For most law firms, technology underpins their practice, it houses and retrieves documents, matters, financials, client information and much more. It may appear that the type of technology then is the point of difference between a very efficient practice and a firm which duplicates much of its peoples efforts on a daily basis.
The fact is that we work with a number of firms that own the same software systems, yet some gain exponentially more from their systems than others.
Few firms start by looking at what they are actually trying to achieve before looking at what they perceive to be the limitations of the software they have. In the vast majority of cases, the capabilities of any particular piece of software is wildly underutilised, not setup appropriately or has it’s most advantageous features diluted or ‘switched off’, in trying to make it ‘work like the old one’ it replaces.
Practical article from Peter Lynch
Peter Lynch wrote an article for the Queensland Law Society magazine Proctor in April of 2015, which re-enforces these views and explains in no uncertain terms how poor utilisation, bad habits and a lack of ‘systems’, ie human process, will not be solved by simply replacing or upgrading software alone.
We need a new practice system! Or do we?
Technology is one of those unnerving areas. It can unleash efficiencies, speed, and even new business models, but it can also drive you mad, achieve little and become a financial black hole.
Your firm’s practice management system is one part of that technology. Lots of lawyers hate their practice system. Common views are: the reporting is crap, it doesn’t organise matters properly, the workflows are too hard, it’s clunky, I just don’t trust any of the information, and the big one they promised me the world and delivered nothing….
Sometimes these views are true…. Mostly though, they aren’t. In my experience, problems emerge mainly because firms don’t have rules on the basics (matter opening & closing, mandatory fields, what bits we use and don’t use, cleaning out billed WIP, and so on); because their firms aren’t prepared to invest in the recommended training, ongoing support and system infrastructure; and because firms tolerate lawyers and legal assistants who are too lazy and/or ill-disciplined to use the system as instructed. Garbage in / garbage out.
The best firms I deal with tend not to have problems with their systems. And they tend not to need all kinds of special non-standard reports. They methodically discover what the standard system can do, and confidently work within that. Moreover, they ensure that everyone in the firm is firmly on the bus with the rules – and they don’t tolerate people who aren’t. There are no koala bears.
Modern systems are a bit like Microsoft Word– your average user only understands about 5% of its functionality but happily complains about its deficiencies. The vast majority of the time, your practice system will have the scope and flexibility to achieve what is needed.
Now – you may well want to do some technologically interesting things outside of your current set up – like delivering legal services online, or setting up a practice community and service hub, and of course going into the cloud. (Go to http://nextlegal.com.au/articles…. definitely worth a look)
Which is fine. But before any of that – have a close look at what you really need and why you don’t like your current system. Try to honestly separate out the system problems from the incompetent people problems. When people complain – say OK – give me concrete examples.
Think about it – there’s not much point in spending a bucket of money on a data cutover and new system just to replicate the same bad habits that characterise the system you use now.
The bottom line – if thinking of changing system – make sure you really know why, including a cost-benefit, and make sure that you are committed to make the necessary investment in rules, training, infrastructure and in zero tolerance of people who refuse to comply.
Author: Peter Lynch of dci lyncon
Published: Queensland Law Society – Proctor, April 2015
In the end, technology will come and go, software will change and so will your firm. The speed at which technology changes might be increasing, but if your focus remains set on what the technology can do for you and not the technology itself, your practice will be well positioned to respond to the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead.