A Change is Gonna Come…

We've all heard that 'change is a constant' but like King Canute in ancient English history, it’s tempting to want to hold back the waters of change and cling on to the old way of doing things for just a little bit longer. To eek out just a few more dollars from our business doing it the way we’ve always done it.

But the change is coming. How deep are you going to let the water get before you join in?

Here at ILTA 2013 there has been a lot of discussion about how technology, and the cloud in particular is forcing legal firms to reconsider their approach to doing business. It’s a challenge to those partners in law firms who, like Canute, are trying their best to hold back the tide of change. Unwilling to look at their technology as a potential to transform the running of their business, and the quality and nature of their client services.

In my experience, meeting a number of attendees here now the last couple of days, there’s no shortage of innovative thinking and inspiring ideas for how technology can have a profoundly positive affect both on how law firms are run and how they serve the changing needs of their clients. But the question seems to come down to how open the senior leadership of these firms are to listening and acting on these ideas. These guys hold the purse strings after all.

Mimecast has the privilege of working with many law firms around the world who are tackling the challenges and opportunities of new technologies including the cloud every day. We see some great change and innovation on a day to day basis. We like to think that we’re playing our part in showing how our technology can play a part in positively transforming their businesses for future readiness too.

On Wednesday I attended a workshop exploring tech trends already impacting legal firms today. I was struck in the conversation that there is plenty of room left for law firms to embrace what most would consider are now mainstream technologies. Lots of talk about the transformative impact of HD quality video conferencing over the web and IM/presence services in freeing up lawyers from the burden of travel to client meetings and reducing the cost of these sessions with the client too. Both popular outcomes.

There was also plenty of talk about how big data (wouldn't be a conference without at least one reference to this) means lawyers and customers have access to ever growing volumes of historical data to make informed decisions. And that the widespread availability of this reduces the time and energy it takes to source evidence to support a decision. The sense being this can be a positive thing - reduce the time it takes to help a client and a counter view that this will transform the historical billing model for law firms. Depending on your perspective that’s an opportunity or a worrying development.

But clearly video is hardly a new technology. Same with the discussion about voice recognition or dictation software. Both of these have been available for many years. But the point is that they are now mainstream and high quality. Cheap and even free in some cases, while commonly used by many people in their everyday home and work lives. Bringing them into the legal practice is an obvious thing to do that lawyers and importantly, their clients are now open to.

Then there is the question of expectations from a whole new generation of lawyers. The Gen Y'ers who’ve been bought up to expect open access to the Internet, at home and at work are using it (and cloud services) throughout their day to day lives. It’s natural that they will challenge the status quo - find places where these technologies can mean more efficiency, improved billing and client service. If they can work and win more cases and bill more, they are going to progress quickly. Potentially bringing them into conflict with the Canutes 'upstairs' of course.

There also seemed to be a lot of openness to bringing new technology into their practices. Even looking at how to outsource to specialist service providers like Mimecast, technology viewed as outside the core competency of the firm.

But for all the enthusiastic talk of powerful uses of technology in the end-user productivity or client service area, I kept coming back to the simple truth that profound benefits particularly in the cloud come in the area of infrastructure. The case is more compelling than ever to transition infrastructure to the cloud for example. A case of improved efficiency, cost, ROI, security and reduced complexity that appeals not just to the technologists wanting to free up time and resources to tackle bigger challenges, but to the Canutes with the purse strings - they already spend a great deal on technology they may not understand so here is a way to take some of that pain away.

A quick walk of the exhibition hall here at ILTA confirms this. Many of our fellow exhibitors are showing just these kinds of tools and services designed to make the business of running a legal practice easier, faster and cheaper. From cloud based secure email, archiving and file sharing in our case to billing systems; case management and collaboration.

So while we all get distracted from time to time by the bright shiny boxes - take a moment to look again at the technology that runs the business. Innovate here first and free up the time and resources to make all the other things possible.  And for the same IT budget potentially.

So I guess the real question comes down to this - how well can you swim?