3 Tips for Implementing New Legal Technology in Your Firm
For successful implementation, the human element must meet the right tech. We’re not only talking about gigabytes or lines of code. It all starts with people. And that starts with you.
We’ve helped many law firms implement new technology because we make new technology. Every firm has its challenges. Whether your firm is big or small, a few things are universal. Some firms are easier than others. Here are three in-the-trenches steps (and some tips) you can take to help your law firm transition to tomorrow’s technology today.
Tip 1: Leadership
Technology makes life easier. The wheel. The light bulb. The microchip. If you think in terms of “implementation difficulty,” you’re limiting yourself. Don’t make something necessary seem harder than it needs to be, because the benefits far outweigh the effort.
New technology can be the difference between making more money and helping more clients versus watching your bottom line and client base shrink. Implementing new technologies strengthens firms – that’s not an overstatement. The advantages are numerous, from efficiency to security.
We’re talking about a change that will affect the whole firm, not swapping the coffeemaker. New legal technology is generally new to everyone unless you’ve hired someone who used it in another firm. Chances are, a significant number of people will embark on a journey on the good ship “New Technology.”
And you’re the captain of that ship. Here are some tips to help you started on the right foot.
Lead from the Front
Implementing new technology is first and foremost about leadership, starting before you spend a dime of the firm’s money. As a leader, it’s your job to implement solutions, which begins with analyzing your firm and what you can do to improve it.
Put Sacred Cows Out to Pasture
As the leader, it’s going to fall to you to eliminate legacy processes and technologies that are holding the firm back. These are the things the new technology is going to improve, but that people will cling to. It could be something as simple as “paper files” or “preferring faxes” or it might be the idea of having a certain file system. Whatever it is, know that it’s the obstacle to progress.
Talk to Your People
Yes, you need to be willing to change, but you also don’t want to force it on people. Change is scary, so it’s on you to set the attitude example. While taking the temperature of your people may be part of evaluating your firm, some people gloss over it. Don’t. You want people to buy in with you. You want them to want it. More on this below!
Perhaps the most challenging thing for a law firm leader is to keep progressing toward change. There will be countless chances to kick the can down the road and “get to it later.” That’s not leadership. That’s stalling. If a change is needed, delaying only makes things worse.
This isn’t to say you should rip the bandage off. It’s a plea for progress.
None of these tips are necessarily processes in themselves. It’s not a lot to do. Take what you need and make it yours. Every law firm is a bit different, so every path to implementation will be as well.
Tip 2: People
The everyday inertia of your firm is down to the people you have and the processes they use or create. And because process and technology are inextricably linked (and explained more below), the variable you need to address is your people.
Your staff are one of the keys to your success. If you talked to your people, as mentioned in the first tip, you should have an idea of how they feel. Now dive deeper. What are their pain points? Where are they losing time? What makes them want to go “Office Space” on the office printer? Kidding aside, the overarching question behind these questions is this:
How do you know what you need to implement if you don’t know what you need to change?
Implementing a new legal technology solution requires you to know what you’re changing and, more importantly, why that change is necessary. Without the why, no one has the motivation to move forward. This pillar is all about getting your people on board.
Focus on What People Actually Do
Whether your firm has no process in place or a detailed list of intricate processes everyone should be using, ignore all of it. You need to know what processes people are actually using to get work done. Not what they’re supposed to be doing. Not what happens in a perfect world. The truth.
We find that many firms don’t understand the problems and limitations their employees are working around. And an awful lot of them are tech-based.
Be Straight With Yourself
We’ve helped many law firms, and one thing we see is that self-awareness can sometimes be lacking. Don’t just trust your gut regarding what everyone is doing to get the work done. Put your current processes on paper if you haven’t already. Again, we mean the real ones people use, not the idealized list that they “should be using.” The goal of implementing new solutions is to make a real difference in the way people really work. If you’re comparing a new solution to some imaginary set of processes no one uses, you’re not getting anywhere.
Real Versus Ideal
Once you have an idea of what people actually do versus what you think they do or should do, you can honestly evaluate the bottlenecks, time sinks, and other impediments to efficiency in your firm. This knowledge makes it much easier to implement new technologies because you know what it’s solving. It also helps everyone buy in.
A Glitch Hunt, Not a Witch Hunt
It can set off alarm bells when you ask people how they’re working, especially if they’re using improvised processes. Take this opportunity to connect with your people and frame the conversation correctly. The solution will benefit them, and you want them to want it.
Remember, the people pillar is not looking for “people problems.” You’re looking for ways to make their lives easier and work more effective and fulfilling. It may help to start a discussion with something you work around or do differently (or even something you don’t do at all). Make it a working session, not an employee evaluation. Successful implementation depends on everyone wanting a better way of doing things.
