From the first day of law school, lawyers-to-be are encouraged to embrace stare decisis, the principle that precedent shapes legal arguments. Given this mindset, it comes as no surprise that professionals trained to respect what came before often have trouble adopting new things, like technology.
However, the reluctance to incorporate technology into client service is harming solo attorneys and small law firms. Research by Thomson Reuters shows that clients are often dissatisfied with their attorney’s unwillingness or inability to incorporate technologies like electronic document exchange into their relationships. Client dissatisfaction can’t continue for too long before a law firm’s bottom line is negatively affected.
“Some firms don’t feel like they can control whether attorneys use new technology, so they don’t want to invest,” says Colleen Scimeca, a senior product strategist with Thomson Reuters who has spent 17 years as a consultant helping law firms navigate technology adoptions. “Some of it is that they’re so tied up with the problems with their existing systems that the thought of even going on a new technology scares them. Others don’t have the resources for putting something in.”
To combat that, we will explore three main objections cited by attorneys as reasons for not wanting to invest in technology: chiefly, concerns about time, cost and speed. Because attorneys at many small law firms have worries in these areas, we’ll also propose new ways to see and think about these concerns.
1. The constraints of time
For lawyers, time is money. A widespread view in the industry is that each minute spent on non-billable work is “sunk” time that should be spent on a task that brings in money. Thus, some attorneys balk at adopting technology –fearing the early adoption period where familiarity and ease of use pose challenges.
Turning back to stare decisis–there was a point when typewriters, fax machines and online research were novel and, at first, considered too time-consuming. What, however, would a modern law office look like if, three decades or so ago, attorneys gave in to their hesitancy over, say, word processors? It would be much less efficient and vastly less productive. When faced with new technology, it’s important to follow the example of attorneys who came before you and react with an open mind.
2. The cost
Law firms may be hesitant to invest in new technology because the return on investment isn’t immediately apparent. Some forms of technology are expensive and, if there isn’t a direct and immediate economic improvement, the benefit may be hard to see.
“They want to know how this is going to help the firm grow more revenue,” Scimeca says. “Firms must understand that the lawyers will need to spend time on this, which might not be billable, but will pay off in the long run.”
If this aligns with your feelings about technology, it might help to adjust your perspective a little. Renting office space, for example, doesn’t result in an immediate bottom-line boost, but for many attorneys, it’s a necessary cost of doing business. Legal consumers are starting to demand that attorneys weave technology into their practice. In a recent Thomson Reuters Consumer Experience survey, four out of the top five points of client dissatisfaction concerned technology. Forward-thinking attorneys would be wise to address those pain points before the industry moves on and they get left behind.
3. The speed trap
In an industry where each six-minute increment has a dollar figure attached to it, speed counts. Some law firms don’t want to invest in technology because they think it’s going to create lag time.
If speed is the source of your hesitation, it’s important to note that you don’t have to change everything right away. Prioritize elements of your practice, then move down the list as focus and funds are available.
Take a first step
Ultimately, it isn’t wrong to have hesitations about adopting new technologies. After all, lawyers are arguably in the business of anticipating future issues and taking action to avoid them. It would be wrong, however, to give in to these misgivings and allow them to prevent you from taking the steps needed to ensure greater client satisfaction and your law firm’s future security.
To learn more about change management when it comes to technology, read the white paper Stop Grinding the Gears: How to Make Legal Technology Adoptions Work at Your Firm by clicking here.