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Network Generalists vs. Legal Tech Specialists

Recently, I read through an interesting discussion on the Wisconsin State Bar Practice 411 listserv.  Our 411 listserv is in the fortunate position of having three bloggers as subscribers, Ross Kodner, Nerino Petro and myself.  It leads to some interesting threads.  Unfortunately, I was too busy during a recent thread to comment at the time.  The thread dealt with law office technology, computer consultants and, the part that interested me, generalist technology consultants versus legal technology specific consultants.  That part of the thread was prompted by the comment by one reader that they would not let anyone but a lawyer touch their technology.  Ross responded that there were plenty of good generalists out there and the national trend is to have generalists do the general work and specialists do the legal technology specific work.

I agree with Ross on this and had a few additional comments.

For me, the key thing to take from Ross’s comment is that you need to hire the right person for the job.  Knowing a lot about networks does not make someone a Time Matters expert and vice versa.  I cannot tell you how many times I visit a prospective client with a Time Matters or Billing Matters mess.  How did it get that way?  The response is all too often, “Our network guys know a lot about computers and we thought they could figure Time Matters out.”  I am not trying to be dismissive of generalists – only hiring a generalist to perform work that a specialist should do.  Similarly, I highly recommend that you don’t hire me to install and train you on a CAD system.  The fact that I know a lot about Time Matters does not make a bit of difference when it comes to another application that I do not know anything about.  Hiring the right person for the job will almost always save you money compared to doing it yourself or hiring the wrong person.

On the same listserv where readers are debating whether to hire a legal technology specialist, I very often see posts from attorneys asking for recommendations of other attorneys who specialize in certain areas of practice.  That alone should convince those same attorneys of the value of a legal technology specialist.

An additional point I would like to make on this topic is that it makes a lot of sense to work with consultants who actually USE the product or technology in question.  Nothing familiarizes someone with technology the way everyday use does.  To illustrate this point, I received a piece of mail the other day from a consulting company that provides technology services to law firms.  The envelope had both the main address and the return address written by hand.  At the risk of sounding like a techno-snob, is that the most efficient and professional way to create an envelope?  This company installs Time Matters and other office technology for law firms and they claim that they will boost a firm’s efficiency and productivity through document automation.  Yet, they create an envelope by hand rather than use the technology they recommend to others?  Hmmm.

Also, and maybe this is just me, but when you ask a specialist about “their” product, they should be able to answer 9 out of 10 questions immediately – whether the answer is good or bad for the sale they are trying to make.  A specialist who says that they “need to get back to you” on half the quesions you ask is probably not very familiar with “their” product.

Sorry, I did not intend for this post to become a rant.  Bottom line, use the right person for the job whether the job requires a generalist or a specialist.  For specialists, make sure they are very familiar with the technology they are recommending for you.  Ideally, the should be so convinced of its benefit that they use it too.

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