Legal tech, or legal technology, can help law firms become more efficient, more desirable for employees and clients, and more profitable.But it can also be a headache, leading to confusion, frustration, and irritability.What differentiates the tech that helps from the tech that hurts? Here are a few factors we’ve found that really make the difference:
We’ve all tried software that has felt like it only adds friction to the process it’s trying to remedy. The vendor promised you a walk in the park, but what you get is a slow crawl through quicksand. Take, for example, a feature that counts billable hours spent on a given task. The goal of that one feature is to make it seamless and simple to track how much time is being spent on a given file, and to do it better than your stopwatch. If you have to find the “billable hour count” feature buried in a dropdown menu within a dropdown menu within a dropdown menu, and it takes longer than simply hitting “start” on the stopwatch feature of your smart phone, good luck getting lawyers to use it.If a platform has a million features, it can feel like a bad dream where you’re sitting in the cockpit of an airplane, not sure which button will fly the plane and which will crash it to your impending doom. On the other hand, if it takes a few simple clicks to get what you want, you’re off to the races.
Some tech is used in law firms only by a designated “gatekeeper” while access is restricted to everyone else. For example, an application that pulls billing reports may be used by a single administrator, and if a lawyer wants access to those reports because it affects a client matter, they need to email the gatekeeper for access.While in many firms, especially the larger ones, this method can be effective for achieving efficient use of a more technical tool that requires some specialized knowledge, a gatekeeper model may also have the effect of reducing reliance on technology and therefore efficiency. For example, the emails to the gatekeeper may cause bottlenecks and delays, leading to stress, frustration, and an overall net negative impact on efficiency.
If the learning curve looks like Mount Everest, the vendor better include ice picks and spiky shoes as part of the deal. We’ve all been there. The software application your firm just implemented takes you a week of Zoom demos to learn how to use.If you tune out for a moment, you miss an important piece of information and then it sounds like the vendor is speaking gibberish for the remainder of the demo. Then you have to swallow your pride and ask Steve in the next office how to use the software, even though Steve ate your doughnut in the staff fridge last year, and you know it, though he’ll never admit it (the sprinkles were all over your desk, Steve!).A good software vendor should know that you have BETTER THINGS TO DO than spend your week learning their product. The best software applications take very little time to learn and are intuitive enough that you can learn as you go.Vendors need to put themselves in the shoes of the customers they are selling to, and to understand the problems they are trying to fix. The engineers can design 1000 cool features, but if the software is hard to navigate, and none of the features solve the unique problems of their customer, the product will cause more harm than good.If the designated techie in the firm can’t figure it out, how is anyone else going to figure it out? On the other hand, if the 93 year-old partner, who only learned how to use a computer as his 2021 new year’s resolution can use it, that’s good tech.