Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year
Most full-service law firms face the major challenge of having to reconcile the differing IT system requirements of their various practice areas with the limited resources – both IT and financial – available to the firm.
On the other hand, niche firms specialising in one area of law or one sector, have the advantage of concentrating on technology which specifically services their sector. In the case of residential conveyancing, PI, probate, family law or debt collections there are well established specialist solutions on the market.
These solutions have been designed to deliver one specific legal service and aim to enable firms to use them with minimal customisation.
However, other legal services are not well serviced by vendors, and firms (both niche and full-service) therefore rely on a more traditional approach of bespoke development or customising more generic solutions to match the requirements of their specific practice area or areas
My previous article “Law Firm IT Spend – Getting it Right”, gave an overview of achieving the right level of IT spend by considering typical spending levels, discussing how to capture and analyse your current spend and giving suggestions for dealing with over-spend. But what if the analysis demonstrates that you need to spend more?
This might be due to earlier underinvestment or a new business initiative or strategic decision. There is nothing wrong with such an outcome if it is based on sound analysis. However, the Partnership and senior management will always be wary of increased spending on any business cost, so you will need to present a convincing business case for any proposed increase in IT spend.
On 23rd October at the Shard in London we hosted our first – our very first – networking forum. But why do we want to add yet another event to the already overwhelming Legal Tech events calendar?
I was recently invited to speak at The Law Society’s Law Management Section conference. My topic was “Getting value from IT investments”.
Quantifying the return on investment from IT projects is a minefield many of us have tried to address, but while those efforts are often used to build a business case prior to embarking on projects, it is often the case that these justifications are not a true reflection of the cost / value that technology investments represent and nor are they assessed post go-live.
While preparing the presentation, I was reminded of the “Man in a barrel” gift that Christel Aguila, IT Director and Partner at Winckworth Sherwood LLP brought back from the Philippines for her team and the need to never make assumptions!
Having a strong IT capability is critical to all organisations, now more than ever. But like any budget category, you don’t want to overspend, and you need to invest effectively. For law firms, IT spend is likely to be the third largest expenditure category behind premises and staff so ‘Getting it Right’ needs to be taken seriously.
You are likely to know how much you are spending on IT however, is it a sensible amount? Every firm is different and budgets can go up and down from year to year. However, a general guideline can be useful to help determine whether your level is right.
O! it is pleasant with a heart at ease,
Just after sunset, or by moonlight skies,
To make the shifting clouds be what you please (…with thanks to Samuel Taylor Coleridge)
As we sweltered and gasped through one of the hottest summers in memory, it would have required considerable effort to pay attention to the cloudscape. Now, with the August Bank Holiday safely behind us, it is more appropriate to take a detour into the cloud landscape – this time, in its SaaS, or software as a service manifestations. Hopefully well rested and with a “heart at ease”.
Previously we focused attention on “Private Cloud” and “IaaS” (Infrastructure as a Service) and its offspring but before we follow IaaS towards the logical conclusion of its development, it would be useful to investigate the concept of SaaS – Software as a Service – which has a lot in common with, and sits alongside both IaaS and “Public Cloud”
What is Unstructured Data?
Unstructured is defined as “not formally organised in a set or conventional pattern”.
At home, most of us save documents to either our Documents folder on the PC or to cloud storage products like Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive.
We can save the documents wherever we want, and we can create folders that make sense to us. We can create documents and save them in these folders in way that suits us …. individually.
It’s the same with email applications like Microsoft Outlook either on the PC or online, iCloud Mail or Gmail. We can create folders and move emails to those folders in a way that suits us …. individually.
If you are still using an in-house telephone system based on older technologies, then you need to be aware that BT will be making it obsolete over the next few years. However, the need to upgrade is an opportunity to rethink your entire communications strategy and to improve working patterns. The good news is that the new technologies available can not only give you more business functionality but in addition can save you money!
As we trot, canter and then hopefully gallop through all the “Cloud” buzzwords, we will try to provide some context for their logical progression, and then the why’s and how’s of their evolution (yes, Darwin’s law applies to technology as well!)
Last time, we focused our attention on the “Private Cloud” – the mother of all Cloud Buzzwords. Her direct offspring are the variants of “Infrastructure as a Service” or IaaS
My concern about the scarcity of Women in Tech – particularly in Legal IT – goes back many years. Not only am I an unapologetic feminist of the old school (i.e I love the male of the species, I have many feminine interests but I believe women should play a full and equal role in society), but effective technology critically depends on team work. An increasing flood of research – and my own observations over many years – clearly demonstrate that gender and ethnically diverse teams significantly out-perform (up to 87%) teams not so constituted.
Our first attempts to encourage women into Legal Tech some 8 years ago came to nothing. The senior women (IT Directors and Heads of IT) were far too busy with the day-job, and lacked the administrative resources to be effective. But the idea stuck, and germinated, even while at the same time, our numbers went down. Some women moved on into other industries, others retired and increasingly, it became hard to recruit female candidates, particularly younger women for number 2 roles (so that they can take up the baton from us, when we moved on). The stats are startling. In our heyday some 10 years ago, 23% of the IT Directors/ Heads of IT in the top 100 law firms were female. Today it is less than 3%.
