Your law firm has added new clients, work, and staff members. In short, it’s growing. Congratulations! Now, don’t let IT stunt your firm’s progress.
Struggling with challenges like onboarding new users, enhancing functionality, or supporting outdated solutions can pillage the bandwidth needed to sustain and encourage your firm’s expansion. Imagine working toward a deadline and having your computer crash?
Or you can’t locate a document? Or you accidentally download a virus that renders your files useless? Would you like to handle your client’s pressing legal matters or spend hours wrestling with your computer?
Your firm can overcome this predicament.
I recommend a three-step approach that lets technology keep pace with your firm’s needs. It includes an assessment process, enacting a plan, and continuously revisiting and refreshing the technology vision for the firm. These steps will ensure that technology grows with your firm, not against it.
Step 1: Assessment and Planning
You can’t run a marathon without a starting line. It’s important to know where your firm stands in terms of technology. Create a list of technologies your firm regularly uses, including software, hardware, and cloud services, and assess the costs they incur. Ask if all of the technologies actually support your firm and how they are evolving. Will they scale with you? Are their providers offering consistent updates?
No technology assessment is complete without evaluating security. As compliance and security requirements increase, look at your IT infrastructure and software to see if they offer safeguards such as multifactor authentication and encryption.
Finally, determine what types of structure will best support your firm. Does it make sense to keep IT on-site and continue with extraneous costs for hardware, maintenance and IT consultant support? Or should you explore alternatives like the cloud? By hosting your firm’s applications in the cloud, you can decrease maintenance costs and add consistency and predictability to the budget process.
Not to mention the cloud offers most firms greater security than what they could implement themselves.
Step 2: Spotting Gaps and Putting an IT Plan in Motion
Spotting the gaps starts with identifying the top opportunities the firm has to improve business functions. This should focus on areas where the firm faces the most challenges such as struggles with filing, storing or retrieving electronic documents, complicated invoicing cycles, or complications with the onboarding of new hires.
You should next consider how attorneys and staff assess the technology. They are the ones that work with it every day. Ask them questions such as “Does this solution let you do what you need to do?” and “What’s on your technology wish list?”
Explore how your firm can address these top “pain points.” The options usually boil down to finding and implementing a new solution or tweaking an existing solution. This step yields the best results with trusted IT advisors. These can be in-house experts, outside consultants or cloud-based technology companies. They should be able to explore each area, processes, and options.
When choosing experts, consider:
- How much experience do they have with law firms?
- Do they have legal-specific consultants who can help you apply real-world experience to workflows, automation and other areas?
- If you are working with cloud-based providers, what type of infrastructure will they use to support your business? Where is data stored? Does the provider have any single points of failure? Is the provider legal-specific?
Establishing a budget and encouraging support for IT are crucial. An IT budget should cover hardware, software, services, and training. On a general level, budgeting costs include $500-$1,000 a year per user for support, $500-$1,000 a year per user for business-specific applications (time, billing, case/practice management, etc.), and $1,000 a year per user for infrastructure hardware and software such as PCs or Macs.
Step 3: Create a Sustainable Technology Vision
IT vision relies on measurement, employee considerations, and avoiding complacency.
Once the firm has started its long-term IT plan, you should define its performance through metrics. The reporting aspect should involve tracking time, then mining that data so it reveals important information that can affect your technology plan. These will help you gauge current performance and future areas of improvement to target.
Other reports to consider include tracking timekeeper and trust account activities, and reports on productivity, profitability and disbursement analysis.
One area you can’t afford to overlook during this process is training. Training for attorneys and staff should have a multi-phased approach that is continual, versatile, and constantly reinforcing benefits. Also, you don’t want to spend thousands on new technology but overlook the importance of onboarding, off-boarding and training employees. When hiring new employees, many firms adopt a strategy that basically boils down to: “Here’s your desk. Start working.” This leads to frustrated employees who don’t know how to use technology or the procedures and policies around its use. And, as stated above, remember to listen to staff and attorneys. They are the users accessing your firm’s technology every day and will provide the best feedback about its performance.
Finally, avoid the “break-fix” mode that comes with complacency. This is a highly reactive state that includes no continual assessment of technology effectiveness or its ability to support the firm into the future. The firm simply fixes problems as they occur.
Technology is constantly advancing. A firm must ensure that its technology is competitive and enables an edge or at least a level playing field with competitors.
In today’s competitive environment, many law firms are focused on growing. Those who succeed at growing are in an enviable position. But growth can bring its own challenges. By understanding your firm’s IT needs now and into the future, you can prepare your firm to manage growth and continue to thrive.