Running a Mac-Based Law firm: The Hourly Consultant Option

macs based law firm - hourly consultant
In this second installment of Running a Mac-Based Law Firm we discuss the second most common option for IT support: an hourly consultant.

The smaller the firm, the more likely they are to use the DIY approach which we discussed in the first part of this series. But, inevitably the DIYers run into something that’s beyond their scope, which is where the hourly IT consultant comes in. Based on my experience having worked as an hourly consultant for five years, approximately two-thirds of my clients operated with the DIY approach and only called when things were dire.

I’ll discuss the most common pitfalls and give strategies on how to get the most value when working with an hourly consultant.

Common pitfalls of using an hourly IT consultant:

  • The consultant has no incentive to fix other issues they discover. They often give an estimated time to address the problem they are called in to fix, so they do their best to stay within that estimate. Discovering issues while working on addressing the issue at hand can put the consultant in a difficult position. Do they address the issues as they come across them and go over their estimated time or just focus on completing the task at hand?
  • They bill hourly, so to maximize their income, they need to line up their day with appointments. Their primary focus is resolving the problem in the time they have allotted, whether that is the right amount of time or not. This time pressure can often lead to duct-tape fixes, leading to issues needing to be addressed more than once.
  • The overwhelming majority of Apple Consultants are one-person shops, meaning they are not always available when you need them. I remember the challenge this posed. If I was with a client and had an emergency with another client, I’d be in a pickle. If you’re the one in a pickle and your consultant is busy, you won’t know when they will be able to respond.
  • Very few consultants have chosen an area of expertise to develop. The overwhelming majority of Apple Consultants work with anyone with a Mac. This makes it unlikely that they will be familiar with the specific tools, techniques, structures, systems or new ways of thinking and problem solving specific to the legal industry. Their clientele has as much variety as a magazine rack at Target.
  • Their purpose is to fix the issue you asked them to fix. Not to find ways to boost productivity for your staff, streamline your processes, look for security risks in your setup, or implement solutions that will benefit the firm.

There’s a strong belief out there that: “I switched to Macs so I didn’t need IT support.” However, your system is more often than not riddled with bottlenecks and security holes and plagued by issues and productivity losses. Without fail, I would quickly create a list of issues that my clients had never been aware of. There is far more that falls under the IT umbrella than just installing updates. It is all the things You Don’t Know You Don’t Know that a specialist can help you address.

Best practices when using an hourly consultant

  • Make sure they are Certified. The IT industry is NOT regulated and hiring someone who is learning on your dime can be costly. Don’t hire someone from Craigslist or your friend’s son who really likes Macs. Search for a Certified Apple Consultant in your area. Then, just like you do on Amazon, read the reviews and do some research before picking one. You can also call your local Apple Store’s Business Team and ask for recommendations.
  • Test them out. It’s better to have a consultant and not need one than to need one and not have one. Don’t wait for an emergency to find a consultant to work with. Make a small list of things you’d like addressed or configured and use them for a couple hours. Make sure you work well together, that they are competent and that you’d feel comfortable hiring them again in the future. Trust your gut, if there’s doubt, try another.
  • Don’t wait for dire emergencies. Neil Tyra, attorney and producer of The Law Entrepreneur podcast asks solos if they would pay an IT person $250 an hour. If not, why would they take an hour of your time, as an attorney trying to troubleshoot an issue? Get in the habit of using your hourly consultant on a proactive basis and reduce the amount of time you spent dealing with IT. Start by making a list of your concerns, the things that keep you up at night. Then hire a consultant to implement solutions to address these concerns.
  • Plan regular visits and add to your budget. This will vary based on your size, but have them perform regular maintenance, monthly for most people, more often if you are larger and at a minimum, a quarterly visit. Build the cost into your budget.

To wrap up, I urge you to stop playing the IT person in your firm and focus on serving your clients and building your practice. If you are currently using an hourly consultant, move out of the two-thirds who only call in emergencies and move into the third that are proactive. And if you are going to work with an hourly consultant, here is your homework: Pick the top three strategies that struck a chord with you from the “what NOT to do” or from the Best Practices section. Then outline three actions you will take to shift the approach towards IT from reactive to proactive.

In the third installment, we’ll discuss Managed Services, which takes proactive to a whole other level.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tom Lambotte is CEO of GlobalMacIT, a company specializing in providing IT support to Mac-based law firms. Tom is the author of “Hassle Free Mac IT Support for Law Firms” and “Legal Boost: Big Profits Through an IT Transformation.” He is a popular speaker at national events such as ABA TECHSHOW and MILOfest, a Mac Lovin’ Lawyers Event. Twitter: @LegalMacIT.

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