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The internet is really helpful at listing common ways people waste their money. But legal technology spending is a bit trickier to control than your gym fees or cable bill. Even when it’s just you and your laptop. So, where are law firms losing money? Today, legal technology experts Heidi Alexander, Sharon Nelson and John Simek, Catherine Reach, Nora Regis, Deborah Savadra and Courtney Troutman point to the biggest money-wasters in law offices — and share their tips for spending wisely.
We often talk about upgrading systems to mitigate security risks. If that isn’t enough to convince you to keep current on hardware and software, maybe this is.
Some years ago a firm called me for help because a paralegal’s desktop computer had slowed to a crawl. After some investigation, I informed the firm owner — a solo practitioner — that getting her paralegal’s machine running again would cost between $8,000 and $10,000. Why so much? Because none of the hardware or software in the office had been upgraded in six to seven years. The world had moved from Windows XP to Win7, Office 2003 to Office 2010, Internet Explorer to Chrome, network cables to wireless networks, USB peripherals and on and on. We had to upgrade hardware, OS, software and peripherals. We had to migrate and update files to current formats or convert them to PDF. And pay a consultant to do all the purchasing, setup, migration, installation and networking.
The biggest-ticket item was updating an ancient version of her firm’s backbone, Time Matters, to a current version with all-new licensing. The maintenance and support was so outdated she couldn’t upgrade it.
Some lawyers may say, “Well, it just works,” or “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, the timeline for obsolescence for hardware and software is much shorter these days.
Unlike some wine, technology doesn’t get better with age. But, like wine, it does get more expensive.
Catherine Sanders Reach (@CatherineReach) is Director, Law Practice Management and Technology, for the Chicago Bar Association. She was previously Director of the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center for over 10 years.
Without question, the biggest money-waster is printing. Still! Taking electronic data and converting it to paper wastes money on toner, paper and wear and tear on the printer. And lawyers keep searching for paper copies of things, wasting their billable time and the time of their employees. Keep the data in electronic form or convert it to another format (PDF) for consistent filing and searching. Take a good on-demand CLE course in going paperless like this one from the ABA.
In general, our best tip for spending money wisely on tech is to do your research and talk to colleagues. Check out reviews for your intended purchase so you can get the best bang for the buck. Resources such as TechnoLawyer, Attorney at Work and the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center are good places to start. Be sure to stick with business-grade hardware. Getting hardware “on the cheap” will bite you with potentially slow performance and reliability issues — you want at least a three-year warranty. There is a reason for alluring lower prices on consumer-grade products: They are guaranteed to cost you more in the long run.
Sharon D. Nelson (@SharonNelsonEsq) and John W. Simek (@SenseiEnt) are the President and Vice President of Sensei Enterprises, Inc., a digital forensics, legal technology and information security firm based in Fairfax, Va. They have written several books, including “The Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guides” and “Encryption Made Simple for Lawyers.” Sharon blogs at Ride the Lightning and together they co-host of the Digital Detectives podcast.
In nearly 15 years of giving practice management advice to lawyers and their staff, I have consistently run into this issue: throwing the baby out with the bathwater, or, cutting off your nose to spite your face. If you’re aristocratic, maybe you prefer “throwing out the champagne with the cork.”
In other words, don’t act out of frustration in a way that could waste your money.
Mainly, I am referring to law office software. The call comes in from a desperate firm: “Help! We have Brand X practice management software (for example), but we hate it, no one is using it and we want to switch to something else.” Baby, meet bathtub.
Naturally, they expect a quick answer: “Buy this and you’ll be delighted.” Invariably I disappoint them by asking a series of nosey questions instead. Questions on how large their practice is, ratio of lawyers to staff, practice areas, whether any lawyers or staff are resistant to using technology, their most pressing needs, how much data is in the current software, how long they’ve used it, if it’s the most recent version, and what other software they are using. This is just the appetizer course of questions, and often reveals information that leads to me asking more questions.
Quite often, the firm doesn’t need a new software program. Maybe they need a new version of their existing program. But often, what they need most is training and proper implementation — or for someone to properly install the software. They fail to see that throwing out their old software has a huge cost. They will be purchasing new software, migrating data from the old software, upgrading hardware because the new software won’t run on the old, training, and paying a certified consultant to assist in this transition. And all the while, the firm will be distracted (even stymied) from practicing law and probably losing money.
If the current software actually was a good choice, then an experienced consultant certified in that software may be the solution. The consultant can assess and remedy issues, properly implement the product to suit the practice and provide training. All in all, it can be much less costly.
Courtney Troutman (@SCBar_PMAP) is Director of the South Carolina Bar Practice Management Assistance Program, which she founded in 2002. A former practicing attorney, she is a frequent author on technology topics, including numerous articles for ABA publications. She is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and a recipient of the 2014 Fastcase 50 Award.
One of the most common mistakes I see when attorneys purchase new technology is doing so without any planning. While there may be great potential benefits to using a certain product (and, trust me, there is a product for just about every one of your firm’s needs), you won’t reap the rewards unless you are thoughtful about the implementation and make plans in advance. Otherwise, you might as well have flushed that money you just spent on the product down the toilet.
Taking these three steps can save you from wasting time and money on good technology.
Heidi Alexander (@HeidiAlexander) is Director of the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program, where she advises lawyers on practice management matters, provides guidance in implementing new law office technologies, and helps lawyers develop healthy and sustainable practices. She frequently makes presentations to the legal community and contributes to publications on law practice management and technology. She is the author of “Evernote as a Law Practice Tool.”
One of the biggest wastes of money is not harnessing the technology you’ve already purchased. Whether it’s document management software, your practice management system or even Microsoft Office, all of it can be a waste of money if you don’t know how to use it. Are you sure you’re using your tech purchases to their maximum potential? You can’t know what you don’t know, so take advantage of technology training that’s available to you. Whether through the vendor, your bar association or even YouTube videos, knowledge can save you money in the long run by making you more efficient.
Nora Regis (@noraregisCBA) is Trainer and Coordinator, Law Practice Management and Technology, for the Chicago Bar Association. She is a former paralegal, specializing in litigation and bankruptcy. Prior to working in legal, she was a technology help desk agent at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The next time you pick up a frequently used bit of text from an old document — language on forms such as notary acknowledgements or the like — note how much time you spent figuring out which document has the best example, finding that document in your filing system, copying and pasting that text into a new document, and fixing the formatting. Then, save your future self some time by saving it as a Quick Part. Building Blocks like Quick Parts are some of the best kept time-saving secrets in Microsoft Word.
Just paste that example into a new document (Ctrl-N for new document, Ctrl-Shift-V to paste without formatting), select it with your mouse, then go to the Insert tab and select Quick Parts. On that menu, choose Save Selection to Quick Part Gallery. Name it and click OK to save. From here on out, all you have to do to drop that text into a document is return to the Insert tab, click Quick Parts, and click that selection in the list. If that’s text you recycle frequently, the time you save using Quick Parts can add up.
Deborah Savadra (@Legal Office Guru, which specializes in helping legal professionals learn Microsoft Office features like Flagging Outlook Emails for follow-up and Using Outlook Rules & Alerts. Follow her on Twitter @legalofficeguru.) is editor and chief blogger at
Download our free guide “Fat Stacks: How Much Does It Cost to Start a Law Firm?” by Jared Correia, here.
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