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    August 31st, 2007

    Living in my own world
    Didn’t understand
    That anything can happen
    When you take a chance
    ..♫

    Words and Music by David Lawrence, Matthew Gerrard & Robbie Nevil, recorded by High School Musical.

     

    My copy of Innovations, an Editorial Supplement by the editors of Baseline, CIO Insight and eWeek, hit my desk this week. This magazine bills itself as focusing on the secret ingredients of successful companies. On page 18 was an article by Robert Hertzberg on the top technological innovations that businesses were focusing on in 2007. I love these types of studies that show what people are actually spending money on rather than those that state what people could be doing with technology. While thinking about futuristic ideas is always interesting, ultimately it all comes down to the question of whether or not you are willing to risk capital on an idea or project in order to achieve a better ROI than you are achieving at the moment. And this provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the where law firms are relative to other businesses and see where there is room for innovation – or at least increased emphasis – by law firms. So what are these top projects?

    #1 Business Process Improvement (BPM): BPM, or as I prefer to put it: figuring out how to do things better, faster or cheaper, is the number one innovative initiative undertaken by businesses. These projects all have one common denominator – they address a defined business need (or at least, one that has been identified by an outside consultant!) This is certainly one area where law firms are always interested; the principle challenge, as I see it, is in devising improvements that are not already in use at other firms – in other words, being truly innovative rather than just keeping up with Jones, Jones & Jones LLP.

    #2 Customer Relationship Management (CRM): Wikipedia states that CRM is a broad term that covers concepts used by companies to manage their relationships with customers, including the capture, storage and analysis of customer, vendor, partner, and internal process information. These projects, while exciting and truly different, typically have a high failure rate. If you follow the maxim that high risk must equal high return, there must be a hefty upside to building an effective CRM system and building it right. Law firms may wish to pay a bit more attention to this trend.

    #3 Business Analytics and Business Intelligence: Here you are taking firm business data and analyzing it to demonstrate to partners or clients or perhaps both, that there are demonstrable benefits from new ways of working together or working in a defined manner (such as implementing increased delegation and staff leverage for greater returns to both the clients and the firm). I would be surprised if any but a small handful of the larger law firms are actually taking steps to implement business metrics and measure the benefits of analytics and thereby looking to innovate using this technique, notwithstanding the real data and results that could be achieved. However, akin to CRM systems, the benefits from undertaking these types of projects could be big. This is definitely a ‘working smarter not harder’ idea.

    #4 Desktop/laptop Upgrades: The trend today is for businesses to purchase laptops rather than desktops. This reflects a common insight – that if you give someone a desktop at the office, they work at the office. If you give someone a laptop, they can work from virtually anywhere, anytime, particularly with widespread Wi-Fi and web-enabled email. Lawyers, being workaholics, should be jumping all over this trend.

    #5 Web Services: This is an interesting area. Certainly there have been firms that have built extranets and web portals for their clients for some time now (such as commercial, transactional and litigation firms that wish to communicate with their commercial clients). Other types of law firms have realized that they can exist largely on the web and market to clients and render services via the web (such as immigration firms). This area, in my opinion, has a large growth potential for law firms who can adjust their business model to incorporate the potentials offered by the web.

    #6 Disaster Planning/Recovery: After the recent gamut of Katrina, 911, tornadoes, floods, fires and other potential disasters, whether natural or man-made, it would be amazing if firms are not spending significant time and attention here to ensure their viability in the face of disaster and the protection of their data, client information and intellectual property. Perhaps the only thing holding back law firms from addressing this would be the belief that disasters only happen to someone else…

    #7 Intrusion Detection and Prevention: Along with disaster prevention, protecting your systems from hackers, malware, viruses and the host of low-life on the web is a priority as I see it, for lawyers and law firms. A once-a-year review by an outside consultant to advise that law firm systems are sufficiently secure and robust would be a good thing, in my view.

    #8 Server Upgrades: This is a fairly routine task and one that I see attended to by the IT staff or IT contractors for firms on a regular basis. I rarely see a firm that delays implementing a server upgrade once the recommendation has been made that it is time to do a replacement.

    #9 Enterprise Systems Planning: In the law firm context, these projects look at greater system integration in order to meet law office business requirements. A good example is the roll-out of integrated practice (or case) management systems such as Amicus Attorney, Time Matters, ProLaw and the like. This is certainly a growing trend in law firms. The benefits of such integrated systems has clearly been demonstrated and the ROI is positive. Firms that have not already considered an integrated legal case and practice management solution have some catching up to do in this regard.

    #10 Financial Reporting: Given that partners are also business owners, I would think that improvements in financial reporting would be attended to with all due haste provided that the partners knew what to ask for from their systems. Any lack of innovation here could be attributed to more of a lack of knowledge of what reports they should be creating to improve their business performance rather than a lack of desire or resources. There is much room for financial reporting to move from reporting on historical performance to being a forecasting and strategic performance tool in law firms, in my view.

    So there is the list of top projects from the business side and a reflection on where law firms are relative to these areas. Now the question is – how does your law firm budget incorporate any of these? Are you giving time, attention and resources to address any of these in your business plans and budget this year? After all, anything can happen when you take a chance…

    This entry was posted on Friday, August 31st, 2007 at 9:31 am and is filed under Adding Value, Change Management, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

    One Response to “Top 10 Projects in ’07…”
    1. Sheryl Sisk Schelin Says:

      Excellent thoughts, David. I am currently working on a post for my blog reviewing Amicus Attorney Small Firm for the solo office. I think this “holistic” type of thinking is really key for solos and small firm lawyers, especially when they first launch. It’s so easy to get caught up in a “task list” mentality that we can forget to keep the enterprise – the big picture – in mind. I think it’s important not just for big law firms but solos as well to keep that big picture firmly in view so as to make sure those “task list” items serve it well.

      In my own practice, I’m working hard this month, as I approach the end of my first year in my own practice, to take stock and evaluate my performance in these and other planning areas. I hope my consulting clients are doing the same, or have made plans to do so.

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