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May 2001
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Firm Administration

Top 10 Technology Challenges

By Storm Evans

storm evans CHALLENGES are nothing new to law firm administrators, but technology has its own set of challenges sure to raise your blood pressure. Here are the top 10 challenges facing firm administrators today:

10. Manage Consultants

No one can know everything about computers, so many firms hire consultants to help with implementation or training.

The challenge in managing consultants is in knowing what each one can do for you, and using a combination of consultants at various times to help you get technology implemented or to help you make modest changes over a period of time.

Plus your usual management concerns about keeping the project on budget and on time.

9. Meet Client Demands

These days, clients want information faster than ever. You may be called upon to teach your staff to be ambidextrous with Word and Word Perfect; train them on Adobe Acrobat for e-mailing and electronic filing.

Plus you may find that you must make information on your file server available to clients.

8. Develop Policies

With the Internet at your employee's fingertips, it's probably time to develop a new section of your firm's guidelines manual.

You may want to require all employees to sign an agreement about use of the Internet.

You may even want to consider specialized software to track, and, perhaps, bill for the time that employees spend on the Internet or sending e-mail.

7. Develop 'Nets

Internets, Intranets, Extranets: Whether it is designing and overseeing updating of the firm's Web page; developing and maintaining the firm-wide information repository; or establishing the Extranet for use when your clients want information from your computer system; the 'Net will challenge you this year.

Work to understand the purpose, tools, time expenditure and people demands for these high tech, high profile projects.

6. Promote Training

You've heard it for years, fought for it for years, and been told to cut the budget for it for years. But the fact remains that in order to get full use of the expensive technology in your firm, you must plan to spend money and time training your staff with even modest changes to software.

5. Staff I.T.

Think of your computers as consumables, just like pencils.

-Storm Evans

Does managing people who don't speak your language give you a headache? At least one person in every law office must know enough to resolve computer problems.

In an economy where corporate America gives qualified information systems professionals the really big bucks, selecting, managing, and retaining information systems personnel is a challenge.

4. Choose Your Model

Should you keep your technology systems in-house? Outsource them? Or join the application service provider bandwagon?

Your challenge lies in understanding the options, putting together an apples-to-apples comparison of the options.

You'll be called upon to help your firm decide whether: 1) to have an in-house staff of information systems people, and own your computer system; 2) to outsource it to a reliable company which will maintain the system for you; or 3) to go directly to an ASP where all of your computer applications, data, and associated services are in the hands of the provider.

3. Expense v. Capital Expenditure

Computers are consumables, like pencils. Your job is to convince your firm management to accept that you will never be able to consider computers an investment.

Rather, the firm must look at the computers, the associated hardware and software as a direct expense, and they must expect to replace it entirely every three years with some change coming each year.

2. Manage Lawyer Expectations

The geek lawyers in your firm often raise expectations for technology, but they can just as often muddy the water.

Listening to these lawyers, sorting their requests into those that are practical and those that are impractical, and implementing appropriate technology quickly will be one of the most difficult tasks ahead of you.

1. Keep Up

We are in the "information age," with more information flowing across our desks than ever before, so keeping up with any one particular area is harder than ever.

Your challenge is to ferret out the changes looking for ones that will affect your firm directly, learn about them (or ensure that someone on your staff does so), and adjust your firm's course for technology to take advantage of the important ones.

As is true with many facets of the administrator's job, the answer lies in planning. That recursive planning process, which never ends, will save your bacon when it comes to technology. Learn the new buzz words, re-think your technology approach, plan, train, implement, reassess, adjust and then plan again.

Storm Evans, an independent consultant based in Philadelphia, offers automation and management services to small law firms.

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