Invest in Vision
Blockbuster and Kodak dominated their industries… until they didn’t. Their tales, though inherently different, share a common thread: both were wildly successful companies that failed to adapt and innovate, until they could no longer compete in an evolved marketplace. While neither of these companies were involved in the legal technology industry, their stories should serve as cautionary tales for companies and consumers alike: a lack of vision can have a devastating impact.
Vision not only impacts a company’s longevity, but it can also have a major impact on customers. This is especially true in the area of practice management where law firms invest a great deal of time and money when selecting a solution and, once it’s in place, center their operations around it, making the practice largely dependent on the platform for critical functions.
Far too often, firms fall into the trap of selecting a legal practice management software based on its current feature set. And while current functionality is important, vision should also be considered. Here are some questions to contemplate when vetting different solutions.
1. Is the leadership team marketing-focused or product-focused?
Broadly speaking, you often find that C-Suites have either a laser focus on marketing or product. An example of this was Steve Ballmer’s tenure as CEO of Microsoft which was defined by a period where product innovation took a second seat to sales and marketing. Conversely, his replacement, Satya Nadella has refocused the company’s efforts on developing products that deliver tangible value to users. As a result, Microsoft has flourished during his reign at the helm. While both business models are important, there is a difference between growing a business by focusing on selling versus working to improve the product you’re trying to sell. Which company would you rather invest in?
2. How many releases have they had in the past year?
With no shortage of LPMs, comparing vendors with a long list of features can be tedious. One important thing to consider is the number of releases the vendor has made in the past year. If it’s just a handful, that might raise a red flag. You’ll also want to understand the what and why behind them. While it may be hard to understand the reasons for the releases as a prospective client, if they can explain the positive effects of them then you’ll be able to better understand the vendor’s vision.
3. What is their release cycle?
Knowing a vendor’s release cycle will give you a better understanding of how they run their business. If they have product releases, which are mainly updates to existing features rather than new rollouts, is it because of a lack of vision? In other words, are they constantly being reactive rather than proactive? On the other end of the spectrum, do they regularly schedule new feature releases (combined with quality enhancements, of course) to ensure their products stay relevant, yet also function the way they should?
4. Is the vendor’s development team outsourced or in-house?
When a vendor has their development team outsourced, that could mean not only a longer wait time for new product releases, but also cause a disconnect between company visionaries and those tasked with implementing them. Having an in-house development team allows for easier workflow and communication between departments.
5. How do they handle feature requests from clients?
Knowing if a vendor values their clients’ feedback will give you a sense of how committed they are to your growth and success. Does the company solicit client feedback and allow for feature requests? Do they have systems for tracking these requests and prioritizing them? It may be difficult to understand this during the sales cycle, so take time to read reviews from real clients (ideally on third party sites like G2 and Capterra) and, if you’re still uncertain, ask the vendor if they have a reference you can speak with. How a vendor treats their current clients will give you a glimpse into how they would treat your firm, as well.
6. Who is the leadership team?
Get to know more about their leadership team. Not in the respect of memorizing their names, but understanding more of what inspired them to create the platform. Gaining some insight into their track record of innovation can be a step in acquiring a sense of who they are. Additionally, ask about their experience in the legal industry. Have they experienced first-hand the pressures and challenges that law firms face? If you don’t see a single attorney or legal professional in that group, take time to understand how they gain these valuable insights that will ultimately impact clients.
Despite the uncertainty of the world, your firm should still be investing in technology to ensure future success. In making these investments, firms should take stock of a practice management application’s current feature set and carefully assess what steps vendors have planned to keep updating their product. While the present is important, vision towards the future is imperative.