7 Steps for Making a Smooth Transition to New Tech for Attorneys & Paralegals

By Lisa


Category: Productivity

There are probably very few people on the planet who relish the idea of adopting new technology.

Sure, we all love the prospect of what new tech can ultimately do for us — but putting it into practice? Well, riding a bike was always more fun than learning to ride. And mastering new technology is probably more akin to learning Greek.

Lawyers tend to be especially “new tech”-averse.

On a list of “lawyers’ favorite things,” technological change probably ranks somewhere right around nonpaying clients, CLE presentations with more than 60 PowerPoint slides, and math.

Heck, even here at Black Fin — an attorney digital marketing agency that uses new technology in everything we do — the notion of new technology can elicit groans.

No matter who you are, what you do, or how good you are with computers, new technology necessarily means an interruption to the ordinary flow of business.

Still, it never behooves one to ostrich oneself.

New technology travels on the winds of changes, and the old winds ain’t comin’ back. In a competitive field like law, it’s critical that your firm stay abreast of modern practices — and that your tech resembles (or outmatches) whatever’s being used at other firms, in courtrooms, and in your clients’ own offices and/or living rooms.

Still, we hear from law firms all the time that tell us their attorneys flat-out ignore new technology and refuse to make the change, no matter how much the firm invests in it.

That’s a problem. And we’re here to help you fix it.

As we mentioned earlier, we know a thing or two about implementing new technology in the context of law — not only from our experience in attorney marketing but also from the battle stories our law firm clients have relayed to us over the years.

So in today’s article, we present: A Guide to Managing Technological Change in a Law Firm (In Just 7 Steps).

Step 1: Ask Yourself, Do You Really Need to Change Your Law Firm’s Technology?

Granted, we just gave a whole monologue on why it’s imperative to embrace technological change in a law firm. But that doesn’t mean it makes sense on every occasion.

There is a lot of technology out there. Legal software has becoming a booming industry all its own. As you well know, there are people whose entire job is simply to visit your law firm and try to sell you software. You can’t go around adopting new technology each time you hear a fancy bell or whistle.

So before we get into the business of how to successfully transition to new legal software within your firm, really ask yourself — is this particular program worth it?

The next six steps won’t necessarily be easy, and there’s bound to be a period of time where you (the implementer of technological change and thus, in the eyes of others, a bearer of bad news) aren’t the most popular associate or office manager.

Here’s a decent, if broad, litmus test:

  • Will changing technology make your law firm more competitive?
  • Will it benefit your clients (or improve your firm’s ability to serve your clients)?
  • Will it improve productivity (e.g. allowing for more billable hours)?

…In other words, is there a real business mandate for making the change? Ask yourself these questions in general, not yet with any specific technology in mind. You’re wanting to determine whether change itself is warranted… we’ll get to tech selection in Steps 3 and 4.

Step 2: Set the Right Attitude and Expectations (Yours and Everyone Else’s)

There is no problem communication cannot solve… no dread it cannot ameliorate, no reluctance it cannot assuage.

By effectively communicating the change to come, you may not get everyone to fall in love with the idea, but you can at least prepare them well in advance.

Our advice here is premised on two fundamental truths of human nature:

  • Everyone appreciates a heads-up.
  • If change has to come, people would rather participate in it than have it forced upon them.

So start the conversation early. Here are some tips:

  • Explain the need for change. When people understand that there’s a method to the madness, it empowers them to exercise patience.
  • Poll every person in your firm who will be impacted by the technological change. Find out what kind of change they would like to see. Which features matter to them? What about change troubles them the most? Really listen to their feedback and let it guide your decision making in the steps to come.
  • Echo yourself often. Paul Revere didn’t cry “the British are coming” just once. Repetition is the key to learning, so you’ll want to remind the whole office every few days or weeks that change is on the way. Get them really prepared.

Step 3: Adopt the Republican Democracy Form of Law Firm Management

In a perfect world, every person in your firm would have an equal say in choosing new technology — and they’d all be equally happy with the final choice.

But law firms don’t exist in perfect worlds, and the larger your law firm is, the less likely it is that pure democracy is going to work.

Accordingly, we propose the idea of republican democracy… fitting for a bunch of American jurists, no?

Once you’ve formally heralded the change to come, ask the firm to appoint a “task force” of people whose job it will be to thoroughly research the options and ultimately land on the new software or technology for your law firm.

The fewer cooks in the kitchen, the smaller the mess and the better the taste — so keep the committee small.

If everyone agrees in advance that the final decision should be entrusted to this task force of designees (your firm’s very own House of Representatives), it’s more likely that they will acquiesce to the final resolution, even if they don’t love it.

