Selecting and using new technology that positively affects a firm’s bottom line is an investment. The initial time investment alone can be daunting, given the way legal technology has ballooned in recent years. It’s now a multibillion-dollar buffet of choices. The struggle to remain current is felt by the world’s largest firms all the way down to the smallest.

Smaller firms and solo practitioners face a unique set of challenges all their own that has led to a dearth of early, or even on-time, adoption.

“Consider for a moment a scenario that might, on the surface, appear relatively simple: purchasing a note-taking application,” Casey Flaherty, an attorney and principal with Procertas, tells Legaltech News. “After evaluating an almost countless number of apps, what platforms they are on, their feature sets and integrations. … All of a sudden you are on hour four of researching notes. Then, after making a choice, it’s on to installation and training.”

Flaherty continues, “Most of us are quickly and constantly moving. When you have your nose to the grindstone, it’s really hard to pull back and get perspective. With smaller firms, there isn’t the same division of labor and time for specialization.”

Compounding the problem, Flaherty points out, is the “easy button mentality” prevailing in the market today. “We want 400 different, robust features with this bell and that whistle,” he says. “And oh yeah, we want to make it totally simple to use. But every button can’t be the primary button. So, we either end up with all these single function apps that aren’t integrated or this massive thing, with limitless functionality, requiring copious amounts of training.”

“Why can’t it just be simple, like using Google or Word?” Flaherty’s frustration is apparent as he recalls the countless times he has been asked some variation of this same question. His answer is always the same explanation of the tradeoffs between depth and ease. “It’s exactly like using Google,” he explains. “If all you want to do is use basic search terms, you can learn to use Google in two seconds. If all you want to do is type sentences, you can learn Word in less time than that. However, Google offers a six-week course that covers each feature and function in depth. Becoming a power user, with any solution, takes a lot of time.”

The Hard Choices?

For those busy legal professionals, choosing between an hour of billable work or learning something that will create efficiency and reduce billable hours in the future doesn’t seem like much of a choice. The incentives appear to run in the wrong direction.

Mark Unger, a solo practitioner operating the Unger Law Firm and legal technology consulting business Muse Legal, has been tackling this contradiction for his entire career. “I started out my working life as a waiter. There is a saying in the restaurant business: ‘Full hands in and full hands out.’ It means that you never enter the kitchen without bringing an empty plate or glass with you, and you never leave the kitchen without grabbing a plate that needs to be delivered to a table. It’s a simple rule that creates quite a bit of efficiency during busy shifts. I’ve always tried to apply the same rule to my law practice. If I’m taking a trip downtown for one client, I make sure to look for two or three other things that can also be accomplished in the same trip.”

Unger adds that small firms and solo practitioners always should be thinking about what they are doing and constantly looking for new workflows. “Can I take the best concepts from other professions—like food and beverage, engineering or medicine—and apply them in useful ways to my practice?”

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