A robust procurement process with plenty of due diligence and objective scoring of multiple solutions will help to ensure your new legal IT software is fit for your firm’s specific needs, now and in the future.
There is a plethora of feature-rich software products out there and when you start looking it is easy to lose focus on what it is your firm actually needs.
It is too easy to fall foul of buying based on what you see or who you feel you will get on with most – that’s just human nature. Whilst these are both important factors, you must focus on what you need and remain objective, so this brief guide from the team at Lights-On Consulting gives some pointers to consider in your journey to procuring new legal IT software.
Key steps in selecting and procuring legal IT software:
- Don’t buy your new IT software alone. It is important to make rational, objective buying decisions that can be verified by multiple decision-makers. Purchasing should involve a team with the relevant expertise – lawyers, secretarial, compliance, HR , technical etc who will use the software in different ways and evaluate from different angles. Getting the right people in the room will allow a better evaluation of the solutions. Its not easy to get your best people involved in purchasing however, so it needs senior backing. If you involve fee earners, make sure they have a charge code for them that is recognised as much by the firm as billing time to a client!
- Plan and size the task. Selecting new major products is not quick and not easy. Put a plan together and understand the team’s time commitment to the project and “clear the runway” for their involvement. If they are maxed out and tender and selection is on top of the day job, it is going to be difficult to resource.
- Write down what you want from your new IT software. Make sure you write down what it is you are looking for and build up a list of what you want it to do. This may differ across individuals in your team which is what you want – requirements from a diverse group of users that will use the software differently. Your list is a set of functional requirements and there will be lots of them, so you will need to prioritise them.
- Do your research and know the market. You need to conduct your research to inform your process of defining what you need. If you have been using old software for a long time or have not been active in the software market, you won’t know what modern systems can do or what is in the market, so do your research and “know the market”.
- Compare potential software products objectively. Now that you know what you want, and even if you have a firm favourite, never just look at one solution. Objectively evaluate a number of solutions against each other before deciding which one to purchase. Evaluating others helps you look with a more informed eye at the one you feel is right for you. Comparison is a combination of demonstration, discussion and “paperwork” (such as a tender/requirements document) and not just one or the other.
- Iterate to get to a preferred supplier. There may be a long list of suppliers and you can’t investigate them all in detail as it would take too long. This is where your priority list comes in. If a solution doesn’t deliver one of your agreed “must haves”, then it is time to drop them from the list. Get down to a limited set that you can compare in detail and with consistency and whittle the list down through comparison until you have a preferred supplier.
- Focus on your chosen supplier. Now you have one supplier, you can really spend time checking out all of your requirements and making sure you know what you are getting (and what you are not). Your detailed review should cover the products(s), the service wrapper, and the company(s) providing the system(s) and services.
- Seek references from firms like yours. Hearing from other users is vital to get an honest and accurate reflection of how the software performs in practice. Ideally, you want referees that are similar to you and, if you plan to grow, from firms you aspire to be like. Recognise that there is a slight conflict of interest in reference sites as more people using the software makes it “safer” for them so be specific in your questioning. Too often references become just a chat – have a list of questions. Asking “would you recommend it to family and friends who run similar business to yours?” often gets interesting results! Don’t let a reference just be a chat – take up references at different levels – Managing Partner to Managing Partner, Finance Director to Finance Director and Chief Innovation Officer to Chief Innovation Officer etc. Write up the results and circulate them to the selection team for discussion.
- Commercials. Cost is clearly important, but bear in mind that the cheapest solution isn’t always the best value. Sometimes, it is “apples and pears” between systems and suppliers so ensure you understand all the add-ons, bolt-ons, and probable cost increases throughout the life of your contract. Remember, the supplier does contracts every day so, if you are a firm without an expert IT contracts lawyer, it may be worth outsourcing the legals to a firm that specialises in IT contracts, especially in this SaaS cloud world where you rely on the supplier completely.
- Remember that it isn’t just about the software. There are other things to consider rather than just functional requirements. Price, longevity, and security of the supplier, financial stability of the supplier, contract “fairness” and clarity, vision, and future of the product all have a part to play in selection. There is also cultural fit to consider and how important you will be to that supplier.
Ready to start your IT software procurement process?
Lights-On has been helping law firms of all sizes select software and service solutions for over 18 years. You are welcome to contact us for a confidential, no obligation, friendly chat to see if our services can be of help. Just go to www.lights-on.com and use the contact form.