Change happens fast, especially in technology, which may explain why ABA TECHSHOW panelists Bjorn Christianson and Sharon D. Nelson advocate a simple mantra for small law firms purchasing technology: Plan, review, revise, recycle.
For most law firms, according to the panelists, attorneys find themselves in a vicious cycle of “break-fix” meaning the only time given to tech usually comes in a moment of crisis. In other words, “It’s broken, come fix it!”
In a session titled “How to Buy, Implement and Replace Technology in Your Law Practice” both panelists presented wide ranging tech advice of the small law practitioner that just might prove helpful in breaking the cycle and getting ahead of the curve.
Here are some of the tips we heard:
1. Create an annual law firm tech plan. It’s the first of the panelists’ four-step process (plan, review, revise and recycle) and is cast in the “widely accepted” IT best practice of replacing or upgrading technology every 3-5 years. Law firms developing an IT plan for the first time will have to start with “discovery” – a literally inventory of everything in the office and documenting when it was purchased, the business need, who is using it, and when (as in the case of software) it was last updated or upgraded.
2. Ensure IT has a purpose. One panelist said that “behind doctors, lawyers are the first to buy gadgets,” but question whether it meets a business need. For example, when mobile tablets first grew popular a few years ago, it was merely weeks before these devices started appearing in law firms. New technology is worth exploring but the panel recommends avoiding “bleeding edge.”
3. Total cost of ownership. Most technology purchases have expenses beyond the list price. There’s the cost of implementation, process re-engineering, training and consulting should a law firm choose to use consultant (LexisNexis keeps a database of certified independent consultants, like Steven J. Best, who literally wrote the book on PCLaw software). Most importantly, the panel noted, was the cost of downtime where an attorney is attending to implementation duties rather than the practice of law.
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4. Obtain multiple reference sources. Ms. Nelson relayed a story where an attorney was sold by a smooth-talking SEO vendor and wound up with little to show for the investment. The attorney hadn’t spoken to anyone other than the vendor along the buyer’s journey. In the panels’ words, this is an example of “how not to purchase technology.” In place, they recommend speaking to more than one vendor, peers and reading independent reviews; the panel explicitly cited the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center as a useful reference. In addition, most vendors offer a 30-day free trial which provides essential experience before making a commitment. Finally, many practice management advisors or PMAs, often associated with a state or local bar association are an invaluable resource. Jared Correia of Mass LOMAP maintains a useful list of these professionals on Twitter of PMAs called PMA Central.
5. Business grade products. A straight forward point – the panel suggests law firms need business grade products and should avoid those designed for consumers, or consumer grade technology products.
6. Can you use the cloud? The panel seemed to mirror the sentiment expressed by the blogger’s panel earlier this year at the LegalTech show, “The cloud conversation has changed from whether it’s secure to how we can make it more secure.” Citing the “reasonably necessary” phrase stemming from Model Rule 1.1 the panel advised attorneys should “be competent on technology or find someone who is” and especially when choosing a cloud vendor. The panel also offered specific recommendations:
- Choose a vendor that encrypts data in transit and at rest
- Ensure the firm, and not the vendor, holds the “master encryption key”
- Encrypt data before sending it to the cloud
- Read the terms of service
- Know the exit strategy – can you get your data out if you decide to switch?
- One panelist is more comfortable with vendors that store data in the U.S.
We’d also offer readers these links to related content on cloud vs. premise:
- Practice Management: Should Law Firms Go Cloud or Premise?
- Leaked! Supreme Court of Legal Tech: Cloud v. Premise
- Infographic Friday: Cloud vs. Premise Software
- Chart of the Day: Cloud to Overtake Premise?
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What tips would you add? Please feel free to share in the comments below.
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