As you probably know, technology expenditures can represent a significant challenge to being a good steward of firm finances. Technology can boost efficiency and provide a lucrative return on your investment; or it can be a money-pit and leave you with a frustrated staff and unmet goals. Before making an investment in new technology, make sure you know what you already own – on two levels. First, inventory all of the firm’s existing technology. Second, be sure you have obtained the training necessary to master and take full potential of this technology. Firms often go looking for a new “technology answer” to a problem or goal without realizing that they already own the tools they need to solve the problem.
1. TAKE STOCK OF WHAT YOU OWN. Create a spreadsheet and track the following information about every piece of hardware and software in your office. By using a spreadsheet, you have the ability to analyze the data from different perspectives (pivot tables are outstanding for this purpose). For example, you may want to sort the spreadsheet by technology age, so you can develop a replacement plan. Or, you may want to sort and filter by version, so you can see how many different versions of a piece of software you have running in your office. The inventory should include the following:
i. Serial number, make & model
ii. Laptop or desktop
iv. Amount of RAM
v. Size of hard drive
vi. Date they were put into service
vii. Number of monitors, and the size, serial number, make & model of each
viii. Version of operating system
ix. Main software applications loaded on it (i.e., version of MS Office or Corel WP)
x. User login credentials and user name
B. Printers/Copiers/Scanners: Brand, model, serial number, date of purchase and if they’re personal to someone, whose desk they’re on.
i. Serial number, make & model
iii. Amount of RAM
iv. Size of hard drive
v. Date they were put into service
vi. Size of monitor if there is one and the serial number, make & model
vii. Network operating system and version
viii. What applications are running on each server/what they’re used for
ix. Admin login credentials
D. Network Equipment: You want the models, manufacturer and serial number for each device.
iii. Spam appliance (if applicable)
i. Name of application, version & manufacturer and how many licenses of each (i.e., Microsoft Office Small Business Edition 2007, 6 licenses)
ii. Whose computer each license is installed on
2. KNOW WHAT YOU SHOULD OWN. You have your inventory, but does it meet your firm’s needs? It is extremely common for firms to own software and hardware which is unused or underutilized. On the other hand, your firm might have a serious need for new software that could streamline workflows, improve staff efficiencies, and boost firm profitability. It is important to know whether the technologies you own, and the work your staff is required to do, match up. The only way to do this is to interview and observe your staff. We are often asked, “What technology do I need?” That question simply cannot be answered without a thorough workflow analysis. As a firm, you must identify your goals, the challenges to achieving them, and whether technology can help achieve the former or overcome the latter.
A. Issue Identification: Your main objective is to identify issues (main ones and sub points) and prioritize them. After each issue, you want to pull together potential solutions; there may be several optional ones for each issue you identify. Make sure that you also start compiling costs for each of those potential solutions and begin drafting a budget.
B. Issues To Address: Below is a list of issues to consider. You will probably find this to be the most difficult portion of the process to complete although it is the most important one. There’s no way to sugar-coat the fact that it’s extremely time-consuming to organize so much information. In each of the following areas, consider how each of the following steps is currently being managed. If it is not currently being managed, indicate if it represents a future technology goal.
i. Case Management:
a. Electronic and paper file management
c. Task management
d. Document assembly
e. Document management
g. Remote access to case information (documents & data)
h. Phone call/message management related to cases/matters
i. Email management related to cases/matters
ii. Document & Email Management:
a. If a document management system (“DMS”) is in place or contemplated:
(1) Migration from existing DMS
(2) Importing legacy documents
(3) Remote access options
b. If no document management system:
(1) Search utilities
(2) Folder consolidation
(3) File naming conventions
d. Spam management/avoidance
iii. Paper Management, Scanning & Paper Reduction:
a. Scanning for archival
b. Scanning in order to edit the scanned document in a word processor
c. Acrobat, PDFs & Acrobat training
d. Desktop scanners in lieu of or in addition to copiers
e. Scanning closed files
f. Scanner setup, configuration & training
g. Document retention policy
a. Software in use
b. Billing process (including pre-bills)
c. Trust accounting
d. Bank reconciliation
e. General Ledger
g. Accounting/case management integration
h. AP & AR
j. Time keeping – who enters time for the lawyers
k. Cost recovery – copies, postage, phone calls
m. Accepting credit cards
n. Remote deposit capture
v. Software Training: Most software is underutilized. The only question is by how much is it underutilized. Part of the information gathering should include what functionality is being used within any particular program and what of it is not being used.
a. Word or WordPerfect
f. Legal specific applications in use
vi. Voice Recognition:
a. Drafting documents directly with speech
b. Automatic dictation transcription
c. Transcription routing systems
d. Digital voice recorders
vii. Word Processing:
a. Migrating from old version of Word to new version
b. Migrating from WP to Word
c. Building clause libraries/QuickParts/AutoText
d. Creating “gold standard” templates with firm’s “best of” language
e. Sharing, managing and automating templates
f. Metadata issues
g. Converting hard copy to editable Word documents (OCR)
h. Tools for trading documents (internal and 3rd party) and protecting oneself
i. Creating and deploying standard configurations for all users
j. Fixing word processor defaults
k. Document automation and HotDocs
l. Word processor training
m. Forms banks
viii. Personnel Issues:
a. Existing problems
b. New employee training
c. Office “cookbook” (procedural manual)
ix. Remote Connectivity:
a. Multiple offices and the issues inherent with that
b. Sharing & remote access to case management & accounting information
c. Document sharing/access
d. VPN/terminal services/remote control/Citrix/hosted solutions
3. HOW TO GET THERE: Once you have identified your problem areas and your goals based on the above, it is time to start educating yourself as to the available technology options.
