IT in the Legal Sector
Digital leaders in two law firms give their verdicts
The other wholly contemporary, established less than 20 years ago and the very model of a modern, distributed enterprise.
Yet the two London legal firms have more in common than you might think. Both are at the very top of their industry. Both employ some of the best legal minds in the business. Both boast long lists of blue-chip clients. And both have won recognition and awards for their work and their people.
Another thing they have in common is their IT supplier. After carefully evaluating the market both have chosen Gamma and its state-of-the-art communications services for their respective companies.
On the face of it Farrer & Co and Keystone Law are chalk and cheese. One a very traditional practice steeped in more than 300 years of history and heritage.
Keystone Law was founded in 2002. Created by a group of pioneering lawyers keen to offer the market something different, it adopted new technology and working practices as a way of driving productivity and delivering results. It has no lawyers based permanently at its Chancery Lane head office. Instead its team of more than 280 lawyers, all partner-level, work remotely.
Maurice Tunney (MT) is Keystone Law’s IT director.
Ethernet Data Network, Horizon Hosted Telephony and Inbound call management
Farrer and Co
The respected independent firm of Farrer and Co has its headquarters at Lincolns Inn Fields. Founded in 1701, it employs some 400 people and has advised entrepreneurs, statesmen, literary figures, aristocrats and royalty on their personal and business affairs, as well as representing businesses, charities and other organisations in the UK and internationally.
Andy Beech (AB) is head of IT systems at Farrer and Co.
Ethernet Data Network, SIP Telephony and Inbound call management
“Without a doubt security. Legal firms depend so much on the trust and confidentiality that exists between lawyer and client. It’s up to IT to ensure that all possible measures are in place to protect that. There’s a saying in IT circles that there are two types of business – those that have suffered a breach, and those that don’t know it yet. There are a lot of bad actors out there and so many different ways they can try to breach security. As well as security there’s keeping up with the pace of development of new products, the constant stream of software updates and which to apply and not apply, training of staff and keeping them informed.”
“I agree. Security has to be first. There’s an ever-increasing number of threats to the data that law firms hold, process and manage. Without adequate security, policy, process, awareness and procedures to support these measures, law firms can be at risk of a significant breach and its harmful consequences. Then the cloud and SaaS, the movement of systems and services from traditional data centres to public cloud and ultimately SaaS. This will take some time as many of the legal systems providers are not ready for this model. Although it is becoming more acceptable to law firms, there is still some reticence about taking the plunge.
“Flexible working. More of us want to be able to do whatever we need, whenever and wherever we choose. To enable this, we need a reliable and consistent delivery method that respects information security and convenience. After this come robotics and AI, both gaining traction, but we’re a little way from losing our jobs to the machines yet. Then client engagement – using technology to attract and engage with prospects and clients, getting our brand known, ensuring growth and retention.”
What IT issues are at the top of the legal sector agenda right now?
“In our case the structure of our business – everyone bar a few central office people is fully engaged with remote working. That and a complete lack of traditional hierarchy is very different. It certainly helps attract a better quality of talent, people who don’t necessarily want to work in central London. But I don’t think it would work for every kind of business.”
“We are a traditional firm trading for more than 300 years in what is seen as a very traditional industry. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to be perceived as go-ahead, forwardthinking, innovative and disruptive as far as technology goes.
“In this industry the client is king which means everything we do is entirely focused on servicing their needs in the best way that we can. Also, in this business we find peer organisations are generally happy to share thoughts, war stories and best practice – while being discreet of course – which is something that doesn’t happen in every sector.”
What aspects of the legal sector set it apart from others?
“For us it’s absolutely essential. Our whole way of remote working is built around IT and it is what enables our central office to operate as efficiently as possible. There may still be a few firms out there that are happy with what they have and don’t see the need to change, but equally there are progressive law firms that are starting their own IT consulting arms and that’s a measure of IT’s importance to the business.”
“It’s very important and incredibly necessary in today’s business world. The key point is to make sure it is seen as an enabler by our users and not an obstacle to getting the job done, or some kind of chore.”
