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How to Enhance your IT Systems & Maximize their Potential

In opinion / By Charles Christian / 05 July 2019

Whenever legal technology vendors meet for a drink after a conference or an exhibition and start swapping ‘war stories’ about their respective customers (namely law firms), one topic that always comes up goes something like this… “We had law firm X contact us to say they were issuing an ITT (invitation to tender) to replace our old system because it doesn’t have Y functionality. So, we had to point out our system had always offered Y functionality, but they had either forgotten about it or never invested in the training.”

Trust me, I’ve heard this story many times both from vendors and their (red-faced I suspect) users. My own favourite war story was back in 1999 when the market was gripped by ‘Y2K/Millennium Bug’ fervor. I’d written a book for the English Law Society on this topic and was at a major exhibition to promote it. However, the most memorable incident for me was when the partner in charge of IT for a mid-sized firm told me he didn’t need to buy my book “because we are replacing all our computer hardware and software”.

I pointed out that for £9.99 he could buy the book and might well find out that his firm’s system could be made Y2K compliant by installing some low-cost (and in some cases they were free) bug fixes. But he was having none of it. He had drunk the Kool-Aid. He’d been swept along by the hype and scare stories (and no doubt some vendor sales staff who’d been a little ‘economical with the actualité’) and swallowed the line that the only solution was to throw everything out and start all over again.

Penurious Investment in Existing Technology Impedes Efficiency/font>

As someone who has long studied the peculiarities of the legal technology market, it is curious to see that while law firm managements are frequently parsimonious when it comes to technology procurement budgets, they can still get carried away with ‘The New, New Thing’ (check out the book of the same name about pre-Dot-Com Boom Silicon Valley by Michael Lewis) to the point that rather than invest in fixing what they’ve already got, they pursue some technological pipe-dream. In recent years this has included knowledge management systems and, currently, so-called AI/artificial intelligence systems.

Without wishing to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm, the fact is most law firms do not use their existing IT systems to their full extent – most of the core IT management systems (including accounts/practice management, document management, case management, digital dictation/speech recognition and even good old Microsoft Word word processing) contain a host of features that are never used.

Why Aren't Law Firms Making the Most of their Current IT Systems?

Why? Various explanations exist, including the firm never invested in the necessary training at the outset when it was installed (most law firms opt for the minimum, i.e. cheapest, training available) and/or the people who were trained have either forgotten about it or left the firm.

Many smaller firms still use the ‘sitting next to Nelly’ approach to induction and training of new staff to use IT. Unfortunately, as time goes by, the original Nelly leaves and another Nelly takes over the mantle as the fountain of knowledge. The net result is over the years a firm’s internal know-how about the systems it uses can decline to the point where the tech is not being exploited to anything like its full capacity.

Furthermore, even where systems may lack certain functionality, the original vendor or third-party suppliers may be able to offer compatible add-on systems that allow a firm to achieve more benefits from their systems – but without having to replace the entire system. For example, add-on management reporting/BI (business intelligence) software can allow firms to get more out of (and, more importantly, prolong the life of) accounts/practice management systems. Other popular add-on options include time recording, document template formatting and marketing applications. When done properly, managed IT can help make a business far more efficient.

Of course, firms are naturally cautious in this scenario but there are reputable independent organisations serving the market that specialize in not only top-up/remedial training, but also in consultancy and integration services to ensure firms are getting the most out of their existing systems. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid and don’t panic. You may be dissatisfied with your current systems but there could well be some simple and relatively low-cost solutions out there to both enhance their performance and extend their working life.

At Nasstar, we work with you to get the most from your systems and applications, with our dedicated Professional Services team on hand to support you each step of the way. Contact us today to discuss your requirements.

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Charles Christian

Charles Christian

Charles is a former barrister and Reuters correspondent turned writer and the founder of the Legal IT Insider newsletter, website and resource.

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