Same-same, but rather different?

I’ve just spent three days in the company of the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association membership at their recent summit in Melbourne.

It’s a group that I spent much time with when I first moved to Australia and, as a totally new Pommy-personage on the block, they patiently included me in their group and made me feel welcomed and part of the legal community.

Attending this year, after a hiatus from me of nearly half a decade, I was struck by a completely different vibe to the event. Firstly, the attendance had doubled. ALPMA has a strong membership of managers from small to mid-size law firms who have an interest in helping their law firms meet the changing dynamics of this sector. What I saw from this event is that the majority firms are not sitting on their laurels. They are keen to develop practical ways to educate their partnerships to adapt and survive the changed market conditions. At the very least, they’re keen to hear what they’re facing so that informed choices are being made, even if that choice is ‘do nothing because we’ll be out of it in five years time’.

It was the shift in the sponsoring vendors that struck me. It wasn’t that the event was wall to wall robotics and artificial intelligence providers, promising automation and cost reduction. Not that. Not yet. Yes, there were classic technologies like practice and document management systems, but the big difference for me was that this time a significant number of the solutions were being offered as hosted or in the cloud. Even if you’ve got a heap of on-premise solutions grinding away in a server room, there was a heap of people offering to host and run all your systems for your firm.

One can see it makes sense. The majority of technology that we use personally now, is off in some server farm bobbing around on an ocean or tucked away in a hollowed out mountain. We don’t give it a moment’s thought. Sure, it’s our responsibility to take sensible steps about keeping our security stuff up to date, passwords tight etc, but that’s pretty much it. And now it’s obvious that it’s firmly with us in the commercial world.

The exhibitors floor was chock-a-block with providers offering to lift the day-to-day service load of running your IT systems from you and remove the relentless pressure of updates and securing your data. More than that, there were mission critical applications like practice and document management systems available a cloud based services. The sense was not whether hosting/cloud was an option but more of an inevitable direction.

Law firms have always had a reputation for conservatism, extending to their adoption of technology. But they’re not daft and, as services from the cloud become more established, the reasons to feed/water/tend machines and software start to reduce. Not everything is going to swap over today but it’s clear that we’re well on the journey now. The wider ALPMA conference tone reflected this sense of change underway. We are really living in interesting times.

By Andrea Foot, General Manager at Tikit Australia

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