Law Firm Technology

Friday, August 22, 2014

Is Your Firm Tech Savvy? It Will Save you Money

Read the article below taken from the ABA Law Journal which brings up the software-technology angle on a point that we harp upon repeatedly: just because you work really hard does not mean you are doing a good job.  Billing a client for “hard work” spent navigating a software system that has you baffled is a crying shame.  Everyone has to learn to do new things, yes, sure.  And we often learn new things, because it is necessary during the course of a case.  But as the author below points out, should lawyers bill clients for slowness on plain old software systems? No!  Especially those old ones the author notes below where lawyers are often still deficient like MS Office applications (Word, Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint and a new favorite, OneNote).  Software applications that we should know well … at least since Y2K (yes, it’s been 15 years).

What’s the solution? Consider making the learning curve part of the firm’s expense by giving the client a discount.  Frankly, you should not even admit how much time you spend fixing errors in Word anyway. Either lower your hours, or lower the hourly rate if you admittedly are using a new system.

Our firm has chosen individuals, both lawyers and staff, who know how to make a case or issue move quickly inception to preparation and filing because of our knowledge and methods using software. We realized we don’t need high overhead nor the frustration of navigating software poorly and clicking our lives and client-dollars away.  Furthermore, why so many softwares? A few (2-3) good applications can easily cover office systems and client management. 

What can a client do to guard against this?  Not much.  But there are clues along the way. Ask questions.  If you are big, audit your law firm like the author below suggests.  And ask the lawyers to train their staff.

Article: “Tech test could give law firms an incentive to make efficiency gains” Posted Aug 18, 2014 by Monica L. Sandler and pulled from ABA Journal Aug 22, 2014.

First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they attack you. Then you win. As a legal technology trainer, I'm eagerly anticipating the winning that should accompany the launch of the Suffolk Flaherty Legal Technology Audit. For more than a year, I’ve been working on the automated version of the LTA alongside the eponymous Casey Flaherty and Suffolk Law’s Andrew Perlman. The LTA is finally ready for prime time.

Casey developed the LTA when he moved in-house. He was motivated by what he witnessed as outside counsel: institutionalized waste driven by poor utilization of standard, labor-saving features built into everyday software (e.g., Outlook, Word, Excel). Casey created an assessment based on labor-intensive assignments commonly given to junior attorneys and paralegals. He administered the original LTA to associates and staff at his outside counsel.

Not surprisingly, the associates and paralegals fared abysmally on Casey’s assessment. What should have taken one hour took five, at an average rate of $270 per hour. Casey publicized the results in these very pages and, along the way, gained a partner in Suffolk’s Andy Perlman, a board of advisers (including me), and an opportunity to disseminate the LTA to a much wider audience. We’ve been working towards making the LTA commercially available and are thrilled to announce that the time is now.

Sign-ups begin Aug. 18 to coincide with the International Legal Technology Association’s annual conference. Administration of the LTA commences Sept. 2. But life should become truly interesting on Halloween. The Association of Corporate Counsel’s annual conference ends Oct. 31. On that day, the LTA will begin to fulfill free score requests submitted by in-house counsel. That is, in-house counsel will be able to see how their outside counsel performed (if outside counsel agree to release their scores). This transparency is the true genius of the LTA.

The theory is that clients have not held law firms accountable because accountability is near impossible without transparency. Sans accountability, there have been far too few incentives for law firms to sustain efforts to invest in the efficacy and efficiency gains that come with basic tech competence. I am excited to see what happens when the LTA is fully available. Will clients, who have complained about inefficiency for years, actually hold firms to account now that they have a tool to do so? Will law firms—famously slow to change—respond to pressure from their clients? Will LTA scores become the new metric that underscores law firm marketing (better, faster, cheaper)? Will bar associations put more an emphasis on tech training in granting CLE credits? And what about law schools? How long will it take them to respond to the "new" old reality that much of legal practice requires working on a computer? (There is also a law school edition of the LTA.)

Undoubtedly, I have a vested interest in the success of the LTA. My company and I stand to benefit from increased demand for technical training in law firms, especially because I have been so involved in bringing the LTA to market. But, for me, it goes way beyond short-term gains. My fellow trainers and I have been beating this drum for decades. We found lawyers and their staff wanting in basic tech competence, despite the fact that most spend the vast majority of their days sitting at a computer and billing for their time. But not many attorneys listened to our message until Casey came along.

If our industry finally ups its tech game, we will be celebrating a victory for everyone involved. Trainers will get our audience. Lawyers and staff will get the training they desperately need while securing blissful release from the low-value-added drudgery that occupies too much of their valuable time. Most importantly, clients will get the service they have always deserved.

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