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The Purge- Dealing With Data Migration When Changing Software
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Legal Software Hurdles, Part 3

The Purge! Dealing With Data Migration When Changing Software

By Josh Taylor

All that is required for bad software to prevail is for good law firms to sit by and do nothing. I think that’s how the saying goes — or at least that’s how it should go!

So many law firms sit on their hands and struggle with outdated or incomplete legal software because of one simple thing. This edition of the software hurdles series focuses on the one thing that handcuffs law firms hungry for change: data migration.

Hurdles 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10: Data Migration (AKA “Moving Your Stuff”)

It’s the biggest fear of every single law firm, ever. And fear creates the biggest hurdles in any situation. So let’s start from a premise, talk through our fears, and then go about unpacking how to make your data migration digestible — even a roaring success. After all, when you move into a new house or apartment, it allows you to clean out unneeded and hilariously outdated “stuff.” A data move can do the same, but it takes getting over some fear to reap any benefits.

The premise: All law firms hold many thousands of documents, files, names, paperwork — and more — in one place … or in several places.

The fears:

  • There’s too much data to move, so it will take tons of time.
  • Something will get lost in the move.
  • Something catastrophic will happen during the move and all data will be lost.
  • Things are a mess now, but there’ll be more mess after the move.
  • I won’t know where anything is.
  • I’ll have to confront systemic issues once I start a migration.
  • I don’t trust others to manage a migration project.

Change is generally scary as hell. Now, let’s get over it and make change benefit our business.

Take Inventory

To properly assess what has to be done, you need to know exactly what you’re dealing with. So, the first step to making sure a data migration goes smoothly and quickly is to list what you have. It could be that all files from 1985 to 2005 live on an old server. It could also be that other software houses current active files. Plus, there might be a warehouse of paper somewhere that no one has looked through in 30 years. Make lists —write down what lives where. It’s possible that the fears swirling in your head about piles of disorganized data to be accounted for will look better on paper.

The fear of not knowing where to start and not knowing where anything is can be somewhat alleviated by simply taking inventory.

Make Choices

You may have heard of the television show “Hoarders.” It paints a depressing picture of people who simply cannot let go of anything and who wade through piles of stuff day after day. If there was a show called “Data Hoarders,” lawyers would make up almost every episode.

There’s simply no reason to hoard data. Yes, statutes provide instructions on holding onto client files, but many lawyers are overwhelmed with decades of data that have no bearing on any part of their current practice. You simply do not need to hold on to everything — make choices!

Any data migration requires making choices about what your firm can get rid of. The migration, just like a home move, is the chance to purge excess stuff. Even if your personality won’t let you get rid of anything, you can at least determine what belongs on your new software system.

Tip: That determination should be limited to only active files currently being worked by the firm and perhaps a few recently completed matters. The rest should be archived (to meet statutory requirements) or properly destroyed.

Another important set of choices you should make before a data migration is what standard documents will represent your firm moving forward. Choose standard letters, forms, and templates instead of letting your staff pick and choose among inconsistent products.

Take Action (and Don’t Look Back!)

Once you’ve taken inventory and made your choices, data migration becomes exponentially easier. Your team has a clear direction to move and knows what they will take along with them. The mountain is now more like a molehill.  Divvy up your active files among staff members and find a member of the team to manage the migration project. If you’re lucky, some software programs will provide a project manager for the migration (so keep that in mind while shopping)!  From there, the task will seem extremely doable.

Tip: Migrate in the following fashion:

    1. Client and other party contact information
    2. Documents
    3. Emails
    4. Invoices

See, that wasn’t so scary.

Catch Up With the Software Hurdles Series:

“New Software? Hurdles: Facing Up to Training Hurdles”

“No Goals, No Objectives … No Clue: The Biggest Hurdles in Planning New Software for Your Firm”

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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