One of the weaknesses of the partnership model as a business structure is that it is less open to public scrutiny than businesses with external investors. Law firms may employ experts in the areas of IT, finance, marketing and HR but they don’t always have to take their advice. The advent of non-lawyer partners has gone some way to aiding parity within a leadership team, but the collective will of fee earners is likely to win out on key strategic decisions.

There are still too many instances of firms choosing to defer capital investment decisions ‘for another year’ in order to deliver short term profitability. Eventually this deferred decision making will catch up with firms and so it is the case with I.T. and specifically Microsoft Windows 7 software.

There will be many legal practices who for years have had the same practice management / case management system that everyone in the firm is familiar with. We hear stories about idiosyncrasies and bugs in the software, but the users all know work-arounds and reports are still produced on time for the executive team. For firms whose legal software has not been developed beyond Windows 7, the days of ‘getting by’ are almost at an end.

It’s been well-trailed – the end of Windows 7 is nigh

When Microsoft launched Windows 7 in October 2009, it promised to support its new operating system for 10 years. In the middle of this year Microsoft announced its end of life plans for Windows 7. Support will end on 14 January 2020. The company has been true to its word and since the announcement, much has been written on the subject.

IT publisher, Computer World estimates that when the end of life date arrives, 1 in 4 PCs will still be running Windows 7. This figure will be higher in industries slower to embrace I.T. developments and legal is likely to be amongst those.

While PCs running Windows 7 will not stop working after 14 January, the risks to security and compliance of keeping these machines within the network are significantly increased. Microsoft will cease to issue product updates and security patches for Windows 7. These computers are more likely to be susceptible to malware attacks and other cyber-criminality that could be disruptive to the day-to-day operation of a law firm.

There are some short-term transitory measures available for limited ongoing protection for a period beyond the 14 January, but nothing more than a ‘sticking plaster solution’. For any law firms out there tempted to take a chance, they’ll do well to be reminded of the 2017 WannaCry cyber attack.

Lessons from recent history – The NHS

The WannaCry ransomware attack of 2017 led to the cancellation of 19,000 GP appointments and cost the NHS an estimated £92 million (source: theinquirer.net). A report into the attack showed that 42 separate NHS Trusts were running Windows XP on tens of thousands of machines, despite support for the operating system ceasing in 2014. The parallels with Windows 7 end of life and support are clear. The failure to replace redundant I.T. leaves any business at risk.https://www.theinquirer.net/

WannaCry affected thousands of computers across the world and was not just restricted to the NHS. Although it was not directly aimed at the NHS, the attack highlighted serious vulnerabilities. It will be interesting to see what lessons have been learnt in the health service from this Windows XP / WannaCry episode in the months and years after 14 January 2020.

What should law firms still running practice / case management software on Windows 7 do?

The time for burying one’s head in the sand is over. The good news is that there is a way forward and with digital transformation, the investment needed to make it happen is likely to be just a fraction of what it was the last time.

Data security is one of the key elements to remaining a successful legal practice as we enter a new decade. There will be firms that cease to exist because they have not kept their I.T. up to date and then been victims of an attack.

In the first instance, enquire from your existing supplier, what if any impact the end of Windows 7 support will have on the systems in your firm. If there is no upgrade path to Windows 10 that is open to you with your current provider, you may conclude that the best way to mitigate the potential risk is to find a replacement system. The exercise of replacing a practice and case management system takes in the region of 3 – 6 months. In choosing a replacement system you will need to consider how data in the present system will move (migrate) into the new one. We would recommend only shortlisting suppliers with a good track record of migrating from the system you already use.

A credible software supplier will be able to partner with you and advise on a new solution and the right implementation strategy. This could be a completely cloud-based system, on premise or a combination of both.

Tim Smith is Technical Director at Insight Legal Software.

Data is a vital asset to every modern legal practice. It is the backbone of both case and business continuity and without it, almost any firm today would cease to operate. As data sets grow continuously, law firms are becoming ever more reliant on third party cloud-based systems to manage and store most, if not all of their business-critical data.

Despite all of its advantages by way of ease and efficiency in a digital world, storing data within the cloud does not come without risks. Firms have to ensure they are safeguarded from a potentially disastrous loss of all client, case and practice data.

