After reading Heather’s great post, I decided I should respond since I have an interesting perspective. You see, I have worked on the inside of law firms buying software as well as on the outside selling software to them. There is a consistent theme I have seen at hundreds of law firms where I have been sitting at the big-decision, conference room table:

“That thing might mess up our XYZ system. No way are we going to combine the two.”

The CIO says it. The VP of HR says it. The Marketing Director says it. And, heaven knows, the finance department? Fugeddaboutit. All are concerned about the same thing: if my software system blows up, I will be out on the street before lunch.

Each department has its own budget, power base, information control and collective a** to cover. Finance gets the bills out to clients. HR keeps track of past and present employees. IT keeps the emails flowing and the documents able to be found. Marketing needs to find relationships and execute on the firm’s growth strategy.

When it comes right down to it, all software systems should be designed to address one or more of the following goals:

  1. Make more money (measured in profits per partner)
  2. Keep existing clients happy (increase realization and retention)
  3. Beat the other firm down the street (gain a competitive advantage)

Frankly, some software companies take advantage of this segregated decision tree by targeting departments and offering tactical tools to make their functional jobs easier. I suggest that all firms take a holistic approach to software selection by including the same partners who are the designated champions of the strategic plan. They have the most at stake, and they should help make decisions based on achieving the aforementioned three big goals. The department heads are better suited as functional experts to give advice.

A strategic software approach will allow you to target alumni who are now general counsel at current clients who you charged less than $100,000 last year in a particular industry. To do so, you need financial, HR, CRM and external data sources to work together. You own most of this data, and now you need to put it to work.

So, demand that your vendors offer total solutions to your firm’s big three goals. Assemble line partners to participate in selection. And, demand that your vendors get in front of such partners, with expert guidance from administrative department chiefs, to make their case from a strategic, not tactical, point of view.