Consulting company McKinsey has found that information technology investment by itself has little effect on productivity. Management practices have a much bigger impact on productivity. 

When IT lifts productivity in the The McKinsey Quarterly (2004, #4; free registration may be required) reports that “a new study of 100 manufacturing companies in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States supports the view that IT expenditures have little impact on productivity unless they are accompanied by first-rate management practices. ”

Differences in any one of three “process oriented” practices (my words) – lean manufacturing, performance management, and talent management – account for huge productivity differences among companies. Differences in IT investment alone, in contrast, accounted for only 1/6th the impact of these factors. The study concludes that “companies can get the biggest benefit by combining IT investments with good management.”

Though this study focused on manufacturing, I believe the same lessons apply to law firms. Merely investing in technology is not enough. Lawyers and staff must find ways to use technology effectively. The firms with the “best” IT infrastructure and practice software are not necessarily the ones providing the best client service or the most productive. More important is considering how work is performed and managing it.

As most law firms enter the annual budgeting season, this is an important point to remember. Keeping infrastructure up to date is important. But improving client service and productivity does not automatically flow from tech investments. Lawyers and IT staff must work together to analyze and improve the way lawyers work to achieve real gains.