Quorum Legal IT Webinar Summary
Representing Quorum in the discussion were our Co-founder and Technical Director Charles Scott, and Legal Services Director James Frost. Joining us on the panel and providing an insider’s perspective from the legal sector were one of Quorum’s clients, Ian Beattie, COO of independent Scottish Firm Lindsays and Karen Jacks, CTO of international law firm Bird & Bird. The webinar was moderated by Matt Byrne, Deputy Editor of legal magazine The Lawyer.
Co-Founder & Technical Director
Legal Services Director/Data Platform & AI Director
Chief Operating Officer, Lindsays
To kick things off, the panel discussed how the legal sector has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and the particular challenges that continue in the face of an uncertain future, with at least a hybrid model of working from home and the office to continue well into next year. Hot topics were how Firms business continuity plans stand up as we face a winter of either lockdown or continued restrictions and what are the impacts on people and processes, as well as highlighting security risks.
A chief obstacle identified by all members of the panel is the sense of conservatism and caution that seems to be inherent to the legal sector, which means that it has traditionally remained behind other sectors in adopting new technologies. Of course, that’s a generalisation and there are many law firms which had already embraced digital transformation, meaning the transition to home working and other Covid-enforced protocols was a relatively painless, if frantic one!
However, countless businesses (especially SMEs) were entirely unprepared for such a quick and dramatic change. The good news is that with no choice but to comply with restrictions, law firms across the country have shown agility and adaptability and continue to have the ability to offer their clients uninterrupted service. This is in no small part down to the technology enabling them, with Ian remarking that the biggest compliment he can give the IT sector is that any constraints on the Firm have had nothing to do with their technology.
Indeed, the limitations imposed by the pandemic have highlighted just how comfortably and productively lawyers can work outside of an office environment, something which Karen admits she would not have thought possible prior to this year. Other bright spots include the rise of e-signatures, which save time, energy and resources, and the ability to increase the number of staff on the payroll without needing to expand office space. James noted that Firms have been tremendously successful in pushing the boundaries of rolling out video conferencing and the adoption of other technologies. But these are temporary solutions and we need to explore where we go next, not only with the IT side of things, but taking into consideration issues such as employee wellbeing.
The thorny issue of printing documentation remains a particular challenge. Many legal professionals are accustomed to printouts in order to make notes and corrections or to facilitate document comparisons. However using domestic printers for business purposes can raise issues relating to security. Some firms have tried to circumvent those potholes by organising the secure disposal of sensitive documents, or issuing some staff with company printers (to better regulate their use) and secondary monitors (to aid with document comparison).
This latter policy can also be beneficial in standardising devices across the company, which provides an enormous benefit to IT support desks. If home workers are given free rein to use whichever device they favour, it can create a logistical nightmare for the IT team when they become inundated with troubleshooting queries and other support issues for umpteen different devices. It can also enhance security infrastructure, allowing the company to retain control of and monitor who is logging onto which platforms and from which devices.
That should certainly be welcomed by many companies operating in the sector, who have found themselves forced to jettison the more stringent security protocols in the interests of adapting legacy apps and scaling up access to on-premises servers. While such a course of action does promote efficiency and expediency, it does so at the expense of security and leaves a company vulnerable to attack from opportunistic cyber criminals. Staying competitive with rivals is, of course, key, but it isn’t of greater import than staying secure from online attacks.
So if phase one of dealing with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic – that is, adopting the technology across the entirety of the team and demonstrating that it can still perform productively and efficiently – has been a success, phase two will require law firms to build upon that platform. That means leveraging the acceptance of technology and searching for longer-term solutions to the problems thrown up by the virus, since it seems that neither the former nor the latter will be going away anytime soon. Ian commented that for Lindsays the main focus is around the general business strategy and how technology can enable them to develop in a different way e.g. office space and access to people across different locations.
Charles pointed out, some companies have scrambled to stay functional by adopting makeshift solutions which don’t fully embrace the change. A reluctance to migrate to the Cloud is perhaps the biggest symptom of this hesitancy, with some firms maintaining on-premises servers and simply instructing their staff to log in to the office infrastructure via a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Not only does this create capacity issues, but it still relies (at least in part) on office access, which is counterintuitive to the current environment.
For that reason, Charles’ biggest piece of advice for businesses going forward is to embrace the Cloud, since it offers unparalleled advantages in terms of efficiency, scalability and security. James, meanwhile, stresses the importance of not only equipping all staff members with the technological tools they need to carry out their roles, but providing them with the training necessary to use them. Karen highlights the importance of collaboration in a modern workplace, while Ian points out the efficiency possible in a paperless environment.
Armed with that insider insight, there is no reason why legal firms cannot turn current inconveniences into opportunities to build for the future. If the last eight months have shown us anything, it’s that the technology that’s needed for Firms to flourish is already here, while the expertise offered by industry experts such as Quorum can ensure you have the best possible roadmap and optimum technology to underpin your developing strategies.
As always, if you’d like to chat about anything we’ve discussed,please do contact us.
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