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Finney: 8 steps to evaluating and selecting your firm’s software

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FinneyThe words, “This software is horrible,” often echo through the halls of many firms. “We’ve tried all the systems available, and they’re all equally as terrible” is the resounding response. Why does it seem that no software developer can get it right?

The answer may be as simple as shifting the focus from what the software developer needs to change to evaluating what internal processes need to be changed. Oftentimes firms select software based upon performance during a software demonstration rather than evaluating what will provide the best results for specific firm needs. Finding the right software requires identification of job requirements including process workflows prior to selecting the tool. The following steps are useful in both selecting new software and improving satisfaction with current systems.

Step 1: Document current process. When firms skip this step and jump directly to demonstrations, the selection becomes merely about showmanship. Without a true understanding of the current process it is nearly impossible to recognize if the software is the right fit.

At this stage a focus group representative of each role in the current process should be established. By documenting the process as a group, it often becomes apparent that portions of the process are resulting in duplication of efforts or people unknowingly causing conflicts with the workflow of others.

Step 2: Identify current pain points. Without knowing what seems to be broken, it will be difficult to fix. While some pain points will be known prior to Step 1, many others will likely arise during the documentation of the current process. Bottom line, a detailed list of pain points must be identified to recognize the end goal.

Step 3: Categorize needs, wants and deal-breakers. No single software tool can encompass every single task you may desire to perform. Therefore, classifying requirements is necessary to ensure that necessities are not overlooked and that too much time is not spent trying to accommodate wishful thinking.

Step 4: Set a budget. Oftentimes this can be difficult without knowing reasonable ballpark ranges. While most software companies will provide such information upon request, realistic quotes will require information regarding the intent and goals identified by your focus group. By setting a spending limit upfront, time will be saved limiting demonstrations to include only packages and features within budget.

Step 5: Assessment. Receiving feedback about popular software packages can assist in identification of packages to review. Software reviews can be easily collected via various legal technology publications, legal technology networking groups, and of course colleagues in other firms. When requesting a demonstration, it is best to provide the sales representative with key information identified by the focus group to find any deal-breakers within a package and allow the demonstration to be tailored to your firm. Ideally all members of the focus group should be available to view the demonstration and compare each package.

Step 6: Selection of software and workflow. The selection phase may seem daunting, but viable options often become apparent when measuring against comprehensive benchmarks. Once a selection has been made, the focus group should then reevaluate the firm’s process to determine what tweaks will need to be made and standards set to enable the software to work as intended.

Step 7: Implementation. This phase is not merely a matter of installing software and allowing users to sit through a 30-minute webinar to learn the product. Members of the firm should be trained on both the product and firm-specific processes to ensure data integrity and process consistency. This will require extensive planning to ensure reasonable standards are set for things like naming conventions, consistent usage of fields and general best practices. Documentation of these standards is essential to ensure they are adhered to into the future. If data is not entered consistently, anticipated features will not produce the intended results and often leads to a general distrust of the product creating a consensus that the product does not work.

Step 8: Audit. This process should not stop after implementation because it is not uncommon for people to revert back to old habits. Additionally, it is normal for changes in desired reports and similar output to occur over time. Without continual attention to ensuring standards are being followed and underlying processes continue to be practical, the effectiveness of the software can quickly decline.

Though this process may seem tedious and time consuming, remember the wise words of Theodore Roosevelt: “Nothing worth having was ever achieved without effort.”•

__________

Deanna Finney (deanna.finney@miscindiana.com) is a co-owner of the Indianapolis-based legal technology company, Modern Information Solutions LLC. Areas of service include traditional IT services, software training and litigation support including trial presentation services. www.miscindiana.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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