GPSOLO June 2008
From Planning to Purchase
Implementing a successful technology project requires you to make three decisions. You have to decide exactly what you want to do and when, determine who will do the work, and decide where you will obtain the hardware and software.
Planning your project is the first step. Successful projects require advance planning and budgeting. Many technology projects fail because of improper planning and unrealistic expectations. You need to consider how much you will have to spend on the project and what you will have when you finish it. If you don’t budget enough to properly complete the project, you will likely cut corners and not end up with the intended result. For this reason, I often recommend that you over-budget a project by 10 percent or 15 percent in order to ensure that an unforeseen circumstance does not derail it.
Setting expectations involves determining a realistic time frame and result for your project. One critical aspect of setting expectations requires that you make sure you plan for firm downtime during the project. It is probably not a good idea to schedule the installation of your new firm network two days before an important trial. Another thing to consider is your staff. For example, a technology project often involves new software to be learned or requires changes in the way work gets done. Make sure your staff understands what is expected of them, and make sure that you have realistic expectations in this regard.
As a small firm or solo attorney, can you implement your technology project on your own? The answer to this question is “probably.” Should you do it on your own? In my opinion, the answer to this question is “probably not.”
Consider how you would advise your own clients. If a client asked you whether she can write her own will and trust, what would you say? Most likely you would tell her that legally she can do so. The real question she should ask, however, relates to whether she should do it, not whether she can do it. You would advise a client that the complexity of estate and tax law poses serious concerns and it changes quite often. Likely you would explain to her that an attorney has better qualifications to decipher this complex and ever-changing area of the law. You might even remind her of the old saying, “The only thing more expensive than hiring an expert is not hiring one.”
Would your client have the ability to draft the best document possible? Probably not. Similarly, would you have the ability to do the best and most efficient job installing and configuring software, attempting to troubleshoot computer issues, and trying to set up a new server? Or should you devote your time to practicing law? In my opinion, both you and your client will do best with the services of an expert.
Once you have answered this question, you must consider exactly which expert to hire. Once again, would you advise a client to hire the attorney who handled her personal injury claim to write her will? You want to make sure you choose the right expert for the job. This is particularly true in the field of legal technology. Regardless of your location, you should be able to find any number of qualified technology consultants capable of installing small office networks. However, the number of consultants with the knowledge and experience necessary to properly implement a case management system, document management system, or legal billing system is much smaller. In the technology field, there are generalists and there are specialists. To ensure success, hire the right specialist for the job.
Now that you know what you want to do and who will help you do it, you need to obtain the hardware and software for your project. Personally, I cannot remember the last time I walked into a store to purchased hardware and software.
I generally purchase hardware and software online for two reasons: flexibility and price. Online hardware vendors such as Dell provide more flexibility when it comes to customizing a system. You can select the system you want, along with specific upgrades and software. Purchasing from the local big-box store means you choose among a limited selection of preconfigured systems that they have in stock. Online vendors tend to charge less for software, especially when bundled with your new hardware. Even purchased separately, you can usually find software online at a better price than in a brick-and-mortar store. However, a word of caution is in order here: Make sure you buy your software from a reputable source. You are far more likely to be sold illegal or improperly licensed software online than in a brick-and-mortar store. This is especially true of software purchased from auction sites.
The decisions you make at the beginning of your technology project will ultimately determine its success or failure. Proper planning, expert assistance, and smart purchasing decisions will go a long way toward making your technology project a success.
Jeffrey S. Krause is an attorney from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and is a technology consultant with Krause Practice Management, LLC. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Krause Practice Management website at www.krausepm.com. Recently he began writing a blog, which can be found at http://blog.krausepm.com.