All-Star Game: Software Performance Reflects the User, Too

There’s no perfect software (excepting ‘Tecmo Super Bowl‘); and, lawyers, who professionally pick nits, are harder to please than other business software customers, even excluding considerations respecting professional ethics requirements.

Of course, usability is a two-way street.  Software vendors have to build and update truly useful platforms for law firms; but, law firms must also engage those platforms effectively.  Lawyers must decide to put the effort in to make the most of their use of software.  In the end, software requires data and direction.  Users must submit relevant information, and perform, or set in motion, certain functionality.  The typical lawyer’s dream, of a zero-effort installation, where the new software works just like the old software — right away, avoiding any initial productivity dip — is a fantasy.

In sum, if you don’t want to pay for licenses you’re not using, or if you want to use more than 5% of a program’s functionality, it is incumbent upon lawyers and staff to understand the software they’re attached to, at a more than superficial level.

The following represents a three-point strategery check, to help you figure out whether you’re getting the most out of your software.

Sherpas in the Low Altitudes.  Gladys Knight had the PipsHarold Melvin had the Blue NotesRingo has his All-Starr Band.  Who you got?  Lawyers have traditionally leaned on often-younger, presumably more tech-savvy staff to act as in-house troubleshooters respecting the use of software programs.  If there is a candidate in your law firm, it can be tremendously helpful to have a resident ‘technology expert’; and, if that expert exists mostly to support one program, and if it is a high-use program, like an accounting software or a case management system, then that’s probably all right.  Finding someone on your staff who can perform this role can lighten the load on your IT staff (if you have one), will likely reduce your out-of-pocket support costs and can reduce the time you waste developing unnecessary workarounds.

Yeti in the High Altitudes.  Law firms have often applied the above-referenced formula to graft technology expertise onto an existing staffing infrastructure.  Far too often, however, such a scheme becomes a crutch, allowing attorneys a ready excuse to avoid learning about, and coming to a deeper understanding of, the software they regularly use.  Total reliance on staff, however, is a bad decision at a number of levels.  For one, it decreases your personal efficiency; and, for another, it places you at the mercy of a particular staffperson.  If you have ‘one person who knows how to use the software’, what happens if they want to leave, or if they want a raise?  Also, given new ethics requirements respecting technology competence for lawyers, it could be argued that a totally hands-off approach contravenes, at least the spirit, of those rules, as well as existing rules concerning the supervision of staff.

Knowing When to Call for Help.  Just as there is no perfect software, there is no perfect software user.  Unless you’re the law office equivalent of Bo Jackson in ‘Tecmo Super Bowl’, you’ll need a hand every now and then.  So, you want to be careful to pick a software program that features a robust knowledgebase and support structure, potentially including a paid support component.  Plans will differ for various providers; so, you should ask, and the select the option that works best for you.  If you can’t figure it out, and the support desk can’t help, it may be time to consider a consultant.

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Liner Notes

My understanding is that this would have been the perfect song, if it wasn’t just a tribute.

Tribute’ by Tenacious D