With the seasonal inevitability of mince pies and tinsel, forecasts for the technology landscape in 2016 are flooding in and over the next few days we will bring you some of the best of them (in between eating mince pies and putting up tinsel.)
First up, with some great supporting observations from clients and leading figures in the industry, cloud services supplier Converge Technology Specialists and electronic document bundling provider Zylpha predict that cybersecurity, agility and digitisation of the courts will be the top IT concerns for law firms in 2016 as IT increasingly becomes a ‘proactive function’.
Agility will become increasingly important as location becomes less important. Clients are demanding that law firms are able to provide them with access to legal services anytime, anywhere. As firms seek to boost profits and meet client demands, more will move to agile working to enable them to work at client sites, work from remote locations at times to suit clients and also to optimise fee-earners’ downtime when travelling or out of the office.
“Many clients don’t particularly need to see their lawyer very often, and remote accessibility is becoming as important as a physical presence,” says Andy Reilly, IT director at Genus Law. Stacey Parkin, Operations Manager at Poole Alcock agrees: “We introduced hot-desking and remote working to streamline staff costs and offer employees greater flexibility about how and where they work. Clients have seen a difference, as staff now have better access to emails and case management systems, which are accessible from mobile devices.”
Matthew Claughton, Managing Director of criminal defence firm Olliers, sees the cuts to Legal Aid opening up opportunities for criminal defence firms who can “stay ahead of the game and find new and innovative ways of working. Working remotely, in an agile manner, with a single back office is an exciting way of delivering the service.”
Increased digitisation and the growth of online services. Firms expect to see further improvements in processes and accessibility to case management files with more systems becoming electronic and digital in 2016. Again client expectation will drive this efficiency as they demand access to services outside of regular working hours, whether for a case update, to view documents, or to be able to work remotely themselves.
The government’s £700m investment announced in the Autumn Statement in November will modernise the courts and justice system. Law firms will need to ensure they have the right technology in place to be able to operate in the new world, although questions remain about whether it is the courts or firms that will be ‘catching up’ in the brave new world.
The South London Legal Partnership has this year successfully launched digital court hearings with the elimination of paper bundles in the West London Family Court. “We have been able to pilot an easy to use solution that everyone is behind and which doesn’t require vast amounts of technology or training to get it to work smoothly,” says its Legal Practice Manager Paul Phelan. Seventy cases have so far been heard and the pilot is now being shared with other local authorities so that they can adopt digital courtrooms.
David Aird, IT Director at DAC Beachcroft, says a challenge in 2016 will be balancing how to be ‘always on’ with clients. Andy Reilly from Genus Law agreed, saying: “For everything other than legal services, our clients are used to being serviced over the internet, and so we are looking to products to help this transition.” Other firms echoed this, predicting that the next generation of solicitors will demand change within their organisations as their careers progress and as popular technology advances further outside the workplace.
Firms re-examine risk as cybersecurity takes centre stage. Securing data and systems from cybercrime will be a major issue for law firms in 2016. High profile cybercrimes in 2015 highlighted that no business is safe. Law firms hold a huge amount of client data and they are obliged to protect this by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) and the Information Commissioner’s Office. As the SRA continues to flag various scams, firms must tighten up security or face fines and loss of reputation. Having a good disaster recovery plan in place will be key to protecting data and securing systems but it will also provide a competitive advantage. Poole Alcock has prioritised this and says: “Panels are asking for evidence of disaster recovery in place. We have this and it’s a proven advantage over competitors.”
Technology linked to ROI with IT becoming a ‘proactive function’. Continuous innovation will be demanded but only where there is demonstrable return on investment (ROI). Robert Hastie, Finance Director at Total Conveyancing Services, says: “Any ICT solution must bring benefit to the business as a whole and deliver more streamlined and speedier process but without reducing the quality of work and the service we deliver…technology has to evolve with your business.”
Firms also see IT becoming a proactive function, which will be integrated across legal teams and other service delivery functions. Paul Harker, Head of IT at Anthony Collins, says: “More firms will be trying to be lean and adopt formal processes to achieve this, further driving greater efficiencies and differentiating themselves from competition.”
Zylpha’s Head of Marketing David Chapman says: “2016 could herald a marked departure in the status quo of IT. As firms begin to grasp the opportunities afforded to them by getting IT right and digitising processes, a new window may be opened to greater efficiency, opportunity and profitability.”
Converge TS’s Technical Director Andrew Taylor says: “2016 will be a definitive year for law firm technology. The move to agility will be spurned by client demands, improvements to IT security will be far greater as firms seek to offer enhanced data security to win more contracts, and the move to ‘IT as a service’ will signal a change in the future IT team with many viewing it as an operational cost rather than capital expenditure. ‘Paying per user’ could become a more cost effective way of running technology as firms look to scale it up or down in line with business strategy and objectives.”
A joint report from Converge TS and Zylpha called ‘Legal Landscape 2016’, which looks at the issues affecting law firms’ IT and case management experience, will be published in January 2016.