A recent series of posts on Technolawyer, titled “Legal Software and Consultants” troubled me. In this series, Mark Deal, Ay Uaxe, and Jason Havens spared on the role of legal consultants in implementing case management solutions. There was a touch of resentment on both sides. On one side, the lawyers (of whom I count myself), look to their extensive education, their extensive domain knowledge and work experience as qualifiers in the world of software design and process. It should be “easy”; it should be “cheap”; and anyone can do this stuff; it’s not rocket science. Why don’t those vendors understand? Why don’t they anticipate and design for my needs. On the other side are the legal technology consultants who have spent years studying the software tools, designing solutions with the software, and implementing and training. Many serve in defacto advisory capacity to software vendors, fielding feature requests and reporting on bugs.
Having spent the past 15 years on the frontlines, I have some thoughts. I agree software should be easier, more intuitive, more flexible. Some of the current products have legacy designs that date back over a decade and could use some freshening up. Clio and RocketMatter are innovators in giving a fresh look at what is needed in a practice management solution. But as they will admit, their products are not yet complete or as full featured as the current client-server applications.
The problem lies not in the software, but what lawyers expect to do with the software. When I started law practice (25 years ago), I was given a big red leather bound book from the New York State Bar Association that had entries for my calendar and had a secretary who took dictation by hand and gave me finished documents. Over the years, the role of the secretary has diminished. In a large law firm, the ratio of attorneys to secretaries is now 3 to 1, that is 3 attorneys to one secretary, with the primary role of the secretary being telephone receptionist and occasional document editor.
As lawyers moved from “word generators” to “word processors”, lawyers got more involved with technology. With this change, with the promotion of the computer from the secretary station to the lawyer’s desktop came a need to design software that would interact directly with the attorney. However, several attorneys, remembering the reign of the personal secretary, expect the computer (and its software) to reflect the nuances and responsiveness of the personal secretary, the secretary who seems to know what you want, and who can change actions and processes on a dime.
In asking for easier software, many forget how much time it took to train a good secretary. Some people would say, you don’t train a secretary, you just get lucky. This training process, having gone through it was tedious and laborious; it would take months, and even then, there was constant scrutiny and checking and followup. Some of that training would be done by the law firm’s other staff, and some by you. And when you finally got it right, they would assign a second attorney to your secretary, reducing his or her availability;and the secretary would go home earlier.
And so now, we are in the world of the computer, the personal computer. Getting a computer to be truly “personal” requires training. Sometimes you get lucky and find the perfect software program that matches your exact workflow. If you do, great, and go ride with it. However, for the time you don’t, that is where I and my other technology consultants come in. We can “train” your PC to meet your workflow, reflect it, and enhance it. And we can train you and your staff to make good and effective use of the tool, to meet some where in the middle.
For those efforts, we consultants are specialists. We take the time to read the manuals, go to the certification training, keep track on bugs, followup and monitor the discussion forums, and test the software in beta. For all this time and effort, we don’t charge our clients, they are a fixed overhead for running a consulting business. However, we do charge our clients a rate for our time commensurate with our expertise. In that model, we are like lawyers; in fact, some of us, like me are lawyers.
A little note on ROI (return on investment). At consulting rates ranging from $250 to $100 per hour, our rates are substantially less than your billing rate; and with our knowledge and ability in these programs, we can solve your issues in a fraction of the time. We can tell you point blank whether you can or cannot achieve what you want with the software. So cut us a little slack; give us a call.