How Your Law Firm can gain (or claw back) Competitive Advantage through IT

A lawyer interested in IT SupportFew professionals worry as much about stability as the legal profession.  Having worked with many law firms, we know from firsthand experience that the executive team in many a firm has a tendency to resist change when first mooted and embrace it only after it has been debated for many months, preferring the stability of the known over the potential of the unknown.

Now, to be clear, that’s not a criticism.  There’s nothing inherently wrong about being sure of your decisions.  But, in the interests of helping those firms who might not have made a few of the following choices, perhaps you might like to consider these suggestions.

After all, they’ll help you gain a competitive advantage, or perhaps regain ceded territory.

1.  Use IT to Improve Culture and Boost Staff Retention

Experienced practice managers know that a key competitive advantage is to be found in the happiness of your staff.

Yet we’ve met several executive teams that don’t allow their staff to access the company network after-hours (yes, it’s still a thing).  They worry that allowing such access will lead to lost client files, unrecorded billables, malware deployed on the company network, a data breach or loss of clients.

All of those fears fall into the category of “loss of control”.

The knock-on effect is that staff feel forced into working within the relatively narrow confines of the office.  They find it restrictive and it leads to cultural issues.

Yet these days, advancements in IT mean it’s absolutely possible to allow staff greater flexibility in working arrangements while also improving the security of information.

Consider the following IT Projects:

  1. Multi-factor authentication: MFA adds an extra layer of security beyond a username and password. It means you can be sure it’s your staff accessing documents remotely, not an attacker.
  2. Data rooms: Not a real room, but rather, a term referring to a location from which shared documents can be accessed. Documents shared via a data room can have special properties assigned to them governing whether the recipient can simply read, make copies of, download, email, print, edit, comment on or save a document.  Such properties can be assigned to a user for a given period of time or permanently.
  3. Build in Conditional Access: Conditional Access is the way to enforce security in the Modern Cloud.  With Conditional Access and a Modern Device Management Platform, you can mitigate the exposure that Software-as-a-Service products (like Office 365) have to unauthorised access.  Conditional access allows you to ensure that only company-owned devices can login to online services, or enforces rules that protect data when accessed from non-corporate assets.
    4. Data Leakage Prevention: Ensure your Data stays where it is supposed to and mitigate the risk of data leakage and the reputation damage around having to report a Notifiable Data Breach

2.  Integrate your In-house Team with Outsourced Assistance for Friction-free IT

Mid-to-large law firms typically field an in-house IT team.  At first glance, it might appear there’s no need for an alternative approach, but there are still gains to be made.

Typically, in an in-house team, there are too few Level 1 technicians to cope with times of high demand.  Like when malware successfully spreads through the organisation or a software update requires a reset of some kind for all users.  At those times, you need a larger team to deal efficiently with the demand fluctuation so that you don’t lose billable hours from your operators.

Consider the efficiency gains from appointing an external team to take care of low-level IT issues that don’t require on-site hands and feet.  For a cost similar to that of a full-time staff member, you get access to multiple qualified IT staff who can deal with your user-base efficiently without incurring extra cost.

You also bypass the impact of flu season on your IT team’s ability to handle business-as-usual because a managed service provider’s team is large enough to cope with a reduction in staff numbers while still delivering service.

3.  Use IT to Grow the Firm

If your firm has serious growth goals, then be sure to match those goals with a forward-looking IT agenda.

A strategic plan for IT is often referred to as an IT Roadmap.  Its job is to align the function of information technology with the goals of the business to ensure the evolution of IT facilitates the desired corporate growth and cultural environment.

Predicting the demands on IT means that capital investments can be made at just the right time, with the opportunities for vendor negotiation (to lower the cost of implementation and ownership) maximised.

An IT Roadmap makes practice management easier as it mitigates constraints on growth and management of work in the firm, for the lowest cost.

Consider engaging an IT Consultant to prepare an IT Roadmap for your firm.

Final thought

The IT function has evolved from simply keeping the lights on to an important source of competitive advantage (or a foil to disadvantage) in the modern law firm.  When your executive team is setting strategy, consider having your internal or external Head of IT at the boardroom table.