January/February 2019

Simple Steps

When Should You Upgrade Your Technology?

Allison C. Shields

The pace of technology change is rapidly increasing, bringing new products, apps, hardware and software to the market constantly. Law firms have come to rely on technology as an integral part of their practices—from cloud storage solutions to practice management software, and from client portals to mobile devices. These technologies, if implemented correctly, can help lawyers save time, increase productivity and deliver a higher level of service to clients.

But while it may be tempting, it isn’t always realistic to make big changes to your technology every time a new gadget or software program that might be able to help your law firm comes along. So how do you decide when it’s time to invest in changing or upgrading your technology?

Your Firm is Growing or Changing Direction

Experts say that rapid growth is one indicator that it may be time to make some technology changes. As your firm grows, your technology needs change. Your old technology may not be able to accommodate new users, and you may require technology with more power, flexibility, features, memory or storage capacity. If you are expanding into new offices, you may need to expand your network, provide more options for remote access or change your phone system.

Even if you don’t plan to add more staff or open new offices, if your firm is making other modifications, these changes might also require a new look at your technology needs. For example, a new practice area might lend itself to a new or different kind of document assembly program, while a change in fee structure could require different billing software.

Changes in client needs or requirements could also result in the need for new or upgraded technology. Some corporate clients or insurance companies might demand billing programs that integrate with their systems, and banking or financial clients could require a technology upgrade to meet their strict regulatory standards.

Problems Existing in Your Technology

Technology problems can slow you down or make firm members reluctant to use your programs or systems. If you are encountering recurring problems with your technology, it’s another clear sign that it’s time for a change.

Any of these may be red flags that could indicate you should bite the bullet and upgrade:

  • You or other members of the firm are spending too much time troubleshooting problems, waiting for your system to reboot or constantly calling your IT professional for help.
  • Instead of streamlining your workflow, your technology is creating a bottleneck.
  • It takes too many steps or clicks to accomplish a task or get the information you need.
  • You’re hearing multiple complaints from users, whether they are attorneys or staff members within the firm or clients and vendors who interact with your technology.
  • Your current technology is unable to perform functions necessary for you to carry out the firm’s business.
  • Lack of integration between different technologies used by your firm results in duplication of work.
  • Factoring the cost of maintenance, support and updates into the cost of your current technology reveals that there are more cost-effective options available.

You're Compromising Client Confidentiality or Data Security

Client confidentiality is one of the cornerstones of legal practice, but it may be more difficult to achieve in the digital age. Data and privacy security issues appear in the news daily, and lawyers are targeted by cybercriminals and identity thieves because of the volume of personal and financial information stored on their systems.

If your firm is using outdated hardware, operating systems or software, they may no longer be supported by the developer or manufacturer. As a result software updates and security patches won’t be issued, leaving your technology—and your data—vulnerable to attack by hackers and viruses.

If your current technology is not up to par, neither your firm nor your client data are safe—and the technology merits an upgrade.

When the Problem Isn't Your Technology

Sometimes the problem isn’t your technology itself, even if you are experiencing some of the symptoms mentioned above. Before you invest in new technology, consider whether the problem—or at least part of it—could lie elsewhere.

For example, if technology is slowing you down, it’s possible that the cause is really a lack of training in how to use it. Perhaps members of the firm do not know the best and fastest ways to use what you already have. Or maybe they aren’t using the technology at all, preferring to do everything their own way because the firm didn’t take the time to get buy-in and show employees why the technology is important and how it helps both the firm and the employees.

Another possibility is that you don’t have the right processes in place to use the technology properly. Without a checklist or solid procedure for client intake, you may be missing crucial information required to open a client’s file, resulting in delays or duplication of work.

If it seems as though your current technology is all you need right now, be diligent about installing updates issued by the manufacturer on all devices connected to your firm’s network, including laptops, tablets and other mobile devices.

If you decide that you should invest in new technology, it’s important to ensure that you have the right training, personnel and processes in place to ensure firm-wide adoption of the technology and success in its implementation. Set a clear budget and take advantage of live web demos and trial subscriptions to test out new software. And before installing anything new, don’t forget to back up your data!

Learn About New Technology Options

ABA TECHSHOW is a great place to get ideas about new technology that could help your firm improve or to learn how to use your existing technology more efficiently. Educational sessions are led by knowledgeable speakers who can give you insights about how to use technology effectively in your firm.

If you are thinking about implementing new technology in your firm, the ABA TECHSHOW EXPO Hall is the place to be, with representatives from both tried-and-true technology solutions and newcomers in the market ready to give you live demonstrations of their software or products and answer all of your questions.

Law Practice Division (LP) books are another excellent technology resource, and LP members always receive a discount. If you are attending the ABA TECHSHOW 2019, don’t forget to visit the LP bookstore in the EXPO Hall, where you’ll find all of the latest LP titles in all four of its core areas, including management, marketing and finance in addition to technology. Every TECHSHOW attendee is given the LP member price on books purchased there, and an additional discount is available with the Book Bucks provided to attendees with their registration packets.

Some technology titles that will be available at ABA TECHSHOW 2019 include The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies, Internet Legal Research on a Budget, The 2019 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide, The Ultimate Guide to Adobe Acrobat DC, Microsoft Office 365 for Lawyers and Macs in Law. Whether you decide to upgrade your firm’s technology this year or not, there’s sure to be an LP book that can help you improve your practice.

Allison C. Shields

Allison C. Shields is the president of Legal Ease Consulting Inc., where she works with lawyers and law firms to develop strategies to improve marketing and client service, and increase productivity, efficiency and profitability. She is the co-author of several books, including LinkedIn in One Hour for Lawyers (ABA 2013) and How to Do More in Less Time: The Complete Guide to Increasing Your Productivity and Improving Your Bottom Line (ABA 2014). Email her.