So, you need a new vendor? We lawyers are overrun with emails, phone calls, and convention-based sales pitches. There are too many offers out there to make any sense of anything at all. Which means that when your office has a need, there are several concrete steps to take before committing to a particular vendor.
Define the Need
Initially, when a need makes itself known, it can often be in a crisis type of situation. This can make for hasty decisions (see next point), and a poorly-defined idea of what you need. For example, if you find yourself on the eve of trial in need of software that will compile a timeline of events, you are at risk of defining the problem too narrowly. The issue may actually be poor management of records, poor input of key moments in a case, and also the inability to make a timeline.
If choosing a vendor is the result of a systems breakdown, it is imperative that you do a post-mortem examination of the true problem. Work backwards from when you realized there was an issue, going back several steps to see where the breakdown truly occurred. You may, in fact, have three problems that need to be addressed. You may also just have one issue…lucky you.
This process will help you search for vendors who can address the true breakdown, and work towards problem solving, as opposed to finding a band-aid for an issue that is masking something larger. Find a vendor who can truly meet your needs, so you’ll never face the same problem again.
This sounds like your parent’s dating advice, and it is equally as difficult to follow. If you’re facing an immediate issue, it is natural to want to jump in and fix it immediately. And you should of course do everything possible to rectify it in a timely manner. But rushing will often make things worse, as you find yourself contractually connected to a vendor that may not be right for you.
If possible, speak with some or all of your employees about the problem to get their perspectives on how the issue came about and what they see as a positive solution. Solicit the opinions of people you trust, from different roles, as each person in your law firm or practice has a different perspective on how they interact with hardware, software, people and problems.
Next, begin interviewing vendors. Again, if possible, solicit trusted partners or employees to sit in on initial phone calls and meetings to troubleshoot problems and point out any blindspots you may have. Often, it’s office management staff or paralegals who deal most frequently with vendors. It’s important to have buy-in from the influencers in your organization before you commit to a new vendor relationship.
Recommendations, and Lots of Them!
Finally, soliciting recommendations is obvious. Vendors will often be ready to provide a list of happy customers for you to contact. But, these are only the happy customers. If you are part of a networking group, bar association, or other large group of lawyers who may have had experience with a particular vendor, reach out for different opinions on the quality of the vendor.
If you have your law partners, associates, paralegals or staff helping you make phone calls, develop a list of pertinent questions that each of you should have answered on the calls. This way, you can develop common data from each of your contacts and have a truer idea of the quality of the vendor.
The more recommendations you can find, the better off you will be. But it is important to remember the first two steps. Defining the problem and taking the right amount of time to choose a new vendor can be just as key in choosing the right relationship to help your law firm or law practice move forward on a positive note.