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.
Law firm spending on technology continues to grow faster than other categories of firm operations and is now the third-largest area of overhead spending, behind only salaries and occupancy expenses, according to the 2019 Report on the State of the Legal Market by Managing Partner Forum.
The number-one law firm IT challenge heading into 2019 had nothing to do with acquiring bigger servers or faster networks. The top law firm IT issue for this year was the strategic challenge of change management, according to the International Legal Technology’s Association 2018 Legal Technology Survey.
After a slow start to embrace the idea of using a “hosted” model for managing software applications and client data, law firms have accelerated their adoption of this model in recent years. More than 54% of lawyers reported using a cloud platform last year to host client data, according to the American Bar Association’s 2018 Technology Survey.
The Summit on Legal Innovation and Disruption (SOLID) held in London on November 7 provided a view into the rate of transformation, primarily from the lens of the UK and Europe. The action-packed, daylong event included 15 TED-style talks and “fireside chats” (sans the fire), along with brainstorming sessions among the participants. SOLID London 2018 was produced by The Cowen Group in association with Baker McKenzie. HBR Consulting was one of several partnership sponsors. The aim of each Summit is to gather legal professionals for an exchange of ideas about the intersection of innovation, advanced technology and the business of law. Most of the attendees and speakers at the London forum were EMEA-based corporate counsel, providing a unique view into innovation in law departments outside the United States.
Data science and analytics are relatively new to the legal industry. While companies across almost all sectors are investing heavily in analytics, legal organizations are very much in the early stages of learning and adoption.
That situation is changing, however. Through the work we have done with clients and as we observed at ILTACON 2018 and other industry gatherings, there is tremendous interest in legal analytics. HBR Consulting is beginning to see new, creative uses emerge and an expansion in the field of play for analytics in law. The reasons for change are many but expanding business expectations for law departments, an increasingly competitive landscape for law firms (including new non-firm competitors) and the noticeable adoption outside the legal industry are three drivers of note.