IT & the Lawyer

2003 Legal Technology Predictions - 2 : The coming battle for control

4. Failure to plan is planning to fail
As I mentioned earlier, the gap between the technology haves and the technology have nots is increasing. One key sign of a technology have is the presence of a strategic planning group that integrates technology decisions with the business plan and goals of the firm. In many firms, a complete restructuring of existing technology committees will be appropriate. Your technology committee might need an expanded profile, more decision-making power, a more streamlined process, or new energy and fresh ideas.

Planning becomes much easier with ROI standards in place. At the same time, client needs and requests will definitely force firms to consider carefully and plan for technology initiatives. Strategic technology planning will become a larger part of firms' strategic business plans.

I also expect to see more of a "portfolio" approach to technology planning. In a portfolio approach, a firm takes a diversified strategy of creating a reasonable mix of low risk, low return technology investments and high risk, high return technology investments, much in the same way as we diversify our financial investments. This approach balances the risk and return of a firm's entire technology "portfolio."

As a result, 2003 will be a year in which a wide variety of old and new technologies are tried. For example, I would expect firms to address older ideas, such as document assembly in particular, as well as new client driven technology initiatives, such as extranets and knowledge management. All this planning will happen, however, upon a bedrock of greatly increased attention to security issues.

5. An "Attorney's first'' approach
There have been three stages in the use of technology in law firms. First, secretaries and staff got the best equipment and software and attorneys were almost an afterthought. Next, technology became almost exclusively the domain of IT Departments who determined what was appropriate for attorneys and most stable for networks.

In these two stages, attorneys with specific needs felt neglected because they did not fit the technology template. In 2003, we will see the third stage of legal technology - the attorney-focused stage. Interestingly, solos and small firms have already started to take this approach.

For example, Word XP was designed with features that would benefit attorneys more so than secretaries. PDAs, laptops, scanners, color printers, wireless and the like can all improve the life and productivity of attorneys. Young attorneys are accustomed to significantly more powerful technology than what they find in today's law firms. In some of these cases, the technology does not necessarily benefit staff and might even make the job of the IT Department more difficult. However, as many attorneys have complained to me, shouldn't the firm be catering to the technology needs of attorneys first and help them service clients in the best ways?

This "attorney first" stage requires that firms thoroughly research and understand and educate attorneys on the tools that are available to them and to make choices that are appropriate for individual attorneys.

6. Neglect the web at your own risk
Here's a simple test. Enter your name or your firm's name into a search engine like Google and look at the results. Those results are your Internet reputation, or your "Web Presence." Now, take a look at your favorite Web sites, the ones you use on a regular basis. Think about what you like about them and how they are useful to you. Now, go visit your firm's Web site. See the difference?

Law firms who do not "get" the Internet and the need to manage and control their Web Presences are paying a price every day. Clients who use Web and e-commerce strategies on a regular basis are going to drive their law firms into adopting similar Internet strategies, or they will go elsewhere.

In 2002, there were a large number of substantial redesigns of law firm Web sites. There is still quite a way to go. 2003 will see another significant round of Web site upgrades, use of extranets, and client-centered or personalized approaches to Web sites.

7. Clients speak up
The recurring theme throughout 2003 will be client-driven technology. Most of the firms with really interesting technology initiatives have taken such efforts at the request of clients or as a result of seeing a client need that could be filled. Clients who used Word and wanted compatible documents forced the sea change of law firms moving from WordPerfect to Word. Clients largely drove the early use of e-mail at many firms.

Many of your clients are doing cool things with technology that you should know about. They see the benefits in cost savings and otherwise and will want to bring those benefits into play to manage increasing legal costs, which are in no small part due to the lack of use of productive technologies. In fact, companies are considering going to flat fees for legal services and expecting law firms to adopt more efficient technologies.

In 2003, law firms should expect to see increasing pressure from clients to change outdated technologies and adopt new and compatible technologies. The law firms who see this trend coming, and prepare for it, and know which options are available, will end up in the best place.

Conclusion
In the last few years, many firms could and did sit back and let technology developments happen elsewhere. In 2003, however, firms will be forced to make major technology decisions. An aging stock of hardware and software must be replaced. Technology budgets and decision-making that seem out of control will need to be focused and an emphasis placed on return on investment. Pressures from Internet developments and client needs will place a premium on excellent strategic technology planning and careful attention to cost issues.

Finally, we will enter a third stage of legal technology where the primary focus will become which tools are best for lawyers. Firms who drift through 2003 are likely to find themselves on the side of
the line with the technology have nots rather than with the technology haves, and that is certainly not a place that any firm should willingly want to be.

Copyright 2002 Dennis M. Kennedy. All rights reserved.

About the author
Dennis Kennedy practices intellectual property and information technology law in St. Louis, MO. Dennis writes and speaks frequently on technology and Internet topics and was named the 2001 "TechnoLawyer of the Year" by TechnoLawyer.com. Many of his articles on legal technology
are collected in the form of an "online book". You can contact Dennis via e-mail, mailto: [email protected]
(Originally published in Law Practice Management: Dennis Kennedy, The Coming Battle for Control: Predictions for Legal Technology in 2003 )

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