It’s 4 p.m., and a midsize law firm finds that its document management software suddenly has a glitch. Attorneys and staff can’t access information, and they’re working toward a deadline.
The firm doesn’t have in-house IT staff, so any problems default to the involuntary CIO. This poor soul is whichever partner, attorney, administrative assistant or other staff member who happened to get tasked with handling IT. Such individuals aren’t technology experts, yet somehow they end up becoming the go-to person for IT-related issues. They may try to fix the problem themselves, or perhaps reach out to the vendor for assistance. No matter what option they choose, they can end up wasting hours on phone calls, checking equipment, running tests and more.
I use this scenario to illustrate how technology issues can disrupt your firm’s productivity. Whether you have in-house IT staff or a lawyer or administrator “involuntarily” fills that role, growth spurts or even the firm’s natural evolution may lead you to rethink how you handle IT.
Outsourcing IT takes the day-to-day work off the plate of administrative staff and lawyers who have no interest in acting as IT administrators. It allows you to have the IT expertise you need at your fingertips, whenever it is needed, and it can offer a competitive advantage.
When do you know that your firm is ready to consider outsourcing IT? Here are six signs to help you pinpoint when it’s time.
1. Your meetings focus on IT problems, not legal matters. When partners discuss technology, their conversations should focus on how to use hardware and software to further growth, gain more clients and deliver better service. When meetings begin to center around failing hardware, frequent outages, a lack of mobile access and other frustrations, it’s time to consider outsourcing.
2. You’re having trouble filling IT roles. There’s a high demand for IT professionals with legal knowledge. Law firms don’t have the same business and technology challenges as corner stores do, so there is a churn as firms compete for strong candidates. IT professionals also love to be challenged. If you only upgrade your hardware and software every few years, you won’t be offering much of an incentive to retain top talent.
When you outsource, you don’t have to worry about attracting and retaining IT staff. However, you need to be sure that the company you work with has experience with law firms and legal applications, or your staffing problems will continue.
3. Your IT costs are spiraling out of control. When law firms manage IT on-site, the costs can mount quickly. Servers must be repaired or replaced. Adding new users incurs exponential costs. Integrating with a new billing system or other software can bring a big price tag. Attorneys and staff need mobile accessibility any time of the day or night, whether they are in the office, in court or traveling.
Outsourced providers can work for an agreed-on rate for recurring, monthly charges. Your firm will have a stable monthly expense instead of the often wildly fluctuating budgets of internal, on-site IT programs.
4. Your firm can’t focus on strategic IT applications. A well-run IT department will have the expertise to focus on improving efficiencies, scope out what the competition is doing, and determine how to support the firm’s priorities. In contrast, when technology is managed internally by reluctant CIOs, lawyers and staff are often too busy (rushing from one crisis to another) to develop strategic plans.
An outsourced provider can pull from a vast array of knowledge that includes how other law firms have defeated challenges and developed competitive advantages. This firsthand experience can be a valuable resource when it comes to evaluating and applying IT strategically.
5. Your firm is growing rapidly. Adding new attorneys and staff at a quick pace is excellent, but it brings IT challenges that must be handled in a responsive manner. When a new member joins the firm, someone must set up the new user’s account and privileges. Likewise, when attorneys leave, their computer access credentials must be revoked immediately to ensure they are not taking any privileged information with them. However, when the person in charge of IT is in the middle of preparing for a trial, it can take days to set up a new user account or decommission an old one. That impairs your firm’s productivity and bottom line, and it can even put privileged client and firm information at risk.
6. You worry about cybersecurity. If you toss and turn at night wondering how you can protect the firm from new cybersecurity threats, it may be time to consider outsourcing IT to the experts. Attorneys and staff don’t have the bandwidth to stay on top of cybersecurity — and very few of them want to. By outsourcing, you allow professionals who focus on IT to take over this headache.
Joe Kelly, founder and CEO of Legal Workspace, is a passionate entrepreneur who constantly explores how to use technology to make life easier for law firms. He is a frequent speaker and has contributed to numerous legal and technology publications. You can reach Joe by email at email@example.com.
Subscribe to Attorney at Work
Get really good ideas every day: Subscribe to the Daily Dispatch and Weekly Wrap (it’s free). Follow us on Twitter @attnyatwork.