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Change your thinking about technology before it’s too late

By: JESSICA STEPHEN//April 6, 2015

Change your thinking about technology before it’s too late

By: JESSICA STEPHEN//April 6, 2015

It was the Fourth of July, and Gregg Auby was in front of a computer, painstakingly trying to retrieve whatever data he could.

“Our server had crashed and our then-IT people were unavailable because of the holiday,” recalled Auby, a shareholder at Eustice Laffey Sebranek & Auby, an eight-attorney firm with offices in Sun Prairie and Waunakee.

It was a wake-up call.

“In order for us to stay competitive in the market, in order to be efficient, we had to become more technologically savvy,” Auby said.

Doing that, he realized, required changing the firm’s attitude toward technology.

But where to start?

“There has to be commitment from the top down,” said Paul Hager, CEO and president of Information Technology Professionals, a security and IT consulting firm that has worked with nearly 90 law firms throughout Wisconsin.

“It’s always lead by example,” Hager added. “Your leadership needs to be open to technology and show they are willing to use and adopt new technology. It has a great power to trickle down to support staff and others that you’re open to change. Then, it’s that willingness to say you don’t know what you don’t know.”

That’s why Hager encourages firms to look beyond the boardroom when deciding how to approach technology.

“Technology committees often include those most interested in technology. That doesn’t help you at all; you’re preaching to the choir,” Hager said. “You really need to take the time to pull together a representative group of your organization.”

And when that group makes a recommendation, Hager said, it’s important to listen. And act — decisively.

“You have to come to that initial meeting saying, ‘This is the course of action we’ve decided to take. Today is not to decide if that is a good decision. Today is to ask what concerns you have — to get feedback.’ That way the feedback you get is all positively aimed toward how you roll that change out: What changes would be needed? What training would be needed to make people comfortable? Are you going to train the trainers? When is a good time to do that change?’ Otherwise, you can instill a resistance to technology and a resistance to change in general.”

clockIt’s the track Auby and his associate Eric Ristau took when they teamed up to change the firm’s way of thinking about technology.

“We basically laid it on the line,” Ristau said. “It was a little more difficult selling it to the partners than the staff. For the partners, it was all about efficiency: How could we get more bang for our buck with IT? So, I would point out ways to save time and save money — how replacing outdated equipment helps you do your day-to-day work in addition to being faster and more reliable.

“With the staff, it was, ‘Hey, this is how we can make your life easier. When that attorney calls, here’s how to do it in a lot fewer steps.’ Creating the culture was finding the way to sell it… Once we did that, people came along more or less.”

Once they had made a good pitch for the use of technology, Auby said, both staff and partners had to be taught how to use it.

But in a profession in which making money depends on billing for hours, a pitch for training can be more difficult to make than arguments for the value of technology.

“The barrier there is that idea of pulling people out to train them isn’t productive,” Hager said. “The only answer is to force them to get into a room and train them in person. That’s not sexy. That’s not high-tech. But I can’t tell you the number of training webinars and recorded training sessions that have gone unwatched. It’s valuable. It’s worth pulling people out for one hour segments.”

One important goal is to keep sessions small and relevant. To that end, Hager advises separating attorneys from support staff.

“They’re very aligned with one another, but they use the technology in different ways.”

By splitting the groups, Hager said, “attorneys can be laser-focused on what parts of a system they will use, and support staff can talk about what difference it will make for them. You also give people the freedom to say, ‘I don’t know this.’ If you really want them to learn, put them in an environment where they can say, ‘I don’t know that part of Microsoft Office.’ ”

After that, it’s just a matter of staying the course — and remembering why you made the change in the first place.

“It’s just not acceptable to say you won’t engage with new technology. Firms don’t have an option to not be computerized. It’s just not a choice,” Hager said. “Choices are around mobile devices and location of that technology. But if you’re a small firm, your agility needs to be your advantage. You need to leverage your interest in technology.”

It’s really a matter fundamental to a firm’s long-term continuance — a consideration that Auby said helps keep him on course.

And, if that fails, Ristau said, there’s always the memory of that painful Fourth of July.

“We could either upgrade now, when things are good, or we could disaster plan and have that weekend where we all have to come in and transfer files,” Ristau said. “Attorneys are fairly change-resistant. But the other thing I’ve come to realize is attorneys are motivated. If it makes it more likely they’ll be able to come home on the Fourth of July or make more money or have fewer headaches, I think what a lot of attorneys need to see when they take this leap — and it was a leap — is that this is going to turn out well. And it will be profitable.”


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