For his opening plenary at the Strategic Solutions for Solo & Small Firms conference, Dennis Kennedy tried to teach a room full of lawyers how to make decisions about technology. And lawyers really need to learn how to make decisions about technology.
Kennedy advises lawyers to focus on the job to be done, and “hire” technology to do that job. In other words, it makes no practical sense to use technology for its own sake, or because someone tells you that you should. That’s fine for technology geeks, but it makes no sense for lawyers who just want technology to help them do their job well.
Most lawyers make technology decisions backwards. Often, someone sells them on the idea of a particular technology (an iPad or social media or practice management software), which they become convinced they need, regardless whether or not it would actually improve their law practices. Then, they show up in the LAB or SOLOSEZ asking questions that indicate they have heard about a solution and are in search of a problem for it to solve.
Kennedy acknowledges that not all technology is a “must.” I hope that message soaked in, because there are a lot of people out there telling lawyers that all kinds of things are must-do. In truth, the only must-do technology is probably a computer, printer, document scanner, and an Internet connection. Everything else is non-essential.
After making his point that the best approach to technology is considering the job to be done, Kennedy spend the balance of his talk giving examples of the job lawyers can do with social media, tablets, smartphones, e-discovery software, and so on. Each of those tools do have perfectly valid uses by lawyers and within a law practice. But the point lawyers really need to understand is that the only reason to use technology is if it makes you better at your job. If a smartphone frees up more time for lawyering or makes you better at lawyering, use it. If not, don’t waste time on it.
It does not make sense to waste a ton of time worrying about what laptop or practice management software to get, either. Kennedy points out that best is the enemy of the good, and the best software is the one you will use. Back when I started Lawyerist (and back when it was called SoloSmallTech), I was making my own initial technology decisions for my practice, and I talked to a lot of lawyers about what was working for them. By far, the most-common thing I heard from lawyers was that they did not feel like they were using their tools to their full potential. Lawyers paid for Time Matters and only used it for email. Or they had an external hard drive but never bothered to set up automatic backup.
That is why Kennedy’s jobs-to-be-done approach to technology decisions is so spot-on. If there is no job to be done, you won’t use the technology, and you will have wasted your time and money on it.