Like with the Biblical story of the man who can’t spot the rod in his own eye, lawyers have not traditionally been superlative about finding the deficiencies in their own technology programs. Attorneys just aren’t focused on that; they’re instead trained almost entirely on performing at a high level with respect to the work they already have, as well as occasionally bringing in new work of the same type.
Law firm priorities generally dictate that technology revision is the lowest rung on the totem pole. But, even if the lawyers aren’t paying attention to the failings of their own tech, their staff people notice, and feel the brunt of old or ineffective technology every working day. So, this one’s for the law firm staff — who help law firms make money in myriad ways. If you’ve ever wanted your law firm to make changes to the technology it uses, this is your guide to starting the conversation, and moving it forward.
You can be the driver of positive technology change in your office — you just need to get the lawyers on board.
Technology changes start at home. What I mean when I say that is that you, as the erstwhile law firm support staff-person who wants said law firm to change its technology for the better, need to understand the technology you’re critiquing inside and out. An attorney’s training is literally to pick out the weakest links of any argument, blow them up and humiliate you for using them. This is not a trifle. So, your claim that the technology your law firm uses is bad, even before you get to the ‘pitch’ stage, needs to be unassailable. In other words, do your homework. Here’s how:
Become Your Law Firm’s Technology All-Star
Understand all the technology your law firm uses, inside and out. Be the person others go to when they need help understanding how to use software. Build that trust, but also build your case. If something doesn’t work the way it should, don’t grouse about it, figure out a workaround, and determine how many more steps it takes.
When you ultimately make your case to a managing partner or attorney decisionmaker, it’s a much stronger case if you can say: it takes me 17 steps to do this; but, there’s a software out there where, if we used it instead, it would only require two steps. Then, do that again, for another process, as often as you can. After a while, the efficiency benefits will become obvious.
Find the Soft Spots
Of course, it may be that there is functionality you need that just doesn’t exist within your current software landscape. Maybe you don’t have the ability to utilize eSignatures, or electronic payment processing, or a relational database, like case management software. Lack of a system is an argument to add one, as is lack of functionality. Maybe you already have a software in place, that covers 80% of what you need, but not the additional 20% — so, how do you acquire that set of features. If there is more that you need to do, but that requires more technology to do it, begin to understand how to make that argument.
Build a Holistic Understanding of Your Law Firm’s Technology Needs
By diving into your existing technology stack in a systematic way, you’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t. You’ll begin to understand what works, but not as well as it should, and what’s missing from what you need. Then, it’s a matter of putting it all together. The upshot of all your work is likely to be a formal proposal — more on that later in this series — so, you need to understand how you get from A to B.
What will you retain? What new software do you need? What new features of software do you need? And, can those new features be obtained by integrating with another software product, rather than purchasing a new one out of whole cloth. When you know what to keep, what to throw away and what to buy, on an intimate level, you have the makings of an argument that will convince others that you’re right.
No Man (or Woman) Is An Island
Of course, you don’t want to be the one person complaining about the technology in your law firm. You definitely want to make this is a ‘it’s not me, it’s you’ situation; pull a reverse Costanza. That means that you have to find out whether your colleagues will back you, including, potentially, attorneys who are not decisionmakers. If no one else notices (or worse, doesn’t care) about the technology issues you see, that’s a problem for you. You can’t make these sorts of moves unless you have support; so, you’ll have to find an already supportive crowd, or build momentum, by convincing them of your position.
The Bottom Line
Despite potential claims to the contrary, law firms are still focused on making money. Legal is a bottom-line business; and, your case for technology change should accurately reflect that. So, you need to figure out the level to which the poor tech in your law firm denigrates the bottom line. How does it add overhead, or cut into revenue?
Even if you don’t have an obvious KPI (key performance indicator), find a formula that works for your argument. For example, if your law firm bills you out at $150 per hour, and you have to manage a horrendous software workaround 6 hours each week that you can’t bill for, that represents a lost opportunity for you to bill $900 more. That will catch your bosses’ attention, for sure.
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This is Part 1 of a three-part series. In Part 2, we’ll discuss how you can begin to sow the seeds of change with law firm decision-makers.
About the author
Jared D. Correia, Esq. is the CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting, which offers subscription-based law firm business management consulting and technology services for solo and small law firms. Red Cave also works with legal institutions and legal-facing corporations to develop programming and content. A former practicing attorney, Jared has been advising lawyers and law firms for over a decade. He is a regular presenter at local, regional and national events, including ABA TECHSHOW. He regularly contributes to legal publications, including his column, ‘Managing,’ for Attorney at Work, and his ‘Law Practice Confidential’ advice column for Lawyerist. Jared is the author of the American Bar Association publication ‘Twitter in One Hour for Lawyers’. He is the host of the Legal Toolkit podcast on Legal Talk Network. Jared also teaches for Concord Law School, Suffolk University Law School and Solo Practice University. He loves James Taylor, but respects Ron Swanson; and, he tries to sneak Rolos when no one is looking.