With many law firms increasingly embracing technology in order to shape and enhance the future of their businesses, an equal number still continue to lag behind. With IT Managers adding considerable weight to the campaign to modernise practices and boost overall productivity, it is vital that firms understand the need to remain competitive in a rapidly changing legal world.
A lack of technical understanding and a reluctance to modernise are common barriers to progress that legal IT teams often face, and the journey to cohesive security, working efficiencies and effective collaboration can often feel like an uphill struggle. With many firms hesitant to relinquish traditional working practices, no matter how outdated and potentially business damaging they may be, IT Managers can often feel that they are alone in their desire and vision for a more productive and competitive technology strategy.
However, breaking down an overall resistance to transformational change into separate, manageable areas can often yield surprising results – managing partners, who may previously have seemed reluctant to embrace technology, could be more receptive to new ideas that benefit different company areas, as opposed to tackling a wide-scale IT strategy head on.
If you feel that you can identify with any of the issues discussed above, we’ve pinpointed some common working areas that can cause legal IT headaches, and detailed the steps to take to tackle them effectively:
Key issues for Legal IT teams
The presence of Silos
Traditional legal business practices can often lead to solitary, segregated working environments and procedures. Legal firms that have a network of offices across multiple locations and countries are at an especially enhanced risk of becoming embedded within outdated business and working silos.
Conventional wisdom holds that silos are a flawed business construct: a legacy of command and control leadership that can often symbolise outmoded and inefficient management. Whilst they can allow firms to operate in a focused, specialised way, during periods of significant change and adaption they can also act as an obstacle to growth.
Research from PWC shows that more than half (55 percent) of companies work in silos, with each function making its own decisions on which capabilities matter most. If you act as an advocate for collaborative working practices, it could be a positive way to break down unhelpful attitudes to silos within your business – demonstrating the use of technology to save time and improve on fee-earner productivity is key to eliminating the practice of working in silos.
Too many manual processes
A Legal Week and Microsoft survey of legal professionals showed that 87 percent still used a pen and paper for completing crucial legal work, and it is highly unlikely that your firm is any different! A traditional working culture, lack of exposure to other commonplace business technologies, such as Skype for Business, and a devotion to pen and paper can all contribute to the legal reliance on manual working processes.
Demonstrating to legal colleagues that there are other, more efficient ways of working is a good step towards persuading them of the value of professional technology. Whether you already have systems in place that may be underused, or you are at the start of your technology journey, illustrating how current manual processes could be streamlined and automated to save crucial admin time is a great way to sell the importance of intuitive, functional technology to managing partners.
Poor data management and a lack of central recording
Alongside their strong sense of loyalty to written communication, many lawyers will attest to their poor record keeping skills. Constantly dealing with endless paper briefs, notes and case reviews means that data storage, security and management can often be unknowingly comprised, and a lack of filing guidelines from office support staff can often exacerbate these issues.
Explaining the financial and productivity benefits of central, automated document management software could be the key to solving this problem. Show senior management how their initial outlay and investment could reap huge rewards in terms of reductions in workloads, business costs and office supply usage, and demonstrate the increase in billable time that fee earners could be utilising for their clients.
Lack of system infrastructure integration
This is often a key compliant of IT managers and fee earners alike in medium-sized legal practices. At this level, firms are often aware of the need to modernise and innovate in order to maintain their competitive edge, but have not yet developed an integrated IT infrastructure. A Legal Week survey showed that as many as 64 percent of legal professionals have IT difficulties when working remotely, whilst a further 52 percent said that the speed of their systems was a major issue.
Working to create a fully integrated, optimised estate of complimentary systems and processes should be your main IT goal, and dealing with antiquated or unsuitable products and solutions can be frustrating and time-consuming. Conduct a full IT inventory, and identify where serious improvements could be made. By presenting this to your managing partners, you will present a compelling case for both investment and improvement. In many cases, you may even find that you are operating and paying for unnecessary systems – could one product do the job of two, if configured correctly? Remember that streamlining your estate can often save money, as opposed to requiring further business investment.
Limited understanding of the importance of transformational IT
For a managing partner with many years of legal experience, the need to implement a revolutionary IT strategy in order to survive and maintain competitive advantage within the modern working environment can be extremely daunting. It is rare that senior legal figures are entirely resistant to change – often, they are simply intimidated by the complexities of an industry of which they have limited understanding and knowledge.
Your main aim here would be to guide and inform your managing partners as to the business potential that the right IT infrastructure could bring. Understanding that it can be used to maintain effective client relationships, or to streamline merger and acquisition due diligence procedures, is key to helping non-legal staff understand its importance moving forward. You should also enocurage partners to take into account the impact of new technologies on the wider business economy, in which your clients exist as consumers. New technologies bring exciting changes and benefits that will soon become a minimum service requirement, and their expectations of your firm will no different. The legal industry must adapt in order to survive.