Technology continually tops the charts of the most important investments in law firms, and so positive and rapid return on investment is critical – perhaps even more so in the current Covid-19 climate. Systems that facilitate getting ‘more done for less’ are essential to ensure increased profits, but it cannot be at the expense of client experience or service quality. Simple as it sounds, achieving all this with technology is proving to be a significant challenge. So then, how should firms approach technology investment?
In my view, there are three typical scenarios of technology investment in firms:
- The first is typified in an engagement from a couple of years ago where I reviewed the portfolio of a large US firm. With more than 20 different applications used by their lawyers, each from a different supplier, their business efficiencies were being lost. Many of the tools had been chosen by the lawyers themselves and although individually they often did a great job, nothing was synchronised meaning the end user experience was disjointed, repetitive and time consuming. So, the firm’s ask of me was: “how can we create a seamless experience and help our teams do more work for less cost and effort?”
- This second scenario is where a firm has bought a single tool to do everything. Unfortunately, like a surgeon with a pen knife rather than a tray of surgical scalpels, the system has been unable to deliver at the level it needed to, being neither powerful nor flexible enough to achieve the margins and profits they planned for.
- Finally, is this scenario that is common with larger organisations - big budget applications are purchased because they have the right IT badge on the box. Often such investments are heavily influenced by IT departments with a bias toward the technology rather than the solution, and with little involvement from the lawyers in the purchase decision making. These systems can cost small fortunes, require extensive resourcing and take too long to successfully implement, without necessarily delivering enough return on investment. More often than not, the needs of the lawyers and their clients are lost in extended timescales and spiralling costs.
So how do you select a system that meets the needs of ‘more for less’, offers enough power and flexibility to deliver the right client experience, whilst also being sufficiently agile enough to meet the needs of individual lawyers? Start with the business case.
The business case for any new system must show a clear and agreed return on investment. Whilst financial data can be adjusted to make the numbers work, there are some practical steps that can also be taken. An easy, early question to ask of the technology vendor is: “where else has this system been proven to deliver?” Knowing it has a track record is helpful. Then consider the metrics that will prove the system’s success. The data you track to this end must support the objectives set by the business - perhaps increased case volumes, improved client response times and feedback, reduced overheads, and such. Finally, and most importantly, engage the stakeholders to make them part of the technology selection process and drive it forward as a business decision. A successful solution needs the strategic alignment from the business leaders and the validation from the lawyers that it meets their requirements.
The good news is that there is proven technology available that can make a tangible difference to help firms navigate their way through these difficult times. Deployed correctly, business leaders in the sector with a vision for better, more profitable operations will see their practices emerging stronger, more efficient and offering the client service levels that the market demands.