Step 4: Research Before Rollout

We don’t need to write to you about the importance of preparation. You learned that lesson long ago, during years of hard schooling, and in your daily conferences or court dates.

What we’d like to suggest, rather, is that managing technological change in a law firm requires just as much preparation. The more the better. Because the best way to avoid a bumpy rollout is to really know your stuff before it begins.

Fortunately, the legal software sector is big enough that there’s plenty coverage of it online. For most technology, whether it is an application or a piece of equipment, you’ll find no shortage of reviews (many of them specific to law firms).

Some tips:

  • Read as many reviews as you can find.
  • Look for user reviews too.
  • If this is a new version or model, look for reviews of older editions. Were there complaints then? Does the new release address them?
  • If you have colleagues in other law firms, reach out and ask if they’ve ever used the technology.
  • If you have questions that aren’t answered in the reviews, call the manufacturer or developer directly and ask. Don’t be afraid to press them for specifics.
  • Ask about a free trial. If you score one, test the technology privately within your “task force” first. If it isn’t a good fit for the firm, it’s best to determine that before unleashing it on the whole office.
  • Try working through a mock case, beginning to end, using the technology.
  • Refer to the concerns your colleagues raised during the polling in Step 2 above. Make sure you understand how the proposed technology meets those concerns (because your colleagues will be sure to ask).

Step 5: Bring in the Paralegals

If yours is like most law firms, it is the paralegals who do much of the heavy lifting in terms of case mechanics and e-filing. They handle the scanning, storing, and sending of documents from one place to the next, and they’re probably heavily involved in correspondence with both clients and courts. They are often more invested in the law firm technology than the attorneys are.

For that reason, you might want at least one paralegal on your “task force” from the get-go.

But once you have a particular technological solution in mind, we recommend a sort of “beta” rollout among all your paralegals. Go to them first, before the attorneys.

This will accomplish at least three goals:

  • Making sure the attorneys don’t inadvertently overlook technological snafus that would disproportionately impact the paralegals’ daily grind and therefore impede the productivity of the firm.
  • Making the legal support staff feel that they are a vital part of the process (and of the firm as a whole). Because they are!
  • Testing the technology in real time without turning the full firm into guinea pigs.

Step 6: Ask for Help with Migration & Implementation. Easy Implementation Begets Eager Adaptation (So Get It Right the First Time!).

Most software developers and IT product manufacturers have entire teams dedicated to support. Many will specifically offer migration support, which means they will help your team switch from the old technology to the new one.

Don’t underestimate the value of migration assistance and tech support. It might be the single most valuable resource for managing technological change in a law firm.

Call the support team and call them often. They have knowledge and they can give it to you. Then you will be in a position to pass that insight on to the rest of the firm. That’s how rollouts go smoothly.

Lean on the expertise of others! (Not a bad rule for life in general, we think!)

Step 7: Commit to Being There for Them… for a While. (And Acknowledge that Switching Technology Sucks.)

Now that you’ve vetted and tested and researched all that you can, it’s time to pull the trigger.

Even if you have approached the whole process with earnest due diligence, there is no way to guarantee a smooth rollout. Technology is tricky like that (and people are too).

But if you have followed our steps, you’ve done your best, and you will see dividends for it in the end result.

Perhaps most importantly, your fellow firm mates will appreciate that you approached the technological change process thoughtfully, carefully, and respectfully.

Now, continue that approach by committing to a period of support for the rest of the firm during the transition.

Almost all new technology comes with a learning curve. Acknowledge that. Commiserate. Confess out loud that switching tech can suck, that the first few weeks may be clunky, and that that’s okay.

You might even consider letting your clients know something to this effect as well. They are human beings in the 21st century too — they know that technological change is challenging but also essential. Transparency on your end will inspire patience on theirs.

Model patience yourself, too, by walking everyone through the technology and answering their questions over and over until they get it. Some people will catch on sooner than others, and that’s only natural.

The more helpful you are now, the shorter the “help me!” stage will be in the long run.

Still Researching? Utilize Our Resources Here at Black Fin!

The Black Fin team has already created helpful guides to selecting various kinds of law firm technologies. While we haven’t yet covered every base, you might find what you’re looking for below:

Black Fin has also recently rolled out an SEO Training Program for lawyers who are not yet ready to hire an SEO company but need to boost their online visibility.

Keep checking back too, because we’re always bringing you new and useful guides to changing technology in a law firm!

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While we’re on the topic of how we can help your law firm on the technological front, consider how the #1 Google-ranked attorney SEO agency could transform your law firm’s bottom line using the web.

That’s us: Black Fin, a team of legal marketing experts who do only one thing — drive bigger and better cases to our law firm clients by using digital marketing, website design, PPC, and SEO.

Give us a call to find out how we can help your firm make more money. Contact us today.

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