Troubleshooting: It’s Not Always the Technology

By | Sep.13.12 | Daily Dispatch, Law Practice Management, Legal Technology

There are about 23 different business processes in most law firms. They range from new client intake to check requests to conflicts checks. When there’s a problem with one of them—maybe it takes too long or there are too many errors—believe it or not, it isn’t always the underlying technology that is to blame.

In the consulting world, we speak of the three-legged stool. Technology is one of the legs. Your people are another leg. But many stumble on the third leg: the process leg. A three-legged stool needs to be balanced; otherwise it will fall. In many cases, you can solve the problem using your existing technology and existing people by merely improving the process.

How a Three-Legged Stool Works

Let’s illustrate with an example. One of the common processes, handled differently by nearly every law firm (the devil is in the details), is opening up a new matter. It can almost always be made more efficient. So let’s take a look at it.

Most law firms use a New Business Memorandum when opening up a new client or matter. Once the initial NBM is completed, where does it go next? Does it go to accounting or to conflicts staff? How long does it stay there before moving to the next person? When does the new client or matter finally get approved? The list of questions can go on for quite a while, and the larger the firm is, the more involved the process can become.

So, one of the first things to do is determine how long it takes your firm to open a new matter. If the whole thing takes more than a day, you need to find out where the bottlenecks are. If you follow the process in your firm from beginning to end, you will most likely identify several ways to improve speed and efficiency:

  • Modifying the steps in the process,
  • Working with the people involved in the process, or
  • Utilizing new technology.

Just because there is a new technology or an opportunity to upgrade, however, that may not be the best answer. Yes, you can upgrade technology, but without people coming up to speed as well, it can fail. Even with good training and tips, most law firms often forget to review the process for which they originally installed the technology.

So rather than point to the technology first, consider the other two legs of the stool: people and processes. Begin by refining and improving them. When one changes, they all change.

Andrew Z. Adkins III is the CIO at Steptoe & Johnson PLLC, based in Bridgeport, WV. He was one of the early pioneers in legal technology and spent most of his career as an independent consultant working with hundreds of law firms throughout the country. He established the Legal Technology Institute at the University of Florida College of Law in the late 1990s, was Chair of ABA TECHSHOW in 2000 and 2001, and was the Co-chair of LegalTech Conferences 2000-2007. He has written hundreds of articles and several books on legal technology. He can be reached at

Illustration © ImageZoo.

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3 Responses to “Troubleshooting: It’s Not Always the Technology”

  1. David Whelan
    13 September 2012 at 8:42 am #

    Great post, Andy! I was thinking about just this thing this morning, after sitting through a new product demo yesterday. The business unit liked the “shiny” product, but hadn’t yet worked up requirements for IT.

    In my head, I was using the analogy of baking a cake. We tend to buy a new mixer each time we want to mix the ingredients, rather than looking in our kitchen to see what we already have (fork, whisk, blender, etc.) that we could use. Whether that’s technology or untapped skills in a person, it’s surprising how often that’s overlooked. Thanks for putting it into context!

  2. Wendy
    13 September 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    I’ve actually had clients tell me that improved business processes would “surely” emerge from the application of technology. As a sage once told me: “Technology makes crappy business processes fail faster”.