A. What You Can Do:
i. Become the Tech Advocate for Your Firm: Many firms have been coaxed into upgrading their technology by persistent, tech savvy members of the team. It definitely can be done and it happens regularly.
ii. Educate: It’s up to that person to educate the partners who don’t understand what they’re missing on the technology front. Break it down into small pieces. Ask for an opportunity to demonstrate potential new technology for the firm to consider at staff meetings. Be selective and demonstrate how the technology will address an issue or fix a problem. If you’re overzealous, you’ll lose credibility because the partners will think you just want to buy every gadget and gizmo regardless of what it is. If it is a technology you’re not totally familiar with, have a consultant come in and provide the demonstration.
iii. Be A Skilled User: It doesn’t matter what the technology can do, the only thing that matters is what you can do with the technology. Set a good example, master what you’ve already got and demonstrate what is possible.
iv. Never Accept “that’s the way we’ve always done it”: We still hear this as the most common justification for policies, procedures and protocols that make no logical sense. Propose solutions, do the research before you bring it up and always stay focused on ways to gain efficiency and better serve clients. It’s difficult to argue with anything that serves those objectives.
v. Conduct research:
a. Take advantage of the various resources made available on the Association of Legal Administrators website, through ALA business partners, specifically the ALA Marketplace and ‘Value in Partnership’ program.
b. Increase your technology ‘I.Q.’ by reading popular legal technology publications, blogs and websites including ALA’s Legal Management, ALM’s law.com, the ABA Law Practice Management Section’s Law Practice Today e-zine, the International Legal Technology Association’s Peer to Peer magazine, the 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, the Legal IT Professionals website, among many others.
c. Check out Technolawyer, a free newsletter resource for legal professionals providing access to legal product reviews, practice management tips, and technology case studies
d. Talk to your colleagues in other firms and find out what they’re using from a tech perspective.
e. Demand vendor responsiveness. Choose vendors who will provide you with quality demonstrations, including interactive demonstrations where you and your staff can ask questions. If you vendor does not ask you questions about your firm workflow, network, and staff, he or she is not doing a thorough enough analysis of your environment to make a recommendation for you.
4. CONCLUSION: Knowing what you own can put you in a position of power. From a financial perspective, it just makes sense to maximize the potential of technology you already have – you own it, now use it. Spending more money on more hardware and software isn’t always the answer. Sometimes, the answer is training on what you already own. Training is an integral part of making sure that we get a return on your technology investment.
If you follow the steps in this article, you will be on your way to taking control of your technology. Consider when you last had formal training on each of the programs you identify, and make a list of people who have joined the firm since the training. New hires often get overlooked when it comes to training. They learn only a small percentage of what they need, and unfortunately inherit the bad habits of the existing employees.
Find the right training option for your firm. Whether you hire a consultant for on-site training, schedule remote training via web meetings, or send people off site for training, there are many options to meet your scheduling and budget needs.
Once you determine the training your staff will receive, set a good example, enforce the training requirement, and hold people accountable. Nobody should be exempt from training. Further, the decision to provide valuable training needs to be communicated to the staff with clear direction, making sure your staff knows that it isn’t optional, and that management finds it so important that they are participating as well.
Consider including participation in training, attitude towards technology, and dedication to becoming more proficient and as elements of your staff reviews. Too often, we let long term employees with negative attitudes towards training, technology, and change, call the shots. Don’t let this happen. Know what you own. Remember, technology is supposed to make things easier, not harder.
Debbie Foster is the managing partner of Affinity’s Tampa Bay office. She founded InTouch Legal (now Affinity Consulting Group SE) in 1998, seeing a need for a consulting company that focused specifically on lawyers and their technology needs. Since then, Debbie has expanded the services offered by her Tampa based office and has helped hundreds of law firms implement technology, finance, marketing and management solutions.
Debbie has been working with law firms since 1995, personally helping implement solutions ranging from practice management, time/billing/accounting, document management and general law office management issues. In addition to working with law firms throughout the U.S., Caribbean and Canada, she has also trained hundreds of consultants around the country on software programs used in law firms and best practices when consulting on a law firm’s specific technology needs.
Debbie is very active in the Law Practice Management Section of the American Bar Association, and served as the Chair of ABA TECHSHOW in 2010. Debbie is also very active in Local and State Bar Associations, and she regularly speaks on topics relating to technology, management, finance and marketing of a law firm.