As a partner at a small new law firm focused on family law, there are many priorities on my to-do list. The most important is providing top-notch legal advice and services to my clients. But on top of that, there are other challenges related to managing and growing a new business—accounting and payroll, human resources, managing vendors, and, of course, marketing and business development activities so that our firm grows.
Given all these priorities, it would have been easy for me and my partners to put our firm’s IT strategy at the bottom of our priority list, and have our firm just adopt “basic” technologies that would allow us to “get by.” However, given my experiences at a large law firm, where I saw the use of new cloud and other digital technologies enhance the productivity and agility of the firm’s lawyers, as well as help them cut costs, we took the opposite approach.
We prioritized the identification and deployment of digital technologies that can help us be more efficient and agile, while also reducing our IT administrative expenses. In doing so, we followed three basic principles regarding this transformation that I picked up from my experience using technology at my old firm—consider the cloud, maximize mobility, and search for smart simplicity. This approach has helped make our digital transformation initiative a success with technology that makes our jobs easier, reduces our costs, and enables us to deliver better services and work to our clients.
Consider the Cloud
Cloud solutions can deliver considerable cost savings because there is no need for you to purchase your own computer servers, data storage or other on-premises hardware to run the applications, or store your data or hire IT staff to maintain on-premises hardware. In addition, you can usually just pay for the seats or storage that you need—reducing your up-front investment, a particularly important consideration for small firms. Cloud solutions are also often more reliable since cloud service providers can support a lot more redundancy and expert, on-site support for their infrastructure than most small or medium-sized law firms can. As long as your Internet works and your laptops, tablets, and other endpoints are functioning, cloud downtime is minimal, and when it does happen, it is usually scheduled with plenty of warning beforehand at a time outside of regular business hours.
Cloud solutions can also help you make your firm more agile—for example, the cloud version of our document and email management system, iManage Cloud, does not require any dedicated on-premises servers or storage. Cloud solutions are also easier to administer, requiring little time from you or your IT services providers. With the cloud, if you add new employees or clients, you do not need to increase your on-premises computing power or data storage. Instead, you can easily scale up by purchasing more seats or other services from your cloud provider. In addition, if you move, you do not need to move any on-premises hardware with you.
One thing that has kept many law firms from embracing the cloud is that they are worried it might represent a security risk since their data is not physically present in the office. However, the cloud is normally more secure than on-premises solutions. For example, security patches and other updates are made automatically by the cloud provider—updates that can often be forgotten or delayed when handled in-house.
Still, as with any technology, do your security due diligence. To ensure that your cloud solution is secure, confirm that it employs stringent round-the-clock monitoring tools, and complies with audit, data privacy and security standards including ISO 27001 Security Standard, HIPAA, and EU Data Privacy obligations. In addition, make sure your data is encrypted at rest and in transit. As long as you do your due diligence on security (as you should do for any technology) you’ll see how cloud-based solutions are often more secure than an on-premises solution.
Today, mobility is not a luxury, but a necessity. In fact, in many ways, mobility is even more important for lawyers than workers in other industries—we need access to our applications whether we are in the office, at our client’s office or home, in mediation, or in court. This is why I recommend that you make sure to adopt technologies and software that allow you to use your applications wherever you are, on whatever device you are using—be it a desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. However, do not just settle for access—make sure your employees’ mobile experience is consistent with their other user experiences. If the mobile experience is not consistent across phones, tablets, and desktops, your employees will not use the solution or will require more training, and they will be less productive and satisfied.
Mobility has been particularly useful for my firm when we take tablets with us to the courtroom or mediation. I have been at mediations where I needed immediate access to certain documents to complete a mediated agreement that day, and I was able to use my tablet and review those documents. Previously, we might not have had the document, or had to bring boxes of files to mediation, and then search through these if we needed to find a document.
Search for Smart Simplicity
In the past, no one expected office technology to be simple—we expected a lot of training, with a steep learning curve in finding out how to use the application, and, even after all that, still deal with complicated interfaces that made it hard to get things done. Yet, the development of consumer applications like Google, Facebook, and Amazon have shown that user interfaces can be intuitive and simple, requiring little training while delivering a pleasant experience.
Business applications are now catching up, and you should look for applications that deliver a “consumer-grade” intuitive interface like Facebook and Amazon, while also using AI and other digital technologies to offer “smart” professional-grade features that improve your productivity. This is especially important for younger, more digitally savvy lawyers, who, having grown up using consumer-grade applications, have very high expectations when it comes to the software applications they use. If you do not offer them smart, intuitive applications, they will often fail to use them, or turn to outside alternatives that might not be as secure as what you offer.
In addition, applications with smart features can often anticipate your needs—like Amazon does when it suggests another purchase to complement a product you just added to your cart—helping make you more efficient. One other thing to look for when it comes to smart simplicity is collaboration. Part of being smart is offering features that enable your employees to easily (yet securely) work together, just like consumer applications, such as Google Docs, enable people to work together to create and edit content.
Digitally Transform the Way You Work
Big Law firms are increasingly embracing digital transformation—but that does not mean that small firms can’t also use new digital technologies to improve the way they work. In fact, by reducing your expenses and increasing your lawyers’ productivity and agility, digital transformation can help smaller firms punch above their weight when it comes to competing with larger firms. It might force you out of your comfort zone, but by following the three tips above in your digital transformation initiatives—consider the cloud, maximize mobility, and search for smart simplicity—your small law firm can use new digital technologies to transform itself in ways that allow you to deliver better work to your clients, faster, while lowering your firm’s expenses.