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Law Boutiques Rise with Help from Tech Vendors

May 28, 2015, 5:42 PM

Editor’s Note: The author of this post is the founder of ICVM Group, a company that creates websites for professional services firms.

By Stephan Roussan, Founder, ICVM Group

While blockbuster mergers in Big Law may grab the largest headlines, the small boutique law firm revolution continues to accelerate. A number of former partners from established powerhouses are breaking free to hang their own shingle, often as a super-group of legal stars with a starter pack of marquee clients coming along with them. The reasons for leaving Big Law may vary, but there is one commonality across all of today’s new startups: technology is playing a key role in helping them compete, operate and succeed.

The lawyers forming new boutiques are among the best in the business. But for many, it is the first time in their lives that they are responsible for marketing, IT, security, accounting and other functions. A big law firm provides all of this support by default (and even takes out the trash), so their lawyers can spend their time lawyering, not struggling to retrieve voicemail from the new phone system.

Highly-specialized technology vendors can alleviate much of this strain. When lawyers leave big firms, they don’t leave behind their expectations for responsiveness and execution from their support teams; they just want to transfer those expectations from internal staff onto external vendors. But searching for the right technology vendor can become incredibly time consuming and frustrating, and the consequences for selecting the wrong ones can really set a firm back.

Some technology purchases may be just fine in a do-it-yourself model, with in-house support staff to assist as necessary. In other cases, the technology is all but useless without human expertise. For example, there are plenty of options for putting up a law firm’s website, but it is unlikely to serve its intended purpose if it looks like a legal secretary (or worse, a lawyer) created it.

The right technology vendors allow founders of boutique firms to operate much as they did during their big law days, minimizing distraction and maximizing billable hours. Across every technology category, vendors with a well-developed understanding of the specific challenges that boutiques face are bridging the qualitative gaps that small firms must overcome in order to operate and compete effectively with larger ones.

Regardless of the specific technology solution a boutique firm needs, the research process should include the following key touch points in order to arrive at the right match:

Ignore the shiny objects.It’s easy to get sidetracked by features and benefits that are of secondary importance or may not be mission critical. Define core needs and specific pain points, and focus primarily on solutions that clearly solve them.

Get qualified… not sold.Once the list of potential solutions has been narrowed down, move quickly to connect with the people behind the product. If they are only interested in discussing the bells and whistles – as opposed to helping evaluate how they address the pain points previously discussed – beware. The best vendors are the ones who perform their own due diligence to ensure satisfaction.

Tell it like it is.Communicate expectations for how hands-on the vendor will need to be, and what kind of ongoing support will be expected. Check their client list for larger firms to ensure they are capable and comfortable operating at that level.

Make sure to be surrounded by quality.Pay particular attention to case studies and references. Are the vendors’ other customers really peers? Does their work product and track record reflect experience with similar firms? While it may be flattering to be a vendor’s marquee client, it may not be a benefit if they are not accustomed to working at the level that will be expected.

Be diligent.Avoid the tendency to complacently accept everything a vendor proposes. Sometimes an easy and comfortable conversation can lead to false assumptions and skipping over the details. Finish vetting the product or service to be sure it will accomplish what it needs to in the way and time that it needs to be accomplished.

Leaving Big Law to start a boutique is a brave leap with significant challenges. With the right roster of technology vendors, those bold enough to take that step can continue to work in the ways they are accustomed while building the new practice they had envisioned.