I’m not going to sugar coat it…law firms are downright bad at adopting technology. Many firms, both big and small, struggle to implement new software, and it is rarely due to product deficiencies. It is because of their change-resistant attitudes, their lack of planning, and their failure to prioritize the use of technology to solve problems. Failed technology implementations can cause countless hours to be lost and thousands of dollars to be wasted. Not to mention that when you give up, you end up back at square one, without any improvements to your processes. It’s time for law firms to learn how to implement technology the right way. In this post, we’ll break down how to implement technology at your law firm in 4 steps without wasting time or money.
Step 1: Prepare Your Organization for Change
The single most important step to implementing technology at a law firm, or any organization for that matter, is to prepare everyone for the change.
Don’t even think about demoing products, signing up for free trials, or anything else at this stage. You should never just sign up for some software to “see if it works.” It won’t.
Implementing technology requires a major process change.
You have to mentally commit to restructuring the way you operate, and you have to get everybody you work with on board. This is a prerequisite. If you don’t have the right mindset going in, your chances of a successful implementation are slim.
Law firms often assume that they can sign up for a free trial to demo new software and see if it will solve their problems before they have mentally committed to making the necessary process change. Inevitably, the software won’t work how they anticipated, so they blame the software for not being robust enough, or not “fitting within their workflow.”
The thing is…it’s not supposed to fit within your workflow. You have to change your workflow first!
Ask yourself these important questions before you sign up for any software system.
So before you go out and trial products or watch demos, think about why you want to implement this technology.
Is it actually a good idea? What problems do you think it will solve? Is technology the best way to solve these problems or are there other alternatives? And finally, how will you get your staff to agree to make the change?
Once you have asked yourself these questions, firmly decided that technology is the answer, and gotten the rest of your organization on board with the change, only then will you be ready for the rest of the implementation process.
Step 2: Map Out Your Process to Find the Gaps and Inefficiencies
Once your firm has committed to adopting a software based solution, the next step is to map out your current processes in detail in order to identify problem areas. You need to sit down in a meeting with everyone on your staff, and lay out a visual, step-by-step flowchart of the process, either on a whiteboard or with sticky notes on the wall.
Focus on the broken processes.
It’s highly unlikely that a single software program can solve all your problems. So as you go through this exercise, you should focus only on the specific process or processes for which you are considering a particular technology based solution.
If you are struggling with getting clients to pay their bills, you should map out all steps of any process that relates to billing. If you are struggling with keeping track of potential clients, you should map out all the processes for tracking and following up with people.
Think about the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the process. In other words, who is responsible for a certain activity, what is that activity, when do they do it, from where, why is it necessary, and how do they get it done?
Pay attention to inefficiencies and communication breakdowns.
Inevitably, going through this exercise will create some questions and expose potential issues. But that is the goal. You need to open your eyes to inefficiencies and bottlenecks in your process because those are just the types of problems that technology is well-suited to solve.
As you dissect your process, pay close attention to any steps which meet one of the following criteria:
- Things that you do over and over again the same way
- Tasks that take up a lot of time but provide disproportionately low value
- Things that cause delays or bring the process to a halt
- Places where communication breaks down or details slip through the cracks
These are the major areas where technology can help. Software creates structure and organization, and provides tools to help automate repetitive tasks, speed up slow processes, and improve communication.
Step 3: Pick the Right Solution and Redesign Your Process Around It
Next up comes the planning phase, where you decide on a solution and redesign your business process around that software’s capabilities.
It’s important to note that technology is not magic, and it won’t just instantly solve all your problems right out of the box. It requires significant time to plan and set up properly.
Also, unless you develop your own software in house, it’s unlikely that any single program will meet 100% of your needs. Don’t let that discourage you. Just go into it with the expectation that there will be certain limitations and workarounds. Getting 90% of the way to your goal is better than 0%.
Pick the right solution for the problem.
Law firms tend to want a single system to manage everything. While nice in theory, this is not very realistic in today’s software industry.
Legacy software systems were designed to be massive, all-encompassing solutions. They cost millions and millions of dollars to develop, and were really only feasible for large enterprise customers due to the high costs.
As technology has progressed, the cost to develop and maintain software has come down drastically. Today’s software is affordable for even the smallest of businesses, and we have moved away from the trend of singular solutions toward an integrated ecosystem of products that each solve a specific need, and do it really effectively.
With this in mind, here are a few pointers about choosing the right software:
- Find a best-of-breed product that is designed to provide specific functions for similar customers who are in your industry, or suffer from the same types of problems.
- Look for well-designed products that are easy to use. Avoid ones that look dated because they probably are.
- Focus on products that have open APIs, or are integrated with other systems that you use to run your practice.
Redesign your process around the software.
Once you have chosen a system, you have to redesign your process, molding it to fit with the software’s functionality, and taking into account the limitations and constraints.
The more thoroughly you prepared in the earlier stages, the easier this will be. If you did not plan properly, this is where you will get stuck and end up failing.
Implementation requires a deep understanding of the software’s capabilities, so this is finally where you get to sign up and start using the product, learning the ins and outs, and reading the documentation.
You should revisit your process map from step 2, and identify the specific features in the software that can help solve the challenges and bottlenecks you identified.
Once you thoroughly understand the software and have a good idea of how it will work for your firm, you should map out your process once again, this time adding the software at every point where it should be used.
Keep in mind data structure and reporting needs.
The other critical thing to be aware of at this point is the way you structure your data, and what reporting needs you will have.
Most software is customizable, and allows you to build your own custom fields to track certain data points. Consider what data your firm needs to be capturing and reporting on in order to ensure that you set up the appropriate fields ahead of time.
It can be quite cumbersome to restructure the way your system is set up after you get everyone to start using it, so spend some time thinking about these things before you deploy it.
Step 4: Implement, Train, and Monitor
Once you have your system set up and your new processes mapped out, all that is left is to implement it into your daily workflow and begin using the software throughout your firm.
This can be a rocky transition for some firms, particularly those that have more people, or less tech savvy staff. Proper training and ongoing monitoring of usage is a necessity.
Train staff, focusing on their individual roles.
Training staff can be challenging, and some staff members might be more resistant to the change than others.
One strategy that can help ease the transition is to divide up the training by roles. Not every staff member will need to use every piece of functionality the software has to offer. By focusing the training on only the activities a particular staff member is responsible for within the software, you can overcome some of the hesitancy and lessen the learning curve.
The other thing you should emphasize constantly is the value that this software system will provide for the firm:
- Demonstrate how much time each person can save by using technology to streamline their workflow.
- Show them how the structured system will improve communication and keep everyone organized.
- Illustrate the importance of data and reporting and how it can impact the bottom line for the business.
Monitor usage and adjust strategy if necessary.
Once the system is fully deployed and functional, the only thing left to do is to monitor usage and make sure the software is being used correctly by everyone who is supposed to be using it.
Some firms have a tendency to let certain staff members get away with not using the system, but this is a mistake that will impact everybody. It’s important that all members of the firm understand the importance of maintaining accurate records and having a consistent process in place.
There should be consequences for failure to use the software, just as there would be for any other deviation from company policy.
Finally, be prepared to adapt and make changes in the future. The software may be updated with new features or functionality, providing new ways to use it and new value for the firm. Be sure to keep up to date with these changes and maintain an agile approach to using the product so that you are maximizing the value you get from your software investment.