Hodge Jones & Allen LLP (
Plan-Net solutions & services
Senior Partner at HJA, Patrick Allen recognised that the firm needed a specialist IT function and in 1994 recruited a IT manager who stayed with the firm for nearly 20 years.
The firm was then faced with another decision, to continue with the existing model or to try something new. They made the decision to outsource IT to Plan-Net.
Patrick explains the rationale. “When reviewing our options, we felt that with IT being the backbone to our firm, it was too risky to put ‘all our eggs in one basket’. If we got it wrong, we’d be vulnerable to one individual IT Manager that could cost us much more than simply an additional agency fee to find a replacement. Our Director of Operations, Al Geaney, had first-hand experience of Plan-Net at a previous law firm. After consideration, we decided a trusted entity with a strong track record in the legal sector and good references would be a much better option.”
Patrick sees multiple advantages in outsourcing IT to PlanNet. Firstly, HJA can hand over the management of this risky operation to a group of professionals, whose company reputation relies upon making client engagements successful. He also sees it as a great opportunity. Plan-Net has a long history of working in the legal sector and has worked with 14 of the top 20 UK law firms, as well as many prestigious organisations outside of the sector. Therefore, HJA is able to tap into a capability far beyond its size and sector by utilising Plan-Net’s expertise.
The outsourcing contract commenced in March 2015. Existing on-site IT staff were transferred under TUPE regulations and joined by one of Plan-Net’s experienced legal IT managers, as well as strategic input from PlanNet’s Technical Services Director. The transition has been smooth and initiated a huge amount of IT activity at HJA. Plan-Net set about updating much of the core infrastructure, including servers, firewalls, web protection and the complete printer and photocopier estate. Current projects include improved IT backup and disaster recovery capabilities, messaging and collaboration upgrades and a new remote access model.
HJA has made some significant investment in IT this year but Patrick is also pleased with the savings Plan-Net has been able to extract. “They were immediately able to take over the sourcing and contractual side of our hardware and software supply. They negotiated better terms, removed unnecessary costs and ensured we were getting the best deals in the market. It was a significant task but straight away we started to see returns.”
Plan-Net’s pragmatism has also been well received. “It was comforting to receive assurance from the experts that there is no one magic piece of software in the market that will solve all our problems. Plan-Net’s advice was to stick with our current Case Management System and develop it rather than look at a replacement and we’re happy with the decision.” Patrick observes. “It’s that kind of market knowledge that we’re buying into with outsourcing. Plan-Net can be our eyes and ears not just in the legal technology market but across other sectors too and ensuring we’re always making best use of the most up-to-date technology.”
Plan-Net has also implemented a formal service desk which includes the implementation of a new service desk tool, best practice service management processes and an integration with Plan-Net’s off-site legal service desk. This provides HJA staff with extended hours and a consistent supply of IT support, regardless of IT staff holidays. “This is another example of tapping into something much bigger.” Patrick comments.
Attracting the best staff is another key competitive advantage for HJA and IT has an important role to play. Staff expect IT to be seamless and to have access to the latest ‘kit’. Plan-Net is in the process of improving the mobile working experience for staff, replacing all mobile phones within a new, secure Mobile Device Management scheme, and provisioning secure laptops that can ‘dock’ anywhere in the office, at home or on the go.
Plan-Net provides monthly reports to the HJA board on its current performance but also conducts regular strategic reviews with Patrick and his team, which consider longer term plans. Outsourcing the IT function at HJA has not made Patrick any less involved in the firm’s use of technology. If anything, it has made the firm even more ambitious in capitalising on IT. For instance, it hopes the launch of its ‘Arrested’ mobile app, which gives potential clients useful information if they’re facing arrest or going to court, will be the first of many apps to promote its different areas of legal expertise. Furthermore, on the sales and marketing side, the firm wants to much more deeply integrate its call handling, CRM and case management systems together to improve its clients’ end-to-end experience. In terms of IT’s involvement in delivering legal services, HJA is investigating ways to use automated algorithms to assess the probable outcomes of personal injury claims.
Another goal for HJA, as for many in the legal sector, is to move from a ‘paper-light’ to a ‘paper-less’ environment. “For law firms, our product is essentially a set of documents. We spend a fortune on the storage of physical case files, not to mention the cost of ink, printing and paper. This area represents a huge opportunity that we feel confident Plan-Net can help us tackle.”
To Patrick, outsourcing the firm’s IT to Plan-Net plays a significant part in a much wider mission. Last year, HJA commissioned a survey by Ipsos Mori to assess the state of the legal world. The subsequent report highlights key issues facing the courts, law as a profession and aspects of practice management including culture, the use of IT and structural change. The overriding and concerning message was just how important the need for innovative approaches within this sector really are: innovation is necessary to ensure that justice can continue to be served.