Are any of the following scenarios familiar in your firm?
Tables of financial data are created in Word and manual calculations carried out, when Excel could do those calculations automatically and avoid the risk of failing to pick up the consequential changes when one figure is changed.
Complex Word documents are amended without using the firm’s proper numbering and house styling tools, resulting in errors in cross references and in the table of contents.
Documents and emails are not filed correctly in the electronic file, resulting in the risk that a colleague starts work on an old version of a document and misses key amendments that have been agreed.
Or even these?
Fee estimates are inaccurate and matters are not managed against the estimate given to the client, so that time has to be written off and profitability is affected.
Contact data is unreliable, resulting in embarrassing mistakes (such as sending multiple Christmas cards or event invitations to the same client).
Two partners from the same firm go to see the same client or prospective client on consecutive days, without any awareness or co-ordination between them.
Lawyers are constantly reinventing the wheel, resulting in time having to be written off, when the firm’s knowledge system contains useful material which could have saved them a lot of time.
It is a frustration of many CIOs, IT Directors and management teams in law firms that their investments in technology aren’t being used to their full potential, and that therefore the return on those investments is disappointing. It also appears to be a frustration for some clients that lawyers and their support staff do not have the skills to use basic applications such as Word and Excel, to the extent that they waste time on basic tasks, which they nevertheless attempt to bill to the client (see in particular the widely-reported audit of panel firms carried out by the General Counsel of KIA Motors in the US here). In addition, lack of skill and understanding in using technology can cause some serious and damaging problems, such as documents being sent out carrying their change history, which may reveal confidential details from a previous matter. Investment in business applications such as CRM, knowledge management tools and financial modelling tools is wasted because the applications are not used, or not used properly and lawyers revert to the old ways of doing things, which may not be good enough for the present day.
Why is this happening, and what can we do about it?
It seems to us that there are a number of factors at play, none of which is easy to address. Nevertheless, law firms need to be recognising them, if they are to avoid some of the dangers identified above and maintain their position in an increasingly competitive market place.
1. Lawyers, especially senior ones, do not see it as part of their role to use technology - “I didn’t train and practice for all these years in order to spend my time typing”.
It is absolutely the case that firms should ensure that their lawyers spend time on tasks which merit their experience and qualifications. However, this cannot be used as an excuse for technophobia. In reality it would take up a lot less of a partner’s time to work on an estimate for a complex matter using Excel (or, even better, a specific matter modelling tool), where he or she could try different permutations and see the financial implications immediately, than to have a Word document go backward and forwards to a secretary to see the effect of every change. Basic Excel skills will deliver much greater efficiency and enable the lawyers to address their minds to the implications of the figures rather than to adding them up manually. Using a more sophisticated matter modelling and estimating tool would of course be even better.
When the issues relate to data accuracy (as do some of the bullet points above) it is not unreasonable to expect that data inputting might be done – at least in any volume – by secretarial/support staff rather than lawyers. However, it remains the lawyers’ responsibility to initiate the process of keeping data up to date. They will be the ones who find out when a client has moved – and they cannot therefore refuse to engage with the systems. Lawyers should in any event be engaging with the systems enough to take advantage of the information available to them, such as seeing which of their colleagues might already be in touch with the client or prospective client they are targeting.
2. The applications we have in law firms are clunky and not sufficiently intuitive.
There is some justification in this view. Nowadays lawyers will compare the ease of use of their personal iPad (where security, managing document versions, synching with the office and sharing information with colleagues are not so much of an issue) with what they have to deal with in the office. Given that Apple was at one point reported last year to be spending $11.6 million per day on R&D it is hardly surprising that the applications developed just for the legal sector, which is very small in economic terms, are more difficult to use. We even hear lawyers arguing that their firms should get Microsoft to provide a different version of Word for them, which more directly meets their personal requirements. We have to be realistic here.
However, many firms and software suppliers compound the problem by not taking the time to analyse how lawyers work and to configure their systems to take this into account. An example (which happens to be one of my personal bugbears) is the fact that document management systems tend by default to separate emails and documents into different folders, essentially because from a technology perspective they have different characteristics and therefore mixing them is like mixing oil and water. Nevertheless (as we have proved, working with our clients) it is perfectly possible to set up an e-file in which items appear in chronological order just as they would in a paper file, regardless of their format. It just takes a bit more effort when the technology is implemented.
