Legal IT: A Fine Balancing Act

When Eliza Hedegaard asked me to guest post on Mimecast’s blog, it didn’t take me long to find a topic. You see, from my perspective the Legal IT sector is once again at a pivotal point in its evolution, which is exactly why I’m currently at the Strategic Technology Forum 2013 in Italy. It’s the right time for leaders in the legal IT sector to share their experiences and vision of how our sector is changing. I’m lucky enough to have been invited to speak a couple of times tomorrow about my experiences with Osborne Clarke but thought it would be useful to provide a short preview of my thinking as the event kicks off today.

As you’d expect, like any business, Osborne Clarke is affected by macro-trends like BYOD and social media. But for me another force is equally as potent in driving this change – increasing client expectations.

In recent years, the margins of success and failure have become even finer meaning we’re constantly looking for that extra degree of responsiveness or productivity that can give us the advantage.

The old adage time is money has never been more front of mind – and our role in legal IT is to strike the fine balance between enabling users to take advantage of new technology services while still satisfying compliance-related requirements such as eDiscovery.

How fine is that balance? Well, it could be a matter of minutes. For example, if an eDiscovery system is easy to use – taking the searcher minutes rather than hours or days - it is convenient. But, considering this ease-of-use means the system can then be rolled out to individuals to run searches themselves, the right choice of system can have a significant impact on productivity and free up a huge chunk of time for the IT team to focus on where the firm can benefit most: adding strategic value.

As an international, full service law firm we like to think we strike that balance pretty well. For example, we were early to recognize that moving away from a bespoke IT architecture to a SaaS approach would save us money and give us the time back we needed to deliver what the business now considers to be most valuable.

But even in our position I feel both cautious and optimistic about the challenges ahead.

Finding the right balance in the legal sector is different to most, for example if emails aren’t captured at the gateway, you won’t have the crucial evidence on dates of transmission or receipt which could mean the difference between winning and losing an important case or dispute.

Successfully driving an IT strategy is built on a combination of long-sighted thinking around the way in which legal firms are growing and hard-won experience of what works for our sector (like my example above).

And even though we’re facing the same trio of unstoppable forces as most IT departments (downward cost pressure; increasing complexity of data and rapidly rising user expectations), I believe if the right strategic decisions are made, we can reinvent how the IT team integrates within the firm and elevate the value that we bring.

Personally, it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.

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