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I.T in practice: Shooting the messenger

Every Issue

Cite as: (2007) 81(7) LIJ, p. 96

Technology makes the generating of reports easier, but is not responsible for the content of those reports.

It was a three-line memo that triggered an avalanche of activity that ultimately proved to be an expensive and time-consuming exercise for the practice.

The memo read: “More than ever I am seeing our practice management system as difficult to operate and not fulfilling my needs. Hence, I think the time has come to head in a new direction. To that end I am examining options”.

This email, sent from a firm’s managing partner to the IT consultant supporting the legal practice management system (LPMS) has a significant history and context.

This firm had restructured about two years previously, so that the operation of a service trust was wound down, and all practice operations were brought under a single financial operating entity.

Having operated under the previous structure for many years, the managing partner assumed that the practice profit distributions would continue in much the same fashion, although they would come from a slightly different source.

However, for this practice, there had been a steady decline in profits over recent years. Competitors (legal and non-legal), increased staff costs and new larger premises were just a few of the reasons.

After the “not fulfilling my needs” statement, the firm’s administrative staff undertook a relatively exhaustive review available of LPMS solutions.

Requirements lists were constructed and costs were estimated. Potential vendors were interviewed and shortlisted. A lead vendor was identified.

However, during the course of the project, two things became obvious.

The first was that the cost of the change-over of systems would run well into six figures.

The second, and probably more significant, was that the functional gains to be had from any new LPMS were marginal at best when compared to the firm’s currently-operating reliable, feature-rich system.

The mismatch between the managing partner’s perception of need fulfilment and that of the administrative staff came to a head when the main shortlisted vendor suggested that the firm should not change systems as there was not real incremental commercial gain to be had.

Although the vendor appeared to be acting against his self-interest, he was professional enough to recognise that moving from a well-accepted and functioning LPMS to a new system would create more problems than it would solve.

The time had come to confront the managing partner regarding the systems selection process.

After a lengthy partners’ meeting, it became evident that the managing partner had never used the existing LPMS and that his “not fulfilling my needs” statements were based on the content of the financial reports produced for him by staff.

Further, these reports were showing the practice’s declining profits, which were at odds with his expectations of available profit drawings based on activities via the previous service trust setup.

So, the “needs” really related to the content of the data presented – not enough profit.

This example shows what often happens when technology is involved in any process in a firm – something that does not appear to be working organisationally is occasionally sheeted home to the “ghost in the machine”.

Breaking this down into detail can often reveal a misperception of how things work.

What may first appear as a need for an upgraded system may only be an opportunity for training, a poorly specified job description, or sometimes even just a loose plug.

ADAM REYNOLDS is the principal of Proficio, an independent IT consulting firm. For more I.T. in practice information, see the contributions of the LIV Legal Practice Management Committee and IT e-Marketing department at

“To do” List

  • If there is a perception of needs not being fulfilled by the LPMS, drill down to the detail of these statements.
  • Delineate LPMS problems into “content” issues and “form/process” issues. The latter relates to the LPMS itself, the former relates to the data that is being entered. The solution to each of these problems is entirely different.
  • Ensure that users of LPMS information are also users of the LPMS itself.
  • Link LPMS training with training on how to use reports that are being produced by the LPMS.


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