How to Stretch Your Legal IT Budget – Advice from Stretch Armstrong

How to Stretch Your Legal IT Budget – Advice from Stretch Armstrong

With ILTA just around the corner, Jeffrey Brandt offers some practical advice on how to make your legal IT budget stretch a little further this year. 

All law firms are looking to better manage costs, and to many firms that has meant slashed technology budgets.

While the 2012 ILTA/ InsideLegal Technology Purchasing Survey reveals that overall law firm technology spending remains down from the recession, there is some hope. A little more than half of the respondents were looking at minor budget increases over 2011. But that still leaves the legal technology budgets for the rest of the law firms flat or down.

With technology such a significant percentage of a firm’s expenses, what can you do to stretch those budgets, to maximize those investments?

Let’s take some advice from Stretch Armstrong and see what we can do to our budgets. Keep in mind the three-legged stool – people, process and technology. Look to see if you can make improvements in all three areas, maximizing the use and the value of your technology.

Maximize What You Already Have Before You Invest in Something New

Is that new software tool going to provide the benefits expected? Is it worth the investment and added complexity to the environment? Do those newest set of software releases provide new, truly needed, functionality or bug fixes? Look for similar tools that have been added over the years and see if they have provided a real ROI and, if not, eliminate them. Don’t add something that won’t benefit your clients.

Review Your Training, Your Processes and Procedures

Is everyone in the firm using Word, Excel and Outlook to the best of their ability? Can they file and retrieve documents quickly and efficiently in the document management system? What about the numerous other applications available in the firm? Train them up, make them more efficient and self-supportive. Review the work flows, the processes and procedures around the use of the different tools you have. Can they be improved and save the firm time, money and energy?

Leverage Your Buying Power

Depending on the reporting structure of your firm you may not be aware of the potential purchasing power you have. IT, library, marketing and litigation support often buy different products and services from the same vendors. While you’re looking at your vendors, review all contracts with an eye at extracting extra value. You won’t always be able to do so, but the review process alone is worthwhile.

Revisit Your Vendors

Have your vendor relationships become “comfortable?” That can be good or bad. Work with your vendors, ask them for discounts or free shipping, extended warrantees, things to add value to your purchase. The answer might be no, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask.

Understand Your Own Budgets

The bigger your firm, the more line items in your technology operating and capital budgets, and the more items get ‘lost’ from year to year. I have spoken to IT directors who are quite chagrined to find out that they’ve continued to pay maintenance on the software or module that they retired last year. If you haven’t moved to zero-based budgeting, do so. Review every line of the budget yearly, making choices as to what stays and what goes.

Have the Right Staff

I would personally rather have a great team than a group that relies on ‘super star’ individuals. Do you have a cohesive, motivated staff? Reward and recognize them. Empower them to make improvements to the areas in which they work. Keep your staff informed on the big picture. The more they know, the more they can make informed changes and adjustments as they go along, contributing to the bottom line. Pigeonholing people usually results in reduced motivation, poorer decisions and erratic cost containment.

Waste Not, Want Not

Good project managers and project management skills pay for themselves. They help keep projects on task, on schedule and on budget. You don’t need to make everyone a certified PM, but expose all your staff to the basics of good project management. Depending on your size and scope of IT projects, hire an internal or external project manager. Track your projects, conduct post mortems and learn from the successes and failures of each project.

Understand Your Business

A good CIO knows his firm’s business. As you create your budget, item by item, prioritize those goals based on the business objectives that they support. The more business objectives supported, the easier the projects are to justify and the more value they have to the firm.

Think Outside Your Current Box

Do some ‘blue sky’ thinking.  What would you do differently if you could start over? Look at the myriad of free and open source tools that are available. Examine ‘nearly new’ instead of new purchases.  Reexamine the buy/lease scenarios. Reduce your paper consumption and go green. Install PDF print drivers on every computer. The possibilities are endless.

Stretch Armstrong’s claim to fame was “stretches to 4 time’s actual size.” Seeing your budget stretch that far would be fantastic. All these things may not have an individual line entry in your technology budget, but they can make drastic contributions to your bottom line budgeting. What are you waiting for? Go for it!

Jeffrey Brandt is a former AmLaw 100 Chief Information and Knowledge Officer with over 25 years experience in Legal IT. Keep the dialogue going on Legal IT budgets by connecting with Jeffrey on Google+LinkedIn or following him on Twitter @jeffrey_brandt.