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Common law hasn’t changed much since the time of Henry II, but today Moore’s law — which says, in essense, that the speed of our technology will double every 18 months — still regulates the global village. Indeed, information technology innovation keeps coming at a dizzying speed. Lawyers, especially those in midsized firms, face real and occasionally unnerving challenges dealing with technology. Finding time to stay current on technology can be overwhelming. Call it “tech fatigue” and add it to the short list of why practicing law in the 21st century can sometimes make your head hurt. So how can IT directors battle fierce legal administrators and the sales forces of software giants, and vanquish the dread tech fatigue? For starters, law is one of the few professions that mandates life-long learning. Many state bars require that you accumulate a significant number of continuing legal education hours every year. Urge your firm’s lawyers to devote some of those required hours to technology courses! Some other tips to keep lawyers’ tech exhaustion at bay: Plan: When adding technology to your business, begin with a clear, detailed plan. Consider what type of firm and practice you have and what you want to achieve through technology. Start from your business needs and goals, not a particular technology. “We need a document management server” is not a business requirement; “We need to ensure that our client documents are not lost or manipulated” is one. Bid: Prepare a requirements document to send out for bid. If you need help, call in a consultant who has expertise in the legal field and knows how to build a request for proposal, but is not aligned with a technology vendor. Budget: Put together a budget. Most law firms spend .5 percent to 1 percent of annual expenditures on technology — and on a purely reactive basis. No wonder every expense is an “ouch.” Be realistic: Consultant Kevin Fream, of Tulsa’s Computer Technology Solutions, which specializes in serving the legal profession, estimates that a budget that’s about 5 percent of your firm’s total expenditures will get the job done properly. ROI: Know your anticipated return on investment before you purchase technology. There are many tools out there to help. Most software vendors can help you estimate ROI on purchases you plan to make, but be sure that their ROI calculations are validated by an independent technology analyst, such as Nucleus Research Inc., www.nucleusresearch.com. Integrate: Select vendors to bid on your proposal and ultimately select one that can provide and support an integrated system. You’re inviting tech fatigue if you let multiple applications rule your world. Integrated applications can talk to each other, reducing unnecessary duplication of data entry. Without out-of-the-box integration, you’ll spend more time and money to get there. Make this your mantra: one platform, one interface, one supplier for all support, service and user problems. Negotiate: Save money by negotiating contracts where you buy multiple products at one time from the same vendor. Outsource: Consider using an independent software vendor or consultant to help you choose, and run, your programs. Outsourcing can help your department provide IT support, often at 30 to 50 percent less cost than a full-time employee. They can supplement your current staff, and can be used to extend help desk and service hours, especially in firms that need 24/7 coverage. But be sure to provide these folks with access to key staff at your firm. Meet annually with your vendor or consultant to review progress and strategy. Training: You can spend a lot of money on hardware and software, but it’s money wasted unless your team is properly trained. Prepare your personnel — attorneys and administrative staff alike — for the changes that new technology will bring to your firm’s culture and business practices. Inadequate training is guaranteed to result in tech fatigue. But training doesn’t have to take a big bite out of billable hours. Plan and budget training for a technology life cycle: both initial and ongoing training should be in small, digestible increments. Don’t assume that a single training class is sufficient, so plan accordingly. Creative training programs help overcome resistance to technology adoption, increase ongoing productivity and improve long-term ROI. Training should support the goals you established for your technology program. Limit upgrades: Make prudent upgrades to software. Just because a product was recently released doesn’t mean that it can solve your problem. Weigh cost of upgrades and personnel stress of a rollout against potential increases in productivity. Advisory committee: Who’s keeping an eye on innovation in technology and making recommendations to the management committee? Develop a strong technology advisory committee at your firm. Seek the support of influential partners and staff who believe in your technology program, can evangelize to others in the firm and be shining examples of how technology increases billings and improves client satisfaction. This proactive approach is bound to improve individual technology ROI and create happier, less tech-fatigued and more productive users. Ken Clements is an industry marketing manager for professional services organizations at Microsoft Corp., based in Redmond, Wash.

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