legal IT, SMB IT | 21 February, 2020

What mid-size law firms must consider when embedding new technology

Mid-size law firms are being squeezed -  smaller, more agile practices are able to respond to new ways of working quickly, whilst large, enterprise level firms are investing heavily in innovation to bring unparalleled levels of productivity.

At the mid-market, law firms aren’t always able to invest so heavily, and are often unable (or unwilling) to change their working practices. But despite initial reluctance, mid-size law firms are now embracing change, and making massive investments in tech too.

The reasons for this are clear – technology is seen as a way to improve efficiency, customer experience and ultimately, increase profitability. Helping firms stay competitive in an increasingly pressured market position.

But snags often arise through rapid uptake of technology. Perhaps the biggest of these is investing in new systems without embedding them properly into an organisation. This can cause serious problems, both in IT terms and through confusion amongst staff and clients - a mistake mid-size firms simply can’t afford to make.  

But it doesn’t have to be this way. With thought, time and effort, tech can be embedded into your firm’s existing infrastructure, so that new combines with old and everything aligns seamlessly across your firm’s operations. This ensures that working practices don’t suffer and that productivity is quickly boosted and sustained.

Here are the main factors mid-size firms must consider when embedding new technology:

Focus on what your firm needs

Levels of tech investment are at an all time high in the legal sector, creating pressure within firms to follow the trend through fear of being left behind.

With this comes the risk of investing in tech for the sake of it –  because it is what the competition is doing. This can lead to the acquisition of new tools that aren’t necessary, or don’t really add any useful functionality.

Before you invest in any technology you need to ask yourself one simple question – what is the problem that needs solving? All your staff should be involved in this process – so consult them on the main challenges they are facing and how they would like to see them addressed. This will help recognise areas for improvement and mitigate implementation risks. You could, for example, identify a need to make collaboration easier across your workforce and with clients. This process will narrow down your focus.   

When you have identified what you actually need to do, then you can look at the technological solutions which address those specific problems. Following this process will prevent you from embedding tech that you don’t really need, which is a quick way to waste lots of money.  

Explain the change to staff and clients

A big part of the embedding process is your people. You have to think about the people who will be using your new tech – both your staff and clients. It can be difficult to adapt to change. Senior staff, who may have been operating in the same way for decades, may need to be encouraged to adopt the new working practices that come with new technology. The same applies to clients, who must be advised of any changes well in advance and then properly consulted on how these will affect how they work with you.

Look at the figures

Just like any big investment, buying tech needs to be properly costed. This doesn’t just mean the initial purchase cost, but also the money involved in integration and the ongoing price of supporting these new systems. Not to mention fees for consultants who may need to be brought in to implement and manage the change. Not factoring in these costs could mean you end up with a piece of technology, but a limited budget to implement it properly.

It’s wise to over-estimate costs at this stage, as buying into something on a best-case scenario, that then escalates, can lead to serious financial problems, missed implementation deadlines and wasted time.  

Look at your existing systems

Unless you are planning  a complete IT reboot, your new tech will have to fit in with your existing systems. You need to ensure that what you are bringing in will integrate and complement what you already have. This comes down to careful planning - you must assess your existing systems and verify that the new tools will fit in with them, both from a technology and process standpoint. 

Evaluating your current platforms may also reveal ways you can use them more efficiently, which helps you to boost your return on the tools and systems you already have in place.

In summary

Investing in tech is vital for the future of any law firm - but especially so for firms in the mid-market squeeze. However,  the investment itself is not the end of the matter. You need to be careful to look at how your new systems and tools will work within your practice and that they can be embedded in a way that complements existing systems and takes account of the needs of both staff and clients.

When this is done properly, tech can be embedded quickly and efficiently and with minimal disruption – helping your firm stay competitive in the future of the legal profession.

Posted by Matthew Newton

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