Falling in Love with the Problem: A No-Fail Process for Improving Your Law Firm With Technology

If you’re a firm owner or partner, you probably feel some pressure to improve your practice. “Some” might be an understatement because you regularly get email solicitations or LinkedIn messages from legal technology vendors emphasizing all of the challenges firms face.You know there are better ways to deliver your firm’s services, but who has time to evaluate every offer and opportunity?There’s one key to getting this right: begin and end with the problem in mind.

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Begin With the Problem

Before you evaluate possible innovations in your practice, you first need to prioritize what problem(s) you aim to solve.

It’s certainly tempting to do the opposite. Whenever you attend a legal conference or check your email inbox, it’s easy to prioritize solutions first. You see a hundred shiny objects that offer an easy way out. Resist the temptation!

You don’t just want a solution, but the right one for your specific problem (and firm). Follow this five-step process for prioritizing and selecting tools that will be most impactful for your firm:

  1. Walk to the nearest whiteboard or wall. Use sticky notes to brain dump everything that drives you nuts about your firm. Client communication, court filings, document drafting, accounts payable, etc. But be as specific as possible. Dig into the broad problems to identify the specific pain points. Put every problem on the wall.
  2. Prioritize these problems using a simple rubric. Identify which factors make some problems more impactful than others. Would solving a problem bring new revenue? Is there a time constraint that bumps up the urgency? Are clients impacted by a problem? Decide which few factors move the needle most for you and use that to score the problems you’ve stuck to the wall. Firms could have team members vote with stickers or pins to pick the most significant problems to them — whatever works for you. Then move the sticky notes with the most signals of priority up to the top. The problem that ends up on top is the one you’re going to solve first.
  3. Now, stay focused on that one problem. Start the brainstorming process again and use similarly expansive thinking to imagine possible solutions to your problem. Are there low-tech solutions? People-intensive solutions? Automation? Create a new set of sticky notes with every possible solution to your one problem.
  4. As you did with your original set of problems, prioritize your solutions with a simple set of factors that are most important to you. Maybe you pin solutions that are cheapest. Maybe you give points to the fastest solution, the one with the most downstream impact, or the easiest to implement. At the end of this second prioritization exercise, you’ll have one solution that ties directly back to your one problem.
  5. With solution in hand, set a deadline and identify an advocate. You’ll need one person who’ll own implementation. If you’re a solo lawyer, you can hire some help for this, or pretend that ‘CEO You’ has an assignment for ‘Lawyer You.’ Whatever the result, one person should have a clear vision of the problem/solution pairing and be empowered to manage the implementation process for the rest of the team. (Read more about process changes and technology implementation best practices here to further improve your chances of success.)

A Sample Problem/Solution Pair

Let’s take the example of a family law practice (although this works with many different practice areas).

If you serve families in divorce and custody proceedings, you could imagine a very full wall of sticky-note-frustrations:

  • Clients are in a hurry but don’t send you the documents you need
  • Courts require timely filings but send back documents for vague reasons
  • You can’t collect on hours or bill for flat fees as cases wait for updates
  • You’re worried that drafting errors are causing issues but you’re stuck with “find and replace” in Microsoft Word, etc.

Of all the possible problems, you decide to focus on quality control. You’re most afraid of clients noticing embarrassing mistakes in a footer after a late night of work, or you’ve had several court filings rejected for errors in documents.

With one problem on the board, you brainstorm solutions:

  • You could create every document yourself, from scratch 
  • You might purchase a library of expensive forms
  • A more expensive contract attorney might give better custom forms
  • You could incorporate document automation into your practice
  • Bringing in co-counsel might help you distribute the risk of bad service, etc.

If you prioritize a low-cost solution that lets you keep control of your processes and guarantee quality, you might move the “document automation” sticky note to the top.

With your problem/solution pair, it’s time to implement.

The Problem Will Keep You Going

The hardest thing about improving your practice with legal technology is getting people to actually use the new tool. Here are a few things you can do to give your firm the best chance at following through:

  1. Choose a project manager. An assistant, associate, partner, you — someone needs to own the solution, vendor relationship, and stay focused on making it successful.
  2. Identify a super-user. When one person commits to productively pushing back, implementation improves.
  3. Get training. Most technology companies come with customer success specialists. These service agents are tasked with helping you succeed. Use them.

More than anything, keep the problem that motivated you in mind.

Shiny objects won’t keep you pushing ahead (and some will set you back farther if they become a distraction and drive up your costs). Focus on the problem that irritated you in the first place to keep moving forward. You might even save that sticky note as a trophy reminding you or your team of the way things used to be. 

And when you’re satisfied, start with the problem on the next sticky note below. One by one, you’ll change your practice for the better.

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