IT and Infrastructure

Compared to the legal and accountancy professions, Information Technology (IT) is the new kid on the block, yet most practices would now struggle to function without it.

There will always be examples of senior partners insisting on working with mountains of case files on their desks, but as younger tech-savvy professionals advance through the ranks, this is, fortunately, becoming less common.

Like the accountancy and medical professions, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are predicted to have a major impact on the legal profession and could eliminate most paralegal and legal research positions within the next decade. There is even some discussion that in the future, it could do much of the work of judges and lawyers!

But within your organisation, who decides what technology you need, what will work and fit the culture?

It is not uncommon for a partner to be responsible for IT. We call them “The Quasi IT Director.” If they have a technical background, then this works well, although frequently it is just another responsibility that must be allocated to someone who may only fulfil half of the requirement of the role. Although they will understand what the firm wants, they may not know what it needs or how it can be delivered and will turn to their IT team for advice.

For many practices, IT is just one consolidated team of technical geeks who have long hair and eat pizza. “The IT Crowd” did us no favours, but it was considered accurate at the time, and for some smaller businesses and professional practices, this is still the case. Often, they are the go-to people for a problem with anything with a plug on, and although they can keep everything running, they generally do not have the necessary experience to advise on strategic matters.

Support vs development

Fortunately, IT is also maturing fast and is more structured and commoditised. Forward thinking practices that have recognised this will have divided IT into the two principal domains often called support and development. There is still a grey area between the two, but as explained later, it is crucial to keep them divided.

The IT support team look after the day-to-day IT systems, ensuring that they are functioning correctly and that everyone can work as expected. Typically, first-line support will help with password resets and routine issues and escalate to the more experienced second line team as required. Second-line support also conducts proactive maintenance and ensure that the back-office systems are secure and running correctly. Third-line support usually consists of highly experienced engineers that get involved in high priority issues, but also assist with the design and the delivery of projects, as explained below.

The development team work closely with the organisation to investigate and deliver new technology projects, although they are very rarely the stakeholders. A team would usually consist of business analysts, project managers and technology architects; although some roles are interchangeable, and some may wear two hats. The third line engineer would also be part of the team and would be consulted as well as being involved in the delivery of the projects.

You are probably thinking, that sounds like a lot of staff to manage my IT, and you would be right. That is why so many organisations consolidate roles to perhaps one or two staff. But this often leads to problems and can give IT a bad name. When support staff are involved in the delivery of projects, it is not uncommon for projects to run late or become rushed, causing problems later. Support staff priority is “support”, so any issues that come along will cause project delivery delays.

Key person dependency

Technology is vast and growing exponentially. You cannot expect one or two people to understand everything about all your systems, keep them secure, running efficiently, and at the same time, monitor emerging trends and deliver new projects. There will of course be some that say we have someone who does all of that and more; and that itself is a problem. Having key-person dependencies puts the organisation at risk since the knowledge is rarely documented or shared.

Having key-person dependencies puts the organisation at risk since the knowledge is rarely documented or shared.

How should you manage IT?

So how should a legal practice manage its IT? Most importantly, it would help if you had somebody that understands the practice, the IT, and how they work together. For many organisations, this is the role of an IT Director, but for the smaller legal practice, this is an overhead that they can ill afford. A mistake often made is that the practice will seek advice from a local IT company. Although their advice is usually sound, it is frequently found to be limited to a small range of technologies of which they have knowledge and often, a commercial agenda. The preferred approach is to engage an independent consultant who works with you to understand the business and produce a coherent IT strategy and delivery roadmap. This can sometimes be a one-off project, but regular engagement will ensure delivery, a much greater understanding of the business and the ability to respond quickly to market changes or technology trends.

What next?

Professional service organisations are becoming more dependent on IT and to remain competitive, they need professional technology advice. This will ensure that they have the right systems and IT staff to support the practice, but also understand the technological trends in the sector and how to adopt them.

Find out more

This article comes from our latest Legal Benchmarking Report. This annual report draws insight from legal practices across the UK and focuses on some of the pertinent issues and trends in income, profitability, employment costs and lock up

Click here to read a copy of the full report.