5 Things to Require of Your Law Firm IT Provider

How to Find the Right Law Firm IT Provider

Technology changes fast. Legal technology often changes even faster. Not only is managing law firm IT challenging, doing so requires skillsets from both the “general IT” category as well as the “legal technology” category—a combination that’s hard to come by.

In the general IT school of knowledge and expertise, you have networks, servers, hardware, software, security, email… and more. In the legal technology area of expertise you have legal case management software, document management software, eDiscovery, dictation… and so on.

So how does a small practice manage law firm IT? Should they try to do it in-house? Hire a local IT person? Ask a colleague what they do?

In this post, we’ll try to help answer this question by providing 5 practical things your law firm can do when evaluating or searching for a law firm IT provider.

Let’s get started.

1. Exclusively Legal-Focused

When looking for a law firm IT consultant or provider, look for a company (or person) that is solely devoted to the legal industry. Knowing how to setup a server or computer network is one thing (and, by the way, something every basic IT professional should know). Knowing the difference between practice management vs. document management software, or how to deploy and manage that high-maintenance eDiscovery is another thing entirely.

2. Certified in the Software Your Law Firm Uses

Our next best practice tip for choosing the right law firm IT provider is to look for a provider with certifications (or at least tons of experience) working with and supporting the software your law firm relies on every day. At the risk of being repetitive on point #1 above—being a good IT person alone isn’t enough.

I cannot tell you how many law firms have groused to me that their IT consultant, while otherwise capable, takes a shrug and “not my area of expertise” attitude towards the nuances of their legal software.

Make a list of the software your law firm relies on and ask the law firm IT company specifically if they have certification for those applications. If you’re not sure where to start, the most common software applications used by law firms include:

Equally important as knowing how to install, manage and support each legal practice management or document management application in your firm is understanding how they will all work together.

Some legal case management applications integrate well with Microsoft Office, but only specific versions. Some document management systems (DMS) can talk directly to your practice management app… but must be setup just right.

Knowing these nuances requires a lot of experience and requires a true legal technology expert.

3. Proactive Maintenance, Monitoring, & Updating

The right law firm IT provider will include proactive maintenance, monitoring, and updating. They don’t just come around when something breaks. (And shame on you if that’s all you use them for.)

A capable IT management firm is less of a fire fighter and more of a fire marshall. They work with you to reduce the likelihood of something going wrong. The best IT firms will only agree to take on a client if that client agrees with their proactive stance. (These are, by most standards, the best IT firms.)

Said another way, don’t adopt a plug-and-pray mentality, and don’t hire an IT consultant that caters to that audience. (Plug-and-pray being a play on the term “plug and play,” and refers to a purely reactive, break-fix approach to law firm IT.)

I probably don’t have to tell you just how devastating it would be for your law firm if data was inaccessible for hours (or days).

4. Truly Looking Out for Your Best Interests

This one may sound stupidly obvious, so let me explain.

Many IT consulting firms describe themselves as “consultants” and “advisors” to their clients. And they should be those things. But at the end of the day, an IT firm, like any other business, has bills to pay. Unfortunately, this can lead to recommending to your firm what’s best for them, not so much what’s best for your firm. A classic (and unfortunately frequent) examples of this is:

Your server is end-of-life. Naturally, this is a good time for your law firm to consider replacing all on-site servers or (instead) moving to the cloud. When you ask your “trusted IT advisor,” they tell you that the cloud is insecure… or that the cloud “isn’t a good fit” for your firm, or that the cloud “puts your data in other people’s hands,” or some other FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt).

Why? Because if you don’t stay on the buying/replacing server merry-go-round… there’s much less for your IT firm to do (and to charge for).

Don’t get me wrong—many IT firms are honest brokers and will put their client’s needs above their own. But keep a skeptical eye when evaluating recommendations that come from an IT consultant.

5. Transparency in Contracts

Of course, you know that you should read the contract. The real question you should consider is: how transparent is the company in regard to what they charge and when they charge it? Are there hidden fees? Are some things covered as part of a fixed fee… but other things are extra? What is the term of the agreement?

What all is included in the contract? Does it limit you to just the computers in the office or does it include laptops, smartphones, tablets, and other devices the law firm relies on? Are you charged extra for emergencies? Are you penalized for needing them? Pay close attention when you review the contract. Don’t get yourself into an ugly situation.

Law Firm IT – What’s Your Experience?

I hope these five best practices help you narrow down your law firm IT choices. What has your experience been? Have you run into some of the pitfalls I describe? Do you have an amazing IT provider? What have your biggest IT management pain-points been?

Please share your feedback, experiences and questions in the comments below.

Onward and Upward.

Epilogue: Better in the Cloud

When it comes to managing law firm IT, life is often better in the cloud. A law-firm-centric private cloud will host your legal applications, documents and data, and includes support for your firm’s technology and team.

Learn About Private Cloud for Law Firms