Ethical Technology Partnerships – It’s time Law Firms Demanded It

Should good quality service come at a premium? And does a premium price guarantee a top-notch service from the technology provider?  To provide some context to these ruminations, with a move towards value-based pricing, law firms today are having to justify their fee rates, especially if they are charging more than their competition.  Most commonly, they validate fee rates based on their depth of experience and skills on the subject matter areas and the quality of service. This instils confidence in customers that they will be well represented and served by the law firm in question vis-à-vis any other legal services provider.  So, shouldn’t the same criteria be applied to the pricing and quality of service provided by technology providers offering Support services?

Law firms that find the quality and service levels of the Support provided by their technology providers wanting, perhaps need to revisit what they are paying for it and determine whether that may in fact be the problem. Typically, poor quality technology Support providers are readier to discount their services to account for a lack of investment in the right number, quality and level of experience of staff.

The truth however is that pricing mustn’t be the only driver of a purchase. Law firms must balance the cost of Support against the quality of service delivery – alongside the technology provider’s intent for a long term and ethical partnership.

‘Ethics’ is a nebulous concept, so how can law firms determine if their technology provider espouses an ethical approach to customer service and partnership? Here are some pointers:

• Do you employ IT teams to help support users with specific applications such as document management, case management, practice management, etc.?

Your IT team should be focussed on the more strategic aspects of the function, not on maintaining IT applications that have been provided by the technology provider. Today, many larger law firms are employing IT staff so that they can keep their IT applications suitably running as reliance on inadequate support from the technology service provider is simply not an option for the business. By finding the right partners to support your applications, you can either reduce or redeploy your precious full-time employees and contractors.

• Is Support priced based on the size of firm and number of users?

The quality of Support received for a two-man organisation should be no different to that of a 1000 user or more firm. For any organisation deploying IT applications, these systems are core to their business, regardless of size. Small and medium law firms, who typically don’t have the necessary IT resource in-house struggle to receive the required quality of Support from their technology providers as they can’t afford the high premiums. The pricing of your Support package should be tailored to your own requirements and not just the total firm head count.

• Is Support pricing based on number of calls or incidences/issues?

It’s the resolution of issues that count, not the number of calls made to the technology providers Support organisation. The latter is no guarantee that the incident has been resolved to satisfaction and in a timely manner. If you are placing a large number of calls, does your Support partner suggest that perhaps a few hours of training could dramatically reduce the call volume thereby creating happier users and less stressed support staff?

• How long does the technology provider take to respond once a Support call is made?

We all know that somewhere in the bottom of a drawer is a Support contract with the contractual Support response times, but if the technology provider is taking hours or even days to respond and resolve the issues, it’s a clear sign that the Support organisation isn’t appropriately staffed and hence doesn’t have the capacity to resolve incidences in a timely manner.

• How many Support calls does your organisation make to the technology provider?

If your firm isn’t placing many calls to the technology provider, could it be that it’s because the internal team doesn’t have confidence in the vendor’s Support set up – be it for technical capability or timely resolution? Something to investigate! No or minimal Support calls is often a sign that all is well, but equally it can be signal that there is a lack of trust on the part of the firm in the technology provider’s Support organisation.

• Is account management by your technology provider visible?

Often IT teams don’t call the technology vendor for small issues or niggles due to lack of time and pressures of other demands from the business. Good technology vendors would take a proactive approach to reaching out to customers to identify areas where the organisation can be of help – in addition to ensuring that the system provided, and the Support function is serving their requirements efficiently.

• Does your technology vendor fully understand your IT environment?

This is crucial. If your technology provider isn’t entirely familiar with your firm’s IT environment, given how many systems and integrations there can be in a firm, resolving issues in a timely manner can be difficult. Technology providers that do regular review meetings and system health checks will have a good understanding of the IT infrastructure, of course, but will also know whether they have the capability and knowledge to work in that environment. This is critical prior to them taking on Support for the firm. At that point, they can exercise the ‘ethical’ option of taking on the responsibility or indeed declining.

Law firms must demand reasonable standards from their technology providers. Equally, technology providers need to undertake their own introspection to deliver services that are underpinned by professional ethics. It can’t always be only about the ‘money’.


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