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Selling Technology to Attorneys
National Law Journal - April 13, 1998

LET'S FACE IT: LAWYERS AND TECHNOLOGY CAN BE a tough combination, and we can't always blame the technology. Yes, the equipment breaks down and flashes opaque error messages such as "Winsock error ffffthx." The techies' native language is technobabble, and they are still largely unable to address attorneys' security and budgetary concerns.

Worse, at a time when most lawyers are trying to figure out why e-mail attachments from a client can't be read on the expensive, upgraded system the firm had specifically chosen for that purpose, technology providers assume that attorneys spend all day making presentations on large screens. Thus, conclude these vendors, what lawyers really need is a wireless mouse to flip pages on the large screen.

One attorney says that he has given up explaining what providing confidential legal counsel to clients entails. When speaking to vendors, he compares a law firm to a publishing house--even small firms and solos move a considerable amount of paper out the door. "Publishing is something the technology providers understand," he says, adding that the model seems to work even though the vendors don't understand why attorneys, unlike publishers, are so obsessed with security.

Of course, consultants who see hiring their firm as the solution to every problem will always be with us.

But--don't sue me--lawyers are a large part of the problem, too.

The Fault, Dear Brutus...

Notes from the trade show floor at the American Bar Association's three-day TechShow in Chicago reveal that some vendors feel marketing technology to lawyers is replete with challenges.

1. Lawyers are the slowest technology adopters on the planet. Other professions, such as accountancy, which also have security concerns are far ahead of the legal profession in using technology effectively. "Lawyers are behind in general," notes Lee J. Zane, president of Berlin, N.J.'s Zane Associates Inc. Mr. Zane's company is offering a more powerful, 32-bit accounting software product in a market in which his competitors, he says, are coming out with the old 16-bit products for the legal profession.

"We want to be forward-compatible," he says, but faster, better products routinely used by sophisticated businesses are too advanced for the text-oriented attorney.

The vendors try to be polite. "Firms are moving ahead," says Ed Keating, director of marketing at CT Corp., a division of Legal Information Services, in New York. His definition of moving ahead? "We're past those people who say, 'I don't want a computer on my desk,' " he says. Oh, that's good.

2. But the courts are even worse. The conference featured some of the stars of the court system who are attempting to deploy electronic filing, e-storage and digitized dockets. Unfortunately, in a court system buried in paper, these stars are blinking in a vast, dark galaxy.

Few on the trade show floor were more depressed than the court employees who were almost drooling at the Internet lab and Lotus Notes booth.

None of the court clerks would speak for attribution. "If our chief judge were interested in technology, we could move," said one. "But he's not. Everyone is afraid of standing up to him." Interestingly, the costs of technology were not as paramount among these clerks' concerns as were long-standing relationships with vendors, some of whom had offices in the courthouses themselves.

The courts are central to moving the profession beyond word processing. The ABA conference's opening speaker, Netscape Communications Corp. Chief Executive Officer Jim Barksdale, urged a world of open standards and shared a vision of open access to court information. But courts operate independently, and some judges may feel threatened by a move to impose technology standards-- even open standards.

3. Lawyers are too far removed from their clients. Mr. Barksdale addressed the conference as a client, and it was clear that he was not overly impressed with the technological expertise of the legal community.

"He was saying, 'Spend my money smarter,' " says Gregory Miller, Netscape's senior marketing manager, adding, "The single most paper-intensive industry in the world is the least automated."

Netscape is now giving away its core product. "You should try that sometime," he said, to much laughter.

A dazzling presentation of courtroom technology by seasoned litigators only seemed to highlight how far many attorneys have to go. "Use technology as a bridge to your clients; it's worth more than any number of golf games," says Sam Guiberson, of Houston's Guiberson Law Offices. "Not just e-mail. Share strategy decisions. Include them on the litigation team."

4. Law firm hierarchies do not value the opinions of those who use technology intensively. Dale Wainwright, general manager of CT Corp.'s Chicago service center, says she must sometimes insist that staff be consulted during the technology planning stages. "A junior partner who's been assigned to the technology committee will make the decision off the top of his head, saying, 'Let's just buy this,' "she says. "I tell them that two weeks of planning and talking to the users will save them months of work."

5. A law firm has more pockets of resistance than an occupied country. "At one large New York firm, the resisters were not the senior partners," says James F. Feuerstein, of JFS Litigators' Notebook. In an interview in New York, he said that the resisters "were the junior attorneys who controlled access to the information" and thus saw document-sharing technology as an incursion on their turf.

6. Partners acutely notice differences in price. The technology investment comes directly from the partners' pockets. Even minor differences in cost can swing a purchasing decision. "A lot of people are looking for a $295 license," says Mr. Zane, the accounting software vendor whose product costs about $100 more than that. "They should look for a product that accommodates their needs."

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This article is reprinted with permission from the April 13, 1998 edition of The National Law Journal. © 1998 NLP IP Company.


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