"The need for an efficient, reliable and secure IT function is nowadays vital for any organisation in the legal sector. Their IT needs are specific to their sector and the Support function has a necessity to be able to cater for their demanding requirements.", says Ross McKay, Operation Delivery Manager at Plan-Net. With this in mind, it can be asked: do they need an IT service provider that specialises in the legal sector? Or can any provider do the job?
Why are law firms different?
First of all, it is important to understand the specialised requirements of the legal sector. Law firms are unlike many other types of organisations in terms of the demands from end users and the non-standard organisational structure.
Typical end users are high-fee earners (Lawyers/Partners) who work long, late hours and sometimes weekends, dealing with highly sensitive documentation which they might access from different (and sometimes personal) devices. Because of this, they need highly efficient data access 24x7x365 with minimal downtime, as well as a high level of data security. Mobility (home working) or BYOD support might also be necessary as end users often need to work from their smart phones, tablet computers, iPads and personal laptops, as well as their home PCs.
As for a law firm's structure, this can vary considerably. This could include a main office in the UK with satellite offices or partners around the world, in different time zones. This is becoming more and more popular as the legal sector expands towards Eastern countries. Otherwise, it could consist of a network of partners across the UK linked to a central office – possibly hundreds of professionals who work from various locations or only collaborate intermittently with the organisation. These complex structures need a more flexible, scalable and secure IT system than other more common ones with only one building from which all end users work.
Supporting a law firm
There are various IT solutions to support legal firms, which depend on the size, structure and specific needs of each organisation. The main issue is supporting lawyers/partners, who often work beyond their normal working hours or are based in a different time zone, at any time of day or night.
More common structures use an internal IT service with support staff working on a night rota, taking calls from their home. Other structures require more complex models.
Global law firms might have an IT department (or trained Secretaries) in every office or country, and use a 'follow the sun' model for their out-of-hours support. But they might find that a central IT department based in only one location, which acts remotely to support all satellite offices, is more financially convenient and better suited to their needs, than having a Service Desk for each office - especially for 1st line support or, in any case, for operations which can be performed remotely. However, to support different countries means having to work with different time zones, so the IT Service Desk needs to be staffed on a 24x7x365 basis to be able to cope with these demands.
An alternative model which could work for UK-based organisations (with or without satellite offices or partners abroad) is having an in-house IT Support function for normal office hours, managed internally or by a service provider, but using a shared service desk for the out-of-hour calls and peak service times. The shared service will also be available for when overseas offices in other time zones require support. Sharing IT support with other law firms, as long as the number is contained and the participating organisations are similar to each other, also means sharing costs. Hence it could be a very cost-effective solution to have total coverage.
A shared service centre can also be a good solution for smaller law firms who cannot afford high levels of skills and would like a more economical, yet still highly efficient IT service, sharing costs as well as skills with other similar organisations.
Big fish or small fish?
When choosing their support provider, law firms might go for well-known global organisations with a wide-ranging client base. The supposed benefit is that they have a lot of experience, in several different environments as well as an overall good general knowledge of all sectors.
This solution might be suitable for some law firms for which IT does not have a strategic function. For others, a general knowledge of all sectors might not be enough. For a strategic approach to IT, where it is used to create value and is not only a business supporter but an enabler, it is necessary that the provider has a good understanding of the market they will be dealing in.
Great customer service is essential when dealing with users in the legal sector. While larger service providers may rely on their name to generate new business and care more about "sealing the deal" than making a good impression on new clients, this is not the approach for the smaller, niche firms. The latter strive to deliver great customer care as it is their work and not their name that wins clients over.
Skills and Flexibility
A smaller, niche support provider has important skills available to suit a law firms' needs. Having had experience specifically in the legal sector, it is able to fully understand the needs of their organisation and compare them to other firms that are similar to them, putting forward some 'tried and tested' ways to improve their IT service.
They can also provide more flexibility in the service they offer. As what they offer is not standardised but bespoke, it can change with the organisation as needs arise, without charging more for every little change. Larger service providers tend to sell standardised models which can be quite inflexible, where they can only include a certain number of calls and charge for anything extra as well as any change to the model. In particularly busy periods the charge for the extra tickets can be very expensive. The same is true in case of a business restructure or merger which involves a change to the IT support model.
Do you need a specialist?
Overall, the choice of service provider depends on how the strategy for IT is set out for the law firm - whether they just need a cheap generic service or they see IT as a potential valued add-in which can help their business become even more successful. A generic service provider does not necessarily lack knowledge of the legal sector. However, a legal specialist is a safe choice for those in need of a service which is already legal-proof and has a strong track record in dealing with a number of organisations successfully.
P.S- We are attending British Legal Technology Forum taking place on the 12th March 2019 at the Old Billingsgate London and would love to speak to you during the event. Click here for more details.