By Joe Brodar
For a small law firm, hiring an IT company may seem like a challenge and an unnecessary expense, but taking the time to hire the right one is important. If you choose the wrong IT firm, it can have a devastating impact on your business, potentially costing you customers, relationships with other vendors, productivity, and even your own employees. In our work with law firms, we’ve unfortunately seen this negative impact happen first hand.
This is why we’ve prepared this resource for you as you hire or evaluate your IT company. The first step is to know your own business’s technology needs. In doing so, ask yourself these 7 questions:
1. WHAT IS MY LAW FIRM’S BUDGET FOR IT?
Knowing your budget beforehand will eliminate some companies right off the bat, and it will allow you to focus on firms that are reasonably within your price range. It will also help you determine which type of service plan is right for you.
2. DO YOU PROVIDE DEVICES FOR YOUR EMPLOYEES?
If you provide devices, this will change the service plan for the IT company, so be sure to note any provided machines, as well as any bring-your-own devices (BYOD). A common practice is to provide your employees with computers, but not cell phones, and a potential IT firm may support the provided computers, but not the BYOD cell phones.
3. HOW MANY EMPLOYEES DO YOU WANT TO COVER?
Most IT firms offer service plans that will charge you a monthly fee that is based on the number of users or machines that they are covering. You may want to cover full time employees, but not part-timers or interns, if you decide on a plan that is user-based.
4. DO YOU USE A WINDOWS OPERATING SYSTEM (OS)?
If you operate on Windows, it will be much easier to find a support company, and the working rate may even be lower. If you are a part of the 15% that uses OSX, ChromeOS, or Linux, there are plenty of companies that cover these operating systems, but it may cost you a little more to support them.
5. WHAT TECHNOLOGY TOOLS DO YOU USE?
Does your office have an email domain? What kind of lead tracking systems do you use? Do you use any cloud services (applications that are offered for use over the Internet)? Do you use Google Apps or Microsoft Office?
6. HOW DO YOU COMMUNICATE IN YOUR OFFICE?
Many law firms prefer email, phone calls, or face-to-face. This will be important when evaluating potential companies.
7. DO YOU HAVE AN IN-HOUSE IT EMPLOYEE NOW?
A technically-minded person on your team can and should act as the main point of contact with the vendor, and provide an interpreter to the jargon that may come from an IT professional.
Now that you’ve determined your technological needs, you are ready to move on to the next step: researching for and choosing a company to handle your IT. Here are 10 questions you should ask your potential IT company when determining if they are the right fit for your law firm’s technology needs.
1. HOW LARGE IS YOUR COMPANY?
A larger firm will be more planted, and, in general, will be more stable than a smaller firm, however this does not mean that you should rule out small companies. Smaller companies offer the distinct advantage of often having a more personal relationship to you and your business, which can make all the difference when working with a client or vendor. The advantages to a larger company include having a larger base of knowledge and tactics, more financial backing to implement new and innovative strategies, and they may be able to offer lower rates, since they have a larger customer base to spread their costs.
2. WHERE ARE YOU LOCATED?
For every local IT company, there are another two located overseas. Going with an overseas vendor will almost certainly be cheaper, but it poses the problem of providing in-person support, which can greatly improve the speed and quality of any support work.
3. WILL WE WORK WITH A DEDICATED TEAM?
Having a dedicated team who knows your business well, knows what issues you’ve had in the past, and how they were resolved will help your problems get solved more efficiently.
4. WHAT SERVICE PLANS DO YOU OFFER, AND HOW ARE THEY BILLED?
Most IT firms will offer a few different options for service plans, with some being billed on a monthly or annual basis, and others being based on specific support cases. The difference between the two types is that with the former, you are paying for monitoring and 24/7 support on all covered tools, devices, and users, with the latter, you are paying on a case-by-case basis. The long-term costs of support can quickly outweigh what you would have paid for the monitoring (hourly support rates can be upwards of $150-$200/hour).
5. DO YOU PROVIDE REMOTE OR ON-SITE SUPPORT?
Most firms will offer both. Remote support will require you to give them virtual access to your devices and network, but is often the best option to get an issue resolved quickly. On site support is usually more costly, but it can be invaluable in thorough and complete resolution.
6. WHAT DEVICES DO YOU COVER?
All IT firms will have certain programs, devices, and situations that they will not cover, and knowing this before signing a contract will prevent an embarrassing situation down the road. Have your list of technology tools that you created ready here, as this will give them somewhere to start.
7. WILL YOU WORK DIRECTLY WITH VENDORS AND WEBSITE PROVIDERS?
Finding a firm that is willing to be in direct contact with your other vendors may not always be possible, but if you can find someone that does, it can save you a lot of headaches.
8. HOW DO OUR USERS GET IN CONTACT WITH YOU WHEN THEY HAVE AN ISSUE?
Finding a method of communication that fits what your team is most likely to use will increase the chances that your employees will properly utilize the services.
9. WHAT CERTIFICATIONS DO YOUR COMPANY AND EMPLOYEES HAVE?
The IT field is huge and it is ever expanding, which causes some dilution into the certification field; there are hundreds, if not thousands, of technology certifications that one can earn, so you have to be careful that they have credentials in relevant areas. Ask them for a list of their certifications, and do some research on what each of them is for.
10. ARE YOU HIPAA COMPLIANT?
If anyone tells you that they are “HIPAA certified,” you can cross them off of your list right now. There is no recognized HIPAA certification, and if someone claims to be, then you can be assured that they do not know what they are talking about when it comes to being HIPAA compliant. Now that you have done some research, it is time to make your decision, Review all of your options thoroughly, and remember that your law firm has unique needs, so choose an IT firm that will reflect that.