Technology is a significant line item in most firm and legal organization budgets. Whether you’re a solo practitioner budgeting for your monthly practice management subscription or a managing partner at a large firm planning multimillion-dollar enterprise expenditures, the goal is the same: Find the right tools at a reasonable price to ensure you’re making the best investment for your organization.
That’s easier said than done. Navigating the purchasing process for technology can be stressful and time consuming. Identifying your options is a major undertaking and evaluating them — usually by exploring maze-like vendor websites — is a major chore. Many lawyers who get to that stage find that they’re unprepared to truly evaluate their options.
With that in mind, here are five simple tips to help you make a smarter investment.
- Understand the problem you’re trying to solve.
Investing in technology services without a clear end goal is a path to waste. Before you begin your search, sit down with key stakeholders in your firm and think seriously about the bottlenecks you’re trying to open or the improvements you’re hoping to achieve. Are you letting time slip away unbilled? Are you wasting time trying to find documents? Understanding your needs will help guide you to the right product.
- Determine whether technology can really fix your problem.
Once you understand your problem, you can start looking for solutions. Prioritize your issues and match each technology option to your top issues. Will it solve the real problems that your practice faces? Often, the answer is no. Firms get led astray by savvy marketing strategies or by flashy new features and end up investing in tools that — while impressive on paper — actually do little to improve their business processes. Medical professionals often use the phrase “first, do no harm.” That applies here as well. Implementing a new system to capture billable hours may sound like a great idea, but if the system doesn’t play well with existing technology and forces administrative staff to spend a lot of time reconciling records, it may be doing more harm than good.
- Look at the costs — short term and long term — and decide if you can afford them.
Evaluating costs can be a challenge. The retail price for a piece of hardware or the license cost for software rarely reflects the total cost of the technology. Try to measure costs by looking at the broader picture: How much will it cost to implement? How much will you have to invest in training? What costs will be associated with the disruption the new technology will bring? Even free tools can bring enormous practical costs. Failing to evaluate costs thoroughly with an eye toward the future will lead to painful overruns, and embarking on a project you can’t afford to complete well ensures you’ll do little more than waste money.
- Develop an implementation strategy.
Buying a new piece of technology is only the first step. To get the most out of your investment, the tool needs to be implemented well and staff needs to be educated to use it properly. It’s common for technology projects to go astray during this step. Sometimes firms overspend on the technology, leaving little money for the implementation, or they may count on internal resources that prove insufficient. In other cases, technology may be installed and configured properly, but a plan is never executed to ensure that staff understand and utilize the key features that justified the expenditure in the first place. Firms can avoid such waste by ensuring that a solid implementation and training plan is in place before the first dollar is spent on the actual technology.
- Know what comes next.
The frustrating reality of modern technology is that it’s often dated by the time it actually enters common use. Try to avoid getting caught up in the “latest and greatest” craze and instead focus on the factors discussed above: finding technology that solves real problems for your organization and implementing that technology in a thorough and cost-effective manner. You may not end up with the flashiest technology, but you will be using your technology to drive your business in the way that you need.
A technology buyer’s guide
To help lawyers invest wisely, the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center recently launched the ABA Legal Technology Buyer’s Guide. The guide provides a simple breakdown of technology products and services by category, like Practice Management and Imaging/Scanning. Product listings include, at the very least, basic information on the product and general contact information for the provider. Many listings provide additional details, including videos, white papers, social media information and specific contacts within the organization who you can connect to quickly and easily.
Here are a few listings to give you an idea of what you’ll find in the guide:
- Abacus Data Systems, a full-service solutions provider, including software and back-office support.
- ABBYY, provider of text recognition (OCR) scanning and imaging tools.
- Amicus Attorney, practice management software available installed, in the cloud, or as a hybrid of both.
- Clio, legal practice management software for small to midsize law firms.
- CosmoLex, a cloud-based time tracking and billing tool with integrated trust accounting.
- Konica Minolta Business Solutions, document solutions including e-discovery, forensics and MFPs.
- MyCase, a Web-based practice management tool focused on attorney/client communication.
- NetDocuments, a widely used cloud-based document and email management system for law firms and organizations.
- Tabs3, billing and financial software for lawyers.