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Law Firm Technology and the Expensive Camera Problem

by Erik Mazzone |

I love photography. Not so much the doing of it as the admiring the finished product of beautifully composed and edited photos. Especially landscape photography.

There was a time – or if I am going to be honest, there have been several times over the past 20 years because it takes a while for a lesson to make a dent in my hard head apparently – where I’ve looked at some beautiful landscape photography and thought, “I might like doing that…” Visions of myself toting around arcane and expensive photography gear on safaris, getting the light just right to get a perfect photo of a lion drinking from a watering hole… I bought the whole fantasy. This was going to be my hobby.

So, I did what any left brain, analytical lawyer would do: I ran through my list of friends and figured out who among them was already one of these photography gurus with multiple cameras and lenses and who peppered their conversations with acronyms like “DSLR”.

I talked to a buddy of mine, we’ll call him Jay, because that is in fact his name and he doesn’t read anything I write, so I am not worried about disparaging him here. Jay is himself a lawyer and a card-carrying photography guru with the lenses and cameras to match. I told Jay I was just starting out in photography and asked him what camera I should buy to start.

After much back and forth and reading of websites and reviews and so on – I will spare you the details because they are crazy boring – we eventually landed on Jay directing me to an expensive camera. Not an entry level camera, because as my interest in the hobby grew, I would quickly grow past its frustrating limits and end up re-buying the better camera down the road. “Buy once, cry once” is the motto of these folks. Also, presumably, have a good a divorce lawyer at the ready, but I digress.

Jay’s advice was perfectly logical (lawyer, after all) and I get why he gave it to me. It was also perfectly wrong. Because it neglected to take account of the fact that while he was an expert looking back on what he would do differently in his own camera journey, I was a rank beginner. I had a whole learning curve to master (spoiler alert: I didn’t) and the more expensive camera made that harder. Also, for whatever reason, photography didn’t stick for me as a hobby. So instead of being out a little money I was out quite a bit more of it.

What does all this have to do with legal technology, you may justifiably be asking yourself? Well, because when lawyers need to buy or upgrade their legal tech, they tend to ask gurus who, like Jay, are inherently biased by their own expertise. So, the advice they get back tends to be offered to a tech guru in the making, rather than just, say, a regular lawyer who wants her technology to work and doesn’t want to make the whole enterprise a side hustle.

It's the expensive camera problem. And it’s only one of lots of logical fallacies and bad advice that gets doled out to lawyers as they think through their firm’s tech rig.

So, the rest of this article will be dedicated to 10 tips to help you avoid the most common mistakes, bad advice, and other cul-de-sacs you can find yourself in when thinking about improving your firm’s tech.

Think of these 10 things as a little list of stuff to keep in mind; some things to do, some things to not do. And hopefully they will help you steer clear of some of the well-intentioned bad advice out there and save you and your firm some time, money, and frustration.

  1. Buy less: however much tech you think you need, buy 25% less. If you are sure you need the latest and greatest whatever, try settling for one level down. Once you are out of the buying frenzy, you are unlikely to miss the extra features but you will not miss the money you’ve saved.
  2. Use more: buying tech is the easy (and fun) part. Using it daily to make your practice better is the important part. Once you’ve made the spend and brought in the new tech, commit to learning it, one small piece at a time and integrating those learnings into your daily practice. To borrow a phrase from the camera nuts, the best legal tech is the stuff you actually use.
  3. RTFM: an acronym for, read the, uh, flipping manual. Your tech comes with documentation, manuals, and help videos. Read them and watch them. The time spent is an investment. If it stops you from running into a one hour delay each year for something stupid and easily fixable, it will have been worth it.
  4. Identify your use cases: don’t buy on spec and assume the firm will grow into the tech’s amazing capabilities. Identify your actual use cases; know which processes will be changed and improved by your new tech. Make sure you have enough use cases identified to warrant the time and money spent. You may add a whole bunch more uses you didn’t identify at the beginning, which is a happy result. But you sure don’t want to go all Field of Dreams on this, (if you build it, they will come). Because that stuff only happens in movies.
  5. Choose a product champion: for each major tool you add to your firm’s arsenal, choose a product champion or champions. Someone who is the go-to person for getting questions answered from other staff. Ideally, this will be someone who is really adept at using the product and pleasant enough to other staff members to not make them regret asking the question in the first place.
  6. Learn the path of least resistance: your fellow lawyers will absolutely, always, 100% take the path of least resistance on technology implementation. As sure as the sun rises in the east, this will happen. Best practice here is to identify the path of least resistance for your key processes and make it so using the new tech tools is the new easiest way. You can do this by removing the old ways of doing it, setting up guard rails to make non-compliance time consuming, and so on. Just make it easy for them to do their stuff using the new tech.
  7. Get buy in: if you are rolling out tech that everybody needs to use, then you should at least try to get everyone’s buy in. As a practical matter, this probably won’t yield 100% agreement, because when is the last time everyone in a law firm agreed about everything on any topic? But, if you spend time explaining the process and trying to solicit buy in, at least you have something to say on the back end when people inevitably complain that nobody ever asked their opinion about the new technology.
  8. Establish an implementation time frame and be lenient: pick a time frame for implementation that is longer than you think is necessary but shorter than your biggest tech laggards would choose. Try hard to give everybody lots of runway in this process. This is a place to be lenient and patient – give everyone a chance to adapt to the new reality.
  9. Make the transition on time and be tough: the corollary to the above is to make the transition on the time frame you identified and don’t change it because somebody is in an important trial or whatever. Be tough here and hold the line you agreed to.
  10. Squash the rebellion: lean into your inner Darth Vader and don’t tolerate tech rebellions among practice areas or remote offices. Everybody needs to play from the same playbook or you will never have any way to make sure folks are using the expensive technology you spent so much time and effort bringing in. There are always good reasons for rebellions and lawyers are fantastic at making arguments about, well, everything. So, expect there to be rebellions, and just go full Sith lord on them. Everything worked out well for Darth, right?


Those are my ten tips. I hope they help you navigate some of your technology projects ahead and you don’t end up with a super expensive camera gathering dust in your closet.


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