General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionSolo Newsletter

Software Upgrades Can Be Kept Sane

By Sheryn Bruehl

If you rely on computers to any significant degree, you've probably gone crazy at least once at the hands of a new, "time-saving" software package that actually wasted more of your time loading and configuring it than you could possibly have saved even if it had installed smoothly. And even though it's tempting to move up to a new version of your favorite software application, leading-edge technology is generally more expensive and less stable than it will be several months down the road. How to strike the right balance? Here are some "rules" I've learned the hard way that can help keep you (and your staff) sane.

  • Think Before You Act. Don't buy or install any program unless you know you will use it. Don't assume an upgrade is better than what you already have; find out what it adds or fixes-if you don't need it, don't do it. The more programs you have, the more likely there'll be trouble.
  • Look Before You Leap. Wait until the software you want is at least four to six months old (or at least until after the second patch is available), and make sure there aren't significant problems being reported. You can get information about problems with programs and patches from legal technology List Serves (such as the ABA's Lawtech list) or your local bar association's practice management assistance program.
  • Take It Slow. Try to install only one new program at a time, and don't install another until you are sure that your system has not developed any new problems. If you are installing a new program, be sure to check the publisher's website and install all service packs, patches, and upgrades (subject to Rule 2) before moving on. (See Rule 5 for Microsoft exception.)
  • Watch and Wait. Once you've installed a program or upgrade, watch your system for a few weeks. If new problems develop, call technical support and stay with the issue until it is fixed. If the problem is that the new software doesn't play well with others, be prepared to talk to more than one company. Don't accept the answer that you will have to learn to live with problems. If you can't fix it, return it and get a competing product. The time spent will cost you less than you will waste with an unstable product.
  • Once Burned. Changes to Microsoft's operating systems regularly leave other publishers scrambling to catch up. If you are running significant non-Microsoft applications (like billing, e-mail, or case management programs), do not install Microsoft patches unless they address specific problems or security issues that affect you. If you do have problems with other software after a Microsoft patch, contact the other company first, as they are likely aware of the problem and may have a fix for it.
  • Beware Utility Suites and Screen Savers. Utility suites are famous for causing hard-to-diagnose problems with other software. Install specific utilities only if you are certain you will need them. If you are having unexplained problems with your system or a new program, try disabling or uninstalling any utility suites you are running. Screen savers should be avoided for the same reason.
  • Murphy's Law. Plan installations and upgrades when you know you will have enough down time to deal with any unexpected problems. Never "quickly" install something at 8:45 on Monday morning or in the days before a trial.
  • Always Have a Backup Plan. Make sure you have a current backup and that you know how to restore from it. When upgrading a program that tracks information, make an extra copy of any program databases. Make sure you have the original program disks and serial numbers in case you have to reinstall.

As a general rule, if what you have is working well, you can stick with it. Each generation of software and hardware becomes more powerful than the last and can save you money in the long run if wisely applied.

Sheryn Bruehl ( is a managing partner in the Norman, Oklahoma, firm of Bruehl & Chapman, P.C., where she practices worker's compensation law.



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