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Legal Software Hurdles, Part 2

No Goals, No Objectives, No Clue: Biggest Hurdles in Planning New Software for Your Law Firm

By Josh Taylor

It happens all the time. Lawyers buy software because they think they need it and, well, “this one looks pretty neat.” Or they think, or hope, the mere act of buying the software will make their firm more efficient — magic!  In both cases, there is no internally driven and internally motivated implementation plan. No goals, no objectives, no clue.

In this series, we are tackling the hurdles law firms face when they change software. Last time, we focused on the first two hurdles: price and people. But you can trace back most hurdles to a lack of planning and transparency with staff and colleagues. Don’t trip on these hurdles. Your transition will be exponentially smoother and your staff will be exponentially more helpful and happy.

Hurdle 3: You Have No Plan

Buying software for a law firm without a plan to properly implement it with your whole team on board is like buying a plane without a pilot’s license — yes, you have the means to soar, but you have no idea what it takes to get off the ground.

Internalize Your Goals

To understand what needs to be done to properly implement a new software system, start with results. What are your goals for implementing the new system? Write down at least three goals you hope to achieve. They can be short-term or long-term, but any goals will help paint the picture of commitment it takes to get there. As the implementation or transition process moves along, continue to check in on your goals. Some may need to be adjusted or become more specific. 

Be transparent with your staff about your big-picture goals and make sure they understand why a software change is necessary to achieve them.

 Write a Software Project Plan

You are far more likely to follow through on things that are written down. An obvious way to ensure you have a plan is to write one. Spend some time thinking through the steps and write a checklist. Once you have the first draft, take it to your team and ask whether you forgot any key steps.

Any tech change plan should include some variation of the following:

  • Take inventory of current hardware and software.
  • Determine which files must be transitioned first so work on them can continue.
  • Decide what to get rid of (no, you don’t need to keep everything).
  • Export important data like contacts and documents.
  • Set a timeline for transition.

Hurdle 4: Your Staff Works Two Jobs Now

“Please give me way more work to do outside of my day-to-day responsibilities and pay me the same salary,” said no one ever.

Part of your job when managing a software change is to understand and adjust your staff’s duties so that the software change becomes a manageable priority. For many, this takes an immense attitude adjustment about what implementing robust software means to the firm and clients. Without that attitude adjustment and understanding of your staff’s current and new roles, you’ll make your office incredibly unhappy. That means derailing the software change and maybe even losing employees.

Time for an Attitude Adjustment

The attitude during a software change must be that the choice to implement software, and the change that requires, is just as important as work done for your clients. To properly overcome staff expectations and scheduling hurdles, your firm’s well-being must be put at least on par with your clients’ matters. This is a must-have mindset for one good reason: Your clients that will suffer directly if you half-ass a software implementation. Setting your firm on par with your clients’ matters is the only way to provide your clients with top-notch service before, during and after a software change. But doing this takes adjustment to staff expectations.

No, Your Staff Can’t Bill the Same Hours During a Transition

Enough said. If staff, including yourself, are to be instrumental in a legal software transition process, other work expectations must be lowered. A paralegal with a full caseload will not be able to bill expected normal hours while also project managing a data transition from an old system, at least not happily or healthfully. When planning the transition, incorporate a dedicated time period in which regular work expectations (billable or not) are adjusted to realistic levels.

Be a Supportive Boss

Software changes can and should be viewed as opportunities to spring clean your office’s data and files. That takes effort. If you have a staff willing to help, they deserve your support and appreciation. Successfully leading a small firm requires that you understand the breadth of projects you hand to your support staff — and it means being there to hear about the help they need or issues they are encountering. Get into the weeds with them and staff will make sure the project gets done with speed and quality — because you have their backs.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Josh Taylor Josh Taylor

Josh Taylor is an attorney and the head of legal content strategy at the legal software company Smokeball. A former large firm litigator, Josh also serves on the staff of The John Marshall Law School’s Writing Resource Center. He speaks around the country on practice management and legal writing topics and curates the Smokeball blog, Law in Order.  Josh sits on the board of directors of the Community Activism Law Alliance. He holds a J.D. from Washington University in St. Louis, where he served as Thompson Coburn Research Fellow and a senior editor of the law review. Josh writes the legal writing reminders series for Attorney at Work.

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