The past year saw many law firms accelerating their digital transformation efforts to meet new challenges and demands. While legacy systems – the systems you’ve perhaps been relying on for years or even decades – certainly played a critical role, the weaknesses in those systems became painfully clear when the world was forced to go remote.
Your firm’s legacy systems had a purpose
Your legacy systems likely serve a very specific need that was pressing when they were created. For many firms, business needs have changed over time and those once-useful systems are now a roadblock to efficiency. Now is the time to review those legacy systems to determine what, if anything, is worth maintaining and what needs to be upgraded.
Many firms believe legacy modernization is too expensive. In reality, failing to update can be more expensive in the long run when you look at the costs of being behind the times, and firms are starting to see the light. Multiple studies show that replacing and modernizing legacy applications are among the top IT investments and one of the top strategic business priorities for many organizations.
Inflection points: when to upgrade your law firm’s legacy software
Organizations will often let the sleeping dogs – legacy applications – lie, on the premise that moving to a modern replacement system will be too expensive or that users will resist change. Often another shift or pressure point in the organization becomes a catalyst for change. Working with firms on software implementations for years, we have identified nine common inflection points that convince firms to say goodbye to legacy systems.
1. A Firm Merger or Acquisition
Growth and success require change, and often that comes in the form of joining forces with other organizations. A big puzzle in any merger or acquisition is figuring out how to reconcile technology needs and legacy systems. Often two merging organizations will be using different systems for practice management, accounting and client management. This is an excellent opportunity to create a transition team for systems and processes. The objective for the team is to identify strengths and weaknesses of existing (and redundant) systems and select the ideal applications – existing or new – to support the newly merged organization.
2. “Change Champions” Lead the Charge
A large part of any technology adoption involves having early adopters champion the benefits to others. That effect isn’t limited to the technologies you choose to implement. The more tech-savvy employees are likely to see the benefits of upgrading legacy systems early on, possibly even before your official decision-makers do. When those change champions start spreading the word that there’s a better way to do things and that word takes root, you’ll have no choice but to modernize.
3. The Hidden Cost of Doing Nothing
New technology can be a significant investment, but too many people overlook the costs of doing nothing – namely that upgrading and maintaining old systems can be more expensive than investing in modern solutions. Outdated systems will eventually go unsupported by their providers, leading firms to spend more to address issues, come up with less-than-ideal fixes and constantly monitor and maintain them. These systems will also stop being compatible with new technology that you adopt, hampering your employees’ productivity and efficiency. Investing in legacy modernization now will pay off in the long run.
4. Compliance Is Vital
Law firms have an obligation to stay compliant with a host of regulatory requirements on the federal, state and international levels, depending on the firm’s specializations. Abiding by ethics rules, protecting sensitive client data from unauthorized access, abiding with CCPA and other consumer privacy laws and keeping trust accounts balanced are all information management tasks best handled by newer applications.
Legacy systems weren’t created with these compliance needs in mind, so it’s no surprise that they’re often incapable of meeting them now. Modern systems are critical to meeting security, data privacy and other compliance obligations – if your legacy systems aren’t falling short yet, they will be soon.
5. Workarounds Sap Efficiency
Time is a law firm’s most valuable resource. If staff members are constantly dealing with workarounds and fixes for an outdated system, that’s time they could have spent on revenue-generating projects. Productivity gaps occur when it takes days or weeks to create reports or when people don’t trust the accuracy of the data they receive. Employees will often come up with their own manual workarounds and processes or install unapproved software applications just to avoid using the system.
When a firm puts off needed modernization, the result is a collection of disparate apps and software that will never work efficiently together, causing even more inefficiency in the big picture.
6. Remote Work Needs the Cloud
Remote work made the importance and utility of cloud solutions more obvious than ever over the past year. While many firms were already making some kind of move to the cloud, the new realities of working from home reinforced those decisions. Even as we start to return to offices, many aspects of our jobs will remain remote. In order to give your workers the flexibility, agility and access they require to be successful, you’ll need to fully make the switch from on-premises, legacy solutions to modern, cloud-based solutions.
7. Clients Demand Innovation
Your employees weren’t the only ones who needed the cloud to survive last year – your clients did, too. Just as you had to adjust your processes, so did they, and now they’re used to a new way of doing business. Your clients are likely comfortable in the cloud and will expect your firm to be easy to do business with, with a portal site, automated payments, e-signatures and other friendly features. If you ignore digital transformation, your client satisfaction rates will quickly plummet, and if you don’t innovate, they’ll find another firm that will.
8. Modern Talent Wants Modern Tools
Staff turnover is costly. Finding and retaining the best tech talent today is no small feat because there’s usually not enough of it to meet the increasing demand. You can’t afford to be frustrating your staff, but if you’re refusing to modernize, you might be doing exactly that. As IT workers leave the firm for greener pastures, firm managers realize it’s nearly impossible to find applicants with the interest to support legacy applications.
Outdated legacy systems make all employees’ jobs harder and eventually lead to decreased morale, as these trained experts are held back from working to their highest skill levels. The problem will only increase as a younger workforce demands modern tools. If you want to hire and retain the best of the best, you need to give them the best tools to work with – and that will never be your legacy systems.
9. Legacy Systems = Higher Cyber Risk
Last but not least! Potentially the most urgent reason to move from legacy applications to modern technology is to reduce the security risks posed by legacy platforms.
The American Bar Association 2020 Legal Technology Survey found that 29% of responders reported that their law firms have experienced some sort of a security breach – such as a hacker, break-in, ransomware attack or website exploit.
Legacy systems increase the risk of security breaches. The system may be incompatible with modern secure access features, such as multi-factor authentication, single sign-on and role-based access, or lack sufficient audit trails or encryption methods. Due to outdated technology, systems are unable to accommodate today’s security best practices.
Saving money now could mean spending more later
Avoiding a legacy replacement may appear to be saving money, but any imagined savings are more than offset by lost productivity, a client experience that is less than ideal and increased risks of noncompliance with regulations, or worse yet, a security breach or ransomware attack.
Legacy modernization is the path forward for any firm that wants to remain efficient and competitive in today’s market.