Denver Bar Association
November 2010
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For Firms, New Tech and Software May be Best in Small Doses

by Jeff Nitta

Technology can be intimidating to many people, with all the talk of SaaS, cloud computing, the varying types of backup methods, and all the different ways to collaborate. There’s a lot that can be learned from technology and a lot that businesses can benefit from by using it. However, taking technology in small doses is sometimes the best way to ensure its successful integration in your firm.

Many firms start with grand expectations for what technology is capable of and the benefits for their firm without considering an implementation plan. For instance, Legal Workspace implemented a total package of software and hardware to a 30-member firm that wanted it all and wanted it now! After much debate over how to implement this new workflow and, after they paid for licenses and services for one year, they are no further ahead than when they started.

The biggest point of failure with this example was the firm’s inability implement in small steps. A complete overhaul of your firm’s functions is a major undertaking and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. As it turns out, it was too much change at one time, and resulted in information overload.

Taking smaller steps in this process and learning bits and pieces of what legal applications can do for you can be an easier way to embrace new technology in your law firm.

The biggest question for firms that haven’t embraced technology is, “Where do I start?” Typically, when we engage a new customer at Legal Workspace, we ask what will make the most significant impact to the firm; in other words, what area is most inefficient?

If it takes one person eight hours each month to process bills, then we start off by discussing billing programs. If the struggle is with docketing and client information management, we introduce the customer to practice management programs. If the challenges lie in collaboration, such as shared calendars, contacts, and tasks, then we discuss the many different options for this, including Microsoft Exchange using Outlook.

When we look at the fundamentals of an office, we focus on the workflow and how each firm handles its day. Client information comes in by way of phone, fax, or e-mail; what’s done with it from there?

Where do you save your client information, how do you collaborate with other firm members, how do you keep track of time, what do you do to invoice a customer, and how do you reconcile your bills?  

By looking at each of these steps as a stand-alone function of your office’s workflow, you can identify where technology may be best applied as a first step. There are many rudimentary ways to take on each of these functions, but the introduction of technology is meant to save time. In addition to this, your firm also may realize increased billable hours or a reduction in overhead. Either way, technology can save your firm money in the long run.

One of the biggest variables of the “Where do I start” question is, “Do I build my infrastructure locally or do I engage in ‘the cloud,’ where my legal information and applications are stored and accessed through the Internet?”

When discussing technology with any law firm, we always highlight the three principles of Legal Workspace: reliability, accessibility, and scalability. These same principles apply to most cloud-based programs or cloud office functions. With cloud-based programs or with an entire infrastructure hosted in the cloud such as Legal Workspace, you are able to take technology in small chunks and build your systems as you grow more comfortable with each of these steps in your office’s workflow. In addition to this, you are only paying for what you are using, which from a cash flow standpoint is more economical than purchasing software and hardware outright.

Take a deep breath, start slow, and build a good road map of how technology may best be implemented into your firm, one step at a time.

 Jeff Nitta is the CEO of information technology provider Legal Workspace.

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