chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
September 01, 2023

Tech from the Trenches: Talking to a Non-Techie About Tech

Roberta Tepper and Laura L. Keeler
Change management requires buy-in, not only from above but from below.

Change management requires buy-in, not only from above but from below. Productions OU

This Finance issue of Law Practice got us thinking about the dynamics that frequently play out in law firms, when new or updated technology is desired or needed, but the people holding the purse strings are not . . . well, let’s just call it tech-savvy or tech-appreciative.

Unfortunately, even now, when tech seems to be ubiquitous in the legal workplace, we regularly see a lack of appreciation for the utility, or actual necessity, for current user-friendly technology. As practice management advisors (PMAs)––you know, the folks who regularly counsel lawyers and law firms on choosing and using technology––we can tell you that it’s not the rare exception that lawyers are still sometimes fighting an uphill battle to get the best tech into their practices.

The Challenge

While many younger or newer lawyers have been educated in tech-heavy environments, that is not always true for the decision makers in law firms. Larger law firms might have staff or IT departments that have helped them stay current with the technology curve. Yet solo, or small to medium-sized firms frequently do not have that level of support. If you have someone at the helm who doesn’t understand why updates are important, or how and why software as a service (SaaS) is different from installed software or why enabling multifactor authentication (MFA) is mission-critical, it may be difficult to convince them to put money into keeping technology current and, equally importantly, safe for firms and clients.

Lawyers may be hesitant to make a larger investment in technology if they’ve been in “maintenance mode.” They have tech they are comfortable with, may lack IT support and are doubtful that budgeting for monthly tech expenses is necessary. While buying the latest hardware isn’t always necessary, software updates and patches are critical. If you’re using software that is so old that it’s no longer being supported by the product maker, you’re putting your firm at risk.

With lawyers now individually responsible (at least in most states) for technological competency, we can no longer turn an indifferent shoulder to this challenge. If you are a lawyer, you need to protect client’s personal protected information, which includes having reliable tech systems and processes in your practice.

How To Scale That Hill

Preparation. If you are faced with this challenge––the person with the purchasing power isn’t tech-savvy, or sometimes worse, thinks they are tech-savvy because they have a smartphone but really don’t “get” tech––then you will need to do some basic education. It can be a delicate balance. You’ll need to lead up as Vedia Jones-Richardson and Roberta wrote about years ago. Those tenets still apply.

Start by getting people on the same page. While you may immediately see the possible problem and solutions, less tech-savvy individuals need guidance. Start by focusing on the challenges that your practice faces and lead them along with you in the journey toward solutions.

Here’s a suggestion: If your firm is facing many challenges that might be aided by tech, perform a SWOT analysis, laying out the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats the practice faces. Bring that analysis with you into a meeting, or lay out the highlights in a memo, focusing on the greatest weakness or threat. Propose two possible solutions to address that greatest weakness/threat and explain the tech solutions that can resolve priority weaknesses or threats. This way, you’re coming in not only pointing out the problem, but also delivering possible solutions, to which the decision makers should be more open. It can be daunting to have a conversation with someone who may be your superior in the firm’s ranks, and it would be wishful thinking to imagine that all such people are open to hearing that their knowledge of what is necessary isn’t exactly current. Be ready for the fact that you may have to explain concepts that you consider basic to the person you need to persuade. Your decision maker may not understand why VPNs are essential, why multifactor authentication is important or even the concept of the cloud. Explain the concepts in plain (but not condescending) language and be ready to bolster your assertions. Sideways Dictionary is a great resource for explaining technical concepts to less tech-savvy individuals. For example, it explains two-factor authentication (2FA) through an analogy of fitting Cinderella’s slipper.

Ensure you fully understand the concepts and tech categories you’ll be explaining and focus on your firm’s key problems to help explain how features in tech solutions can help. For example, if your firm struggles with lead tracking, look for custom relationship management solutions; if PDF documents are your pain point, consider PDF editing tools with the feature sets you need to ease the pain. You get the hint, right?

Sharing some preliminary or background information in a non-threatening way permits the decision maker to learn without admitting their flaws or lack of understanding. Utilize the kind of tact and diplomacy you might use on a client or a judge. Pass on an article explaining some basics to that purchaser and others in the firm as a “hey, thought this might be interesting;” or start a conversation about your concerns without pinning the reason for those concerns on any specific person.

Assemble your equipment. Come prepared for the challenges. Expense is a real concern. Shifting from the cost of a once-a-year update to a per-seat SaaS, can be a budgeting challenge for a firm running on a tight profit margin. It may be that you have access to the budget information or budgeting process for your firm––that might make it easier for you to prepare. If you do not, prepare yourself for the “you want me to spend ‘$’ per month instead of ‘$’ once a year . . .” argument. That is a major sea change.

Do some research. Be ready to explain why it’s critical to have continual updates for the client experience and the firm’s cybersecurity. Be ready to explain how the product you are suggesting (or longing for) works––gather data on how much time it saves, how much more efficient it can make the firm’s workflow and data that can help justify the time and expense a change may offer. Need data? Clio and MyCase publish annual reports; check blogs and reviews; tune into Bob Ambrogi’s weekly legal tech journalist roundtables; read the information offered by your state or local bar’s practice management program or consult with the bar’s PMA. Your professional liability insurance carrier may offer some information.

Look to independent, legal-focused IT folks who provide their own assessments, such as Sensei Enterprises; their Ride the Lightening blog focuses on cybersecurity and the future of law practice and offers an unbiased view.

Keep Climbing

Remember that adage, Rome wasn’t built in a day? Change is a process. Change management requires buy-in, not only from above but from below. Having allies among your colleagues can only help, so talking through your approach with trusted colleagues and peers helps if you anticipate resistance.

Remember Aesop’s Fable about the sun and the wind––the wind, blowing hard and cold only convinced the person to cling to their coat; the sun, gently warming, eventually got the person to shed their coat, which was the goal. In today’s world, when it comes to implementing legal technology, resistance is futile. But that doesn’t mean moving resistant non-techie folks to change will be easy. If you are prepared with facts, if you are prepared to educate and not patronize, you stand a better chance of success.

Roberta Tepper

Chief Member Services Officer, State Bar of Arizona

Roberta Tepper is the chief member services officer at the State Bar of Arizona where she supervises all aspects of member services including practice management, continuing legal education, and more. She serves on the Law Practice Division Council and on Law Practice‘s editorial board as features editor. [email protected]

Laura L. Keeler

Law Practice Advisor, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers

Laura L. Keeler serves as a law practice advisor for Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, through its Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program (LCL | Mass LOMAP). She enjoys exploring innovation and evolution in law practice management and technology, a passion fueled by ABA TECHSHOW. [email protected]

The material in all ABA publications is copyrighted and may be reprinted by permission only. Request reprint permission here.