The consequences of losing data could well be crippling for a practice of any size; without access to correspondence or case information, practitioners simply cannot function and significant financial implications will rapidly ensue. Furthermore, a loss of data would prove extremely damaging for firms when they have to report activity to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

The question is, simply, that if you store all of your data in the cloud, how do you back it up successfully? Further still, how do you also protect yourself against the risk of your provider ever losing your data? Law firms must therefore cover off a host of possible scenarios in order to take the necessary steps to keeping full control over their company’s data.

Be proactive with data backup

The most obvious action for a practice to take is to carry out regular backups of your entire database. Every law firm should rightfully have round-the-clock access to their full set of data, with the freedom to backup or pull all data from their chosen system as and when required. Today, the responsibility should fall on the service provider to make it as easy as possible for firms to complete regular backups of all practice and client data both quickly and easily. There are a handful of providers which do offer built-in data backup services as standard and enable customers to download data from within the system at any time.

That said, there are still very few suppliers which will offer this level of support at no cost, Law firms must therefore do their own market research to ensure their chosen provider can give them the level of control needed to manage their legal data freely. Does their contract imply that they can hold your data to ransom? Maybe it says you can have a backup but there will be a “reasonable” charge. If this is the case, then what do they define as reasonable – £1,000, £10,000 or £50,000?

Checking the small print and raising questions in the early stages of provider selection will allow firms to filter out the market noise and invest in a reputable supplier that allows them to backup their own data whenever they wish – and does not charge you a premium for the privilege.

Prepare for the worst

Taking a proactive approach when assessing cloud providers will prove essential for sourcing a fair and supportive supplier to assist with your data protection efforts. Other scenarios, however, are often much more difficult to predict and therefore require more strategic contingency planning.

For example, if your chosen provider suddenly goes out of business, or runs into their own financial difficulty leaving them unable to pay for the infrastructure needed to keep their service running. What happens to your data then?

Typically, most cloud providers will not actually hold the data in their own data centre; they will rent equipment or space in someone else’s. Firms must therefore consider what might happen if this data centre is subject to a disaster? In a cloud environment the responsibility for protecting your data will fall on someone else but are they competent and trustworthy? The cloud provider should offer very clear guidelines as to where customer data will be stored and by whom, as well as what will happen to their data when such events occur.

To avoid any nasty surprises, firms must ensure they are aware of their current options and make any necessary changes to protect their data in the future. Establish whether you can take backups of your own data or will your supplier charge you if you want that? What if you can’t get a backup? Are you totally at the mercy of your cloud provider, not just if they go bust, but if their service level drops or they increase their prices; can you terminate your contract and get all of your data back? If so, will you be able to receive your data back in a useful and coherent format? If your contract says you can extract your data by running reports, then it is unlikely that any migration from that product will give you the level of detail you require. Even if you are prepared to painstakingly run dozens of reports, can you access your entire document and email library in a coherent form?

The obvious answer to mitigating these potential risks amongst law firms is to eliminate them by choosing the right technology partners. Starting research well ahead of change, as well as ensuring they have full sight of exactly where their data is stored gives firms the head start they need to protect their data against unforeseen challenges. Furthermore, they will be able to distinguish suppliers who conditionally hold legal data to ransom from the rest and find those offering the flexibility to back up data in full when it best suits their Firm’s needs.

By Tim Smith, Technical Director 

 

In the wake of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Making Tax Digital, law firms are now facing yet another wave of regulatory change. The Legal Services Board has approved changes proposed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) under its ‘Looking to the Future’ programme. Included within the changes is a new set of accounting rules, which come into effect on 25th November 2019.

The new Standards and Regulations are much shorter and less prescriptive than the SRA’s previous Accounts Rules, with the intention being to reduce the burden on law firms and enable them to use their professional judgement in how they apply and maintain the required standards. There are a number of changes to the rules, which law firm managers and compliance officers will need to take into account in order for their firms not to breach the new Code. These new rules apply to all firms authorised or regulated by the SRA, including all those who manage or work within such firms.

Every firm should therefore familiarise themselves with the rules and review how the changes will affect their practice. This is likely to include the development of procedures and processes that fit the firm, as well as meeting the requirements of the SRA. As a result, firms will also have to consider their accounting software and take measures to ensure that they have the systems in place to fully support their staff and business once the new rules take effect.

There are a few essential steps that practice managers can take in order to achieve this:

Evaluate your accounting software needs

Every firm should begin the process with a complete evaluation of any new processes and procedures and establish whether their accounting software requirements have altered as a result. If this is the case, how are you going to bring your systems up to speed with the new regulations?

