Managed service providers can provide small firms with the technology strategies and solutions usually reserved for large firms with in-house IT teams.
Over the course of the pandemic, lawyers and staff at large law firms have confronted many of the technical obstacles and frustrations that small firm owners deal with all the time. Starting or joining a small firm is often a wake-up call for those accustomed to the resources available at more established organizations. Key among those resources — whether underestimated or missing from small firms’ plans — is information technology and the staff to support it.
When You Outgrow Your Tech Guru
Like many businesses, small law firms often start out with a tech-savvy friend or relative serving as the organization’s initial IT guru. As the firm grows, it becomes apparent that – no matter how nice a person that guru may be – the firm’s needs are evolving beyond the capacities of any single person. The question then becomes: Do you divert the firm’s income to building an IT department or outsource IT to a managed service provider (MSP) that can manage it for you?
What Is a Managed Service Provider?
The Gartner definition of managed service provider says:
A managed service provider (MSP) delivers services, such as network, application, infrastructure and security, via ongoing and regular support and active administration on customers’ premises, in their MSP’s data center (hosting), or a third-party data center. MSPs may deliver their own native services in conjunction with other providers’ services. Pure-play MSPs focus on one vendor or technology, usually their own core offerings. Many MSPs include services from other types of providers.
Over the past 15 months, a few media sources have noted the overlooked importance of technical support and help desk staff to the survival of many businesses – and, indeed, the national economy. The ability to contact a technology professional who can answer and remotely fix most users’ issues meant that most lawyers could continue serving clients with little downtime while they remained at home.
Having someone available to fix common technology issues is indeed important, but there’s more to it. Contracting with an MSP that operates with a “break-fix” philosophy will not set up a firm for long-term success. Beyond remote support, the MSP should be guiding you to adopt technology that makes your firm more efficient and effective. From implementing necessary infrastructure and software to moving an office-based firm to one able to operate from anywhere to making certain your clients’ information is secure, MSPs can provide small firms with technology strategies and solutions usually reserved for large firms with in-house IT teams.
MSP Services and Costs
Every managed service provider is different, but they generally offer services ranging from project-based work to ongoing planning, security and support. Pricing can be flat-fee or hourly. Your MSP should be able to offer services tailored to your firm, making rates and some options negotiable.
With the growth of cloud computing in the legal space, some wonder if they need an MSP if they have a cloud service provider. Cloud service providers (CSPs) provide cloud-based solutions and storage but do not necessarily integrate or support them for professional users. MSPs can help you set up equipment and network infrastructure in a new office, patch your systems, provide remote support for your users and much more. Often, you will have both a CSP and an MSP — but the MSP will conduct most communications with the cloud service provider, removing another task from your to-do list.
When considering the cost, it is important to consider the unseen costs that are eliminated when your technology simply works. MSPs can help you eliminate downtime related to your technology and the inevitable frustration that ensues. Further, the protection afforded by having knowledgeable legal technology experts helping you manage and protect your clients’ information can be priceless.
Vetting a Managed Service Provider
When beginning a search, look for managed service providers with experience in your industry or niche — and consider the experience and stability of the staff who will be working with you. Your firm should not be the guinea pig for an MSP trying to break into the legal market. Experienced professionals familiar with law firms can apply that knowledge to your challenges and more deeply understand your firm’s particular needs.
Ask colleagues for referrals and do your due diligence. Once you’ve identified your final candidates, ask for references from other law firms. Make sure their expectations are being met.
Your Partnership With an MSP Should Be a Long-term, Growth-Focused Alliance
Ideally, MSPs help law firms effectively employ the latest, most cost-efficient technology, advising on ways to build IT into the firm’s business plan to meet long-term goals — from cloud computing to the burgeoning machine learning and artificial intelligence solutions to cybersecurity training and software upgrades.
Working with a managed service provider is an excellent way for small to midsize law firms to get full-spectrum IT expertise without the worry, cost and time required to build an IT department from the ground up.
Managed Service Provider FAQs:
The best way to get the most out of your partnership is to select an MSP with experience in your industry. An MSP that specializes in law firm technology will have deep knowledge of how your firm operates, along with any local, state and federal regulations you must contend with and what it takes to run a law firm’s IT department successfully. Once you identify a potential MSP, share a history of your past help desk tickets and talk through your issues with previous MSPs if you had them. Share any plans for your near future, such as office lease duration, moves, acquisitions and resource-intensive projects.
By reviewing your history with other services and software, MSPs gain specific knowledge of past pain points or deficiencies that may need immediate or long-term attention. Further, an MSP with law firm experience can recommend solutions others use that you may not be aware of. For instance, many law firms rely on specific software that allows them to archive email and documents, associate them with specific cases, store them securely to maintain attorney-client privilege, and destroy them after a specific amount of time. Some larger firms need a robust software solution, while some smaller firms want a simpler solution for this.
There are two important things to remember when negotiating contracts with MSPs. First, there’s always room for negotiation on implementation. The MSP wants your recurring business and revenue. Second, make sure there is language in the contract about meeting annually to evaluate the partnership’s success and discuss adjustments in costs, fees and services when necessary. A good experience requires some give-and-take on both sides of the partnership.
Subscribe to Attorney at Work
Get really good ideas every day for your law practice: Subscribe to the Daily Dispatch (it’s free). Follow us on Twitter @attnyatwork.