Legal eagles spread their wings
All kinds of businesses are now benefitting from the latest advances in mobile technology, says Ian Wimbush, chairman of the Legal Software Suppliers Association (LSSA). So why should law firms be any different?
Mobile technology is revolutionising the way that many different businesses operate. Only just a few years ago, a mobile phone was a poor substitute for a desktop PC, and sharing documents between the office and a home computer often involved the use of temperamental USB drives or, worse still, CDs.
Times have changed, however, and products like the iPhone, BlackBerry and a variety of smartphones have changed that way we conduct business, in part due to the explosion of applications (‘apps’) that can be downloaded directly onto the phone. At the same time, the arrival of ‘cloud computing’ means that important business data, forms and other documents can now be accessed from virtually anywhere, using a wide variety of mobile and office-based devices.
The upsides of mobile computing are well-publicised: better communication with colleagues and customers when you’re on the move, easy access to documents via the Internet, the ability to synch multiple computers automatically so that all your data is up to date – the list goes on and on. However, whilst all of these tools may be useful for a salesperson that spends a lot of time on the road, will these same benefits appeal to those working in the legal sector, which is known for its time-honoured heritage and rich traditions?
According to the Legal Software Suppliers Association (LSSA), the short answer is yes. Applications that cater for everything from time recording to document production have joined the mobile revolution, either as dedicated “apps” that are stored locally, or via new software solutions that allow mobile devices to access and work with their office-based (or cloud-based) data securely.
Greater flexibility can enhance customer service
“For modern law firms, instant access to their most important data – not to mention email – has become a necessity. Why should being “out of the office” prevent lawyers from contacting their colleagues and customers or indeed prevent them being contacted themselves?” says Craig Matthews, Quality Director, Pracctice Ltd, developers of the Osprey.TM web-based practice management system for law firms. “As a result, remote access to emails, documents, forms, contracts and other important data should be a prerequisite with any future software purchase, since all of this information (and more) needs to be easily accessible via the Internet, securely and efficiently.”
For a start, mobile technology can help to ensure that a solicitor’s productivity isn’t hampered by bad weather conditions, whether that means icy roads, ash cloud, or the “wrong kind” of leaves on the railway lines. By working around these pitfalls, solicitors can stay productive from any location (and therefore produce more billable hours of work for their firm) whilst offering a better service to clients at the same time.
Glyn Morris, Senior Product Manager at IRIS Legal Solutions, says that many law firms are already benefitting from this kind of technology.
“With the right software, solicitors can now draw up people’s wills in their own homes, for example,” he says. “Commercial lawyers can benefit too, by working on contracts whilst on the move, and then submitting them to their office-based Document Management systems electronically. Not only that, but mobile technology can also bring benefits for law firms, in areas like legal research, bill generation, matter status and contact info (query and/or update). The list really is endless.”
Mobile timekeeping helps boost productivity
Another good example for this “endless” list is timekeeping, as it clearly makes sense for criminal lawyers to perform their time recording in police stations and/or whilst at court. New software in this area makes it easy to use a mobile device for this purpose when on the move, so that they can easily time record any out-of-office activity as it happens.
“Mobile time recording is in demand for the simple reason that legal firms have come to the realisation that they can’t afford to lose time on matters just because fee-earners are in the field when doing the work,” says Osman Ismail, Managing Director at DPS Software, another LSSA member. “Whether it’s a criminal solicitor at court or an employment solicitor at a tribunal, if fee-earners log their time as they work, then a lot of previously unbilled and forgotten time can now be recorded meaning the true value of a matter is always charged for and revenues are increased.”
Firms need to understand the risks, as well as the benefits
Despite these clear advantages, some law firms are still quick to point out the downsides of mobile technology. For example, because employees can access data irrespective of their physical location in a mobile computing environment, data is effectively shared among multiple individuals, and therefore often updated by a number of different people.
As such, firms will need to speak to their software providers in order to take steps to avoid any problems with data inconsistency, and to ensure that controls are put in place to compensate for any lack of data validation. Some firms are also likely to have reservations about the security implications of mobile computing – or any other technology that relies on electronic transmission – but legal software suppliers are able to protect against these threats, as well.
“Concerns over data security always seem to top the list when it comes to mobile technology, but is mobile data really any less secure than an envelope that passes through a number of different people whether using Royal Mail or a document exchange?” asks Glyn Morris from IRIS Legal Solutions. “Of greater concern, perhaps, is the risk of having a mobile device lost or stolen, and having data compromised that way, but there are many different safeguards that can be put into place to address this issue, as well. In any case, law firms should discuss all of these concerns with their software supplier, not only to be sure that they understand any potential risks associated with mobile technology, but also to learn more about the various options for protecting against them.”
The future is mobile
With the Internet now such an important hub for daily business communications, it seems pretty certain that mobile computing is here to stay. Even so, it’s important to understand that there are many different types of mobile computing solutions – from a solicitor checking his/her email on an iPhone to a team of solicitors accessing a web-based Case Management system remotely.
What both of these scenarios have in common, however, is the added flexibility and potential for enhanced productivity that mobile technology can deliver. As such, it’s not a question of if firms will move to this model, but more a question of which firms will be the early adopters who decide to stand up and take the lead.
Perhaps Glyn Morris captures this sentiment the best, when he says: “When you look at the big picture, the introduction of mobile technology makes good business sense for law firms, and so it’s going to happen. The real challenge is to make it happen right.”