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Process Trumps Software All Day For Legal Operations

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Shiny, new objects can have a tendency to tarnish quickly.


I feel like we all spend time at the beginning of each year predicting what will happen in the ensuing 12 months. By my count, in recent months, I have read more than 50 predictions for what will happen in legal technology in 2020.

Legal operations is not exempt from these predictions. Notwithstanding that it’s impossible to predict the future, we pile on and offer prognostications. And don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with this — I think it’s smart to look ahead and try to figure out what’s going to happen. It’s smart business, too. Every businessperson ever has probably heard hockey player Wayne Gretsky attribute success to the quote “Skate to where the puck is going.” (Gretsky’s father actually coined the phrase.)

More and more we’re developing a herd mentality. A classic herd mentality is illustrated by the stock market. An investor with a large position in a stock starts buying (or selling) a particular stock. Others start seeing the stock’s volume move in a certain direction, and they pile on. Like untrained animals, the herd moves the stock to new highs (or lows) and then we all move on to the next hot stock.

An oversimplification, for sure, but you see the point. It’s a bad investment practice and an even worse business practice. Yet, it persists.

A new product hits the market, and everyone runs toward it. It’s not necessarily that the new shiny object is the best; but because everyone is running toward it, other people start running too. Before you know it, everyone holding the new thing is asking questions like, “why doesn’t it do this” or “wouldn’t it be cool if this did that?” In some instances, this leads to further innovation. In others, the new, shiny object becomes dull, if not tarnished, as other objects dive in to fill the gap.

But you know what does not get old, or dull, or overhyped in marketing jargon?

Process. The notion of having a process for the work that we do has stood the test of time. Long before there were computers, there was process. Identifying and organizing the discrete steps and tasks associated with the work that we do will never be replaced by software or influenced by herd mentality, and it’s kind of hard to overmarket a process.

If everyone ran toward using a new process, and it did not work, users would quickly realize its shortcomings and before long would replace it with a process that does work.

What is the point of all this? Well, I get asked all the time about new software, existing software, and about which software solution should be used in various circumstances. Legal operators ask me these questions all the time. My answer: What are you trying to do? Not even my wife of 30 years gets as annoyed about me answering a question with a question.

But the truth is that before you invest in a solution, particularly one that may increase efficiency, you first need to have in place a process. You don’t purchase software hoping it provides your process; you design a process and then find software that compliments the process.

As the world continues to innovate in legal technology, and as legal operations departments become more mature and driven by advances in technology, keep the process perspective in mind, and don’t fall into the herd mentality trap.

Mike Quartararo

Mike Quartararo is the President of the Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS), a professional member association providing training and certification in e-discovery. He is also the author of the 2016 book Project Management in Electronic Discovery and a consultant providing e-discovery, project management and legal technology advisory and training services to law firms and Fortune 500 corporations across the globe. You can reach him via email at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @mikequartararo.


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