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IT in Practice: Surviving rough seas

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Cite as: (2009) 83(03) LIJ, p.86

In today’s tough economic times a practitioner needs to have access to a knowledgeable but independent computer consultant.

For the small to medium-sized practitioner, the global financial crisis has begun to bite.

For each lawyer, this has presented itself in a different way, and thus reactions have been varied. Many lawyers have seen a decrease in their overall billings, others have seen a change in the mix of services being provided, while some have seen a need to work (even) harder to maintain a steady and secure revenue flow.

Practitioners are by necessity looking at all of their available resources to make sure that they are running as “lean” as possible and maximising returns on their investment.

Within this landscape it is important to assess the role that technology can play in contributing to the changed practice and being confident about the months and years ahead.

As a starting point, using technology to assess what is happening within the practice is essential.

An effective practice management system will have tools that allow detailed analysis of various matter and client types, with a consequent identification and assessment of low-margin or low-value activities.

Scaling back on these (or changing the billing rates or methodology) and emphasising high-profit areas of the practice will allow a finely targeted redeployment of practice resources.

Good practice management systems will also help assess fee level evaluation, either in response to future client requests or as a broad service evaluation strategy.

An information technology review is a valuable practice management tool at any time. However, if directed to a specific objective, it can be even more worthwhile. For example, if the technology consultant’s brief is to evaluate all of the physical resources within the office and identify how the life of each one can be extended, this can provide useful advice to help the practice contain or avoid costs.

A firm which has used technology to maximise stability should be able to mitigate some of the impact of an economic downturn.

It is wise not to cut back on technology spending completely as a result of a review. One of the most valuable assets in tough times is a practice’s quality staff. These staff need to have the proper technology tools to be as efficient as possible. Moreover, an element of retaining (or attracting) high-quality human resources is not to be seen as backward from a technology perspective.

Where the practice is looking at responding to the economic environment by downsizing, the remaining staff still need the proper tools to be able to satisfy client service requirements.

Investment in transcription devices and software, telecommuting tools and workflow management systems will help personal productivity for lawyers and support staff.

Within a tough economic climate, practices may selectively invest in technology. Some good examples are website makeovers, teleconferencing and regular client newsletters distributed by email. Another is where a practice may seek to use technology to broaden its service portfolio, thus shielding the firm from the vagaries and slowdowns in its particular traditional market (for example, conveyancing).

There is no doubt that corporate and private financial crises will generate a growing need for legal “triage” services.

Countercyclical services such as restructuring, corporate mergers and litigation work may also be considered, and investing in technology tools to assist in this work will give a firm an advantage over existing practices in the various service sectors.

For some lawyers, survival in the current economic climate may simply not be possible. As such, a final aspect that needs to be considered is how technology can play a role in a lawyer’s practice exit strategy, whether by merger or sale.

In such circumstances, the quality of a practice’s systems will have a direct bearing on the value of a practice. In raw terms, a technologically “smart firm” will always yield a better value proposition.

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


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