technology

How to Avoid Getting Stuck in a Technology Status Quo

Every law firm has been there or is still there—the point where attorneys and staff find themselves stuck in a status quo with outdated paper processes and older technology solutions. It’s often marked with phrases like, “That’s how we’ve always done it,” or, “There’s no need for change.” This attitude can arise from causes such as attorneys and staff who aren’t well-versed in technology, who dislike change or have no desire to learn new technology.

However, this status quo mindset can impair a law firm’s ability to achieve all it can with its technology. If technology cannot improve productivity or isn’t integrated, customized, or configured for optimal performance, the law firm risks losing billable hours to inefficiency.

Consider the steps involved when solutions aren’t used to their full potential. For each new client and matter, someone is required to manually input contact information into the case management and billing software—or any other solution that the law firm has implemented. Another inefficient example involves client correspondences that are manually populated with information cut and pasted between Word documents or a case information sheet. These processes accumulate large amounts of time that could be spent on billable tasks with more substantial results or impact.

That’s why law firms need to resist the status quo and periodically revisit technology to analyze drawbacks and the potential for increased productivity and profitability. A regular evaluation helps a law firm determine if it is truly using the technology to its fullest extent to benefit attorneys, staff and clients.

Identifying a status quo attitude

Here are situations that can identify the signs of status quo acceptance:

• Date of last technology implementation or update: If the law firm hasn’t made any significant changes in more than three years, it may be struggling to break out of its comfort zone.
• Resistance to new ideas: Picture a young associate brimming with ideas about how to improve technology and processes. If the law firm ignores the feedback, that could be another sign of being stuck in the status quo. This attitude can also emerge in discussions about user adoption. It’s a positive sign if attorneys and staff are interested in new ways of doing things. However, if new approaches lead to complaints, the law firm might need to reevaluate its attitudes.
• Unwillingness to invest in technology: In some law firms, conversations about bringing in updated technology or updating existing technology end before they can seriously begin. If the law firm’s leadership typically responds with “no” to expenses related to technology, the law firm may be suffering from the status quo mindset.
• Loss of business: Many clients are looking for law firms that can enable more efficiencies through technology, respond quickly and offer value-based pricing. Law firms with status quo mentalities may find themselves losing clients to more agile law firms because their systems are outdated and incompatible with what clients are using. Lawyers may not be able to respond as quickly or suffer lag time when delivering work product. Outdated systems may also have security vulnerabilities that leave the law firm or the client open to unauthorized access.

How to shake the status quo

If attorneys and staff see themselves in any of these categories, it’s probably time to review technology as a way to identify and break free of old attitudes. This starts with creating a list of technology the law firm is utilizing and the strengths and weaknesses of each. This will be a living list that is revised as necessary and over the long term will help identify productivity killers and enable prioritization.

The law firm next needs to set goals for what it plans to accomplish and assign key attorneys and staff members who power users to help with technology evaluations. This will help confirm that the law firm has done its due diligence. The law firm will need to clarify whether the evaluation is simply to identify new features and functionality for existing software to improve efficiency, or if the review will reveal where updated, state-of-the-art technology can be adopted.

Once the law firm has compiled a list of current technology and set expected outcomes for the evaluation process, there are several other things to consider when evaluating:

  • Is current technology up-to-date in terms of security?
  • Is the law firm using the most current version of software?
  • How many people are using which programs and hardware? Should more employees have access to them? Or fewer?
  • How many satisfied law firms/peers are using the technology solutions?
  • Does the current hardware meet the software requirements?
  • How much is the law firm paying for its technology, subscriptions, licenses, etc.?
  • Are critical processes such as billing and case management supported adequately? For example: Does it take too long to create an accurate bill in the format the client requests? Can lawyers quickly access necessary case information? Do they receive automated reminders of important dates?
  • Does the software offer the functionality needed to support a modern law firm? For example, is there an option to use solutions on mobile devices or from home offices?
  • Does the technology integrate with other solutions and are new integrations available for existing technology?
  • It can be valuable to create a short survey about technology in general for all staff in the law firm. This way, the law firm will uncover what pain points exist, what changes staff would like to see implemented and what key processes take too long and are inefficient.

Conducting and executing the technology evaluation

The amount of time the law firm spends executing their technology evaluation can depend on its tolerance level for inefficiency, the depth of overall law firm requirements and the level of sophistication required. The initial evaluation will take the longest since the law firm may be starting from scratch in compiling all the relevant information. Once the list has been created, it will be easier to maintain and update. At a minimum, the law firm should start with the checklist and build from there.

In order to successfully conduct the technology evaluation, the law firm should position itself for success. That involves taking several steps – including finding a champion or creating a committee of champions who are enthusiastic about technology.

The law firm should also create a regular schedule for the technology evaluation. Ideally, this should be done once a quarter in order to stay on top of technology needs and to control the number of “to do” items that arise from the evaluation. However, most law firms will resist a quarterly schedule, so the evaluation should be mandatory at least once a year. It should take place before the law firm’s annual budgeting process. This will allow the budget to accommodate any needed updates or new solutions. It also positions the law firm for a proactive stance on technology. Law firms aren’t waiting for something to fail but are identifying weaknesses before they can have a significant impact.

The law firm should set timelines for results related to the technology evaluation. For example, if the evaluation shows that the law firm would benefit from a time, billing and accounting solution with updated features, it needs to develop a plan for what is required. Over the years, patterns will emerge that will allow the law firm to identify results and anticipate issues.

Creating a technology evaluation represents the first step towards inspiring a culture open to technology change. However, other steps are needed to change the status quo. That includes getting attorneys and staff excited about new features and functionality of technology and sharing stories about how other law firms have benefited from the technology.

Another key point involves developing solid numbers to track activities born from the technology evaluation to illustrate success. That involves taking measurements, measuring again and continuing the measurement process.

When things work well enough, or have worked well enough in the past, it can be difficult to implement the necessary technology changes. However, law firms that are only willing to continue doing things the way they have always done them will find themselves growing more inefficient and losing business. By challenging the status quo through regular technology evaluations and creating a culture open to technology, law firms will benefit themselves and clients alike.

About Law Technology Today

Law Technology Today
Law Technology Today is the official legal technology blog from the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center (LTRC). Law Technology Today provides lawyers and other legal professionals with current, practical and innovative content developed by some of the leading voices on legal technology.

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  • What about the fact that the partnership model does not encourage partners to invest in technology? Because partners cannot own a piece of equity (like a common stock in a corporation), there’s no incentive to invest for the future at the cost of real $$$ today.

  • rickkabra

    These challenges would not go away unless technology is viewed as means to create competitive advantage and a core differentiator. Since so many law firms are content with maintaining status quo, those who do leverage technology generally gain major advantage over their competition.