12 Principles for Harnessing Law Firm Technology

By January 17, 2018Law + Tech

Harnessing law firm technology is crucial if you want to make your practice smooth-running and profitable.

But technology is insidiously complex. Lawyers have enough complexity in their lives just dealing with legal problems.

The key to harnessing technology to improve your practice is to go about it properly. Here are 12 principles that will help you succeed.

1. Create a clear vision of your ideal practice

Most solo and small firm lawyers spend too much time doing tasks they don’t enjoy, or that they aren’t good at.

Envision a practice that lets you focus almost all of your time doing things you love doing and are exceptionally good at.
Then use technology to support that vision.

You should do the few things you enjoy and are good at, and use technology to automate or help delegate everything else.

2. Be open-minded about technology

Technology is always changing. Things that worked well last year may not work as well this year. Be open to change.

Sometimes you’ll find useful technology by looking outside the commonly used tools in the legal profession. Be open to any sensible opportunity.

As hockey star Wayne Gretzky famously said, “you want to skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it’s been.” Of course, you have to balance open-minded inquisitiveness with sensible restraint.

You can’t haphazardly chase every shiny new tech tool—at least not if you want to be productive.

3. You must use technology to understand it

You can’t understand technology by imagining how it might work. You have to use it to see how it actually will work, even you just use it briefly during a free trial period.

The more you use different kinds of technology the more you’ll understand about technology as a whole.

A lot of technology seems like a good idea when you first hear about it. But in practice it turns out to be a waste of time, or the tradeoffs aren’t worth it.

The more experience you have in trying different technologies, the better your instincts will be about new technology that “seems like a good idea” but is actually useless.

You probably don’t have the time to try lots of technology. That’s fine. Here’s some good news…

You can “borrow” someone else’s perspective. That’s what technology consultants are for.

But you need to find the (rare) consultants who are truly knowledgeable, seriously committed, completely reliable, and totally trustworthy.

4. Exponential gains require 3 P’s

If you dabble with technology, chase too many shiny new tech tools, or act haphazardly, you’ll get modest results.

If you want EXPONENTIAL gains you need to:

  1. be patient,
  2. work from a sound plan, and
  3. follow a sensible process.

Most lawyers have no plan and no process. They foolishly believe they can get quick results without thinking too much about how to connect the dots.

Not surprisingly, those lawyers are endlessly frustrated by technology.

5. You need proper guidance

Technology is too complex and changes too quickly. Which means tech-savvy people need guidance from other tech-savvy people to stay on top of things.

Busy lawyers need help with many technology aspects.

Sometimes it’s a single problem or project. Most often we need ongoing guidance. And we need it from from tech-savvy folks who are:

  1. truly knowledgeable,
  2. committed to working with lawyers,
  3. reliable (i.e. you can count on them over time), and
  4. trustworthy (i.e. they put your long-range interests ahead of their short-term interests).

With the right guidance you’ll get better results much faster, with less frustration and less disruption.

And, of course, you’ll avoid major problems and common disasters.

6. Focus on one big strategic goal at a time.

Building the law firm of your dreams by harnessing technology is a long-range goal. And you need to properly manage your technology-related goals.

Mainly, that means you should only work on one big strategic goal at a time.

Making too many technology changes at one time is a guaranteed way to create disruption, which can lead to major catastrophes.

And remember: don’t work with consultants that push you to do too much too fast.

7. Don’t fight the tide

Technology forces change, sometimes in overpowering ways.

When you see a large mass of people moving from one platform or software tool to a different one, stop and consider if you should make a change also.

Think about services that were once dominant, but are now virtually extinct (e.g. AOL, CompuServe, Lotus 123, Novell Groupwise, WordPerfect, MySpace, Hotmail, server-based software etc.)

You need to build your technology systems on dominant, vibrant platforms. Or shift to dominant platforms if necessary.

You don’t need to be quick to change. You just need to willing to when the tide shifts.

8. Don’t chase shiny new objects.

Focus on your important goals, and work systematically to achieve them in a steady fashion. If you start experimenting haphazardly you’ll waste time (a precious, non-renewable resource).

The so-called “shiny object syndrome” is one big reason attorneys fail to use technology productively.

Unfortunately, a lot of consultants and “tech gurus” also fall prey to this syndrome.

Avoid those people like the plague.

9. Favor one ecosystem as much as possible

If you’re a Windows user then you should probably use Microsoft products and services as much as possible.

This isn’t an iron-clad rule.

It’s just an admonition that integration of products and services from one company will tend to work better than mixing the offerings of two or more companies.

If you’re an Apple user then you should favor Apple products, but in some areas it makes sense to use non-Apple services (e.g. Dropbox or Google Drive is probably better than iCloud, and Google mail is better than Apple’s mail service).

10. Be mindful of the “Swiss Army Knife principle”

Try to get as much out of one tool as possible, and refrain from buying several different products or services if you can buy from one vendor and get one product/service.

The more software apps you have to maintain and learn the less productive you’ll be, and the more problems you’ll have to solve.

11. But also be aware of the “Specialty Tool principle”

Sometimes you need a job done in a way that demands the use of specialty software or a special cloud service.

For example, many practice management software services (like Clio or Rocket Matter) promise that you can do several different things with one tool.

But, most lawyers find that the document management features are subpar. Financial reporting or accounting features are also often insufficient.

Usually it makes more sense to use practice management software for a few basic things, and then get separate tools to manage documents and handle accounting.

Yes, this makes life a little more complicated, but the tradeoffs are worth it.

12. Always be aware of tradeoffs

You always need to grasp the inherent tradeoffs when you’re using tech tools or software apps.

But you almost certainly can’t quickly and easily grasp the tradeoffs. So you need help from trustworthy tech consultants.

Untrustworthy consultants won’t try to help you understand tradeoffs, out of fear that they’ll lose a sale.

Avoid those folks like the plague.