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Technology is a given

 

This is the second of two articles on this topic.  The first, “Obstacles to Technology Adoption for Small Firms”, appeared on this site last month. In my previous article I listed four reasons why technology is so difficult to successfully implement.  I’d like to look at each of those factors and suggest an approach to overcome, or to at least, minimize them.

1. Obstacle: Competition for Limited Attention
If it’s important, you’ll need to pay attention eventually. Like your car, your refrigerator or your mattress, your current technology tools will eventually need maintenance, repair or replacement. If you never attend to the health status of those things, they can fail at the worst possible time. The key question is: do you want to have some control over when things are serviced or replaced or do you want to leave it all to chance?  In either case, you’ll pay attention at some point.

2. Obstacle: Fear of Risk
Blindly trying to avoid risk can expose you to even greater risk, so try to understand what it is you fear and what it is you should fear. You can minimize your technology risk by understanding it and documenting it. If all your technology tools failed today, what would your greatest business problem be? Lack of access to research? No online meeting and collaboration capabilities? Inability to produce documents? No access to email or phone communications?  Make a list of your top 4 or 5 in priority order and use that as a “core activity cluster” that needs to be most protected when it’s time to do maintenance, an upgrade or a system replacement.

The first step in this understanding is to create a framework for how you think about technology.  It is only a tool for getting your work done. What are the benefits and why are they important?

3. Obstacle: Lack of Technology Product Understanding
So how do you get the technology product understanding you need as a buyer? Learn it and rent it. You should learn the basics and rent the more specialized expertise. Most people need a combination of self-help and outside help in order to make informed technology decisions. Ideally, you want to make your decision based on a “demo” of how your system would be set up with the functions and operations that you identified to the vendor as most important.

Regarding self-help, look at the system you have now and how it serves you. Speaking to the sales person should help you understand the benefits of doing an upgrade or replacement with your current provider. Contacting technology committees or special interest groups that focus on small practices through your Bar Association should provide objective information on what’s available for your practice size and what works best.

Get information and recommendations from colleagues. Try to be systematic - take notes and develop a grid of competing systems and the criteria on which you’re evaluating them: price, service, functions, ease of use, etc.  Large companies have structured methodologies for doing this. Do a search of “legal technology buying guides” to find some samples and use one of their system selection grids to lay out your options. Go to the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center, especially the “Tech Overviews and Charts” page. 

Consider hiring outside help as this process can easily become overwhelming or keep you from doing the real work of running your practice. You will likely keep your office technology for 4 or 5 years so making a wise decision can have a big impact on your practice and your profits. Investing about $1000 ($150 - $250 per hour) to hire someone to help you with this search can save you valuable time and result in a better decision. Find someone who works in the legal technology area who is “system agnostic,” with no financial ties to any vendor or system. How well they communicate with you is key as this person needs to be a translator between you and the technology world.

4. Obstacle: Lack of Technology Process Understanding / Lack of Available Resources
Once you make a buying decision, your upgrade or new system needs to be properly implemented. The implementation phase of an I.T. project is where the greatest risk resides. As part of the purchase price, your vendor should shepherd you through this and ensure that it is well coordinated and executed.

There is a standard set of steps that I.T. professionals follow in a way that maintains order and minimizes risk. There should be a detailed and well documented description of all the services to be provided, including installation, configuration, data migration, testing, training and system support arrangements.

Ask for an SLA (service level agreement) that describes how quickly technical support problems will be addressed depending on how severe and disruptive they are. Spend a lot of time getting details of how this will be managed before you buy anything. Ask how the transition to the new system will work and how they will assist your overworked staff in coordinating this while your practice continues functioning. Ask for the list of tasks that you, as the client, will be responsible for. Having a single point person from your staff to coordinate is highly recommended.

This person need not have a lot of technical knowledge but does need to be a good communicator, well organized, a good problem solver and someone stays calm under pressure.  The quality of the services you receive at this point is arguably more important than which system you buy.  How well it is all managed and thought out by your vendor will go a long way in determining how quickly you can regain control of your systems and practice and start to reap the benefits of your new purchase.

While choosing, buying and implementing new technology is neither simple nor easy, there is no reason that you can’t do it well, and doing it well will be worth it.  Think about what 10% more efficiency will do for you over the course of a year.  Realistically, this whole process can easily take from six months to a year to complete.  Be patient and methodical, lay out all the steps and take them one at a time.  Remember that It’s not as much work as getting through law school nor as difficult as passing the bar.

Mark Lenetsky is a technology and organizational consultant who provides eDiscovery and technology services to boutique law practices and other small organizations.  He welcomes questions and comments at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or through his web site, www.adaptable-tech.com.

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Last modified on Sunday, 19 May 2013
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