Professional services firms face an uncertain future in 2017. Many predictions for the legal sector in 2016 proved inaccurate. Some widely forecast changes did not happen as expected. A high level of competition from entirely new ‘Tesco law’ legal services firms competing on a platform of agile technology has perhaps not materialised, whereas the threat from accountancy-based firms remains very present.
At the same time, continuing M&A activity is leading to consolidation in the sector, which is challenging many professional services firms. Innovative technology, from data analytics to enhanced time recording facilities, helped some law firms improve productivity and efficiency to compete in a fast-changing marketplace, but many continued to struggle with issues such as IT security and email management.
Getting ahead of the pack
Most forward-thinking law firms have begun seeing real efficiencies from technology but for many, there is still a way to go. Legal software and solutions need to work just as seamlessly on mobile devices, from tablets to smartphones, as they do in the office. Cloud computing offers anytime, anywhere access from mobile devices to the firm’s data and systems but many firms are still at the beginning of the process of making this a reality. Here are the top three actions that will need to be addressed if law firms are to reap the full benefits of technology in 2017:
1. Take cloud computing to the next level.
Cloud computing offers undeniable benefits, ranging from 24/7 access to company information from all locations, through to controlling the IT support and security overhead. In recognition of this, law firms have started to shift a number of solutions, such as email archiving, to the cloud but technology issues around system integration and contractual issues affecting how and where client data is stored have stalled progress towards greater use of cloud technology.
These are all issues that may be addressed in future, even if that means waiting for the next round of contracts, and it is important to continue to plan for cloud computing. It is a good idea to tap into specialist law sector cloud computing suppliers’ knowledge and experience. It is likely that you will need to ask them difficult questions about how exactly they store data and deliver services.
2. Make mobile work for you.
The new generation of lawyers use their smartphones and tablets almost constantly to keep in touch with people, share images and video and carry out tasks, from making payments to ordering their weekly shop. They will expect the same functionality when it comes to work tasks. Business processes that are restricted to desktop computers at work are increasingly feeling very old school. Firms looking to attract hotshot young lawyers will need to do a lot better than that. This is a real challenge for some firms but it is one that must be addressed.
A good starting point is to do a thorough audit of all the firm’s technology systems and how they work together, accompanied by a clear view of all the data that is held in the firm and where it is. That might well include data that is held by individual lawyers. Only then can work begin to centralise access to data and provide integrated solutions that operate across a wide range of mobile solutions. It is no longer acceptable to specify only Microsoft solutions. Many people use iPhones and iPads and in fact, Microsoft has become one of the major developers for the Apple operating system. Similarly, law firms that fairly recently decided to go for native apps may want to rethink. Even within the past couple of years, multinationals and major social media platforms have switched allegiance from native apps to HTML5 on account of its flexibility and high performance.
3. Review your data security.
Most professional services firms are still wide open to risks resulting from international working and a reliance on professionalism and trust when it comes to the security of the firm’s systems and data. These may be addressed as part of the review of security all law firms should be carrying out in response to the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), which come into effect this year and carry hefty penalties for data breaches. The GDPR focus on compliance by design, in other words embedding compliance into business processes. Many firms will need to work on ensuring these processes adequately protect privacy too, and this is a good opportunity to address all risks.
Smashing the crystal ball
Following a year when the UK voted to leave the EU and Donald Trump was elected president of the US, against all predictions and polls, punditry has earned itself a bad name. However, it is key to keep on looking to the future and considering how best to develop the business and keep abreast of technology changes to stay ahead of rivals.
Crispin Passmore, executive director for policy at the Solicitors Regulation Authority, says: “IT has a lot of power to drive innovation, competition and growth. The firms we regulate are increasingly using technology to inspire and support new ideas and ways of working.”
He adds: “The legal services market is ever changing and firms need to adapt in order to meet demand and grow their business. Using and adapting new and best practice from cutting-edge IT is a clear way of taking advantage of technology while innovating for the good of clients.”
Firms that make the best use of technology to attract and retain the best lawyers and provide the highest service levels are those most likely to succeed in the turbulent times of 2017.
About the author
Simon Elven (pictured above) is commercial and marketing director and a founding member of Tikit. He has been influential in the development of the company during the past 19 years. Previously, he was the director of professional services at Tikit and brings a vast knowledge of CRM, business development, project and document management to the marketing function.
For interesting legal tech insights, follow Simon:
LinkedIn: Simon Elven