All of us who work in the legal industry were forced into a work from home model in early-2020, virtually overnight, and suddenly found ourselves replacing in-person meetings with Zoom. It was a paradigm shift that had been quietly underway for years but accelerated with breathtaking speed.
Last year was a maelstrom of change—which of course also swept up Legal Lab, HBR Consulting’s annual gathering of leaders from some of the nation’s top law departments and law firms. Rather than the two-day, in-person event that HBR usually hosts, last year Legal Lab turned into as a series of five virtual sessions across multiple weeks.
Today’s fast-changing client expectations and legal practice demands are forcing law firms to adapt their internal operations for how they will conduct business in the future. These operational changes require agile transformation across the three areas of people, processes and technology. In short, there are now more specialized skills needed to support and operate the newly defined roles, more interconnections between various law firm capabilities, and more technology needed to support user activity across the organization. This evolution in law firm operations calls for a common reference point that can serve as a quick-look guide for the firm’s professionals and leaders. This sort of reference framework can help provide a clear understanding of the firm’s internal operations and processes, including key client touch points.
Recently, we have seen a remarkably fast uptake in law firms’ adoption of Microsoft Teams as their preferred collaboration platform. In fact, it is not a stretch to predict that it is no longer a matter of if law firms will implement Teams, but when they will do so. And while there has been a lot of messaging around implementing and using Teams in the legal industry, there has been nothing about the real work that is required for governance and compliance. Implementing, provisioning and managing Microsoft Teams is only part of what needs to be done. Teams is complex and, as a preliminary step, it is important for law firms to develop the appropriate policies, procedures and controls within Microsoft Office 365 to ensure they are ready for a secure and compliant Teams roll-out.
The world has changed since the pandemic and effective lockdown were implemented, highlighting the need for law firm IT functions to be prepared for adverse situations. The sudden change we are experiencing has ushered in a host of new concerns and responsibilities for law firm IT leadership, not the least of which is cost management. Some law firm IT leaders have found themselves locked into some vendor contracts, with their associated costs and reduced flexibility. As law firm IT leaders plan for 2021 and beyond, exercising strong vendor governance principles can help them better address the current downturn and be prepared for future economic fluxes.
The U.S. legal industry headed into March with a full head of steam, aside from some growing concerns about a novel coronavirus that appeared to be spreading. By the end of the month, our very way of life in America had been turned upside down and organizations from every business sector have been forced to change the way they do business in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the economic and social disruption caused by current events continues to mount, law firms and other organizations are beginning to temporarily close offices and require employees to work remotely. The current situation is a reminder of the issues that firms should evaluate when planning for business continuity: its business needs, its users’ needs, and what is required from the IT staff and network to support those needs. Following are some questions firm leadership should ask itself and the firm’s IT organization when planning for business continuity in the event of a situation like we now face.
Law firms face a wide range of risks associated with the information technology (IT) operations in their firms. The most obvious tech-related risks are cybersecurity threats and business continuity needs in the event of an IT infrastructure outage. These are indeed high-stakes risks that are deserving of the news headlines and conference keynote addresses in recent years.
Law firms of all sizes require solid and stable technology services that power their day to day operations, but that can be challenging for midsized law firms that lack the massive global resources, technical expertise, and financial capital of the world’s largest firms. An unexpected outage that causes disruption of any kind within the IT ecosystem – whether it be a major weather event, a cybercrime incident or something as simple as a hardware failure – can paralyze a midsize law firm and cause disastrous financial impacts, not to mention the damage it likely will cause to the firm’s reputation and client trust.
Market forces are beginning to push law firm IT functions to manage in a more complex environment, but also to continuously evolve and enhance the enablement of practice delivery. Attorneys are more mobile and more connected. Clients are more demanding, with more data, integration and interactions. Technology is evolving at a faster pace with more alternatives and complexity. And competition for IT talent is accelerating, not only across horizontal technology domains but across industries.