Get What You Need from Technology, Not What You Want

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Humans are really bad at affective forecasting—knowing what we want and predicting how we will feel about it once we get it. We also think we understand our own feelings and desires—but mostly we don’t.

Once upon a time there was a practice management software company whose users were clamoring for an Outlook-like calendar. So the company added a module that more or less replicated the Outlook calendar in the web app. It was terrible and nobody liked it. It turned out the users really just wanted a better calendar. Since many of them felt Outlook had a better calendar, that’s what they asked for. But an Outlook-like calendar is pretty awful when you try to replicate it in a web app.

In short: users don’t know what they want.

I think this explains why so much software built for lawyers was so bad for so long. Developers were too lazy to take the extra step to drill down to the problem. Instead they just built the features firms said they needed. And maybe lawyers are more likely than non-lawyers to insist on having the features they think they need. (“I don’t want a car. Give me a faster horse, dammit!”)

I think it’s why there are so many law firm websites with dead blogs on them. Lawyers thought they wanted to blog, but they didn’t. Not really. Or why it takes so long for newer, better solutions to get traction among lawyers. We’ve been conditioned to think we need features we’d be better off without.

What I’m getting at is this: maybe you shouldn’t assume you know what you need.

When shopping for practice management software, for example, don’t assemble a list of features you think you need (“email, trust accounting, and timekeeping”). If you base your pick on a list of features, you will probably get exactly what you want. But there is a pretty good chance it won’t be what you need, and you’ll never get much out of it.

Instead, try to drill down to the problems you need to solve (“We need to be able to keep everyone in the firm up to date on every matter.”) If you hire a good tech consultant, that’s what they will do. Then you can explore the different ways different software tries to solve that problem, and arrive at one that best fits your firm. In the process, you may discover there are better ways you could be doing things.

But if you are just ordering up features, you might miss out on the kinds of solutions that could really transform the way you practice.

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  • This is spot on dude. The vast majority of lawyers and firms have little knowledge of what they need. As we move towards a world of software as a service, law firms ought to be thrilled that they can buy something off the shelf that’s better, cheaper and faster than anything they have had before. On blogging, I’ve always told lawyers that if they do 70% of what we tell them to do, they’ll find blogging to be a career changing, if not life changing event. Unfortunately, most do about 10% of what we advise – they do what they think they need to do.