When major new systems are implemented there is a temptation amongst the project team not to engage with the relevant working practices because this will make the project more difficult. There is also sometimes a reluctance to run the risk of not understanding what the lawyers are trying to explain – and more importantly not being able to translate this appropriately into implications for the technology. But in our view the approach to change management and adoption needs to start from the very beginning of the project – it is too late to discover in the training room that a particular configuration does not fit with the way the firm’s clients require the lawyers to work (for example, in terms of the capture of task and activity codes when recording time). Business requirements need to be gathered at an early stage (before product selection) and project objectives identified, so that the rollout and training can be targeted towards those objectives. It is surprising how often, even when this is done at the outset, the results are put into a file and completely forgotten by the time the configuration and rollout take place. In our view that is not good enough and we see ensuring that this does not happen as an important part of our role in the projects we are engaged in.
3. Training sessions are not seen as worthwhile or a valuable use of time, so lawyers fail to attend.
There are two parts to this issue. First, the use of time for anything other than billable work is often seen as optional and less important. However, it does not take much thought to realise that attendance at training sessions (if properly designed and delivered) can be a very valuable use of time and can save many hours in the future. It is surprising that in law firms which are essentially knowledge businesses – they sell their knowledge and experience to clients – developing that knowledge is not valued.
Secondly it has to be acknowledged that historically the quality of IT training, and not just in the legal sector, has often been lacking. Sessions have been based on applications rather than on business processes. I recall, for example, a lawyer telling me about a session in which the trainer had been demonstrating how to record an activity in the firm’s new CRM system. When the lawyer asked in what circumstances he might be doing that, the trainer was unable to answer. The likelihood of the attendees at that session going back and recording any activities, or indeed remembering how to do so seems to be small. Some firms have addressed this issue very seriously, but it is still a problem if training as a whole is undervalued in the firm.
Long class room training sessions just don’t work, especially if they are scheduled to take up a whole morning or whole afternoon, so the likelihood of a lawyer succumbing to the temptation to claim urgent client business is great. Inventiveness with the time of day when sessions are held – early morning or early evening, can make a big difference, and the sessions need to be short and to the point. Lawyers are generally highly intelligent people – they may often need some fairly basic help with their technology skills, but can pick things up quickly if they are explained clearly. Pitching the session so that people don’t think they are being made to feel foolish is obviously important too.
Hardest of all (and therefore rarely done properly) is targeting the training at different audiences within the firm rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all-approach. This means not only careful thought about what each person or role in the firm is expected to get out of working with the relevant applications, but also being much more flexible in delivery, offering “one to one” training sessions and “at the time” training on particular applications amongst other methods 1
There is no reason not to offer e-learning options, but these really have to be bite sized pieces (two minutes, not 20) and ideally available as ‘help’ from a link within the relevant applications or in a well organised ‘How do I… ?’ section of the intranet. They are also particularly useful performance support tools for “life after roll out” for new applications when some of the key messages may have been forgotten.
No wonder firms so often fail to get the benefit of their technology investments. Can firms afford to continue to let this happen? Is the answer not to invest at all? We would say that this is not an option. Technology is affecting the legal sector like a tidal wave, which is only going to get stronger – one need only look at the way courts are starting to embrace e-disclosure, and the increasing demands from clients for law firms to feed information directly into their systems.
If the moves in the US to require panel law firms to have a certain level of IT competency (following the Kia Motors survey) gain any traction in the UK, we would say that law firms need to up their game and ensure that their lawyers have the basic level of knowledge required to manage the multiple systems they need to use in their working day. Law firms need to be able build training programmes to support this. The LTC4 programme is working with several law firms in the UK to help achieve this around core competencies and business led workflows.
But it’s much easier to close ones eyes to these issues, report that x hours of training have been delivered to y number of lawyers and count that as a success, without attempting to evaluate whether it did anyone any good. Strong leadership within firms is going to be needed in order to get across the message that technophobia is not acceptable, and hard work is going to be needed to ensure that the lawyers have no excuse for failing to engage.
Melanie Farquharson, Consultant, 3Kites Consulting, February 2014
3Kites Consulting is a limited company registered in England and Wales. Registered number: 5644909. Registered office: Chancery House, 30 St John’s Road, Woking, Surrey, GU21 7SA. www.3kites.com
1 We are aware, for example, that training providers Capensys, who work closely with the team at Phoenix Business Solutions, have been adopting a “goal based approach” which clearly identifies the business goals and the individual users’ goals and ensures that any training delivered aligns the two. This is beginning to get some traction.
© 3Kites Consulting 2014