For example, the rules state that firms must keep and maintain accurate, contemporaneous, and chronological records using their accounting system to record in client ledgers identified by the client’s name and an appropriate description of the matter to which they relate. Therefore, having a clear understanding of the exact functions that staff will require to operate in line with these new rules will give managers a clear direction on what changes need to be made ahead of their introduction.

Review your current software early

The new rules do not offer an introductory period. All software checks must be conducted and completed by firms before the revised rules come into force. Practice managers must therefore carry out a full review of their firm’s current accounting systems as early as possible, assessing the full scope of client requirements and identifying any revisions or additional functions that your software will need to support. Doing so in good time will prevent any last minute concerns from compliance offers and allow firms to minimise the risk of a breach.

For example, the rules regarding payment of Interest to your clients stipulate that the payment to them must be “fair”, but also that you may, by agreement, come to a different arrangement with them. There are some older software systems which apply prescriptive rules – some even in line with the old Law Society limits and de minimis rules. For firms formulating and applying their own procedures in line with the “reasonableness” rule, you need your systems to be adaptable to you.

Take advantage of features which reduce the risk of a breach

One of the most noticeable changes is the removal of prescriptive timings and deadlines. For example, where firms may previously have been required to transfer monies within 14 days, or bank cheques within two days, these exact requirements have been removed. Of course, the obligation to act promptly and responsibly, particularly with regard to client monies, remains.

The new rules very much allow firms to determine their own timescales. Having accounting software which can simplify these transactions, provide task prompts and even send notifications when a particular action might breach the SRA rules will support a firm’s compliance efforts and help staff to stay on top of new any procedures.

Provide staff with necessary software training

As with every change in regulation, it is imperative that those practicing within the parameters of the SRA Account Rules are fully abreast of new processes and know exactly how they must operate in order to remain compliant. A significant part of this in a modern practice is using accounting software correctly and practice managers are responsible for ensuring that all relevant staff have the level of knowledge and training to work effectively, in accordance with the rules. Providing internal workshops will ensure that staff are fully briefed on the rules and give them time to adjust to any change in procedures across the firm.

Discuss compliance with your provider

There are a number of resources available to law firms that provide information on the new rules, including the SRA, the Law Society and, of course, the ILFM. However, when it comes to the compliance of software, firms should seek direct guidance from their chosen supplier, who should be a steady source of support on helping practice managers ensure the full compliance of their firm following the rule changes. Having the conversation early will also determine whether they are able to continue to fully support your business once the new rules take effect and prompt any necessary changes should your firm require further functionality or an alternative supplier.

By Deborah Witkiss, Professional Services Director 

The legal industry is utilising more technology than ever before. Law firms understand that in order to be considered as a leader in their respective fields, incorporating both legal IT and the knowledge to power it is now essential.

With new technology allowing legal systems to operate more efficiently, there has been an inevitable rise in legal businesses overhauling their legacy systems with new and more flexible IT software. Not only has this opened up a window of opportunity for legal professionals to work more productively, it has also created a wealth of new careers for professionals considering a more tech-centric path.

For many legal industry professionals, moving to a legal IT business can be viewed as a natural progression. With a wealth of experience in delivering legal services to clients, in legal finance or in practice management, they are extremely well placed to understand the exact needs of a legal software user, applying their knowledge of previous roles to help deliver the level of support clients need to get the most value from their technology investments. But why make the move?

Making the move

There are a number of factors which could motivate a legal professional to make the move over to a career in legal IT. For example, working in legal IT allows professionals to still pursue their interest in law but also to dip their feet in new waters, by focussing on different aspects of the industry whilst supporting their peers with the knowledge to help them get the most from their legal software.

By taking the opportunity to explore law in a new capacity, professionals can continue to adapt their skillset with the changing tides of the industry, stay abreast of developments in the sector and add further value to the industry.

The power of experience

For a legal IT company, delivering the solutions which streamline industry processes and helping practitioners to operate with efficiency and compliance should be the core focus of the business. To achieve this, suppliers must first understand the exact needs of the modern practitioner and build their offering accordingly.

Legal practitioners are very well placed in this scenario. With a wealth of hands-on user experience, industry professionals can offer invaluable insight into the specific legal IT services practitioners both want and need from their provider and the support required to ensure users can navigate these systems with maximum effect.

Having this level of expertise in-house can also be essential for future product development. By feeding insights from past users into the roadmap, legal software suppliers can follow the right course of innovation, developing a system with the functionality needed to deliver a high level of user experience.

