Getting Off the Treadmill: Finding IT’s Next Path

Josh Nardo | December 19, 2019

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.

In the current market, firms must plan and target their IT investment wisely. To do so, they must measure their current-state IT capability against evolving industry best practices to appropriately identify and prioritize gaps.


Understanding Current State

In today’s complex environment, it can often be difficult to pause and assess the law firm IT function’s current state. Without regular assessment, firms can end up with IT organization, process and technology debt. For that reason, it is necessary to have in place a defined framework and approach for periodic IT review. A law firm technology assessment measures the maturity of a firm’s IT function across multiple dimensions and provides useful insights into specific issues that are both known and unknown to the firm. Some of the questions an assessment can help answer include the following:

  1. Is the firm receiving relative value for its technology investments?
  2. How well do the firm’s IT systems, services and strategic plans align with the firm’s business strategy and direction?
  3. How is IT performing relative to its industry peers in terms of quality, efficiency, risk mitigation and other key factors?
  4. How do the firm’s IT systems and services compare to best practices in the legal industry?
  5. Does the firm have a technology infrastructure adequate to its needs?
  6. Has the firm made the right technology choices and implemented them in a manner sufficient to meet its ongoing business needs?
  7. Is IT staffed and structured appropriately for the services it provides?
  8. What tools, technologies and processes could improve lawyer and staff productivity?

The functions of most IT organizations can be divided into two main categories: infrastructure operations that “keep the lights on” and services that support practice engagement and innovation. Both of these are supported by the staffing and spending necessary to deliver the current IT services. Both these functions and their support are integral to overall IT health and service delivery. When conducting an IT assessment, it is important to fully evaluate these core areas in order to accurately develop a go-forward plan. Doing so requires a structured approach and framework to define the areas of analysis and measurement criteria.

An accurate IT assessment needs to account for:

  1. IT organization, process, data and technology, such as:
    • IT strategy and planning
    • Data center and cloud strategy
    • Infrastructure
    • Data management
    • IT service management
    • Service desk
    • DevOps
    • Audio/visual
    • End user devices
    • User experience
    • Project management
  2. User experience and innovation areas, such as:
    • Practice engagement
    • Change management
    • Knowledge management
    • Data science
  3. IT staffing and spending, such as:
    • Operations role dispersion
    • Spending metrics

Without these three investigative perspectives, a true picture of IT effectiveness, opportunities and the plan forward cannot be developed.


Comparing to Industry Best Practice

Once a firm has a clear understanding of the IT function’s current state, it can compare each of these three areas to industry best practices in order to identify gaps and the opportunities to mitigate gaps. Industry practices should be used as a guide post, not an end point. In some cases, the firm’s goals may be to exceed industry practices in some or all areas; conversely, the firm may choose not to invest in certain areas based on its needs.


Building the Roadmap

Improvement projects can then be incorporated into an IT strategic roadmap, along with other necessary operational projects. The roadmap will identify the timing, resourcing and costs for the projects and should map to the overall IT strategy. As additional requests are made to IT and new projects are needed throughout the year, the roadmap helps guide the prioritization of those projects, given IT workloads.


The Impact of an Unbiased Viewpoint

Many organizations are very focused on their current IT delivery and do not have the time, opportunity or sometimes the internal skillset to execute an assessment and benchmarking project, nor do they have access to benchmarking data beyond what is publicly available, to accurately compare to a set of peer firms. Additionally, internal resources may come with a predisposition toward the effectiveness of current technology and process. Therefore, many IT organizations partner with a legal IT strategy advisor to execute the assessment and benchmarking. Based on the advisor’s findings, it is possible to identify initiatives based on gaps and then and incorporate them into the roadmap. This process can serve as an example for future periodic assessments/reviews.

Having conducted multiple law firm IT assessments, HBR has well-defined frameworks that can streamline the process and cover all relevant areas. We can provide peer comparison and advise on best practices based on our own benchmarks and experience. If you would like more information about our approach or experience or have questions about this topic, please contact me.