Keeping Law Firm IT Support on a Straight Path

The first step in managing the inevitable changes in Help Desk needs is to accept their inevitability. As frustrating as it may be to have a system that works beautifully in January and seems to have fallen apart by June, that's just the nature of law firms and law firm technology. When you and your team can anticipate change and prepare for it, there will be less finger-pointing and more effective support.

Once you acknowledge that change is inevitable, it's time to begin proactively watching for those changes, and then reacting swiftly. There are several steps you and your firm can take to head off problems before they start and deal with them once they arise. Those steps include:

1. Be on the Lookout for Specific Situations

There are some common triggers that typically lead attorneys and staff to increase their calls for Help Desk support. These can include big projects or upgrades that often leave users confused about things they used to know or understand.

These types of situations should be planned for at least three months ahead of time, in order to ensure that everything proceeds as smoothly as possible. The preparation should involve all key stakeholders, including any outsourced support provider, the internal IT management and IT department.

Working together, this group can anticipate challenges and develop ways to address them. Some situations may be easily dealt with, such as increasing after-hours staff during a weekend upgrade. Others may require more extensive communication and training for users, such as rolling out new software. User Support and the IT teams responsible for planned upgrades should meet on a regular basis to discuss expectations and the potential impact of the projects.

2. Watch for the Unexpected

Issues and increased needs can sometimes sneak up on you and your team. That's why you should periodically take the pulse of Help Desk requests.

Many providers and software programs offer reports and dashboards that make it easy to observe changes in behavior, when you take the time to look at them. Look at them! Activity reports, dashboards and metrics provide early warning of developing problems. This allows you to devise solutions before end-user frustrations rise.

If you don't have access to useful reports or other tools, consider regularly surveying attorneys and staff about their IT questions and issues and whether they are being promptly addressed. A quick chat with various users can be very informative and help to identify less obvious issues.

3. Don't be Afraid to Raise Issues

Even if your Help Desk support staff is responsive and top-notch, they may get lost in the details and fail to notice problems. You may need to provide an explicit reminder to those on the support team that there are issues that require serious attention.

This process is much easier when you and your Help Desk team share a strong relationship built on trust and respect. If you are intimidated or concerned about raising issues with your team, you may want to reexamine your relationship with them. This is a two-way street -- the Help Desk needs to feel comfortable discussing issues with IT management and vice versa.

4. Build Solutions into Contracts

When working with an outside provider for Help Desk support, be sure all the contracts ensure adequate provisions to identify and address problems and make necessary adjustments to provide support as the environment changes. These can include a call for regular reports that are reviewed with the vendor. Once the visibility is written into contracts, it becomes easier to identify when things are slipping and then determine the best strategies for resolving them.

5. Consider Creative Solutions

When problems arise, there may be multiple answers, and some may be less expensive and disruptive than others. It's important to consider a range of options, which can include moving new management into after hours and weekend shifts, adjusting staff schedules to more accurately match client call patterns and removing some under performing analysts and replacing them with more experienced and high-functioning staff members.

A long, smooth stretch of Help Desk support doesn't mean the road can't quickly turn bumpy again. By accepting that changes will occur, then working proactively and cooperatively to address them, you and your team can continue to provide seamless IT support to everyone at the firm.

Courtesy of Keno Kozie Associates.