A strong support network

The advantages of a professional legal background not only benefits the development of a supplier’s offering, but extends across the company’s client support network. Having likely experienced first-hand issues with legal IT systems, they can recognise key pain points in the user journey and use their knowledge of the system to help professionals tackle issues they are experiencing.

What’s more, legal professionals will already have an understanding of the rules and regulations that law firms must comply with. By hiring from within the sector, legal software firms can build a strong client support network and reassure users that they are talking to an experienced professional, who understands their problems and knows effective ways to resolve them.

The traits of industry professionals offer huge value in all corners of a legal IT business. From decision maker to technical support a well-grounded knowledge of the legal sector can be the key to providing an effective service for every customer, whilst driving innovation to maintain the company’s competitive edge.

By harnessing this knowledge and experience at the recruitment stage, legal IT businesses can build a compelling solution to continue meeting the needs and expectations of their clients as the sector rapidly evolves.

By Deborah Witkiss, Professional Services Director at Insight Legal

 

 

We’re pleased to announce that we’ve been shortlisted for the UK Customer Experience Awards 2019 in the B2B Customer Experience category.

This is a recognition of the dedication and innovation we’ve demonstrated in delivering exceptional customer service over the past year, and a chance to celebrate the teamwork that made it possible.

However, we’re not there quite yet. The second half of scoring occurs on 10th October at Wembley Stadium in London, where we’ll be presenting our initiative(s) before an expert panel of independent judges. On the same day, we’ll find out how we did at the awards ceremony.

There are just a few days left until the Awards – we can’t wait to share our customer experience story with the judges!

Fingers crossed… Follow our social media pages to see how we got on

An inherent resistance

For any business operating today, change is inevitable. The legal sector is no exception and firms must embrace change to maintain growth, success and their competitive edge. While it is natural to be hesitant about change, law firms are seen as significantly more risk-averse than other business types, with many practitioners traditionally perceiving it as a risk rather than an opportunity. This is echoed by the top 10 law firms, who identified new technology as the biggest challenge that the legal sector will face over the next two years.

Of course, embracing new ways of working in a law firm isn’t always simple and there are many factors which impact these decisions. The time it takes to research and implement, the money and resources used and the preconception that it might be ‘too big of a job’ are enough to discourage managers from introducing new systems across their practice. While some firms are driving change, many others must follow suit and alter their view, in order to approach new processes with the attitude needed for the most positive return.

Replace outdated processes with technology

 Many law firms still have legacy processes and products that they are both comfortable using and have worked for them in the past, but are no longer fit for purpose. For example, firms which continue to manually manage case specific files and data offline are more likely to operate much less efficiently than a firm utilising modern tools to support staff with these matters. By doing so, more unnecessary tasks are created, which ultimately cut into fee-earning time and reduce the opportunity for efficiency.

This is where change, particularly in terms of introducing technology, plays a fundamental role. These solutions spark an opportunity for firms to evaluate their current operations and identify the time-intensive processes which could be streamlined to free up more time for undertaking high-value work. Only then can they determine the right time to adopt changes in order to ensure business continuity and greater productivity across the firm.

With a wide range of legal software systems now readily available, there will undoubtedly be a system which has the flexibility to meet the specific needs of every firm. What’s more, the support that should typically accompany this software from suppliers can provide crucial support both during transitional periods and with continued case and practice management – taking some of the pressure off decision makers and enabling a smoother transition for staff.

The true value of change

By applying change to across a legal practice with modern legal IT systems, firms can move their practice into a new era of software-based workflows and embrace new processes which improve overall success. For example, legal systems can enable managers to digitally track case progress across the business; freeing up valuable time to invest back into the practice and ensuring the smooth running of operations.

These systems can also be invaluable in maintaining compliance, by generating prompts and task reminders to avoid missed deadlines and ensure any necessary processes are upheld. With the many regulations and protocols the legal industry now has to adhere to, this can prove vital for helping firms to avoid the damaging consequences of falling behind.

To succeed in the modern legal sector, law firms must start by evaluating their processes and discuss their goals with potential suppliers to find systems that will effectively support their practice with the greatest return on investment. Those who realise the true value of change – and measure their success accordingly – will ultimately open the door to new avenues for higher productivity and better working processes for their staff, whilst future-proofing their practice as the sector continues to evolve.

By Adam Howarth, Sales Manager at Insight Legal