Thanks for rejoining us in our Change Management Series! If you missed it, check out the first article in the series addressing the Duty of Technology Competence recognized by the ABA and many states. In this article we discuss why software changes are so difficult, particularly for small law firms, and how one can begin to properly prepare for a change.
Why Implementing or Changing Legal Software Is Difficult
No matter your good intentions, making the switch from an outdated software system to a better one is a difficult transition. There are several reasons the change is difficult, and you will need to understand these reasons before you can effectively overcome them.
Top reasons it’s difficult:
- You are overwhelmed. One of the biggest challenges law firms face when trying to implement a software change is that they try to “eat the elephant” in one big bite. If you’re trying to make massive changes to your technology tools, you must tackle the issue in a manageable “bite” sizes – pun intended. If you take on too much, it will become overwhelming for everyone at your law firm, and eventually people will go back to the old ways of doing things because it’s easier to handle.
- You are comfortable. Many law firms stick with the old ways of doing things because they are comfortable. The software may not be perfect, but maybe you’ve come up with hacky ways to get it to work for you at least 80% of the time. Yes, it takes more time and energy to do simple things but you’re comfortable because you know the old system, and learning a new system may come with more problems than you have now—at least that’s your reasoning.
- You are afraid. Modern law firms are heavily dependent on their technology tools. Implementing something on a wide scale can be terrifying. Many lawyers suffer from catastrophic thinking; they fear that if something goes wrong it will ruin an important matter (and they’re all important) and destroy their business. But in reality, that is a logical fallacy. Every piece of software will have a problem or issue that needs to be worked out, but most problems aren’t catastrophic for your law firm business. At most, technology problems will be annoying and inconvenient.
- You have no strategy. Some law firms jump head first into software changes with no plan about how they will integrate the new system into their existing processes or how they will train their employees. When law firms have no strategy for implementing a software change, they are essentially sailing blind. They can’t see what trouble may lay ahead so they have no way of preparing for it. Additionally, diving in blind tells staff that the change is not that important and needs not be taken seriously. No plan usually always results in staff doing things the old way within a few days because no one in the office is serious about the change.
- You don’t have a toolbox. Making the switch to a new software system requires support—training and technical support. Law firms who don’t have a toolbox available to help them with the technical challenges of implementing a new software system will ultimately stumble and possibly give up on the new system.
- You tried it and it didn’t work. Many law firms have gone through the process of trying to implement a new software system only to have it not really work out. This experience of failure can make them gun shy the next time it’s time to update their technology tools. But technological change is inevitable. Law firms can’t hide for technology advances.
- You won’t accept failure as part of the process. A refusal to accept failure as part of the process is one of the biggest reasons law firms find implementing software changes difficult. It’s not a matter of if something will go wrong, it’s a matter of when and if you will be prepared.
So how can law firms overcome these obstacles to change?
- Accept reality. The first step to overcoming the major obstacles to change is accepting the reality that law firms cannot afford to ignore technological changes. This idea must become a part of your thought process, and you must fully integrate technology assessments and necessary upgrades into your business plan. Every year you should be reviewing your technology to make sure that it is doing what you need it to do and that you are using the best tech tools for your law firm and your clients.
- Get help. Unless you are a technology expert, don’t try to tackle this problem alone. Think about it, would you try to do your own payroll or taxes when you can hire a competent accountant? Then don’t try at DIY method for your software upgrades. Hire people who understand the technology needs of law firms, they will tell you what you need to modernize your systems. Or better yet, choose a tech system that provides people to help every step of the way.
- Create a strategy. You must have a strategy for tackling your new software implementation. Figure out what you will do first and when. Create a timeline and a budget so that you’re not struggling to make your plan happen. Also, your strategy should include a plan to train all of your staff and hire technical support.
