Jason Atchley : Legal Tech : Why Does It Cost $800k to Produce a Document?

Produce a Document

 
Jason Atchley

Challenging Technical Inertia at Law Firms

The panel “Why Does It Cost $800,000 to Produce a Document?” at the Chief Information & Technology Officers Forum started with a story and ended with good advice on how to mesh technology with law firm culture.

Katherine Montgomery, Law Technology News

February 10, 2014, 12:01 AM    |0 Comments
 
Roberta Gelb has seen many things in her position as President of Chelsea Office Systems, which she has run since its inception in 1984. She began the panel “Why Does it Cost $800,000 to Produce a Document?” at the Chief Information & Technology Officers Forum with a story.
While working with a firm to improve document automation, Gelb encountered a secretary who refused to implement a new fix. Every time the secretary needed to fill out a purchase form, for example, she would find and fill out an old document. Gelb timed her process: 65 minutes. With automation, the process should have taken five.
Knowing that such a situation is not atypical, Gelb did the math. That kind of inefficiency, multiplied across a midsize law firm’s twenty secretaries, and calculating in the loss of time for the firm’s associates, who would presumably be affected by it, Gelb calculated a potential loss of almost $800,000 per year. The year was 2007.
Drawing on this and other experiences, Gelb’s panel addressed why law firm culture can be so slow to implement efficiency fixes, and how the culture or structure of law practice might be changed to address these problems. As she pointed out, clients are literally paying for their lawyers’ inefficiency, resulting from their lack of technical ability.
Panelists had a variety of backgrounds in law and technology: Daniel Martin Katz, an associate professor of law at Michigan State University College of Law; Eugene Stein, director of information technology at Choate Hall & Stewart; Sam Shipley, co-chief information and operating officer at Cole Valley Software.
Gelb and the panelists referenced the Flaherty/Suffolk University Law School audit as evidence of the very basic lack of technical ability that permeates many law firms. The audit was conceived and developed by Casey Flaherty. It tests the technical skills of law firm associates by testing some of the most basic competencies in Microsoft Word and Excel, including tasks such as saving to PDF, or sorting an Excel spreadsheet.
Stein emphasized the value of firms acknowledging internally that basic technical skills are necessary, and said that he had used Flaherty’s test as a way to warn lawyers that things are on the verge of change. (Flaherty’s testing modules should be available in next two to three months, free to general counsel.) Stein further emphasized that the test was not simply important for its own sake, but to emphasize the necessity of technical training in general. Users should be able to sort a mailbox, or accept or reject changes to a document. When attorneys do not have these skills, and must rely on secretary or associate, then the client can suffer.  
So what can you do to change law firm culture regarding technology? Gelb pointed to a common difficulty with more established firms, which Flaherty’s test emphasizes: “If you look at the model of today’s law firm, there is very little incentive for people that are aging out of the law firm to be investing in new technology.”
Katz’s position was that vendors should not focus on immovable firms, but instead work with early adopters who will help develop software tools the firm needs to stay competitive. He spoke about how his own classes focus on equipping young lawyers with the training for machine learning, e-discovery and other technical legal skills before they arrive at their first job.
Shipley acknowledges that change can be painful on both sides: “I’ve learned it’s painful, all the way around.” He suggested that change can happen in two ways: one possibility is that “We make the future look so great that everybody wants to go there.”  Unfortunately, the situation that more often drives change is that “The current state is so bad that you have no choice. And that’s the way that most of us change, and the way most of our law firms change. The problem is that it’s not bad enough yet.” Shipley suggested that inefficiency “has to get worse for some firms; they’re still making too much money for too little amount of work.”
Shipley drew on his experience at a law firm, noting that an administrator in a firm may know the “right things” to do, but that change is slow. He said that it was helpful to find allies within firms, such as peers in marketing and financial accounting, who would band together and help each other in supported technological advances. He also recommended enlisting the help of a firm partner, ideally one without the reputation of a “techie,” whose support would be more likely to get other associates on board. As a vendor, Shipley added, things were even harder: “The only way you can do it is to try to raise pain or raise awareness.” Pressure from clients can be particularly effective in encouraging firm culture to change.
How do you implement technical improvements in a law firm? Shipley argued that vendors shouldn’t expect to change attorneys’ behaviors. Instead, vendors should be able to identity how lawyers work and adapt their own software to these already-established patterns, making their products as intuitive as possible.
Stein described how he tries to find “those little a-ha moments” in software such as keyboard shortcuts like “windows-L” that will save time, and slowly introduce the use of such shortcuts to users. He acknowledged, though, that users must already be familiar with a system for this approach to be effective, and that “it’s very individual, very time-intensive, and not easy.”
Katz also emphasized the issue of design, noting that the legal tech industry isn’t necessarily appealing to young designers who want to create “the next Facebook”; as a result, the latest in design thinking doesn’t permeate this space. Katz noted that he raises design issues with his own students, and re-emphasized the necessity of vendors spending time with early adopters to design their product to be as effective as possible.
Gelb said that if she could make a task “one-click,” then clients are happy to adapt to it. She cited a firm she worked with in 1996; automating their top 30 documents resulted in a 33 percent increase in productivity to the point where the firm was able to cut their staff and consider expanding their business in a new direction in the near future. But, she added, to achieve one-click solutions, and then vendors must have a very clear understanding of the workflow in a firm. The disconnect between IT and lawyers in many firms means that workflow is seldom as efficient as it might be.
Gelb added that “Corporate culture is more important than the technology”: if a firm takes a laissez-faire approach to their tech, and if they receive no push from clients to grow more efficient, then they have no motivation to change.
So how can vendors and information officers help encourage a healthy technical culture at law firms, one that is open to change?
Shipley recommended that vendors should “Find your wins. Find a practice group that’s inefficient that’s willing to invest some time”; once you can affect one group, you can move on from there. However, he added, there are no quick fixes until the pressure on firm reaches a pain threshold.
Stein seconded Shipley’s points. He also recommended stripping out unused or unnecessary add-ins to programs like Microsoft Word, or, if they are used, moving them to a corner of the screen. Add-ins that change the appearance of Word, he said, can be more pain than they are worth, as users who know how to use Word may find themselves at a loss when faced with a series of unfamiliar options that reduce their efficiency.
Gelb seconded the idea of making Word as intuitive as possible; her ideal was to be able to provide lawyers with a single button for tasks like numbering; she noted that there are add-ins that can be very useful and relatively intuitive for such tasks. She also noted, however, that not all firms are willing to embrace change at all, and “That’s them. They probably won’t make it through Casey Flaherty audit.” She noted that “it’s becoming an industry increasingly difficult to stay viable in, and firms that recognize that technology will make the difference going forward will be the firms that stick around.”
Katz agreed, noting that strategies have to change for vendors in a bear market. “You have to figure out what people are doing and do it first.” However, for people adapt their technology strategies, the next few years “could be their own bull market.”
Freelance writer Katherine Montgomery is a former associate editor of Law Technology News.
 

Read more: http://www.lawtechnologynews.com/id=1391936922894/Challenging-Technical-Inertia-at-Law-Firms%0D%0A#ixzz2t1ffh3F8

 
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