V. Mary Abraham's blog post about the perils of customising software for lawyers will almost certainly resonate with law firm IT and KM teams.
I finally found an answer to her final question. It's about value.
Lawyers are often proud of the way they do things. Their drafting style is the best. The techniques they have for managing clients are faultless. Everyone else's perspective on the practice of law is flawed by comparison with theirs.
It is fine to express those views. It is quite another thing to expect an organisation (whether a traditional law firm or a NewLaw business) to comply with them. One reason for this can be found at the heart of Ronald Coase's classic disquisition, The Nature of the Firm. For Coase, the firm improves the efficiency of contracting by substituting many contracts between collaborators for just one -- between the firm and its participants (or 'factors' as he terms them):
"The contract is one whereby the factor, for a certain remuneration (which may be fixed or fluctuating), agrees to obey the directions of an entrepreneur within certain limits."
The setting of those limits is part of the negotiation between the firm and its participants, but it seems to me that it is reasonable for a firm to insist on consistency when that reduces unnecessary costs. That, after all, is the purpose of the Coasean firm.
And how do we decide whether a cost is unnecessary? For me, that depends on the value that might be created. In this instance, does the lawyer's insistence on doing things their own way generate a competitive advantage for the firm?
In almost all cases, the customisations demanded are pure costs -- they are incapable of generating value for the firm. Law firms need to become more assertive about their interest in consistency in such matters.
Yet lawyers persist in believing that they are a breed apart, a group of special snowflakes. Unfortunately, too many technologists enable this point of view by telling lawyers that tools can and should be adapted to accommodate lawyer preferences. Thus you have technologists larding up standard software such as MS Office with customizations and embellishments meant to placate the special snowflakes in our firms. And then we act surprised when we calculate the cost of implementing new technology or upgrading existing technology. At what point do we say that the system performs reasonably for 80% of the work lawyers do and we should think twice (or thrice) about customizing for the remaining 20%?