The legal industry has been on a roller coaster ride of change over the last two years, and it’s been uncomfortable for many firms that weren’t equipped with all the tools they needed or the flexibility to work remotely. But now things have returned to normal, or the ‘new normal’ at least, many firms are reassessing their technology needs. If you’re looking for a new practice management solution, here are the top 5 things you should consider to ensure a successful transition.
Top 5 considerations for a successful transition
Be very clear on what you need before you start
This might sound obvious, but it really is key and deserves a lot of thought. Changing practice management solutions is a big deal and will shape the way you and your team work, so understanding your current challenges and goals clearly, and thinking about what you need from a new solution is critical.
It’s important to think beyond the way you currently do things. Identifying issues such as business management blind spots, lack of client insight, performance inefficiencies and bottlenecks is essential, as is understanding your mission-critical functions versus ‘nice-to-haves’. Think creatively about how you actually want to work and how your operations can be improved.
For example, your precedent library is key to your operations, but can often be neglected becoming decentralised with multiple versions of documents used by different staff. Think about how your library is structured, where it’s stored and what you do/don’t need to transition to your new solution. This will not only make your transition simpler and smoother, but it will give you a better and more consistent level of client service.
Select a trusted provider that understands your practice
Experience counts. Again, this sounds obvious but is vital. Your new technology solution will have ongoing implications for the way your firm operates, so it’s critical that you find a provider who understands your practice and your needs and will work closely with your team throughout the transition. It’s essential that your provider is committed to taking the ‘pain’ out of the process.
A common pitfall to be wary of is the ongoing accessibility of your data. Data sovereignty and integrity, understandably, are extremely important aspects to law firms, but some providers impose restrictions and costs if you want to extract data in the future. Before you migrate all your existing data into a new system, check with your provider about ongoing accessibility, otherwise, you may find yourself incurring unexpected costs when you want to retrieve the data in the future.
Most important of all is to select a provider who is committed to working closely with your team to understand their requirements and take the time to explain the solution in detail. This kind of engagement will ensure that no requirements are missed and that your team knows what is expected of them.
Focus on effective change management
Effective change doesn’t happen by itself, especially since change fatigue is at an all-time high due to the unprecedented way firms have needed to adapt over the last two years. This means that for your transition to succeed, you need to get your entire team on board from the outset.
A common misconception is an assumption that changing systems will somehow automatically improve how people work. Each system works in its own way – and many are flexible enough to be configured to suit different scenarios, but the secret to effective change is enabling and encouraging your staff to adopt new ways of working, supported by the technology, not forced by it.
First, make sure the provider you’ve selected will be a “partner in change” and understands the importance of working with your team, rather than simply delivering a technology solution. The right provider will work closely with your firm to mitigate the potential for “change burnout” and support your whole team through the transition. It’s also important that you develop a project timeline with clearly defined milestones to keep everyone on track.
Change management within your firm is also critical and there are several things you can do to collaborate effectively with your solution provider. Nominate a “champion” who will be the ‘face’ of the project and make sure there is highly visible support from senior leadership within your firm. This will help mobilise your staff and ensure that all stakeholders are engaged. Late engagement can risk important requirements being missed so it’s also crucial that you work with your solution provider to define roles and responsibilities.
Be prepared if you’re migrating your data
Transitioning to a new practice management solution and migrating all your existing data can be a highly technical exercise. Your new provider will likely need extensive access to your current system, so it’s essential your IT department or provider is engaged to enable this.
You may need to retain access to your old system for a short period, to ensure continuity between systems and verify that all your records have been transferred successfully. Work with your new provider to confirm whether this will be necessary and schedule the decommissioning of your old system accordingly.
When migrating data from one system to another, it’s important that you ensure your data is in the best shape possible before you start, otherwise you may be transplanting historical issues into your new system. Do a clean-up of your clients and matters including writing off old WIP, disbursements, debtors and stale cheques, and reconcile your bank accounts and creditors so they balance. It’s not unusual to find problems when going through this process though, but before attempting to fix them in your old system, flag them with your new provider so they can ensure nothing you do will compound the issues.
Be ambitious, but realistic with your timeframes
It’s great to be ambitious when planning the implementation of a new practice management solution and this will help motivate your team, but it’s also important to be both realistic and pragmatic when planning a major technical project.
You need your whole team to be involved and engaged in the process so your staff must have capacity to commit the time required to the project. This means considering other projects your personnel may be involved in or big cases that may place competing demands on their time. Effective planning will ensure that the transition to your new solution does not adversely affect your day-to-day operations.
Another often overlooked but key element of any successful project is testing. The importance of investing the time to test your new solution thoroughly cannot be overstated, so make sure this is included in your plan. Testing is your main opportunity to confirm your requirements have all been met and your data has been transferred successfully. It is far easier to catch and resolve an issue during testing at the end of a project, than it is if the issue isn’t discovered until later. While it’s tempting to go live with your new solution as soon as possible, devoting the time to perform thorough testing will pay dividends and minimise any potential problems.
If you’re looking for a trusted partner that can provide a fully-featured practice management solution with flexible cloud-hosting options, and the experience to guide your firm through the transition, then talk to LexisNexis. Lexis Affinity™ is our premiere practice management solution used by over 320 law firms, allowing you to run your entire practice from a single unified platform. It's flexible, comprehensive and with our new hosting options, now lets you take your practice to the cloud. Find out more, or talk to LexisNexis today.
Author: Brett Gallard, Senior Product Manager, Lexis Affinity at LexisNexis Pacific.