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A No-Fail Process for Improving Your Law Firm With Technology

If you’re a law firm owner, partner or solo, you might be familiar with the nagging feeling that you’re missing opportunities to improve your practice. You could take payments online, or track time more efficiently, or streamline document drafting. So many possibilities! But you’re an attorney not a technology guru, and you’re busy, so evaluating the myriad offers and opportunities seems daunting, if not impossible. That’s a sentiment we hear regularly from thousands of lawyers we talk to about solving challenges with drafting documents and filling court forms. When you’re trying to decide whether legal technology is right for you, or you’re stuck trying to prioritize what type of technology would be most impactful, there’s one simple rule to keep in mind: Fall in love with the problem you need to solve.

Focus on the Problem

Before evaluating potential tools or technology for your practice, make a list of the problems you need to solve. It’s tempting to do the opposite. Whenever you attend a legal conference or check your email, there are lots of shiny objects (“solutions”) waiting to distract you. But if you want to choose the right solution and ensure you and your team will actually use it, resist the temptation to start with solutions. Here’s a better process that starts with your problem:

  1. Walk to the nearest whiteboard or use sticky notes to brain dump everything that drives you nuts about your firm. Client communication, court filings, document drafting, accounts payable, etc. But be specific. Put every problem on the wall.
  2. Prioritize these problems using a simple rubric. Identify what makes a problem more valuable than others. Would solving a problem bring new revenue? Is there a time constraint that bumps up the urgency? Do clients see the problem? Decide which factors move the needle for you and score the problems you’ve stuck to your wall. Use stars, dots or pins to call out a problem’s significance. Then move the sticky notes with the most signals of priority up to the top. The problem that ends up on top is the one you’re going to solve first.
  3. Now it’s time to start the brainstorming process over again. Use similarly expansive thinking to imagine possible solutions to your problem. Are there low-tech solutions? People-intensive solutions? Technology? Create new sticky notes with every possible solution to your one problem.
  4. As you did with your wall of problems, prioritize your solutions. Maybe you pin solutions that are cheap. Maybe you give points to fast solutions. Which solution will have the most downstream impact? Which will be the easiest to implement? At the end of this second prioritization, you’ll have one solution that ties directly back to one problem.
  5. With solution in hand, set a deadline and identify an advocate. You’ll need one person who owns implementation. If you’re a solo, you might consider hiring outside assistance from a consultant who can do some of the heavy lifting for you. But whatever happens, the key to success is ensuring one person has a clear vision of the problem/solution pairing—and that person is empowered to lead the process. Getting through the next phase takes work, but the long-term value is worth it. We’re talking about making your firm, after all.

A Sample Problem/Solution Pair

Let’s take the example of a family law practice (although this works for many different practice areas if you tweak the type of proceedings). If you serve families in divorce and custody proceedings, you could imagine a very full wall of frustrations:

  • You’re spending too much time drafting routine documents
  • Courts require timely filings but send back documents for vague reasons
  • You can’t collect on hours or bill for flat fee projects as cases wait for updates
  • Clients are mad that someone else’s name appeared in a footer
  • You’re worried about creating accurate documents but feel stretched too thin to ensure consistent quality, etc.

Of all the possible problems, you decide to focus on quality control. You’re most afraid of embarrassing errors causing issues, or potential disciplinary action resulting from an extreme incident. With one problem on the board, you brainstorm solutions:

  • You could create every document yourself rather than delegating
  • You could purchase a library of expensive templates
  • You could hire expensive help that produces custom documents
  • You could incorporate document automation into your practice

If you prioritized a low-cost solution that lets you keep control of your processes and guarantee quality, you might move the “document automation” sticky note to the top. With your problem/solution pair solved, you could start to evaluate different solutions and identify the ones with whom you want to schedule product demos.

Stay Focused on the Problem

The hardest thing about improving your practice with legal technology is getting people to adapt to the new tool. Here are a few things you can do to give your firm the best chance at following through:

  1. Choose a great project manager. An assistant, associate, you — someone needs to own the solution and stay focused on onboarding.
  2. Identify a super-user. When someone involved in the day-to-day can provide constructive input, implementation outcomes improves.
  3. Get training. Technology companies offer varying levels of onboarding, training and support. Understand that as a differentiator when choosing a product and lean into help from your provider.

More than anything, keep the problem that motivated you in mind. Shiny objects won’t solve problems on their own. They’re only tools. They enable you to do things you couldn’t on your own. A hammer won’t tell you where to put a nail. Only the problem that drove you nuts in the first place can guide you effectively. So put that sticky note high on the wall for the whole team to see and keep going. Problem by problem, you’ll change your practice for the better.

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