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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.”•

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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. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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