Knocking at Fort Knox
Warren Tayler, chair of an online print management company, has found it hard to sell IT solutions to law firms because he cannot get access to the real decision-makers
We all know the reformed heavy smoker who glares at the packet of cigarettes emerging from one’s pocket, waves a hand in front of his face to ward off imagined smoke, sniffs loudly as he enters a smoky room and sends his dinner guests to freeze on the balcony while they indulge in their after-dinner drag. Much the same can be said of my attitude to those tainted with belonging to the legal profession. One has to remember that reformed smokers are hiding their envy and jealousy of those who brave the risk of the big C. Reformed lawyers, on the other hand, might be accused of a similar envy of those who stayed the course of long hours to pull in great financial rewards.I decided to read law at university, but in the exam hall at the end of the first year, faced with the first paper, I decided quickly that the law and I did not mix.Instead of the ignominy of seeing my name at the bottom of the results league, I wrote a letter to the head of the faculty there and then. I apologised for wasting his time and informed him of my wish to change to economics forthwith. Ten minutes later I was breathing a great sigh of relief as I took my drag outside in the courtyard.So, now you know – I was a failed lawyer acting like a reformed smoker.Many years later, I find that my company and I are selling services to the legal world. And, yes, I am still glad I changed tack. My experience of the legal profession has shown that back then I suspected correctly – it is demanding and sometimes repetitive work, with young Turks forcing the pace of competitiveness, and, particularly in the corporate sphere, hours that would send most companies to an industrial tribunal.I come across managing partners whose faces glaze over as they struggle with the intricacies of running a business and professional managers who are unable to manage their law firms effectively because a ‘that-is-not-the-way-we-do-things-here’ attitude pervades their every move.Information technology in certain forms can be adopted quickly by lawyers. But too often this is only to facilitate the production of draft after draft of documents – all chargeable, of course, to the client.Yet the management of the supporting infrastructure of the law firm, where information technology could truly bring in results, is frequently left to chance and the backroom or basement boys.How many times have I heard the phrases: “I have run out of business cards, I am afraid”; “here is our list of partners, a little out of date I fear”; “our literature needs redoing, we have joined up with so and so (last year actually)”; or “sorry, the telephone code is wrong, being changed soon”. Then there is the oft-heard “I have no idea of the cost. Wait until I do the bill.”The funny thing is that, although most lawyers have had to get to grips with their computers and manage very well in their chosen specialisation, they totally ignore how information technology can help to effectively administer the business. Usually the response to this paradox is: “Who in the law firms has the time to find out what is available?”.The bottom line is that law firms are run as profit centres. With the focus on chargeable hours, no-one has the time or inclination to run and administer the business.It is frustrating to know what is possible, to know how others can help and yet not be able to communicate this to someone in authority who has responsibility for bringing the changes into effect.The predictions are that in many areas of business e-commerce models could save 7%-8% of overheads. But e-commerce is just a highfalutin word for making technology work in an office or business environment. It is often nothing more than an additional piece of software, something as straightforward as the addition of connecting wires between two computers. This is the same for the legal world as it is with any other business. But getting to the decision-makers… I tell you, Fort Knox has nothing on those guys.Ah, well, I did choose business instead of law.
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