Every couple of years and applying Moore’s Law, with increasing frequency one of the giants of the tech industry (or their marketing teams) come up with a sexy sounding buzzword or acronym. Very quickly, the latest buzzword will then burn a blazing trail through the tech media, the general press and everyone and their parrot. Before you can say “buzz”, the buzzword is being used without anyone outside a limited circle having the foggiest idea of what it actually means (and feeling slightly embarrassed because everyone else seems to know). A classic case of the Emperor’s New Clothes.
Examples are “cloud”, “AI”, “flexible/agile/smart” working, “digital transformation”, “digital disruption” and heaven help us, “innovation”. Fuzzy terms, unless we stop to define what we actually mean. As importantly, what it means for us, our sector (law firms and law firm technology) and our own practices.
HEALTH WARNING – anyone with a technology background: read-on at your own peril but you are not allowed to sneer at our simplistic take on the impenetrable acronyms and fuzzy concepts and jargon that all technologists thrive on.
Law firms rarely change their PMS, doing so on average about every 15 to 20 years, and rightly so as the cost and effort involved is substantial. Furthermore, a firm can expect such a project to distract from the day-to-day operation of the firm and there will be disruption to the business as staff learn the new system and while enhancements and bespoke developments are undertaken.
The infrequency of such projects also means that firms are likely to be unfamiliar with changes in the PMS marketplace and may not have staff with the skillsets required to undertake such a project.
Mergers are increasingly common amongst law firms internationally and the UK is no exception. One source indicates that there were sixteen mergers affecting the UK top 100 firms in 2017 with a further four in the first quarter of 2018. There will of course have been many more amongst the mid-tier firms. So, what happens if you find yourself subject to a merger – what will be the impact on your IT and how can IT assist with the process?
I recently had an email from Microsoft Bing Places requesting that I ensure our company registration record was up-to-date. The experience which followed was a good reminder of the frustrations of users when dealing with inefficient processes delivered by IT solutions.
To be honest I can’t even remember registering for Bing Places and hadn’t thought to update the registration when we moved offices last year. I certainly didn’t have a Bing Places account to make the changes.
There then followed one of the most ridiculous processes I’ve ever experienced.
We attended – and facilitated – at a most informative Legal Practice Management (LPM) event yesterday, where Rupert Collins-White analysed the results of the 2018 Legal IT Landscapes, research aimed specifically at mid-sized law firms. More than 80 firms responded to the survey – the results are probably fairly representative of the market as a whole.
Interestingly enough, there were repeated mentions of, and considerable interest expressed in AI and the “hype” technologies, by far outranking mentions of more “old tech” systems, such as case management, practice management and document management. Most noticeable was the change of focus from the more boring aspects of tech, such as infrastructure and last year’s buzzword, “cloud” and a change of focus to the application layer particularly in areas where business processes can really benefit from technology.
In the context of this article Due Diligence is the careful examination of a company / solution and the evaluation of all associated risk before becoming involved in a contract or business arrangement.
Why Due Diligence?
Choosing a new IT solution or Service Provider is fraught with danger and committing to a lengthy contract solidifies and extends the risks.
I was not surprised to see Microsoft’s admission that developing new features for the Mobile version of Windows 10 was “no longer a focus” this but it is a shame to see. I had a Windows phone for several years and found it to be very good. I moved back to iPhone when the iPhone 7 came out as several “silver bullet” apps which I used which were removed from the Windows 10 app store at about this time (and yes I wanted a iWatch …) and it was becoming more obvious that app vendors were not going to get on board with Windows 10.
The most frustrating thing I found with moving back to the iPhone was that the Microsoft Apps available on IOS were better than the Apps they provided on their own operating system so for me the writing has been on the wall for some time.
However, personal views aside, the most concerning issue for IT professionals is the seeming ease in which major technology companies can and will chop and change their strategy and offerings.
Ransomware is a type of malware (malicious software) designed to block access to a computer or its data unless a ‘ransom’ is paid. It might do this by locking your system or by encrypting your data. The ransomware typically enters a computer through a Trojan. An unsuspecting user can introduce a Trojan in a number of ways such as through opening an email attachment, clicking on a link in an email, visiting a bad or compromised website, downloading infected files or using a USB stick which was found lying in the car park or lobby.
Ransomware is not new with the first example in the late 1980s being spread using infected floppy disks which were sent to recipients by post. However, our reliance on digital information, more sophisticated coding, improved networks and the involvement of criminal gangs and possibly even foreign governments has made ransomware a growing threat.
A ‘virtual’ IT Director is someone who is there for you as and when required without the need to hire someone into this position as a full-time employee with all of the associated costs. They can work for you as needed whether a few days a month, more regularly or simply on an ad-hoc basis. They could work fully on-site or sometimes remotely, whichever suits your organisation.
Many organisations have IT teams that are constantly overstretched. They are in ‘fire fighting’ mode – constantly reacting to immediate tasks with no time devoted to proactive actions. The result is a lack of time spent on important issues such as the organisation’s business strategy, the long-term IT strategy and staff development. Such teams tend to work as they always have without time for continuous improvement or innovation.