2020 has been a unique year for the legal industry. Traditionally adverse to any sort of change, legal professionals everywhere have been suddenly thrown into situations that demand it—and a lot of it. New communication, information sharing, and security challenges cropped up overnight; and technology vendors from every sector have offered their services as firms searched for solutions to new roadblocks.
In their recent 2020 Technology Survey, ILTA revealed key trends that emerged from the quick adoption of new technologies, and as a result, troubling data and document fragmentation challenges occurred that will now have firms facing additional changes to overcome it.
In this article, we identify a few of the trends revealed in the 2020 ILTA survey and share how law firms can use the right cloud applications to solve their governance challenges while maintaining productivity.
In recent years, law firms have been slowly but surely making purposeful moves towards the cloud. But with 89% of respondents saying they would now consider moving to the cloud – a 17% jump since 2019 – it’s clear the pandemic made the benefits of cloud technology difficult to ignore. Namely, improved client and colleague communication and anywhere access without the pains of a VPN.
Certainly, cloud technology experienced significant growth in the legal industry within the last year where firms quickly adopted cloud-based email, e-Discovery, time and billing, records management, and document management systems (DMS).
While the pandemic encouraged many firms to move straight to the cloud, it also required decisions to be made quickly. Accommodating working-from-home orders nearly overnight expedited timelines on implementing several new technologies, and many firms now find themselves in a troubling predicament: lawyers and teams are able to communicate effectively and productively, but content is everywhere—often times ungoverned and unsecure.
Keeping client information and documents secure will always be top-of-mind for firms, but when a crisis occurs business continuity becomes the top priority. As firms worked to provide lawyers and their teams the tools to deliver services at pre-pandemic speeds the focus was placed on solutions that would be quick to learn and quicker to implement opposed to what would work with existing technology, giving lawyers the best chance to meet client expectations.
But as all CIO’s and IT professionals are acutely aware, when technology is adopted that does not work in unison with an existing tech stack, security gaps are quickly exposed leaving once iron-clad networks full of holes.
The ILTA survey revealed that firms are now experiencing the fallout of this focus on productivity as information is now scattered across applications, laptops, tablets, uploaded to file shares like Dropbox, and stored within email systems. While the focus on productivity isn’t likely to take a back seat any time soon as more than half of ILTA’s respondents are anticipating more remote work, there’s no question that the longer this data fragmentation continues unchecked, the more challenging it will be for IT to recapture the documents released into the ‘wild.’
Due to a long-time resistance to cloud technology, many firms were not familiar with the nuances of the cloud—and there’s a lot to learn. Contrary to the popular notion that cloud applications are generally the same, when architecture, security, governance, integrations, and productivity features are taken into account, it’s clear that no two applications are created equal.
That’s why firms must no longer ask themselves if they will have to change cloud applications, but must choose which applications will minimize the number of changes and restore their security and compliance standards without gutting productivity gains.
Unfortunately, firms have historically had profound challenges when faced with even the smallest change management projects.
Indeed, ILTA’s survey revealed that 64% of firms wait an average of 6-12 months before deploying feature updates to software as basic as Microsoft Windows—likely for fear of user backlash; and, of the top three issues or annoyances in law firms today, change continues to be a persistent challenge and top security concern.
These change issues are not insurmountable. With the right technology choices and a clear change management strategy firms will be able to fully embrace remote work, protect their data, and let lawyers continue to enjoy their newfound tools.
As firms consider their next technology move(s), one big question remains: how can they minimize change? To do so, firms must streamline the number of new systems their lawyers and staff need to adopt. As documents are the lifeblood of law firms, and a DMS is often where those documents live, a new cloud-based DMS is a natural place to begin. Many firms agree, with 48% of respondents planning on switching to the cloud for good.
The fact remains that data and documents are becoming fragmented because applications are unable to connect to a single source of truth, and adopting a cloud-based DMS like NetDocuments will help firms avoid this security risk.
NetDocuments provides a platform that firms can either utilize as a single-source solution and/or connect to applications that are already familiar to staff (e.g. practice management, time and billing, etc.). Because the tech stack will be completely connected to the very core of the firm, documents are no longer at risk of being removed from the safety of the DMS, and remain subject to selected data loss prevention standards and ethical walls. By virtue of being a cloud application, NetDocuments is available anywhere on any device, with native iOS and Android applications to keep workflows intact and familiar regardless of where lawyers work—supporting their newfound productivity.
Additionally, with NetDocuments, firms do not have to worry about troublesome upgrades that add additional security and financial risks. With a true-cloud infrastructure, NetDocuments provides every single client and user with the latest technologies and updates, without the hassle.
With the flexibility that NetDocuments offers, the systems that lawyers will have to re-learn can be streamlined and minimized. Couple these with a powerful change management strategy, and firms can increase productivity without risking compliance.
If one thing is clear from ILTA’s Technology Survey it’s that many firms were not prepared for the realities of remote work, but they have done an admirable job of finding creative solutions to recent challenges. Embracing new technologies and workflows is not an easy task for firms in even the calmest moments, and to do so during a world-wide pandemic is nothing short of astonishing.
Understandably, it seems document security took a small step back as firms focused their technology adoptions on solutions that would ensure productivity and business continuity in the shortest timeline. But according to ILTA, document security is back at the top of the priority list—and the longer firms wait to evaluate their newly-adopted cloud solutions through its lens and switch to solutions that are built for lawyer’s productivity and compliance needs, the more risk they’re introducing to their firms and their clients.
NetDocuments customers were prepared for this crisis and experienced little, if any, hiccups as they transitioned to remote work. Gaetano Barrila, a Barrister, Solicitor, and Notary Public at Barrila Law; noted, “In light of the circumstances with COVID-19 we closed our physical office but remain in operation. All of our staff is working from home, and we are able to save files, collaborate with clients, and create documents seamlessly because of NetDocuments. A big part of our success in working from home and having a competitive edge, even in this time, is NetDocuments.”
Lawyers have proven over the last year that they are not incapable of change, and firms have proven that cloud technology is essential to business continuity in times of crisis. Now, it’s just time to adopt the right cloud that will bring their productivity and security into balance.
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