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LAWBIZ COACHES CORNER: Careful techie, you might get what you wish for

Ed Poll is a speaker, author and board-approved coach to the legal profession. He can be contacted at edpoll@lawbiz.com. Also visit his interactive community for lawyers at www.LawBizForum.com.

Technology seems to be at the top of everyone’s wish list this year. But be careful: You just might get what you wish for.

Not that technology is bad — far from it. However, when it comes to updating your billing or accounting software, there are important considerations that you must take into account.

• Needs analysis

Take a look at your time and billing process and do a needs analysis. Determine what steps or technology might be missing from your current methodology. What other steps or technology would your firm like to have?

Think about the future needs of your firm. How much growth does your firm expect? How will your current technology be able to deal with more lawyers or more clients? What will your firm’s needs be several years from now with respect to time and billing?

• Conversion

No matter how fast or efficient your new software is, it will not be able to accomplish anything until all your old data has been converted to the new system. Can the new system do that? If it can, will there be an extra charge for the service? Will the converted data need to be tweaked by the vendor or your staff?

Data does not convert seamlessly, no matter what the vendor promises.

• Training

Before you select any system, ask about the training options. Your firm will need to train everyone who will use the new system.

In addition, the lawyers within the firm also should get an overview of the software. They will, after all, be managing the results of the data input.

Training is often the most overlooked and most expensive element of any purchase.

• Tech support

Check out what support will be available once the software is installed. Ask specifically about days and times that tech support will be available and how much any support will cost.

Also ask about maintenance agreements to keep your software up and running. How much extra will that be?

• Staffing

Will your new technology require the addition of new staff? Will you need to hire training personnel for a limited time? What will the cost factor be for any new staff?

• Reporting

Before you even begin to look at software systems, determine what reports your firm wants to be able to produce. Can the software produce them? Will you need a customized program to get them?

Be sure that your firm’s basic needs are met before you find out what kind of extras the software can produce.

• Hardware

Will you need new hardware to optimize the speed and effectiveness of the new software? Do you already have it? If not, what will it cost and how much training will be required to operate and maintain it?

• Interfacing with other programs

After you’ve considered all the other factors, you need to think about one last thing: How will any new time and billing programs work with other programs already in use at your firm?

Before you spend hundreds or thousands of dollars or the same amount of hours, take a close look at all the various in-house programs being used throughout your firm and determine whether the new software is capable of “speaking” with those other programs.

• Buy-in

Before you or your firm buys any hardware, software or combination of the two, someone in your organization has to plan how to achieve buy-in from the firm.

No matter how much money you spend on “gee whiz” software, the bills won’t go out even a minute quicker unless the people involved in the process actually use the software and use it correctly.

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