How important is IT overall to legal firms?
“Once you have established trust and you know what you’re getting and who you are dealing with, then the actual means of communication and execution don’t matter. As in most things, it’s all about relationship building.”
“Perhaps this is a bit different for a long-established, traditional business like ours. I think I’d have to say slowly. I think also it depends upon the nature of the business being conducted as to the appropriateness of electronic communications over personal. I’m sure our clients would feel the same.”
How is IT replacing the handshake and the signature?
"Security has to be first. There’s an ever-increasing number of threats to the data that law firms hold, process and manage." - Andy Beech, Farrer & Co.
“We have a very strong securityfirst culture here. We make sure our team remains fully up to speed with developments in security technology and practice. New starters are required to attend security training upon induction, followed by regular refresher courses.
“IT security also forms part of the standard CPD (Continuing Professional Development) programme that all our people are required to follow, and security is on the agenda every six months when most lawyers, regardless of location, attend one of our whole firm meetings.”
“This has to be tackled in a number of different ways. We do of course have technical measures in place, but it’s also about an approach to how we design and implement services, all of which have security front and centre. The firm has a strong culture of confidentiality and discretion, all staff receive training and we routinely run exercises to ensure standards are maintained.”
How is client confidentiality assured?
“Because of the way we work we find clients and lawyers tend to stick together and they will always find the best way to deal with each other. Direct contact is always good, yes, but people are equally happy to work by electronic means.
“For certain types of client or work, yes. But for others this isn’t so much of a problem. Our lawyers do travel the globe where appropriate or necessary, but we still talk a lot by phone and email.
I think that the key point is to make sure IT is seen as an enabler by our users and not an obstacle to getting the job done or some kind of a chore.”
Surely face-to-face is still the most critical interaction medium?
“Trust is a massive factor and here the legal profession is really not that much different to other professional services businesses like architects or accountants. We go to great lengths to ensure security and confidentiality and that helps reinforce trust.”
“By demonstrating that sensible measures have been implemented to protect against as many points of failure or vulnerability as possible. Some of our clients’ expectations are considerable in this regard, but by working with them we can generally reassure them that the solution is solid.”
But how do you build client trust into electronic transactions?
“We look for vendors that know our market and our business, someone we can strike up a rapport with. We also look for good pricing and efficiency – the ability and the energy to meet our business deadlines. I also need to believe in a vendor company. They need to be dynamic and enthused and have a clear path for the future.
Our whole way of remote working is built around IT and it is what enables our central office to operate as efficiently as possible.”
“Honesty: know what you’re good at but admit it when you’re outside your area of expertise. Fairness: we’re both in the relationship to gain something; be sensible with pricing and quality of service. Longevity: take time to learn about our firm and what we’re about; engage with us when you have something that could be interesting to us, not just because you have a new sales target to meet.
What three things do you look for most in an IT vendor?
“The Law Society is our professional body. And while very traditional in nature they are getting more dynamic. They don’t specify any particular products or systems but they do lay down some rules about IT that affect how we work.”
“To a degree, yes. We have to consider the issue of data sovereignty, for example, so for any cloud solution we need to understand where data will reside and where it will be processed.”
Do professional bodies and standards affect your choice of IT?
“They’ve had an impact on the data protection side of things like with the safety of data and where it can be held. We can for example keep data in the EU and UK but not in the US. GDPR in particular has caused us a lot of work. Lawyers are by nature hoarders – they always keep things in case they might be needed again. Now suddenly that’s not so easy any more. We’ve invested a lot of time and effort on only keeping what we are allowed to keep. That’s where our document management system comes in. It’s very secure, and encrypted and there’s an impetus to get our lawyers to use it. It’s effectively our crown jewels.”
“I’m sure there’s a different perception of impact from those at the coalface than from my own personal experience. The only things to have caused any significant work for my own team relate to the Jackson Reforms and our good friend, GDPR. The requirement and effect has generally been the refinement of existing systems and processes. Mostly this has entailed sensible changes that reinforce what we are already doing.”
What bearing have industry rules had on IT systems?