In this age of big data and ubiquitous access to information, the legal industry is increasingly faced with an onslaught of emerging technologies that protect, secure, and amplify information. The most significant of these developments are in the telecommunications sphere.
The advancements to network infrastructure, mobile devices, and security measures greatly enhance a law firm’s ability to communicate with clients and each other, as well as access, deliver, and store information—all of which support efficiency and productivity.
As the pace of telecommunications advancements accelerates, firms must remain cognizant of the emerging solutions that can have a direct impact on the legal enterprise. In the next year, expect the following technologies to become key influencers in firm communication strategy:
As in recent years, cloud-based technology remains at the forefront of communication evolution in the legal industry. The storage and accessibility data through an IP network is burgeoning of necessity as attorneys turn toward tablets, smartphones, and other wireless devices to obtain access to data anywhere and anytime—whether it’s in the courtroom, on-site with clients, or while traveling.
The cloud’s most pervasive sector—in which a network connection is used to host software applications, known as Software as a Service (SaaS)—will be of particular importance as widespread adoption and security advancements continue across industry sectors. While all firms are likely using SaaS to some degree, development here is swiftly growing. Time tracking tools, CRM platforms, and web conferencing suites only touch the surface of the nearly infinite power such applications can provide to attorneys. But what many firms haven’t yet adopted are comprehensive productivity suites, such as Microsoft Office 365, which allows full desktop functionality across stationary and mobile devices. As firms turn toward this advancement, attorneys and staff can have the ability to access anything they could at their office, including files and applications, on any mobile device anywhere there is an Internet connection.
Yet the cloud’s future impact on software is not limited to SaaS applications. Perhaps even more essential to firms is the concept of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), in which a third party provider hosts digital data on its servers that are accessed through an IP network. Law firms are typically indulged with massive amounts of digital files and documents, meaning on-premise server space can be limited. Allowing a third party to store data securely not only alleviates these capacity issues, it can also save money, as maintenance and capital expenditures for new servers are transferred to a third party.
The most critical challenge as cloud adoption among firms continues will be security, as confidentiality for privileged information is paramount in the legal industry. Further, firms may require more bandwidth to support the rise in Web-dependent applications so that data can be accessed quickly and without issue.
Advanced Voice Solutions
For law firms to stay seamlessly connected, they will also need to consider the status of their current voice systems, as developments in this sphere of telecommunications can provide additional levels of cost-effective functionality and flexibility. While seemingly simple—often thought of as just putting phones on desks—advanced telephone solutions are emerging as the most cost-effective and productive means of voice communication for law firms.
For instance, traditional voice lines are routinely becoming overshadowed by the capabilities of Web-based voice services, known as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)—particularly those of hosted Private Branch Exchange (PBX) and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). These technologies transmit voice paths via the Internet externally and to multiple extensions internally allowing for cost savings, phone portability, automatic call re-routings, voice conferencing, and other unified communication measures. According to an International Legal Technology Association and InsideLegal survey, last year 30 percent of law firms surveyed purchased VoIP solutions, and another 25 percent plan to purchase VoIP solutions this year. For non-VoIP telephone upgrades, the figures are two percent and three percent, respectively.
Hosted PBX may be an ideal VoIP solution for smaller law firms, as a third-party provider hosts the PBX hardware, eliminating the need for startup costs. Hosted PBX is confined to a single location, but long as the IP network is reliable, voice quality remains consistent, costs generally drop, and all employees can access the same call features—even if working in satellite or home offices.
SIP trunking, on the other hand, utilizes an office’s on-premise PBX equipment to send voice packets sent through the Internet in the form of trunks, and is likely to become the greatest market mover in voice communication for the legal industry. It is cost-effective because it eliminates the need for additional lines to send faxes or access the Internet, and reduces long-distance charges by primarily transmitting calls through the web.
SIP also offers unlimited connectivity to multiple remote locations, which is particularly important in today’s legal landscape. As law firms increasingly become conglomerates of legal offices stretched across a region or the country, simple, direct connection with attorneys in other geographic areas is of rising importance, making the efficiency of IP voice connectivity coupled with the cost-effective balance of less hardware a viable option for maximum scalability.
Further, SIP trucking technology can be encrypted to protect the integrity of carrying messages across an IP network, preserving the integrity of sensitive data sent through the Internet.
Internet of Things and Wearables
The Internet of Things (IoT) conversation has been stirring since the early 2000s, but the technology, in which everyday objects are connected to the Internet, is just now on the verge of wide adoption. In fact, with Cisco predicting there will be 50 billion Internet connected devices by 2020, IoT could be hard to ignore among firms.
Though widespread use of IoT is still emerging, it has the potential to revolutionize the way lawyers work. While this unprecedented level of data tracking can certainly introduce a number of changes and opportunities to the actual practice of law and litigation, for firm operation efficiency, it can incite countless ways to automate an office. Whether you use IoT for smart locking devices to control levels of firm access, thermostat control, physical document tracking, IoT is likely to soon become part of everyday devices and processes.
A sister of IoT, wearable devices may also have a significant impact on the legal industry. What is used now to easily track health information or provide automated payments could soon be used to precisely monitor billing hours or perform on-demand research.
Connecting almost everything to the Web will emphasize the need for better and more pervasive Mobile Device Management solutions, which monitor data and implement controlled security measures with unprecedented inter-connectivity. With sensitive client and firm data at stake, lawyers cannot ignore the importance of making sure that any security vulnerability is detected and re-mediated.
As web-based technologies become the skeleton of the modern law firm’s communication network, scalability will become one of the most valuable factors in equipping the modern-day law firm with a seamless flow of communication. Whether a boutique firm or a larger legal enterprise, the future of your firm’s structure is always in flux regarding mergers, acquisitions, and the scale of your workforce. You may have ten attorneys and ten staff members to outfit with communication needs now, but next year, that number could easily double or triple should you acquire a new office or emphasize lateral hiring.
As such, it is essential to operate your communications network with change in mind. Today, many network circuits like Metro Ethernet or Ethernet over Fiber are easily reconfigurable to scale your connectivity as your firm’s needs dictate.
The more solutions that offer gradual and on-demand growth with minimal new hardware installation, the better equipped a firm will be to avoid disruption. Again, as digital data becomes a bigger part of your business and communication networks increasingly become more Web-dependent, ensuring you have the right amount of supporting infrastructure at the right time will keep operational costs down and productivity no matter the changing tide of your law firm.