Buying Technology: A Different Look at Cost-Benefit Analysis

Just about every industry leverages technology to create efficiencies and reduce errors, and the legal field is no exception. Plenty of advice is out there about implementing a virtual law practice or practice management system to avoid malpractice, improve client experience, and optimize firm performance. However, the cost-benefit calculations associated with that advice typically assumes the purchased software is fully implemented, so they don’t account for cost of change or the value of process improvement. Here, I’ll explore the full cost and benefit of adopting technology from an implementation standpoint.

For example, a fictitious firm decides to embrace technology for setting potential client meetings. One of the partners heard that other firms are placing calendaring software on their websites and it’s relatively inexpensive to set up. Another partner thought that while they were changing their website, they should add simple triage questions. An associate had recently recommended a client relationship management (CRM) software that creates forms. The CRM will manage all their prospects’ emails and allows for automated communications for a low monthly subscription fee. There’s an upfront and one-time cost of $1,000 for the website work for integrating the calendar plugin and the CRM. Plus, it is $500 per month for both the calendar and CRM, which bring the total annual spend to $7,000.

However, no one has thought of these additional costs of implementation on the firm side:

  • Project management: Someone will need to work with the software companies to coordinate the overall approach.
  • Process review: If you’re applying technology to a manual process, you need to review the steps to either automate, eliminate or change the process.
  • Data migration: There’s no such thing as a free lunch. While many companies will set up your data for free, you still have to account for the staff time on your side.
  • Integration: Systems need to talk to each other or use other software to link, which can add to the cost of the implementation quickly. In our example, the potential client information is captured in the CRM, but moving that over to the existing practice management system requires more work.
  • Scope creep: In our example, we started with the idea of a calendaring software that was under $100 per month. However, the project grew into an annual commitment of $7,000. Be careful to include all the setup and ongoing costs.

Now, I am not saying that technology implementations should stop because of the above list of additional costs. Instead, I’m encouraging firms to read between the line items and account for hidden costs. At a minimum, the firm in our example should review and most likely redesign the client prospecting process, including the original client scheduling process, which could really benefit our fictitious firm—if they’re open to change.

To illustrate that last point, let’s continue our example: The lawyers involved with client development and marketing sat down with the administrator and the legal assistants to review the process of attracting prospective clients and setting up initial meetings. This new process must be supported by the partners and implemented as part of the technology project. Without the partner support for change, the implementation is doomed.

Not surprisingly, the process planning session not only created a new process involving the technology, but also revealed that the firm needed to change its marketing materials and do some internal training on client development best practices. The lawyers involved decided upon some questions around how the prospects heard of the firm. Staff are eager to use the CRM’s analytics to track and benchmark their improvements. The group also made a list of future projects, like implementing a client survey on the website, to tackle after the current project. By involving the team in a redesign rather than simply implementing a software, the firm’s staff will actually use the new software and use it well, thus resulting in a stronger return on your investment (Outside of this example, if your firm is considering any technology, consider doing the process redesign prior to picking the solution; you may find it easier to pick a solution that matches your needs.)

You need to review and change whatever process is part of a technology implementation. When analyzing the cost of an implementation, be sure to include your internal staff’s time to get a true cost. Additionally, strive for simplicity in process and software, because your clients will benefit from a seamless experience. Push back or do not purchase if the system or solution does not truly fit your firm once you have thought through your willingness and ability to change.

About the Author

Mary Juetten is the founder and CEO of Traklight, a cloud-based platform for tracking and protecting intellectual property, and is the co-founder and managing director of Evolve Law, a membership organization of legal entrepreneurs focused on innovation and the future of law. Contact Mary on Twitter @maryjuetten.

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