Without a doubt the rate of change in the legal sector has accelerated noticeably over the last few years and is unlikely to slowdown any time soon.
Not only is the sector being influenced by regulatory changes such as the advent of Alternative Business Structures, unthinkable law firm failures are on the rise and consolidations are commonplace. Alongside this an evolving technological revolution has brought us smart phones, tablets and broadband with free Wi-Fi have, providing, at long last, an enhanced level of computer usability, with Apple setting the bar with its App Store.
In this climate, standing still and doing the same thing in the near term, which is what has been done in previous years by many small to medium sized law firms, is almost certain suicide. Access to the internet and consumerisation means customers are demanding greater value, improved level of access and visibility on their matters, along with an ever-increasing ability to shop around for the best price.
Successful law firms will look to technology to keep a competitive edge. The density of fibre optic circuits that has been planted into every street, in every town has opened up a plethora of great opportunities to help small and medium firms navigate through the technology maze to a place of stability, security and predictable price points.
Cloud services and hosted solutions or managed services all have similar commercial attraction and are ultimately about not owning and managing capital assets but giving the headache to someone else. IT infrastructure becomes less of an operational burden and, if managed correctly, converts into an opportunity. Moving complex infrastructures into another space, such as a hosted data centre under an SLA-backed service contract, means small and medium-sized businesses can focus on the core competence of selling legal services and not burn time keeping the lights on and the disks spinning.
This can ultimately translate to more time for managing partners to think about tools to engage and retain clients and here one would naturally think about apps or extranets. In both instances the legal sector is still very much in the foothills of what the possibilities are around this type of approach but, for sure, it’s not a passing fad. Recognising that in law firms income is usually realised through relationships. However, in the new world order this is being challenged and clients are more tech savvy and willing to shop around for price and service. Focussing attention in these areas as opposed to simply keeping the lights on has to be a shift in emphasis survivors in law make.
Alongside cost management and innovation other concerns held by law firms is risk management. Embracing the world of cloud and/or hosted services improves security by moving confidential material to a securer place with a level of investment in protection that well surpasses anything a law firm can assemble.
Add to that the ability to quickly recover a business if there was a failure and hosting becomes compelling. The landscape is wide open for forward thinking lawyers to capture greater shares of the market by thinking laterally and taking time to understand the products and services that are now maturing to a point of credible consumption.
Cost, innovation and risk are three important components of the future of any successful SME law firm and have to be given airtime at any board gathering.
Richard Hodkinson is Chief Technology Officer of law firm DWF and is Non-Executive Director of ConvergeTS .