WITH CONSTANT PRESSURE to be “on top” of everything that you are doing, sometimes it is difficult to know if you are spending time doing the right things and if you are being sufficiently efficient. As long as lawyers bill by the hour, spending time wisely is critical for getting their work done and doing it well.
Despite time constraints, you must take a few steps back and invest some time to determine how well you are doing what you are doing. And in our do-it-yourself culture, it can also be wise to invest in an assessment of whether you should continue to do it all on your own or seek out assistance. So often technology operates in the background of what we are doing—until something goes wrong. Then it takes center stage. But if you make it a priority to conduct an audit of your technology annually, that technology will likely run more efficiently and serve as consistent support rather than leaping to the fore when a problem suddenly intervenes.
Start by determining how much you take pleasure in working with technology and identify the areas where you feel proficient in it—and those where you don’t. Many law offices have attorneys who love technology almost as much as (or sometimes more than) practicing law. If you are one of them, you can stop reading this column and get on with your day. But if you are someone who has a limited ability to understand technology or don’t enjoy thinking about it at all, carefully consider how much time you want to personally devote to the process of an annual technology review or whether you should delegate that to a colleague who is more enthusiastic and skilled. And there’s always the option of hiring a professional.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PLANNING
Unfortunately, professionals rarely can spend the time to adequately plan for the long term in their workplaces. One useful tool that helps you assess where you are spending your time has been attributed both to Dwight Eisenhower and Stephen Covey. This so-called Eisenhower Principle is said to be how Eisenhower parsed and organized his tasks: What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important. Covey brought this idea into the mainstream, labeling it the Urgent/Important Matrix in his 1989 bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The matrix—with urgency on one axis and importance on the other—is likely to show that you spend insufficient time in the “important but not urgent” section. Yet this is where planning occurs, and while it applies to assessing your technology, it likely also applies to a whole range of other planning functions that demand time up front, for preparation purposes and for focusing your activities later. The most important aspect of your technology audit is taking the time to make it happen.
As mentioned above, if you don’t enjoy researching the latest innovations or the best new software, delegate these tasks to someone who does, either in-house or external. But this does not mean that you can delegate all of the process. You must make sure that the people handling the research and implementation of the technology understand (1) what your desired outcomes are, (2) what your budget is and (3) the skills and interest levels of those people for whom the researcher(s) will be assessing, making recommendations and purchasing. No piece of hardware or software is a time-saver if you aren’t willing to invest the up-front time needed to learn how to use it. Understand that it is critical to look at technology as more than a series of separate components. This is a good time to create a technology plan.
INVESTMENTS AND SAVINGS
Once you have decided upon a budget, you need to be realistic about the savings you anticipate getting from your new investments. For instance, while the up-front costs of practice management software may seem significant, you need to factor in the cost savings in terms of time and resources saved. Before purchasing any piece of software or hardware, you should take the time to talk with other users to determine if they are realizing the outcomes they had expected when they made their investment. Doing so will clarify what you might save and what you must budget.
You will need to consider a number of areas for assessment. Ask yourself the following questions and you will go a long way to determining your needs and your solutions.
- Do I have a technology plan, or has my technology simply evolved over time as I either identified certain needs or I wanted to add new components?
- Is my security up to date? This would include everything that relates to client files and records, email and computer security.
- Am I adequately backed up? Are my computers backed up on-site, and remotely and in the cloud? Am I clear about what “retrieval” means when it comes to restoring files if I were to have a problem with my system? Do I know how long it would take for my off-site or cloud computing providers to restore my data?
- Does my backup comply with all of the security necessary to ensure client privacy?
- Does my technology communicate well across platforms? Could I consolidate my use for greater efficiency? This might include how I could more efficiently use my desktop, smartphone, laptop and tablet. Does my technology operate effectively for the way in which I work in my office, at home and on the road?
- Have I assessed my passwords and their efficacy? If I were incapacitated in any way, would my data be accessible to someone else who would need that access to continue my practice and pay my bills?
- Is the legal research software I am using sufficient to my needs?
- Am I hampered by “work-arounds” that could be fixed? These might be caused by systems that don’t work with each other or outdated hardware. Vow to work on items that can be fixed or unified for both greater ease and efficiency.
Even if you put systems in place and work in the space of “important but not urgent,” you are still likely to encounter some technology problems. But if you have invested time and careful consideration in your own solutions, you will have a better idea of how to manage in the breach. That’s what planning is for.