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Technology Property provides information on current technology and microcomputer software of interest in the real property area. The editors of Probate & Property welcome information and suggestions from readers.
Technofears and Modern Law Practice
Those shell-shocked expressions on the faces of the lawyers and support staff in your office are not necessarily born of having seen ghosts or having been taken away by a UFO. Often, that look is the result of technology overload-when an office is being exposed to new computers, a new computer system, new computer software or some other new technology.
The experience can be quite frightening, both for those charged with using the new technology and for the administrator or partner charged with implementing the changes. Technophobia, which might be loosely defined as a fear of either new or changing technology, is a common problem in implementing new technologies. Avoiding new technologies, however, can leave a law practice behind others that are using e-mail, the World Wide Web, recordable CD-ROMs and other technology to communicate and make their practices more efficient. This column will identify some strategies for helping to overcome law practice technofears and for implementing new technology in law practices.
For this column's purposes, the term "new technology" will be used to refer to any new or changing technology, software or hardware. The two elements, new and changing technology, raise very different issues. For example, someone who is using word processing software, even a release of the software from 1970, does not have the same "change phobia" issues as someone who still relies on the typewriter to prepare correspondence. Awareness of these differences is critical to adopting appropriate strategies for overcoming resistance to change.
Why Address Technophobia?
The idea that law firm members and employees need assistance in overcoming their fears when the office moves to adopt new technologies is not universally accepted. Firm and technology administrators may hold the view that simply "forcing" the technology into the workplace is the best method to ensure that new or changed technology is implemented within the firm. But such a strategy can carry a number of negative implications.
For one, those persons not committed to and conversant in the technology may unknowingly cause disruption in system operation because of a simple lack of understanding of its purposes or capabilities. Also, employees may revert to prior methods of accomplishing tasks if new technology is not properly introduced into the office. This can happen in whole or in part. An example might be employees using the new word processing program to draft correspondence, but still using the typewriter to prepare envelopes and labels. Technology is often under-utilized in the modern law office environment because of individuals who bypass significant, efficiency related aspects of technology in favor of the tried and true method of accomplishing repetitive tasks.
Training, Training, Training
Before introducing a new system, the person or persons charged with administering it should be trained to use and implement the technology in the workplace. For example, if a firm is moving from stand-alone desktop PCs to a networked environment, the administrator should be taught the basics of networking, how the computers are connected, how the chosen network software and hardware operate and the steps involved in implementation. Common questions and problems should also be presented, with solutions, and if the administrator is going to act as a troubleshooter, he or she should have detailed troubleshooting training. If there will be no computer resources professional on site at the firm, one or more members of the firm should become at least generally familiar with these areas to facilitate discussion of troubleshooting with the outside net-work administrator.
That being said, however, training-by a professional trainer who is skilled in using the technology in question- for those who will actually use the new programs or hardware is the most basic element of introducing new technology. It should be provided. Professional training firms abound throughout the United States. In addition, the manufacturer or developer of the hardware should be able to provide training, or refer you to a qualified, certified trainer in your area.
Whenever possible, training should happen "on-site," where the technology is to be used, to allow for integration of existing knowledge and understanding by employees and application of the training to the office environment. If you must go "out-of-house" for the training, make certain the technology being used in the training is exactly the same as the technology being implemented. For those fearful of new or changing technology, being trained with one technology and then having to apply that training to another variation of the technology will only lead to more technophobia and frustration.
The last requirement of training is access to an expert in the technology after the training. Someone should be available, either in the office or by telephone, to assist employees in migrating to the technology. If employees feel that they are on their own after the training, the technology fear may reappear and cause users to return to their old ways of accomplishing tasks, reducing the usefulness of the technology and frustrating workers and management.
Time to Play and Learn
Another strategy that is often overlooked when it comes to introducing or changing technology in the workplace is allowing those affected by the changes to play and learn about them. Introducing the Internet into the work environment? Before asking employees to use the Web to find specific information or do research, management should encourage them to "surf the Web." This might mean encouraging employees to visit entertainment Web sites, Internet retail outlets or other "non-job related" sites on company time. This interaction with the new technology in a relatively stress-free setting will allow employees to learn about the new technology and grow into it. Then, when a work-related assignment does come in, the employees can complete it quickly and efficiently using the new technology to its fullest.
Run in Parallel
Running new mission-critical software and systems in parallel with the old version for a while does more than create a safety net. It also greatly reduces the anxiety quotient of those who rely on the systems and software to get the job done. Murphy's law dictates the system will crash on the eve of a critical court filing or similar crisis, and it is comforting to know there is a back-up when the new system or software inevitably hiccups. A little redundancy during the shakedown cruise can save a lot of antacid.
Commit the Entire Office
A final element of a successful anti-technophobia strategy is to commit the entire office to the new technology. Nothing frustrates employees who are struggling with new technology more than seeing senior partners, office staff or administrators at ease with the old technology while they must learn and implement the new. To ensure that employees take the firm's commitment to new technology seriously, all levels should be required to learn and use it.
Racing Toward the Future
Technology applications in the practice of law are changing at a lightning fast pace. Lawyers, support staff and firm management need to overcome their technophobia; this is an essential step in remaining competitive in the modern marketplace. By training and giving employees an opportunity to learn about new technologies, supporting them in that use and committing the entire office to the new technology, a firm may jump the phobia hurdle and move to the front of the technology-able legal pack.
For Next Time
What software do you use in your real property law practice? Is there something you would like to be able to do, but cannot? Has your firm developed its own software to accomplish tasks related to the practice? Contact me at the address below and let me know how this column can help you share information with other practitioners or help you in dealing with technology in your practice.