Law Firm Management

New Tech, Old Problem


H. Deen Kaplan.
Photo courtesy of Hogan & Hartson

Gregory, manager of customer relations management at Reed Smith’s Chicago office, says most people, if given the choice to do something the old way or a new way, will pick the old way.

“Especially lawyers,” she jokes.

Tech innovations like CRM (to allow sharing of client contact infor­mation) or restrictions on e-mail (to prevent system crashes) may seem essential. But they don’t get universal approval, especially from partners who’ve become used to one way of working and bringing in new billables.

Gregory has moved from firm to firm, overseeing CRM implementation. The implementation process for new software should be the same everywhere: It must be mandatory, and it must be gradual, according to Gregory.

That’s often easier said than done—and sometimes not even easily said. In fact, though several law firms that have recently installed CRM systems were contacted for this article, few wanted to talk on the record about their implementation processes.

A GENTLE INTRODUCTION

But all is not lost in the war between the new ways and the old. Hogan & Hartson, for instance, has begun taking a kinder, gentler ap­proach to the introduction of new technology. H. Deen Kaplan, a partner in Washington, D.C., who co-chairs the firm’s technology committee, says sometimes it is best to “treat employees as customers” and cater to their needs. Many of the firm’s technologies sell themselves by making life easier for attorneys.

“The technology is there to serve attorneys and the staff—not vice ver­sa,” Kaplan says. “We don’t press people to use things. We try to have a light touch.”

Gregory doesn’t disagree: “The key is to make sure to focus on the benefit, not just the technical side. Tailoring communication—that’s what gets a greater buy-in.”

Gregory says Reed Smith had an open-contacts policy before she arrived, but the firm is now introducing its new system grad­ually to a few attorneys from each of its 24 offices worldwide. At two previous firms, she says, im­ple­mentation was a “daily, ongoing battle.” Those firms had open contact lists “in name only,” she says, and the top brass did not enforce their use.

Vedia Jones-Richardson, chair of the ABA Law Practice Management Section, says letting attorneys pick and choose which programs they will use is key. “I think whenever you try to drag everybody into new technology, you’re raising the bar too high,” says the partner with Olive & Olive in Durham, N.C. “To the extent the system allows for flexible usage—that’s where you get your highest buy-in.”

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