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.