Industry News Legal Management Updates

Your Vital Role in Implementing a Software Change

The working world experienced unprecedented challenges last year. Law firms in particular had to adapt to working remotely with cloud-based software and implement new technology on the fly. Many firms, hit with demands that tested their people and exposed shortcomings in their systems, budgeted for upgrades to their office management software.

Aline Martin-O’Brien

With the first quarter nearly in the books, law firms are launching those software upgrade projects. Here is an overview of what to expect during the process and some ideas for enhancing your contribution as a law firm management professional.

The project will impact the entire firm for years to come, and, like it or not, you will be at the center of the action. Take time every day to consider ways to enhance your contribution:

  • Talk tech. Include technology assessments and the “tech angle” whenever possible in your communications. Continuously discuss the effectiveness of the firm’s technology, and budget for necessary upgrades and training.
  • Set goals. This is actually the No. 1 reason software installations fail. Identify why you’re changing software. Pay attention to the input of administrative employees and to paralegals, who may be losing time doing repetitive clerical tasks. Set some concrete goals, including:
  • Automate repetitive processes.
  • Bill more time/more regularly.
  • Track firm productivity.
  • Make informed decisions based on key performance indicators.
  • Communicate the strategy. Put the goals and key elements of the plan into a short strategy statement — and communicate it.
  • Get help. You’ve heard the adage about the lawyer representing herself having a fool for a client. The same applies here — you are the client and should have professional advice. Whether you engage a consultant or work with a vendor directly, be sure your experts understand the specific needs of your firm.


Even though your firm might be committed at the top, it’s no secret that humans resist change — something you may experience even after project kickoff. This human tendency can seriously threaten the success of a software change, even one with high-level support. Here are some of the causes of resistance and suggestions to address them:

  • Comfort. Many law firms stick with old ways because routines are comfortable and things are not entirely broken. Document the time staff is wasting, along with facts about the improved financial performance associated with switching to a software offering contemporaneous time tracking and automated billing.
  • Fear. Modern law firms depend on their technology tools, and lawyers fear that if something goes wrong it will ruin a reputation or worse. A knowledgeable administrator can explain and illustrate how every piece of software experiences an issue that needs to be worked out, and that the firm is prepared for the glitches.
  • No strategy. A lack of strategy or effective communication of the strategy signals that the change is not important and need not be taken seriously. Continuously communicate the goals and the agreed-upon strategy!
  • Ignorance of available resources. Making the switch to a new software requires strong training and technical support. This support is supplied by the software vendor, either included with the software purchase or via a separate agreement. The firm administrator is an important stakeholder here and should be knowledgeable about and able to communicate the training and support plan.
  • They “tried something before and it didn’t work.” Put doubting partners and department heads in touch with peers at firms who have successfully implemented similar software.
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The entire project will include some or all of the following tasks:

  • Confirm and refine the strategy. Revisit the project goals throughout the process to stay on track and control project creep.
  • Assign roles and responsibilities. Everyone in the firm has a part in the transition to a new software system. Be sure each knows their role, the expectations and the timeline.
  • Assess current technology. Make a list of all the software and hardware in use. Will the current hardware handle the new software and expected upgrades?
  • Inventory digital files. Identify what files exist and where they are located, and determine if they should be discarded or transitioned. Make sure the data you are bringing into the new system is accurate and current. 
  • Use a digital archival system to store files. Determine if digital files should be stored on a hard drive or in the cloud, based on long-term costs, security, accessibility and the scalability of any proposed solution.
  • Back up digital data. Before you make your technology transition, you should export all data that will be impacted by the change to secure servers or a cloud-based service. 
  • Find out what’s compatible. If you’ve exported data to a software provider, check with that vendor to find out which files can be imported and merged with the new system.
  • Manage hard-copy systems. Inventory hard copies of paper and digital files and create an archival system. Analyze whether storing hard copies is a feasible solution long term.
  • Hire specialists. Only very large and very small firms seem to be able to implement a new firmwide software system without some level of temporary help. Your vendor will be able to help scope the needed additional staff.