For the last few years, many firms could, and did, put off major technology decisions. The "dot-com" implosion, the current economy, and budgetary requirements provided justification for delay of and retreat from new technology initiatives.
2003 will be different. A variety of factors will come together in a way that will make 2003 a year in which firms must make major technology decisions and gain control of increasingly unfocused technology budgets. The already significant gap between law firms and lawyers who are "technology haves" as opposed to "technology have nots" continues to grow. Firms that do not wisely navigate the decisions to be made in 2003 are likely to find themselves at a distinct competitive disadvantage.
Many firms have found that technology spending has grown to be a significant portion of their annual budgets. Unfortunately, in too many firms, management does not have a
clear understanding of what technology dollars are buying and whether those dollars are being well spent. What is understood, however, is that there are both internal and
external pressures for law firms to bring their technologies in line with current business standards, often at the prodding of major clients. The tension between these trends will come to a head in 2003.
This article will highlight seven major technology themes and trends for lawyers and law firms to expect in 2003. These items should be on every firm's agenda.
1. Hardware buying time
For many firms, the last significant round of equipment purchases came in 1999 as part of dealing with the Year 2000 problem. Lawyers in those firms use older computers with a
fraction of the power and capacity of even the lowest priced computers available today. Aging hardware actually hinders the ability of many lawyers to work effectively and contributes to retention and recruiting problems.
Hardware upgrades will also be driven by what attorneys use at home. Traditionally, lawyers had better computers at work than at home. Now, lawyers commonly have faster and more powerful computer equipment at home than what they have in the office. Scanners, color printers, and CD-writable drives are inexpensive and standard features in most home systems. Many lawyers complain about the decrease in power and features when they move from home to office. You should expect this phenomenon to lead to dissatisfaction and demands for upgrades in the office.
Today's lawyer uses PowerPoint for presentations, needs a computer when traveling, and has other mobility needs. Shouldn't all lawyers have a notebook computer, probably
with a docking station, as their primary office computer? Certainly this is true for litigators. Most lawyers can make a case for PDAs, wireless devices, wireless access or other specific items. Don't let aging hardware embarrass your tech-savvy lawyers or diminish your firm's reputation
in the eyes of your clients who have state of the art equipment.
Firms will need to consider serious investments in new hardware in 2003 and find ways to control costs, such as by leasing equipment or looking into refurbished or secondary market equipment.
2. Replacing old software
It is surprising to see the number of firms using software that is five or more years old. Old software raises questions of compatibility, security, and lack of support. Newer software tends to have many improvements, better usability, and important features geared to lawyers. For
example, Microsoft's Word XP includes a number of lawyer-specific features developed in connection with an advisory board of lawyers. However, the adoption of Office
XP in law firms has been surprisingly slow given the presence of these features. If more lawyers were aware of these features, there would be greater pressure on firms to upgrade software.
As will be the case with hardware, office software upgrades will be driven by what lawyers have at home. Any recent purchaser of a computer will have the newest versions of standard software. Lawyers are increasingly frustrated when their office software lacks features of the programs they use at home. Older versions of Internet Explorer and some other Microsoft programs, to name just a few, also raise significant security concerns.
Attorneys are increasingly aware of highly useful and valuable programs for presentations, litigation management, and other specialized software for lawyers. The 2002 AmLawTech Survey indicates that over 50% of the largest law firms are using CaseMap as a litigation strategy tool. An increasing number of trial lawyers and their clients consider litigation tools such as CaseMap essential for modern litigation.
Firms need to audit their existing software, their ongoing license costs, the actual usage of the software and look into upgrading and moving to current versions. Gaining control and streamlining software choices will be essential. At the same time, firms will need to learn about the current software products for lawyers that can improve productivity and then make wise choices about which software to move to, different licensing options, and the costs involved. Firms will also want to know what their clients and competitors are using.
3. ROI matters
As technology becomes a bigger slice of a firm's budget, the dollars spent and choices made must be subjected to business analysis and decision-making. In other words, if you don't
know what you are getting for the dollars that you spend on technology, hadn't you better find out? The notion of return on investment ("ROI") has been a huge issue for non-legal businesses for several years. Law firms, in general, have not taken a similar approach.
In order to measure ROI, a firm needs to develop standards and methods to quantify and analyze results. There are resources available to help firms measure and analyze ROI.
An audit of current projects and review by an expert would likely save most firms thousands of dollars just by eliminating redundancies, unused software and dead end or unnecessary projects.
In simplest terms, you want bang for your buck. Technology must either save you costs or help you produce income. If you don't measure, you can't know.
In 2003, we will see firms take a variety of approaches to ROI. Most firms need at least a high-level technology audit of existing systems and projects, education of decision-makers, and analysis of initiatives and projects. Costs must be checked carefully and options such as
outsourcing, leasing and purchase of refurbished hardware should be considered as ways to get control over your technology budget.
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@example.com
(Originally published in Law Practice Management: Dennis Kennedy, The Coming Battle for Control: Predictions for Legal Technology in 2003 )