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Buy vs Build: 5 Myths Law Firms Believe about Building Custom Software

Occasionally we chat with firms who believe they should build their own software solutions vs purchasing a pre-built solution like Case Status. Whether the idea came from a staff member who wants to spend their time pretending they are working for a tech startup, or they bought into the idea that building software is easy, many firms find themselves making decisions based on a number of myths that exist today.


Before making a decision to buy off-the-shelf software vs building custom software, here are some common myths and some questions to consider when making a decision.


Myth #1: I’ll save money if I build it myself


The first thing we typically hear from firms is that they don’t want to pay a monthly fee for software when they can build something themselves. Many firms have a misunderstanding of the costs associated with custom software development and ongoing maintenance. If you decide to go the route of building something yourself, you can expect to spend $200k per year for one experienced developer (that is if you can find them, and they are interested in working for a law firm). Depending on the type of platform, you could need many developers with different disciplines to accomplish your goal. For example, you’ll need a backend developer with experience building something similar. You’ll need a user experience designer to build flows of the platform, and a user interface designer to design the platform. You’ll then need a front-end developer to implement the platform. And then someone to test for bugs, project manage the project, and someone in dev ops to deploy the platform and ensure it stays live. If you are building mobile apps, you’ll need to add an iOS and Android developer in addition. There are ongoing costs of hosting, bug fixing, future development, scaling, and insurance, not to mention the support staff you’ll need in addition.

Maybe you can hire a contract development shop to do the initial design and development work but the ongoing support costs from a contract developer will quickly become unpalatable. Think about how a contracting firm is set up: they hire inexperienced developers and mark up the cost to you, they leverage each developer so they are as booked up as possible, and with little oversight (and most firms have no understanding of software development), can charge you whatever they want. Contract development firms typically don’t use best practices such as automated testing, and won’t provide the same level of long-term support and commitment as changes occur. There is a reason that so many companies have horror stories about building software with contract development shops.


Myth #2: I only have to pay for custom software one-time


Many firms have a perspective that you pay for software development one time and then you’re done. Anyone who has built custom software in the past knows that software development never really stops. Browsers and computers change, devices upgrade, and bugs get introduced or have been introduced in the past without anyone knowing. Many firms do not calculate the ongoing cost of testing, fixing, or even the insurance cost for data breach insurance. As usage and file storage increase, the long-term impact of ongoing costs will continue to grow. If there is downtime, additional costs and potentially lost revenue are at risk.


Myth #3: Maintaining my ethical duty of care via software is easy


Many firms do not consider the implications of maintaining adequate security measures in order to maintain their ethical duty of care. These days, it’s common to hear about hacks happening to software providers. Uber has been in the news recently because of a massive hack. Uber has implemented layers of security so that they can protect data and they still failed to protect consumers.


Building custom software means that you are fully responsible for your customers' data. If a law firm’s data is breached, they are personally liable for breaching their ethical duty of care. Most firms have never considered the cost of security protocols like SOCII compliance (Both Type 1 and Type 2), HIPAA compliance (if relevant), GDPR (if dealing with clients in the UK), or even how to maintain standard practices required by their insurance providers. There are laws around the usage of a platform by kids, how to handle Personal Health Information (PHI), how to handle privacy notices, notices of breaches, etc.


Myth #4: Supporting staff and client adoption is easy


Many firms do not consider the long-term implications of supporting staff and client adoption of a new platform. If your organization is building custom software for your staff, are you building out the training, onboarding, and implementation of the tool into your processes? If the custom software is for your clients, is the platform designed for easy adoption? Many firms are not considering how challenging change management can be.


Have you considered the staffing required to provide support when staff or clients have issues? No software provider or firm building custom software said, “Let’s build software that is hard to use.” Building easy-to-use software is not easy to accomplish. This is likely the goal of every software developer and user experience designer in the world, but often it is not accomplished. How many additional staff members will need to be hired?


Myth #5: Building my own platform will be more flexible


Many firms believe if they build something in-house, it will be exactly what they want and completely flexible. What many firms lack is the ability to know what is possible with software and how to build proper solutions. Architecting solutions typically requires a deep understanding of the problem and an ability to use software to solve the problem. It requires knowledge of data structure, 3rd party APIs, and user acceptance testing.


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