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When I was 10 years old, I learned that technology isn’t the answer.
My father had a practice-management system in the early ’70s. He had manila folders, big metal filing cabinets, and index cards that were actually used to index files. When the cases got big, he broke out the Redweld expandable folders. Complex litigation sometimes warranted a banker’s box.
He also had Thelma, armed with her typewriter, white-out, and carbon paper. I have no idea why they used carbon paper since they also had a copier.
They had tiny paper slips for recording time and managing billing. They had a metal contraption that organized the carbon paper time slips so they could write entries without misalignment.
At the center of it all were two big Rolodexes. Thelma typed on little stickers and pasted them onto Rolodex cards. It was a huge database of information, spinning around a spindle. I would spin it when no one was watching.
It was all fascinating to 10-year old me.
Systems Are Just Tools
In retrospect, my dad had a realistic understanding of his practice-management system: he knew the capabilities and the limitations of his process.
He had no illusions that his system was more than a tool to do work. He knew it was useful for handling the paper, sorting the mail, getting the phone answered, passing along messages, and cranking out documents.
Instead of watching a computer-screen popup for incoming calls, he heard “George on 2” from Thelma down the hall. He pushed the blinking red button, picked up his phone, and got George. He didn’t have Clio integrate with Vonage to pull client data and social media profiles. He had a yellow legal pad with scribbled notes.
His system was easy to see, understand, and comprehend. It was simple and clear, and nothing happened outside of his control. He knew what it could do and what it couldn’t.
That’s not always the case for us today.
Many of us suffer from the delusion that software will solve all of our problems. Software does solve some problems, but most of us aren’t suffering from those specific problems. Our problems are bigger.
Practice-management systems only help a lawyer manage a practice if there’s a practice to manage.
We imagine (especially when we’re listening to the sales rep) that software is the key to a successful practice. We want to believe that software will make us profitable. We want to believe that software will bring in more clients, make us smarter, and grow our revenue.
There Is No Magic
Software doesn’t grow your business. Marketing grows your business. Software is nice, but it’s a luxury. It’s not the key to growth. Often, it’s a distraction. Buying software feels like progress, but it’s not.
Software is invisible. There are no folders. There’s no Thelma with her typewriter. It lives in a mysterious box.
We rarely understand what software does, so we accord it magical powers. The vendors, of course, are happy to let us maintain these beliefs so we’ll buy more software. (I’m exhibit A here. I buy lots of technology.)
It’s easy to be lulled into the fantasy that purchasing software will grow your business. We want to believe that because it makes us feel better.
It’s easy to project our hopes and dreams into the cloud where software lives. But software doesn’t make the phone ring. Software doesn’t bring us the best clients. Software doesn’t remove wrinkles from our faces, brighten our teeth, or make us taller.
There’s no magic.
Are you suffering from a belief in magical software? Do you believe you need a practice-management system to get started? Do you believe that things will be better if you switch systems? Do you believe that you need to build a custom system because none of the existing systems will solve your problems?
Snap out of it!
Software is not magical. It’s file folders, index cards, and the best parts of Thelma turned into ones and zeros. It’s good stuff, but it solves the same problems that were solved by old-fashioned systems.
My dad never thought of the file folders, index cards, or Rolodex as the key to his business. He never saw it as something other than a way to organize, store, and access information. It was him, Thelma, and a bunch of paper products.
His practice-management system managed his practice. That’s all.
My dad felt the pressure of building a business every day. He needed clients. But he couldn’t rely on a cloud-based, box-encased practice-management system to boost his revenue. He had to go out and get his clients. He never tried to buy hope for $89/month/user.
Apps Don’t Build Relationships
You need to bring in clients. You need to make them pay their bills. And then you need to upgrade to better clients and raise your fees. You need to stay focused, attracting those who have problems you can solve.
That’s your priority.
Sure, hope is important. Give yourself more hope by doing the marketing. Dial the phone, send an email, give a speech, or write an article. But don’t try to buy hope in the form of code.
Hope is communicating with people who have problems you can solve. Hope isn’t browsing vendor websites and buying the latest tool or gadget.
My father had hope, but it was based on activity. I learned a lot by watching him. He knew that he needed to be known, liked, and trusted if he was going to keep me and my brother fed and dressed.
He was active in the North Dade Bar Association; took breakfast with a group of business owners, doctors, and lawyers; and volunteered for the ACLU. He served a term as a night judge on a traffic court where he met more people. He ran for office once. He was out many nights of the week at social, civic, and political events.
My dad knew people, and people knew him. That’s how you turn hope into a law practice.
We want to believe that software will solve our problems. We hope that somehow a cloud app will make our practice work properly. We would love to pay $89/month/user to have an app boost our revenue. Hell, we’d pay twice that.
But an app doesn’t build relationships.
That slick intake software won’t make the phone ring. That contact-management system doesn’t service your clients. That accounting software doesn’t grow your bank balance. The document-management system doesn’t prepare the documents.
You need software. There’s no doubt. But first, you need clients with problems you can solve.
Grow the business first. Follow your marketing plan. Get the clients. Buy the software later. It can wait.