis & Garmisa. "If I were a solo or starting a new practice, or already a solo practitioner, in any stage of the game-starting, expanding, thinking about succession planning-it's got every tool you could possibly want. It has things you wouldn't necessarily be thinking about without it."
Practice HQ highlights several potential options for each tool or resource. "It will show four or five different cybersecurity options," Johnson says. "It has different practice tools and billing options, so you can see what this software program offers as compared to that program."
When a new user visits for the first time, they are presented with a navigation based on the typical life cycle of a law practice. "Are you starting a practice? Expanding a practice? Trying to sell it?" Johnson says. "You click on whichever applies to you and it opens a whole world of resources for each stage of the game."
Continuing Legal Education
This summer, ISBA began rolling out its new CLE interface that is based on the Blue Sky eLearn platform. The platform is easier to use, sends automated email confirmations and program details, and allows extended access to live and recorded programs. Members also can log in 24/7 and see their CLE profile and all the certificates they've earned in the new platform.
ISBA members can earn up to 15 hours of CLE credit per bar year with ISBA's free On-Demand CLE program, sponsored by ISBA Mutual. They can choose from more than 400 hours of on-demand CLE content available in streaming video or audio formats. Content includes a six-hour accredited basic skills program for new-attorney members to help them meet their first-year CLE requirements. So many CLE topics and programs are available that members can easily fulfill their required 30 hours of CLE every two years-year after year.
In addition to two live webcasts per year, sections and committees are asked to create one to two onsite CLE programs devoted to high-interest topics such as new laws and significant court decisions that may affect a large number of attorneys. These programs are recorded for the on-demand CLE catalog. The total number of onsite programs per year is in the range of 65 to 75, says CLE Committee Chair Ed Huntley, "then there's a wealth of other programs in different formats."
Huntley says interest in online CLE programming continues to grow and that the association has been investing heavily in this area.
Huntley says he has also always enjoyed attending onsite programs for the in-person networking and camaraderie they provide.
"As a member benefit, free of charge, you can get all your CLE [required over time]," he says. "We're always trying to keep abreast of learning styles, and people from different generations like to receive their CLE in different ways." About 80 percent of ISBA MCLE hours are consumed electronically, he adds.
For those who like onsite programs, the ISBA has been incorporating a new format called "table clinics," where facilitators present a topic to a small group of lawyers for no more than 30 minutes, after which each group moves to a different table and learns the next set of tips. To boost the interactivity of live programs, ISBA has been encouraging speakers to use polling technology, which reinforces learning and encourages instant feedback.
"We provide a really good mix of topics and subjects that are important for practitioners to know about," Huntley says. "We're proud of ISBA CLE-we think it's a great product, and a tremendous benefit."
Fastcase 7 provides members with access to a gigantic database of state and federal cases.
Members can access Fastcase by clicking the Fastcase icon at www.isba.org (once you arrive at the Fastcase portal, you must enable the Fastcase 7 mode manually). Fastcase apps also are available for the iPad, iPhone, and Android devices. Through Fastcase, ISBA members can search the U.S. Supreme Court; federal circuit, district and bankruptcy courts; and supreme and appellate courts in Illinois and in states throughout the country. Fastcase 7 also includes statutes, regulations, constitutions, and court rules from all 50 states.
Fastcase 7 is a complete overhaul, according to Fastcase CEO Ed Walters: The interface adjusts to different screen sizes, contains more information per page, uses fonts that are easier to read, and allows users to modify Fastcase's search algorithms (see The Algorithm Behind the Curtain, July 2018 IBJ).
Fastcase 7 also provides an "interactive timeline" that shows, at a glance, the most relevant search results first. You also can search all resources at once instead of by single jurisdiction or area.
In previous versions of Fastcase, you could search "only cases, or only regulations," Walters says. Users can do an "all-state search" that will scan all materials from Illinois-the state constitution, law review articles, court opinions-at once.
Walters says Fastcase will soon include books and law review articles and add secondary treatises from Aspen and CCH. "If there's a book or law review article that synthesizes an issue you are researching, you will now get that in one click," Walters says. Another feature Fastcase plans to add will integrate docket research and analytics, enabling lawyers to search motions and other case documents.
Fastcase 7 costs $1,200 a year for single users. But ISBA members receive it for free, Walters says.
That affordability has been key from the beginning, says John Phipps, a general practitioner and litigator in Champaign who chaired the ISBA special committee on electronic research when the association selected Fastcase as its legal research vendor in the mid-2000s.
"[We wanted] something that would help our members compete," he says. "We got the sponsorship from ISBA Mutual and made it a membership benefit. It was at a time when a lot of lawyers needed to have access to something like this but couldn't pay an arm and a leg for it. Electronic research had been around for a while, but it was really expensive."
Phipps appreciates the ability to look up statutes in other states, a feature that is part of ISBA's subscription package. "That met the needs of a lot more Illinois lawyers who needed Kentucky, Iowa, Indiana, or Wisconsin [references]" based on their location and practice area, he says. "Fastcase works wonderfully. It's gotten a lot easier to use and more intuitive. It's a package that we felt would serve virtually every member of the ISBA. A number of solo and small firms around here-the only research tool they use is Fastcase because it's so good."
What Fastcase 7 does for legal research, IllinoisBarDocs does for document drafting. It's a fully automated document-assembly system built around a library of Illinois-specific legal forms. Users answer a series of questions and, based on their answers, the system generates and delivers custom-drafted legal documents. IllinoisBarDocs is available on a subscription-only basis and costs members $199 per year (or $20 per month). Volume discounts for multi-attorney firms also are available.
The most recent addition to IllinoisBarDocs is a complete estate plan drafting system that produces both will- and trust-based estate plans. Also included are sets of family law, real estate, and Illinois Statutory Power of Attorney forms. A subscription to IllinoisBarDocs provides unlimited use of all these forms and includes free access to the IllnoisBarDocs support community on ISBA Central. To learn more about IllinoisBarDocs, visit www.isba.org/illinoisbardocs.
The ISBA's online member directory, called IllinoisLawyerFinder (https://www.illinoislawyerfinder.com), helps connect members with potential clients and is the only service of its kind in Illinois. The website enables consumers to find a lawyer by geographic location and area of practice. All ISBA members have a free profile in the directory, which they can flesh out with detailed information. To learn more about enhancing your free IllinoisLawyerFinder profile, please visit /directory.
ISBA's Member Marketplace (www.isba.org/membermarketplace) includes professional and personal discounts that are available to all ISBA members. Its "For Your Practice" section offers discounted rates on such resources as Affinity Consulting's services, the Clio Practice Management System, MyCase Practice Management Software, and about a dozen other legal services providers.
Financial service deals also are offered from ABA Retirement Funds, LawPay, SoFi Student Loan Refinancing, GEICO Auto Insurance, ISBA Mutual Insurance Company, and Mercer Health & Benefits. Travel, entertainment, and shopping discounts are available for ISBA-sponsored cruises on Go Next; hotels; parking garages; Brooks Brothers; Jos. A. Bank; the Smart Savings Shopping Mall; and Avis, Budget, Hertz and National car rental companies.
Dive right in
For members who have passed the bar 11 or more years ago and currently pay ISBA's highest membership rates, their benefits are still worth far more than what they pay in dues. For younger attorneys, membership is an even better bargain.
How much time have you spent getting every penny's worth of your ISBA membership? The benefits mentioned above are some of the newest available to you. But they're also the frosting on the cake. Visit www.isba.org, connect with your sections, and tap into all these benefits and so much more.
Ed Finkel is an Evanston-based freelance writer.