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Skills for Closing the Communication Gap Between IT and Attorneys

By Brian Morris posted 01-25-2020 18:18


There is an old story about the origin of the unofficial nickname of the state of Missouri, “The Show Me State”, which you may have seen on a license plate a time or two. As it goes, a turn-of-the century Missouri congressman named Willard Vandiver once said, in part, “…frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I'm from Missouri, and you have got to show me."

I don’t think it’s leap to say that politicians and attorneys share perhaps a skeptical nature, and certainly a pragmatic one. Therefore, this phrase comes to mind often when I am trying to get the attention of perpetually busy attorneys.

Whether it is convincing an attorney to embrace existing technology, or assist in identifying or evaluating emerging technology, below are some key tips about how you can be more prepared the next time an attorney says:

  • “Show me what the technology can do.”
    • Be familiar with what technology would be interesting to a particular practice group. You don’t want to end up showing an eDiscovery tool to a transactional attorney. That is a great way to quickly lose an attorney’s attention and your credibility.
    • Prepare use cases for the technology you intend to promote that will speak to the attorney. If you are promoting a legal proofreading tool, have a sample contract prepared complete with common mistakes that the tool is able to catch and correct on the spot.
    • Have the technology at your fingertips. If you have a mobile app that helps with email filing on your phone, have it installed and at the ready. That quick conversation in the hallway could turn into a great opportunity to provide a new way to improve an attorney’s productivity.

  • “Show me what the technology has done for others.”
    • Seek out those that will champion technology that has made a difference in their practice. Mining firm technology survey results, analyzing usage statistics, or simply keeping your eyes and ears open for anecdotal evidence can lead you to those that have a high opinion of a particular technology and are willing to help you spread the word.
    • When you have found those champions, pursue their willingness to record testimonials, whether video or written, that you can use to market not only the specific technology, but IT as a whole.
    • If you are going to tell a story, make sure it’s a compelling one and illustrates how a new or existing technology brought about positive changes for an attorney, practice group or client. Think in terms of classic narrative structure and describe how a challenge was recognized, dealt with, and ultimately resolved.

  • “Show me what’s in it for me (and the Firm).”
    • Provide meaningful metrics such as increased billable hours, reduction of time spent on non-billable tasks, and increased number of transactions completed.
    • Offer concrete examples of how technology will help an attorney in their day-to-day such a faster access to information, documents or research materials via an improved search engine and/or interface.
    • Whether though a simple diagram or a good user story, draw a straight line from technology that can improve productivity, to increased client satisfaction, and ultimately maximized Firm profitability.

  • “Show me why we should work together.”
    • Provide past examples of how involving attorneys early in the process of identifying and evaluating new technology and engaging with them often on the performance and value of existing technology, decreased the gap that can exist between what IT thinks would be useful and what is actually useful in practice.
    • Similarly, since IT is paying close attention to industry trends and marketplace developments, you may be able to show an attorney a new way of doing things that they did not consider. As Henry Ford said, “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” By understanding the ‘need’ before the ‘want’, maybe IT can introduce an attorney to their Model T.
    • Display through attentive listening and consistent responsiveness that your ultimate objective is to become a strategic partner with the practice and to have a shared goal for the growth and success of the Firm.

A true partnership has be to rooted in trust, and establishing trust takes time and effort, there is no getting around that. However, I believe the techniques above can help you begin to establish the type of credibility that is grounded in tangible evidence that should speak to almost any attorney you come across.