Tip 3: Technology
So you now know your firm and your people, and you have a good idea where you’re having issues. Now you just need the tools to solve those problems. And maybe even some new tools that make everything work a bit better. So how do you choose the right legal technology solution?
It’s a rational decision, for the most part. Some want the best of the best. Some want the bare minimum. Truthfully, if you’ve done the homework, you want something that addresses and eliminates all the pain points, frustrations, bottlenecks, and limitations that are hobbling your firm.
If you ask the right questions, you’ll have a better chance of finding it. Here are some additional tips.
Talk to Those Providing the Solution and Ask the Questions That Matter
Technology is making massive strides. GrowPath is one of your options, and there are certainly more. Read about all of them. Compare them. If you’re implementing new legal technology across your firm, this is the most important job interview you will conduct for a while. You’re “hiring” a system that affects everything, and you want to get it right. Here are some questions you should consider asking, and by all means, add your own. You know what’s important to your firm.
Research, Research, Research
There are tons of legal tech options. Read all you can. Who made them? What for? Are they aimed at practices like yours? How much do they cost? What does the transition between your current state and their end state look like – and how long does it take?
Objectively, none of these questions are necessarily make-or-break. A solution may cost more, but provide far greater value for your money. Likewise, you may find a solution that simply doesn’t fit your needs based on its features, or that it does not offer the kind of support you know your firm will require.
Ride the Learning Curve
You’re bound to find that new legal technology offers features that you never knew existed. Are they going to make life easier? Your firm more efficient? Your staff more effective? Are you going to be able to get everything out of them and get your money’s worth?
Ease of use is important, but remember that this is a period of change. You’re not trying to hammer a new technology into your old process. You’re learning a newer, more efficient, better process and everyone is moving in the same direction at the same time – everyone is on the same learning curve.
Ask Not What You Can Do for Your Solution…
Ask what your solution can do for you. Automation, in other words. Depending on how the technology works, it may require less work to accomplish the same tasks. Sometimes, you see a very long features list and think, “This is complicated.” Dive deeper. How many of those features are automated? Do they eliminate busywork?
Know Your Limitations
Some solutions – not all – are going to require hardware to be up to spec. The bottom line is that all the tech features in the world aren’t worth a flip if this new technology doesn’t play nicely with your hardware.
Where Is Your Data?
This may sound like an odd question, but it’s valid. Is your new technology and your firm’s data stored locally? Or is it in the cloud? Or both? Who has access? How secure is it? A lot of firms want to keep their data in a file cabinet locked in a room, when it’s generally far safer tucked away in an encrypted server offsite in the cloud.
Building on the 3 Tips
So, when it’s all said and done, you’ve worked hard to locate a solution for your firm. This wouldn’t be much of a best-practices article if we just focused on the many things we believe GrowPath does well. We’ve got plenty of information on the subject if you want to know about them. What you should be doing is evaluating all your options.
Now that you’ve made a decision, the actual act of implementing a new technology begins. Will it be chaos or will it be orderly? Here are some bonus tips for when the rubber meets the road.
Do It Once, Do It Right
Our experience tells us that law firms want to get it over with. Implementation, therefore, is something to do once and do correctly. That means making preparations and ensuring all the necessary technology and stakeholders are present and engaged.
Phased In or Crammed In
Some of your implementation efforts will depend on the technology solution you choose. Some must be phased in. Others can be done rapidly, depending on your circumstances. Some can do a little of both. Getting your firm’s and clients’ data plugged in takes patience. Remember to keep everyone aimed forward.
Tech Support Is Crucial
No plan survives contact with the enemy, so the saying goes. Challenges and hiccups will happen along the way to implementing your new solution. Persevere, and make sure you’re getting the support you need to implement it. If the people providing the solution aren’t willing to help you get it up and running, where will they be down the road?
Get Ahead of the Curve and Future-Proof as Best You Can
When you’re evaluating your solution, look for signs that it can grow, evolve, and incorporate new technologies as they come available. (We would award bonus points for innovation, but that would be self-serving.) Ask about future advances and product developments. In other words, “Are you still developing this product, and will new features be available?”
Train the Right Way
As intuitive as many technological solutions are, getting the most out of them will likely require more than trial-and-error. Set aside time for your people to train on the new solution. Training is probably the most critical part of implementation in the trenches. Here, the needs you identified when evaluating your process should resolve. It’s not a hassle. It’s a relief!
Your Firm Can Work Smarter, Faster, and Better
We find that 99% of firms could work more cases, waste less time, and make more money. A technology solution isn’t a magic bullet, of course. All of the pieces have to come together. You need a leader who can facilitate a change. You need a staff who want to serve more clients and work more efficiently. And you need a solution that addresses problems, eliminates waste, and gives everyone the tools they need to succeed.