Adam Wagman is a Senior Partner at Howie, Sacks, & Henry, and Past President of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association. He’s been involved with legal technology since he stepped into a managing partner role fifteen years ago. This is the second half of our conversation with Adam discussing how a modern firm approaches legal tech. The transcript has been edited for clarity.
You’re very involved with assessing legal tech vendors and the software your firm will use. So, what are some of the things you look for when assessing a legal tech vendor?
The first thing we look for is testimonials. You want other similarly situated firms to give a shout-out. That will tell you whether the vendor really gets it or not. And you’ll want to see universal praise from the community. If 20 or 30 percent say, “the technology’s good, but we don’t get great support, or the training is complicated, that would concern me.
The support and response time needs to be excellent. When I have a tech question, eight times out of ten, I need the answer now because whatever I’m working on has a deadline. So, I need a tech vendor that will provide that support and provide it quickly. And they’ve got to commit to it in writing.
We also really like to see flexibility. I’ve dealt with some tech where the vendor said, “this is the package, and if it doesn’t integrate with your other stuff, it’s not our problem.” We’ve got lots of different programs and we need a vendor that’s open to learning what we’re doing elsewhere with our systems and can figure out how to make our programs work together.
There should also be an excellent training program. It needs to be interactive and simple and speak to people at their level. For example, I don’t want to know how many bits of memory the program takes up. I just want to know how it works, what kind of problems I might have, and how to solve them.
When it comes to implementing new technology, what advice do you to help firms avoid the pitfalls and ensure the adoption and optimization of new solutions?
The first thing you need is in-house champions. Reaching out to your colleagues with a question is much more efficient, and you’ll probably get a better and more practical answer than calling the support helpline. So, we have a tech committee that is made up mostly of senior support staff – not lawyers, but the people who are using the software every part of their day.
You need staff buy-in at a high level, including partner buy-in. If I roll my eyes and say, “that’s fine for you, but I won’t use it”, it allows others to opt out. You need everyone to buy in to make it work.
Back to my paperless office example. We had the technology for a while but were only “kind of using it”. We were leaving it up to the law clerks to decide which documents to scan into the file. So, I’d be getting ready for a pretrial thinking “I’m pretty sure another report came in. Is it sitting on someone’s desk?” The second you can’t trust the electronic file a little bit, you can’t trust it at all. And then you just discard the whole thing.
So, wholesale adoption of the technology is critical. You can’t have some people using and others not. If it takes a lot of data entry to get up to speed, you just have to do it. If it takes a lot of scanning to get your documents paperless, you just have to do it. If you’re going to use these tools, you either use them fully or you don’t use them at all.
You’ve also got to get early buy-in. And the best way to do that is to set up a technology committee. Get them to be a part of the investigation. Don’t just say, “Hey tech committee we’ve decided to go with x, now you figure out how we’re going to use it”. Get the committee to look at the different programs and evaluate them and tell you as partners and management “these are the software systems we think will work best for us”. That gets buy-in. They feel they’re invested in making sure it works across the office. They feel invested in becoming the trainers.
When I talk about technology committees, some may think this is just for big firms. Not at all. A technology committee of one – your senior law clerk – is fine. That’s the right person to review these things. If you’re a sole practitioner and you get buy-in from your one or two staff, and they’re part of the decision and implementation, that’s just as important as it is for larger firms.
And the technology itself is also just as important to a small firm as it is to a larger firm. Let’s face it, competition is across the board these days. Everyone is competing for the same clients and the clients of small firms expect the same support, level of expertise, and technology they get from the larger firms.
What does your firm say about ACL and how it helps you sleep at night?
ACL automates the simple things that I and my staff would otherwise spend our valuable time doing. We don’t sell widgets. The only thing I and my staff have is time. And when we use ACL to automate tasks like letter and document creation, we save so much time.
We are making people’s lives so much easier. They can focus on the substantive work and let ACL do the rest. Does someone still have to lay eyes on it? Of course. Do we still have quality control? Absolutely. But are there mistakes made? Not if the stuff was entered properly in the first place.
It bothers me to see a client’s address wrong. I know they moved, my law clerk knows they moved, but my accountant didn’t know they moved. With ACL there’s no issue with any of that. You get an email saying “we moved”, you go into the system, change their address, and it’s done and done once.
The combination of efficiency – which not only saves people time but also saves people aggravation – and quality control that’s a function of not giving people the opportunity to mess up, is what we value about ACL. When you don’t have to type a name, you can’t spell it wrong. I’ve got plenty of other things to worry about. Spelling people’s names wrong shouldn’t be one of them.
I’m very vocal with my team that everything that leaves their desk is a reflection on me. If there’s a letter that says “enclosed please find” and the enclosure is wrong, or there are other mistakes, it looks bad on me, not them. But thankfully, I don’t have to worry about that, at least with the simple stuff. And, by the way, I’m singing the praises as someone who doesn’t use ACL. I don’t send those letters. I don’t prepare those documents. They’re just handed to me to sign. This is the feedback I get from my team.
About Michael Sauber
Michael Sauber leads the marketing program for Korbitec, producer of Automated Civil Litigation Software (ACL) and xchangedocs. He has worked with document production technologies and professional services for over 30 years and is a frequent blogger on these topics.