When it comes to choosing new technologies, a lot of law firms don't have the internal IT resources to help. It can often come down to heads of departments, impacting on billable time, or practice managers to conduct the research and due diligence required.
Considering the potential impact of changing an accountancy package or case management platform has on a firm – making the right decision is vital. So how do you ensure you've made the right choice? We've come up with a short guide to help solicitors, or any businesses, in fact, ask the right questions not just of the vendor but also themselves. Because if you're not ready to make the change, no new system will be a success.
Evaluating your needs
Understand what you need first not what they offer
With a seamlessly endless announcement of new products getting released every day, it's easy to get distracted by the hype. Understanding your needs and focusing on the benefits of the solution, not what features it offers, will help you make the right decision.
The types of question you want to be asking yourself to understand your needs are:
- Are you looking to save time?
- Is your security your main concern?
- Are you unhappy with your current provider's customer service?
- Are you looking to cut costs and improve profitably?
- Is productivity a problem?
That's not diminishing the impact new features can have on vastly improving the way a law firm operates. Keeping up with the latest technological developments can often highlight problems you didn't even know existed.
Get feedback from your users early
So far, we've raised a lot of questions that should be asked before choosing/changing software, but adoption goes much further than that. A lot of software projects fail because they miss out a key stakeholder from that start – their staff. At the end of the day to get the most out of any technology, the user should be comfortable with using it and understand how it can make their job easier. If you miss out this vital step, you might find them falling back on previous ways of working.
Evaluating the software
Should you go for generalist or specialist software?
Generalist products offer the benefit of a wide range of features, making them very appealing but like a swiss army knife, they don't prove that useful in practice. If your firm is geared to a particular area of practice, you may want a platform that specialises more in that area. An excellent exercise to conduct at this point is some simple process mapping. Process mapping will help you identify where the most significant inefficiencies and issues are within your firm and help determine where technology can help. We've written a helpful whitepaper on process mapping to guide you if you haven't done it before.
Integration between different technologies is commonplace. You can easily connect your conveyancing software to your practice management, giving you the best of both worlds. Technology is moving away from proprietary systems, locking users into contracts and their systems, making it as open and accessible as possible benefitting the customer rather than the creator.
On-premise or in the cloud?
One of the big advantages of choosing a cloud-based solution over on-premise is that all the updates, server maintenance and infrastructure are handled for you. For most law firms and small businesses, this can save them considerable time, cost and substantial stress. One of the obvious downsides of a cloud-based solution is that you will always require an internet connection in order to access the software. While it's very rare not to be able to access the internet, you can even work from home if need be, it does happen and should be taken into consideration. On the other hand, if there was an issue with an internal server that could take days to fix and might result in losing your entire database.
Give it a go
You wouldn't buy a car without taking it for a test-drive so at a minimum you should expect to be able to demo any potential new software. Relying on videos, brochures and sales pitches just isn't good enough to make such an important decision. No matter where you are in the UK, and the vendor is based, they should still be able to arrange an online demo for you or even provide a trial version for a few days. For on-premise solutions that can be difficult and costly for the software provider, which is another advantage of choosing a cloud-based solution.
Don't be put off by demo data and configuration
A common mistake a lot of companies do when evaluating new software is to compare it against their existing system before it's been configured to their requirements. When testing any new system, make sure you can distinguish between what your current system actually does better and what is a false impression due to familiarity. If you have followed the first step, you should have a list of problems you wanted to solve so focus first on those and make a balanced decision based on how well your existing v possible platform helps.
Is it future-proofed / how often is it updated?
We all know technology changes a rapid pace. The only thing that seems to keep up with it is new regulations which are why it's essential to get an understanding of how the new system will evolve. If there's little evidence of any updates in the past year, then that doesn't bode well. On the other hand, new updates every few weeks doesn't mean the software is better than its competitors. It could be that they are constantly fixing bugs or just like to tinker with things which could cause user acceptance issues. Look for consistent and significant updates that indicate the vendor's commitment to their product.
Evaluating the vendor
What support and training will the vendor provide?
As we mentioned earlier, user acceptance of any new technology is key to its success. Great software without excellent customer support and training often leads to low adoption. A lot of start-ups are great at building software but have no experience when it comes to supporting it. Ask what type of support is available; are there agreed on SLAs or limits to the amount of training provided.
Training and setup can often come as an extra cost which isn't clear up front. You don't want to have to pay expensive training fees each time you take on a new employee. Sometimes this can't be helped as the software itself is so complex that it requires extensive training. If that's the case, you might be better choosing something more aligned with your current capabilities or appoint in-house 'champions' who can retrain others.
Do they have knowledge and experience of the legal sector?
Finally, does the vendor understand your industry? We're not suggesting you rule out vendors that don't, but it does help if the founders or lead product managers have some experience of what it's like being you and the challenges your facing. If they get what conveyancers do, then configuration will be a lot easier, and they understand your needs.
In summary, assess your needs, assess the vendor, assess your staff's competency and appetite for change.
We built Matter Centre with all these principles in mind. We wanted to create conveyancing software that really helped conveyancing which is why we chose a former conveyancer as our product manager and got our clients involved from the start. We also made it flexible enough to integrate with other platforms while also being able to handle non-conveyancing matters if needed.
We don't lock you into long-term contracts, don't charge for setup and provide ongoing support as standard. We believe that making the switch to Matter Centre should be as easy as using the software itself. And as the 2019 winners of the Wales Legal Awards Services to the Legal Profession category, you can rely on us to