The South West Legal IT Forum, hosted by Foot Anstey, was the first UK legal IT event to include a demonstration of Google Glass, by Jet Basrawi of DigitasLBi. Wearable technology may not come to legal IT for a while, the main barrier being price – a few would consider purchasing Google Glass for $1,500, but when forum chair Duncan Eadie asked who would buy it for £300 all hands shot up.

We looked at how it was made and had a run through its features. Everyone appreciated its one-touch location-based search capability, photography and videography. Wearable tech is surely the next big thing.

Email encryption

Simon Clarke, IT and operations director at Michelmores, highlighted an uncomfortable dichotomy involving email encryption. While some law firm clients insist as part of their conditions of engagement that all data and documents relating to them must reside within the firm’s on-premise systems, some courts and local councils require that all email correspondence goes via a third-party encrypted email system. These requirements are effectively forcing firms to store clients’ data on external systems, which in some cases would breach their terms of engagement.

Encrypted email protects information that is shared with courts, and central and local government. However, apart from clashing with some clients’ conditions of engagement, these rigorous security requirements are compromising firms’ document management and retention policies. Clarke and other forum members expressed concern that they might also compromise client service and confidentiality and were potentially in breach of the Solicitors Regulation Authority principles and outcomes-focused regulations.

There is no central email system for courts, but most courts and some local authorities use the Criminal Justice Secure eMail (CJSM) service. This encrypted system can be accessed online via a login and password, and there is also an Outlook plug-in which allows emails sent and received via CJSM to be filed in the document management system (DMS). So the data resides within the firm’s system and also within the CJSM system.

Egress Switch, increasingly the product of choice for local councils, creates further difficulties. Egress is a secure, encrypted service certified by the government. It protects councils’ correspondence from hacking and cybercrime, and ensures that sensitive correspondence is not subject to potential vulnerabilities of user organisations’ systems.

However, using Egress compromises firms’ IT strategy in several ways. Although the Outlook plug-in allows lawyers to access correspondence sent via Egress without logging in separately to each council’s online portal, emails and documents cannot be shared (that is, forwarded to colleagues) or saved to firms’ DMSs, so the only record of the correspondence is within the Egress system.

Not only has the client not given permission for the information to be held by a third party (Egress) with which it has no relationship, but the firm has a hole in its matter records and cannot guarantee the client that the correspondence will continue to be accessible should problems arise requiring disclosure. According to Egress, the councils control the security settings that determine whether or not correspondence can be copied, saved or shared.

Egress Switch also offers free mobile apps, but again this would compromise some clients’ conditions of engagement – that their data should remain within the law firms’ internal systems.

There is also an IT culture issue: when you receive an encrypted email via Egress, you get a notification and a link to click through to access your message. IT directors were not keen to encourage a ‘click-through’ culture among users as this increases the risk of intrusions.

PMS implementation

Most forum firms are increasing their IT budgets, often for major upgrades. Niamh Eadie, chief executive of Professional Plus Solutions, presented 10 tips for successful practice management system (PMS) implementation.

  • Selection – keep it short, cheap and clever, and define your vision before you spend time and money on the selection process.
  • Recognise it is a complex project. Do not be afraid to bring in extra resources and expertise.
  • Finance and IT involvement are crucial.
  • Engaging a senior project sponsor aids success.
  • Do not skimp on training – most people in the firm are end-users.
  • Recognise that PMS implementation is probably the biggest and most complex IT project your firm has undertaken.
  • Focus on the accuracy of important information – the information end-users will see.
  • The go-live won’t be perfect, so plan for some chaos.
  • Budget for bringing in outside expertise – this provides an external perspective and also frees up time and internal resources.
  • Select information to be converted with care – focus on data quality and deduplicating.

The PMS originated as a finance tool, but now the underlying data is commonly used by multiple functions. Although finance has to be involved in system selection and procurement, responsibility for implementation – and therefore project management – generally falls to IT. Some IT directors are trained project managers, while others appoint dedicated project managers. Implementing a new PMS that touches every part of the business involves considerable change management communication.

Law firm Morgan Cole’s IT team includes professional change managers.

Procuring the right system is the critical success factor and this has been complicated by the shift in the law firm/vendor relationship. Whereas previously purchasing a PMS was a box-ticking exercise, it is now about selecting the right ‘toolkit’ from a broad range of options. Although larger vendors such as Thomson Reuters Elite offer project consultancy services, firms without specific project management capability should consider appointing an independent consultant who is familiar with several vendors.

Consultants free up internal resources and bring relevant experience – the average law firm replaces its PMS every 15 years, so most IT directors will have limited experience of similar projects; whereas a consultant may routinely advise on PMS implementations and therefore anticipate potential pitfalls and log jams.

Joanna Goodman is editor of Legal IT Today