Before your firm buys that cool new technology, read this!

LegalTech Purchasing 1
What To Look For In Law Practice Technology

I get plenty of calls every week from vendors ready to sell me the “next big thing” that will revolutionize my practice.  Some of them even live up to their billing.  And we pass on almost all of them.

Here’s why: Ours is a volume practice and, to keep up with the client load, we have developed a way of doing things.  Nothing special, but its ours.  Everyone who works here knows about it, and they all work accordingly.  In turn, pulling the plug would be disruptive; any change will make my life harder before it gets easier.  At the same time, we cannot be left behind.  So we analyze big changes closely, and often opt for little changes instead.

What is LegalTech?

The first thing that I consider when evaluating software is our backbone.  The backbone is where you start looking every time something happens.  In some firms, its the file jacket on the client’s hard file.  For others, its some variant of CRM software, like CLIO.  In my life, its my email.  I search the hell out of it every time an issue arises.  No matter what your backbone is, it will have the same features: it stores files and notes, and you can look through it.  It is this, and not any particular program, that makes for an ideal backbone.

Don’t be afraid of admitting what your backbone is.  If you’re an IPO lawyer in Silicon Valley but rely on the handwritten notes on the file jacket to manage your practice, so be it.  Changing is hard, and what you have is working (I hope).  By the same token, your backbone may not be something but someone.  In that case, you are wasting your firm’s money if you do not include that person in the process.  You need to know where s/he goes when you ask for information because you need to know what your firm uses as its central repository for information.

Most of our software purchases are made with the mantra, “If this is working, why change it?” In mind.  Yes, the latest and greatest email sorter may sound good in theory, but if you print all of your email and put it in the file, why sort it?  You’ll never look there until you have exhausted every other option, and then it won’t be there anyway pursuant to the law governing all lawyers — Murphy’s.

Rather, enhance what works.  Look for options that integrate well with what you currently use.  Since we use email as our backbone, I spend most of my time there.  The better everything else in my life integrates with it, the happier I am.  By this, I mean, I use Google calendar since I use hosted Gmail.  Sure, some legal calendars may be better, but I can click add to calendar in my Gmail and it goes into the right calendar — no tech support needed.  Same for tasks.  It all plays well with my email, so I use it.

We very leery of anything that does not integrate well because that is going to require a change in our procedures.  Change doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen without errors along the way.  Accordingly, when you evaluate an application that will supposedly “change your life” — ask how much pain initiating it will be, and also how it really will.

For example, we are not a WordPerfect shop.  We like Word.  And we have a fairly significant competence with it, that we would lose transitioning to WordPerfect.  We are not, then, going to choose a vendor with a “Killer App” for WordPerfect unless it is an absolute game changer.  And if we do transition, we know that weeks’ worth of productivity will be lost learning how to do what we already could in Word.

That said, if I see the best client CRM software around, but it only works with WordPerfect, I may still go there.  That said, I would be well aware that I would need to change many of my other providers to make this seamless.  We would need to swap template engines, and may need a new file system.  Not a problem, but you have to factor those costs in.  Absent that, you will have a new and unused CRM that is costing you money while gathering dust or a dramatic loss of productivity.

Otherwise, if you just buy cool software because its cool, my two cents is that you’re wasting your money.

About Mark Billion

Mark Billion is Delaware’s leading consumer bankruptcy attorney, founder of a site that lets consumers prepare chapter 7 petitions for free, which is located at www.bankruptcyanywhere.com, a Columbia Law School grad and father of two.