The Hidden Cost of Handling Your Own Law Firm IT
Are you wearing the IT (Information Technology) hat at your firm? If so, consider this an intervention, an attempt to compel you to get help. I define “one who wears the IT hat” as the person who is the primary go-to person for IT issues at their firm. This individual deals with the bulk of IT issues and prides themselves on the cost savings in doing it themselves. They often have an hourly IT person to call in dire situations.
The problem is that the hidden costs of taking care of IT yourself for your firm far outweigh the perceived benefits. In most cases it’s costing your firm tens of thousands of dollars per year. Most people calculate the perceived savings by simply looking at their P&L and seeing close to nothing on the line for IT services. This simplistic way overlooks the soft costs which quickly eclipse the cost of paying for proper IT services.
There are four primary concepts that need to be understood in order to help overcome and break down the limiting belief that doing IT yourself saves money. The first is an analysis of time spent by the one wearing the IT hat. The second attempts to quantify the hidden issues lurking in the shadows and their overall impact on employee productivity. The third relates to what I call the hobbyist principle. And the final one is the far-reaching impact of time spent (or not spent) on the highest ROI activities for the firm.
“I made a huge mistake for the first two decades of my legal career – handling most of my firm’s IT needs myself. For instance, when one of our computers had a problem (and when we used PCs there were many), I thought the best course of action was to try to solve it myself instead of having a professional do so – as it would ‘save money.’ All of that changed late last year when we (finally) realized that the best course of action was to outsource certain functions in order to allow us to spend more time doing what we do best – handle family law cases. We started using GlobalMac IT for our computer and network needs, and we are beyond pleased with the results.” – Ben Stevens, The Mac Lawyer and Partner at The Stevens Firm Family Law Center in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
The time analysis takes two parts into consideration. The first is simply the time spent per month dealing with IT related tasks. In most cases, the one wearing the IT hat is a senior partner or founder of the firm, since they set things up from the start and are the only ones that understands how everything is setup. The time he or she spends dealing with IT primarily consists of running software updates (Adobe, Microsoft Office, Java, Flash, Apple/Windows software updates and security updates, etc.) and basic, daily troubleshooting. Based on many years of supporting law firms, this is an average of 1-2 hours per computer, per month. For a firm with a staff of 5, that is 5-10 hours per month.
The second part is the impact of interruptions. Because everyone in the firm is dependent on this person when there is an issue, they are forced to interrupt that person to get their issue resolved. Some are quick, easy ones (5-15 minutes), some take more research time (15-45 minutes) and others take hours before giving up and calling a professional IT person. These little interruptions add up. Research shows that when interrupted, it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back to the previous task. Let’s be ultra-conservative and use 15 minutes and one interruption per day, which adds up to 300 minutes, or 5 hours per month.
Adding up the two parts of the time analysis above shows us that the person handling the IT in a small firm with a staff of 5, is actually spending about 10-15 hours per month on IT. With a conservative rate of $300 per hour, that is a loss in billable wages of $3,000-4,500. Also, IT work can occupy evening and weekend hours impacting work/life balance and taking away irreplaceable personal and family time.
“We’ll just deal with it”
Without fail, every firm we have supported in which someone had been wearing the IT hat, ends up with a laundry list of problems, masking issues that could develop into bigger problems which could have easily been avoided with proper maintenance. Everyone at the firm are well aware that the person running the firm and, in this example also wearing the IT hat, has urgent matters that need be addressed which take precedence over dealing with IT issues. This develops an “I’ll just deal with it” mentality; if they can find a workaround to the IT issues, they will seldom report it and just deal with it. Because of this, when we take over IT support, we are very proactive in coaching and teaching everyone in the firm to tell us about every issue, big or small and people always step forward with things that have bothered them for years.
What’s the cost of lost productivity? Payroll is, for most firms, the biggest cost by far. If people are wasting 10 minutes a day due to bugs in the setup, inefficiencies with the server, calendar, email, printers, etc; things they have just found workarounds to, that adds up to 200 minutes a month per person. With 5 people, that is 1,000 minutes, or 17 hours per month. What is your firms’ average fully burdened cost for a staff member? At a very conservative cost of $50 per hour, that is $850 a month. Over the year, that is $10,200.
Jack-of-all-trades, master of none. When an attorney is taking care of IT, they will always be a hobbyist and hence, never develop mastery. What happens when your clients try to represent themselves and practice ‘Google” law? I’ll go out on a limb and assume these often end up being major ‘cleanup jobs,’ where it could have taken only 1/10th of the effort if you had taken on the case from the beginning. The same applies to IT. You will never be able to develop mastery in IT when it is one of the many things on your laundry list of responsibilities.
The cost of being a hobbyist with your IT can be massive. For example, it could end up costing you your license, by not being able to convince an ethics board that you took the proper preventative measures to secure your client’s data. It can cause hours or days of downtime for your firm with an issue that could have easily been prevented with proactive maintenance.
Hobbies are fun, but I would not choose to be a hobbyist with something that has a huge financial impact on my business and personal life. If you want a hobby, pick up cooking, fishing or golf, but leave the things that have a big impact on your firm to experts.
IT Return on Investment (ROI)
What activities within your law firm generate the highest ROI? Driving the vision, focus and direction of the company? Working on the most profitable cases and clients? Marketing initiatives? Or is it interrupting time spent on the above to run a software update or fix an email problem? This last and final cost, the opportunity cost, is rarely calculated. The cost of taking care of IT yourself is far greater than the 10-15 hours per month spent on IT. If you invested those 10-15 hours per month on your highest ROI generating activities, imagine the impact that would make on your bottom line.
I hope this intervention has been helpful. Through a holistic approach, the right IT firm can provide proactive support and implement solutions that can impact your bottom line and free up you and your staff’s time. Then they can look at your firm as a whole and work on implementing solutions that increase everyone’s productivity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tom Lambotte is CEO of GlobalMacIT, the only company in the world that specializes in providing IT support to Mac-based law firms. His methods are based on close to a decade of research, testing and real-world refinement of Best Practices, working directly with Mac-based law firms and firms switching from PC to Mac.
Tom is the author of Hassle Free Mac IT Support for Law Firms and a highly sought after speaker at national events such as the ABA Techshow and MILOfest, a Mac Lovin’ Lawyers Event.