To Pause or Not to Pause?: Why Law Firms May Want to Consider Keeping Their Existing Technology Projects on Track

By ILTA Publication posted 05-04-2020 12:08


This article is Part 1 of the To Pause or Not to Pause series, authored by Trevor Bell, Chief Customer Officer at ZERØ. The next article in the series will appear in the Summer 2020 issue of ILTA's Peer to Peer.

In the legal tech world, we are currently trying to balance two different, seemingly paradoxical realities.

 On the one hand, predictions abound that law firms need to hasten digital transformation. As those of us in the industry have seen, many were unprepared for the reality of working from home for an indefinite period of time and incurred significant expenses in the form of lost productivity and buying sprees of the hardware and software needed as a result. But beyond remote working, as law firms furlough, lay off, and cut pay for thousands of employees, they must strive to find ways to find efficiencies in existing workflows, which will require them to leverage AI-powered solutions in both the business and practice of law.

On the other hand, though, many law firms are slashing IT budgets or halting implementations in the near and medium term, many until 2021. And how can law firms innovate without buying technology solutions to address their most critical challenges? 

As the Head of Client Services at a legal tech company (and proud ILTA Business Partner), I obviously might be a bit biased on this subject, but more than two decades of managing technology deployments (with six being directly related to law firms) has shown me that a long-term pause pretty much never results in a positive outcome. Below, I’ll explore some of the reasons that legal IT professionals may be tempted to halt their deployment projects until the dust settles, why some of these concerns may be misplaced, and how to mitigate some of the risks (both perceived and actual).

  • The future is too uncertain right now. The current pandemic is unique in that it’s an entirely unprecedented event in living memory for pretty much everyone alive on this earth right now. Without widespread testing available, let alone a reliable treatment or vaccine, no one knows when we will all go back to work and what that will look like. That said, legal IT professionals who have made it past the hump of implementing remote working solutions should take a fresh look at the problems that they were trying to solve with the new technology solution they acquired before the crisis. A recent case study released by Aderant demonstrates how Cole, Scott & Kissane was able to effectively implement an accelerated rollout of iTimekeep firmwide after it had already closed its offices. As a result, Cole, Scott & Kissane was able to see a meaningful improvement in average time entry velocity across the firm in the first few weeks of deployment. At a time when every extra increment of billable revenue counts more than ever, this was a huge win and could not have been accomplished if Cole, Scott & Kissane imposed a long delay or moratorium on implementation.
  • We don’t know how to gain user adoption in a distributed framework. Remote working hasn’t been an easy adjustment for many law firms. Beyond the learning curve that many professionals faced with using their remote working software, a recent survey from Loeb Leadership of more than 100 lawyers in the United States reports that general anxiety and social isolation are two of the biggest challenges facing attorneys right now. For lawyers who are feeling like they are lacking in interaction with their colleagues right now, there seems to be no better time than the present to engage them in a pilot group. It may even help them collaborate and communicate more with lawyers who they hadn’t worked with in the past and help them feel more connected with the firm as a whole. Legal IT professionals can work with their business partners to build a community around the technology within the firm, which can help foster social interactions while ensuring more successful deployment of the technology. Once a firm is past the pilot stage, it can introduce asynchronous training via video accompanied by virtual “office hours” with the solution provider, where their representatives can answer questions from users and develop corresponding follow-up communications.
  • Our team is too under water with maintaining our remote set-up to focus on deploying new technology. Yes, your IT team is probably extremely busy right now trying to balance the demands of implementing a remote working set-up, maintaining your existing technology stack, and managing their own personal lives. That said, stockpiling all of your projects won’t help in the long term. First, remember that it probably took at least a few months to make a decision to purchase the technology you’re putting on pause. During this process, you may have gained some momentum in terms of fostering engagement—but this will all be gone if you enact a long-term pause. By the time you’re ready to reengage your users and stakeholders, it may take another few months to refocus their attention. Another potential risk is that you may be putting the brakes on technology that your users need, or at the very least, were excited about. When the fog lifts, the kids return to school, and we return to a less uncertain reality, you may face some anger or frustration from users that the technology solution you purchased 12 months ago hasn’t made any progress in being deployed. Lastly, trying to replan all of your delayed projects at once is a recipe for failure. While your project team may try to mitigate delays by condensing schedules, this will likely result in more risk for failure for each project.
  • Our budget has been slashed, and it’s unlikely that we will be able to advance beyond a pilot or small implementation. That may be true, but in most cases, the firm pays a fixed fee allocation to the project in advance of deployment. While business partners should be flexible in working with the firm on final payment dates, the work has probably already been at least partially paid for. It is also important to note that, as with the example of Cole, Scott & Kissane and iTimekeep that we raised above, the new revenue streams or efficiencies that many technology solutions provide will likely exceed the cost of the software itself. While your CFO is concerned about recession planning, you can sleep soundly knowing that your team has implemented a solution that creates more revenue or results in greater productivity for your firm.

In conclusion, if your IT team has any capacity right now (and we acknowledge that many don’t), we advise you not to pause projects implementing technology that your firm already purchased. Try to continue progressing in a logical and strategic way. While you may need to revise timelines, don’t let projects pile up—or you may have another crisis awaiting you when you’re back in the office.

Trevor Bell is the Chief Customer Officer at ZERØ and is responsible for leading the company’s implementation process and customer success initiatives. Over his 20+-year career, he has had the unique opportunity of working in many different roles, including as an accountant, technology specialist, business transformation specialist, project manager, people manager, organization leader, and consultant. He also has a passion for supporting his community and those he interacts with and is a firefighter with his home municipality.