Legal Business Blogs

Comment: Bespoke, mobile and plugged in: CMS’s Duncan Weston on the tech tools clients will demand

Against a backdrop of a fast-changing technology environment; value-conscious clients, rising rents, and the need to provide meaningful alternative fee arrangements, law firms are being challenged to deliver innovative services and efficiencies like never before.

Embracing new technologies, LPOs and alternative business structures just goes with the territory.

Allocating work more efficiently is not just about reducing costs, it is a crucial way of maintaining client relationships during the early stages of representation. The role of legal process outsourcing and alternative business structures in this process is essential, having developed quickly over the past ten years to play a central role in law firms’ offerings.

It is not just about law firms adopting a sensible approach to the pricing of routine work. Today’s delivery model should be about delivering a high-quality service to clients in a more efficient way across the board.

But talk to any major technology provider and it is clear that the legal sector lags behind most business sectors when it comes to a willingness to invest in game-changing tech.

While most law firms recognise the need to move into a new IT era, the expense and change of mindset required to develop radical technology strategies means many top players still stop short of transformational change. Many firms’ technological aspirations have historically been restricted by their resources. Technologies are often incompatible between different departments, with upgrades made within the constraints of the firms’ existing IT infrastructure. This increases the cost of investment as new technologies outpace law firms’ abilities to use them without comprehensive structural upgrades.

Many law firms have been resistant to new technology, and are particularly lagging when it comes to the implementation of mobile and cloud services. Concerns over security explain some of this, but a propensity for firms to look towards other law firms for IT best practice as opposed to more progressive sectors is a decisive factor.

Two years ago we undertook a comprehensive review of our technological requirements to allow fee-earners and staff the ability to engage collaboratively and be more mobile. We felt we needed to embark upon a major step change relative to our peers; we wanted to move beyond the limits of a fixed desk and office hours mentality and allow our fee-earners to access all our business applications across multiple devices, 24/7. Our goal was to raise the quality and speed of client communication.

Our move into a new London HQ this summer was the catalyst for our implementation of new technologies, allowing us to reduce our space requirements by 30% yet increase fee-earner numbers by 20%.

All fee-earners have been issued with one of the most advanced laptops available, which can function as a touch screen and an app-based tablet device. They also have the latest mobile phone devices, enabling the provision of voice and video calls, web meetings, instant messaging, facilitating communication internally and externally.

The new office is all open-plan with fee-earners grouped according to practices and our core sectors. Having the space and flexibility to provide clients with exceptional service combined with the introduction of the most powerful, innovative technology available is having a major impact upon the way we work.

By embracing a hi-tech mobile working culture, our fee earners have all the tools they need to advise our clients instantly, anywhere in the world they happen to be. And by combining our new technology with an open-plan environment for all staff we are able to share knowledge and ideas with colleagues and devise more creative, innovative ways of servicing our clients.

This Generation Y mindset is helping to drive efficiencies across the firm as staff see the technological sophistication and flexibility they usually experience in their personal lives, reflected in the workplace.

IT now impacts upon and is transforming every facet of law firm activity from re-constituting the way legal processes are managed, developed and the level at which they are billed; enhancing and developing client relationships; enabling lawyers to advise a client anywhere and at any time and, ultimately, allowing firms to create bespoke systems to make them stand out in the eyes of clients.

As the development of new services and products continues apace, only those firms that are committed to true innovation and investment in new technology will gain what will be an increasingly powerful competitive advantage.

Duncan Weston is managing partner at CMS Cameron McKenna.