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Attorneys often recommend that their clients make business decisions that may cost significant amounts of money, yet those same attorneys are often reluctant to make the decision to invest even small amounts in the technology necessary to improve their practices. On the other hand, attorneys tell numerous stories about how they informed clients that if they had come in for a consultation, they would have avoided a far more expensive lawsuit. By ignoring technology, or trying to do it for “free,” lawyers do the same thing with technology. In other words, rather than hire competent staff or pay a consultant to help select, install and train their staff, attorneys often do without or try to do it themselves. Or, instead of modernizing their practices, attorneys stubbornly cling to the belief that the old way of handling files is still the best. To reap the maximum benefit from their staff, and to improve their own productivity, attorneys should understand that the effective use of technology is often one of the most critical distinctions between firms that grow and thrive and those that stagnate. This article will summarize a few of the components that are critical for successful technology planning: • Don’t cut corners. • Emphasize systems security. • Acknowledge the need to reduce your use of and reliance on paper. • Focus on legal-specific solutions. • Engage your staff in every aspect of the process. DON’T CUT CORNERS Maximizing the use of technology makes dollars and sense. Consider the following well-known example: If you bill $150 per hour, but can save six minutes per day by using a computerized case management system, a $1,500 investment pays for itself in less than five months. Although most law firms will acknowledge that this makes economic sense, they find that taking the next step and doing something about it is more difficult. Similarly, law firms often view technology support, whether employing an onsite staffer or using a firm to provide support, as an extravagance. If a qualified information technology staff person costs a firm $75,000, that’s about $36 per hour, assuming a 40-hour work week, and a much lower hourly cost than any law firm charges for even a newly-minted attorney. In other words, for $36 per hour, your information technology staffer can keep your network healthy, perform diagnostics on individual work stations and check for and install software updates. Plus, if your firm needs a support person to assist at trial, your staff person can perform the job for far less than it costs to outsource the work. If your firm cannot afford a full-time staffer, consider hiring a part-time worker or contracting with a support company to perform that role on an hourly or fixed-cost basis. Either way, your lawyers are not installing software and configuring computers. If you hire a part-time support person, consider that, for about $2,000 per year (about 10 to 15 hours of many attorneys’ time), you could receive quadruple the time from someone who actually knows what he or she is doing. EMPHASIZE SYSTEMS SECURITY Think of the nightmares you never want to experience: • An attorney quits and takes his clients’ files, including all the electronic data. • A disgruntled employee destroys key client data. • A firm laptop containing highly sensitive and confidential client data is destroyed, lost or stolen. • Someone, perhaps a dissatisfied client or employee, hacks into your computer network and publishes confidential business and client information on the Internet. Security breaches happen every day, and most are never disclosed publicly. We all know that these things can and do occur, and if you are the victim, the cost may be enormous and could even jeopardize the future of your firm. That is why you must make security your No. 1 priority. Here are a few components critical to successful systems security: • Firewalls. • Anti-virus software. • Anti-spam software or services. • Secure backup systems. • Use of passwords, encryption, and other data protections on all laptops, PDAs and other devices that are taken outside the firm. • Enforced policies restricting personal use of firm computers, including e-mail and Internet usage. • Information, document retention and destruction practices. RELIANCE ON PAPER It is estimated that every lost piece of paper costs a business $120. Fifteen percent of all paper handled in businesses is lost, and 30 percent of all employees’ time is spent trying to find lost documents. In 2000, consultants for the Connecticut-based Gartner Group estimated that, by 2003, the average professional would waste 30 percent to 40 percent of his or her time on “document-related non-value-added tasks,” i.e., paper shuffling. If the average professional makes at least $1,000 a week, that’s $15,600 to $20,800 wasted per year per worker. Keep on multiplying. If you have 10 professionals, you could lose more than $150,000 annually. Paper equals clutter, and every time you or your staff handles a piece of paper, you are losing money. That is why it so important to reduce your firm’s reliance on paper. There are many ways to do so. For most law firms composed of more than a handful of people, voluntary programs do not work well. That means it is time to implement document management, i.e., either an informal program or a formal computer program designed to track and store every document electronically. LEGAL SPECIFIC SOLUTIONS There are numerous matter management and other legal specific software programs from which to choose. Law firm specific software is generally more functional than generic software and far more cost efficient than creating custom-designed programs. Choosing among practice management and case management software alternatives, for example, generally requires careful thought and professional help. No program is perfect for every firm, and no firm should select a product based on features and price alone. To properly evaluate a firm’s software needs, you should consider the firm’s culture, how prepared your attorneys and staff are for change and the technical skill of the firm’s users. There are also many other programs other than case management that a law firm may need. At times, firms do not even realize that these products exist, let alone that they can dramatically improve the staff’s efficiency and produce a better work product than through traditional means. In those circumstances, a consultant familiar with your firm’s type of practice may offer recommendations that will allow you to make a fully informed decision. ENGAGE YOUR STAFF The best plans in the world fail if the people who implement them refuse to cooperate. No matter what the software or hardware, unless you can demonstrate to every group in your firm how the new technology will directly benefit them, the project will fail. All too often firms focus on one problem and find a product to address it; this narrow focus may lead to a shortsighted, inflexible and user-unfriendly system. By offering all users the opportunity to provide input, you increase the likelihood of receiving the buy-in necessary to implement new technology, while getting the most bang for your buck. You might also want to recruit those in the firm who have either embraced past technology developments and used them successfully, or have resisted technology, encouraging them to become directly involved in the planning and implementation process. When users are invested in the process, they are more likely to support the product and to respond level-headedly when obstacles arise. In summary, do not become one of the stories your technology staff or consultants tell about how if the attorneys had just listened, they would have avoided a far more expensive and time-consuming crisis. By using technology, and not trying to do it for “free,” your firm’s future and its bottom line will almost certainly improve.

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