- Get a toolbox. There are two basic components of your toolbox that you absolutely need if you want to successfully implement a new software system in a way that isn’t too painful. First, you need good training for all of your employees. But this isn’t something that can just be done in a one-day training. Yes, a one-day training is great, but it’s just a start. You need access to a help desk where employees can ask questions. And you need access to trainers who can teach new employees and give more advanced workshops to experienced employees. Second, you need competent and continuous technical support. When things go wrong, you need access to software experts who can solve the problem quickly. Investing in long-term technical support is a critical tool you should have in your toolbox.
- Dispel the fear. If you’re feeling afraid of a software change, you must make a mindset shift by understanding that change is inevitable and that while things will go wrong, they are rarely catastrophic. You can dispel a lot of that fear by finding out what can go wrong from the experts you hired to help you and coming up with a plan to protect your data and business. This is the smart way to deal with the inevitability of problems arising. Also, be sure to help dispel the fear of your employees. Whether employment status-related or tech-related, much of your staff will have voiced or hidden fears about technology, so try to help them through so that they are assets during the transition.
- Prepare for change. Finally, if you want to overcome the obstacles that make change difficult, you must prepare yourself and your law firm for the change. Whatever you do, don’t surprise your employees with major changes to their technological systems. If you surprise employees with change, you will increase their fear and their resistance to the change. Always give plenty of notice that your technology tools are changing, and, as discussed before, help them through the transition in a supportive way.
How To Prepare For A Software Change
Preparing for a software change is pivotal to ensuring that the process goes smoothly with as few problems as possible. Here are some key steps you should take to prepare for a software change:
Meet with your staff to discuss goals for the software change. It’s important that you do two things in this meeting: 1) clarify what impact you want the technology change to have on your law firm, and 2) get everyone’s input about what their needs are around technology.
- Clarify your goals. Work with your staff to clarify what goals you think the software switch will help you meet. A few examples:
- Automate repetitive processes.
- Bill more time.
- Be more efficient.
- Track law firm productivity.
- Streamline processes.
- Collect data to make more informed business decisions.
As you clarify your goals, find out what your staff thinks they need to get out of the software changes. Pay close attention to the input of employees who do the bulk of administrative work.
- Inventory current technology. Make a list of all the software and hardware you use in your law firm. Will the hardware properly handle the new software? If not, you may need to update your hardware.
- Discover the pain points. Find out what your staff and clients think is working or not working with your current technology. If you don’t have much information from clients, consider creating a survey that asks them about their experience with your current software they interact with.
- Inventory all of your files. Just as you manage your physical files, you must also manage your digital files. You should know what files you have, where they live, and whether they are related to ongoing or closed matters.
- Assign roles and responsibilities for the transition. Everyone in your law firm should have some responsibility for making the transition to a new software system a smooth one. Be sure to give everyone a job to do, and set up a system of accountability to make sure things get done.
- Export digital data. Before you make your technology transition, you should export all data that will be impacted by the change.
- Create an archival system. If you don’t have one already, or if your current system isn’t a good fit, create a digital archive system to store unused files. Determine if digital files should be stored on a hard drive or in the cloud. In any case, you should think long-term. Are these archival solutions financially and practically feasible long-term?
- Manage hard copy systems. If you have hard copies of your digital files, you should also inventory the information and create a paper archival system. You will need to decide if storing hard copies in our office is a feasible solution long-term.
- Find out what’s compatible. If you’ve exported important data, check with the software company to find out which files can be imported and merged with the new system.
- Create an implementation calendar. Switching to new software is something that must be done in a systematic way. Put on your calendar “transition days” for your firm which can be committed to making the change happen. This calendar should be open access so that all staff can see it and adjust their schedules accordingly.
- Anticipate business interruption. Try to determine how the technology switch will disrupt your business or impact clients.
- Hire temp help. If you feel that making a technology shift is just too much for you and your staff alone, hire some temp help.
As you’re preparing for your technology switch, try to check your assumptions and go in with as much information and planning as possible. Continually look back to your goals, and tailor your planning process with those goals at the top of your mind.