As we wipe the dust from our eyes and enter the unknown territory that is 2021 with unchartered emotions (well certainly in my case), I get a distinct sensation that there is a strong desire among the owners of small to medium sized firms for direction at a time when strategic planning and prudent decision making is urgently required.
I find myself mentally “wheel spinning”. It’s a brand new year and we need to drive our businesses in a direction – but which direction? There is so much “wait and see” going on in between Cyril’s family meetings that it is certainly forgivable if you haven’t formally tabled your targets, strategies and battle plans for 2021 yet. Most of us are still punch drunk from the ravages of 2020 and the yet unknown repercussions of the second wave.
We also encounter so much hype around the latest technologies (artificial intelligence and machine learning being at the forefront of this), that we run the risk of not doing anything for fear of doing the wrong thing. The old adage of learning to walk before you run applies and this article is aimed at practitioners who know that they have to do something positive to improve their firms but are either unsure, overwhelmed, confused or all 3. There are obviously many firms who have taken action in these areas (60% of AJS clients now use AJS Web/process and hosting services and XpressDox has been web based since inception) so forgive me if this is a bit outdated for some of the readership.
It’s really difficult to know what you should be planning to do right now so I thought that a few practical initiatives that will work in any situation might just be the right medicine to both fulfill the innate need to do something productive at the beginning of the year and remove the associated stress of not being able to decide what best to do. These suggestions will actually add value at any time – COVID or no COVID. I have called them NB’s (for Nota Bene/No Brainer).
One or more of these will be just what the doctor ordered – if you will forgive the analogy….
NB 1 – Investigate Cloud solutions
If you haven’t already moved your systems into the cloud (or at least thought about it) then it is high time that you should. If your software suppliers haven’t converted their systems to include a proper web based/cloud option by now then they should not have the pleasure of your business anymore – end of story! They are simply milking your much valued license fees and not keeping their systems up to date with modern requirements. Start investigating web-based solutions and start the move to cloud to be fully migrated by this time next year at the latest. Set yourself that goal. It is distinctly possible and there are vendors in the legal industry who are properly geared up to advise you, and supply complete cloud/hosting solutions. They should also be able to provide you the option of either hosting on premise or secure off site solutions (refer NB2 below).
NB 2 (intimately related to NB 1) – Investigate off site hosting of your server
If you are still purchasing, maintaining and upgrading your own on premise server and network infrastructure then you are probably wasting your hard earned money – and your time – not to mention exposing your firm to unnecessary risk. Why continue with clunky, on premise server/network infrastructure year in and year out when there is a cost effective and more efficient way of doing things? Why continue paying IT service providers large amounts of money to keep these wasteful machines going when the funds could be better spent elsewhere? Servers always have to be replaced/upgraded/reloaded/insured and included in next year’s expenditure budget so we suggest that you look into doing a financial cost/risk comparison as soon as possible.
The thing is that if your IT supplier has not spoken to you about the option of hosting your servers in a secure data centre by now then they probably do not have your best interests at heart and you need to have a serious conversation with them. You could save money and you will gain peace of mind (plenty).
NB 3 – investigate document and process automation
I have found in my experience (which is shockingly long for someone who feels as young as I do), that attorneys, generally speaking, lack a working knowledge of what these terms mean. Then again, I must defend our clients by saying that the terms are quite broad, vague and subject to much interpretation.
This does not mean that they should not be investigated and applied to your particular requirements. There is much saving and profitability associated with strong, automated procedures and document assembly/management, and any law firm that neglects this is not acting in its interests – to be frank. Take the time to learn more about these technologies. There are many permutations of this and you will find the applications or combinations of products that are best suited to your particular needs. It takes a bit of homework but it is well worth the effort. Start by speaking to your existing suppliers and maybe they can do some of the homework for you.
NB 4 – Train your staff
Now is the time to teach your staff how to better use the software tools they already have. This is an economical way to make the firm more efficient without having to employ additional people! More often than not system knowledge has been diluted over years and years of hand me down learning (and learning of continued bad practices) as staff members come and go. You will be surprised how much more efficient (and motivated) your people will become if they learn extra skills and are tasked with more responsibility.
I have listed only 4 areas where you can improve your performance this year. Any one of them will make a difference. If you can get to 2 or 3 this year you will have made a huge positive impact on the performance and profitability of your firm. One thing is for sure – technology is a journey not a destination and the sooner you accept that the better – and ignorance is no longer an excuse. The AJS group of companies that I represent offers a one stop solution to all of these areas of technological advancement but it is important for you to do some independent research to enable a balanced decision that will benefit the particular interests of your firm. To assist you with this learning process I have provided some helpful “generic” links to get your learning curve off in the right direction. If you don’t feel like following the links then start off my approaching your IT or software/system supplier and offload the heavy lifting on them. They should be working harder for you anyway. You are more than welcome contact me or any of the AJS or Xpressdox people for a chat to steer you in the right direction as well.
Happy research – don’t delay. Procrastination really is the thief of time…..and money.
- Technology trends for 2021
- Useful recorded webinars on document automation here
- Intro to Cloud computing
- Web based software explained
- Guide to process automation
Contributed by: Digby Vickers, Director at AJS