Kennedy on Tech

Use this simple exercise to solve the tech problems bugging you

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illustration by sam ward

Illustration by Sam Ward

Lawyers like to complain about the shortcomings of the technology they use. A lot. What if we took the energy we spend on complaining and turned it into positive action? Could you take your technology annoyances and use them to create a truly beneficial tech strategy?

I once had a lawyer approach me after a technology presentation to ask what portable printer I used for travel. He had tried—very unsuccessfully—quite a few of them and had spent quite a bit of time and money. He was frustrated and hoped that I had the perfect answer.

It turned out that all he wanted was to print out articles and other information he found on the Web so he could read it later. I confessed that I didn’t have a portable printer. For that purpose, I simply saved the articles as PDFs that I could read on the screen and print later.

It really looked like a lightbulb went on over his head. He saw the solution, his frustration went away and he planned to buy Adobe Acrobat the same day.

So I suggest this exercise to turn a big technology annoyance into a simple action plan that solves your problem. The key is getting to the heart of the issue and reframing the need. There’s a concept you might hear about, called “root-cause analysis.” For our purposes, that means drilling down into an issue far enough that we start to really understand what the need or problem is.

The “portable printer problem” became “How do I keep articles to read later?” That opens up many options, and the Acrobat choice was especially good because it allowed for reading on a screen later, printing later and making the articles searchable.

A common and simple approach to root-cause analysis is generally referred to as the “5 Whys.” Start with something like “My email drives me crazy.” Why is that? Answer that and ask “Why?” until you get to five of them. Odds are that you will reach an insight—sometimes a profound one.

For many lawyers, I’m guessing the final answer will be because your technology won’t let you provide the level of client service you strive for.

Below is my simple exercise that should not take more than 30 minutes (known to lawyers as 0.5 hours). Try these steps and see what quick results you can get. Then enjoy how much your tech is helping you—until you hear yourself complaining again.


1. Throw out the demons. Take a piece of paper and spend 10 minutes listing every tech annoyance that is bothering you. Revel in the cathartic energy it gives you.

2. Look for patterns. It’s possible that you will recognize that a new computer, solid state drive or second monitor would solve a cluster of annoyances. Pick two or three of the biggest annoyances and try the “5 Whys.”

3. Make a quick plan. Take your best results from step No. 2 and write them as action steps, such as: “Take class on Outlook rules.” Divide the list into long-term and short-term actions. To your surprise, you might have an actual written technology strategy to implement. At the least, you will have talking points for your technology consultant or IT director.

4. Take action. I’ve seen lawyers get big improvements very cheaply in a single day.

This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Whys, not Whines: Use this simple exercise to solve the tech problems bugging you.”

Dennis Kennedy is a St. Louis-based legal technology writer and information technology lawyer.

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