Sea squirts eat their own brain; should you? [Updated]

Sea squirts are unusual creatures. In their larval phase they swim about vigorously and intelligently searching for the perfect rock to make their permanent home. Once established in its new home, the sea squirt proceeds to eat its own tail, absorb its own eyes and then swallow its brain. Fascinating creatures.

Law firms in the way they choose technology can be equally fascinating. In the early stages of choosing a technology platform, they swim about vigorously looking for the perfect solution.  They examine each rock, leave no stone unturned.  There are committee meetings and demonstrations.  A network is tapped for a wealth of information.  Careful plans and analyses are made.  And at last a solution is chosen.  The firm is unified behind the solution and internal staff and external consultants are tasked to “make it work”.  All the forced are mobilized for the big rollout day.  Work ceases while the attorneys and staff are trained.

And then, there is the quiet.  The consultants pack up their bags.  The attorneys and staff return to their desks.  The office manager breathes a sign of relief and takes a vacation.  The “work” of the law firm resumes.  Everything is in place.  Everything works.  And now it is time to relax.  There is no need to think about technology for another five years at least when the hardware starts to wear out and is fully depreciated.  Like the sea squirt, there is no need to think more about your technology choices; the choices have been make and now we must live with the choice.

This “boom and bust” cycle is common with many businesses.  Far easier to make a choice and live with, than to continually evaluate that choice, make ongoing adjustments, and maybe even completely abandon that choice in the face of better technology that could increase productivity and profitability.   Continual evaluation is disruptive; and expensive.  And changes are often viewed by partners as “admissions of mistakes”.  Rather than one making the “best choice with the information at hand” and changing your choice as new information appears, it is better to hunker down on your rock, like the sea squirt and get on with the business of “eating” your food from the rock you have chosen to make your home.

One option, when faced with the dilemma of the sea squirt is to add a new criteria in your choice of technology platform: plan for growth.  Business do this all the time, when they make choices that “allow for growth”.  One such choice may be to move to “the cloud”, a choice which makes the local hardware irrelevant; your desktop is merely one of many conduits for a stream of computer images.  And yet, in those cloud choices, there are some options that allow for growth, and others that are limiting.  Consider a product like DinCloud or LegalWorkspace, where you have a hosted network with hosted desktops.  Under such an environment, if you need to move from a Dual-Core Xeon processor for your server to an 8-Core processor, with twice the RAM, you merely ask the vendor to enable that power; no new computer boxes are required.

Also consider the choice of Practice Management platform.  Some vendors release simple, easy to use software for calendar and billing.  And yet, as your business grows, it becomes more important to have sophisticated reporting, custom fields, and custom records specific to your practice, multi-step workflow, web-based client intake forms etc.   Even if you don’t want all the “complex stuff” when you start, over time, you will want those features to squeeze out more productivity from your staff and to gain the competitive edge.  Often times, the software will be the same price.

In choosing your rock, you want to choose one that will grow with your business.  You can still remain moored, but you don’t need to do as the sea squirt does and swallow your brain.

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