The legal sector is unusual in that it’s incredibly well connected. The unique challenges facing law firms are different to other sectors, meaning only those working in the vertical truly understand them. Perhaps that’s why there is such a good spirit of sharing and camaraderie among those responsible for IT, networking and security. One of the best places for this is in the Connected Legal Forum, a small community of legal professionals formed to share their stories from the frontlines.
With special ‘wine webinars’, online conversations and lots of other activity, this private network is where the latest thinking, technologies and experiences are discussed. In some of these sessions, which are digitally hosted across North America, Europe and Australia, a series of polls take place. One of these polls, conducted in November 2020, asked over 50 law firms in the US about their priorities for 2021. The results, on aggregate, paint a simple picture about where priorities lie in the uncertain year to come.
Biggest priorities in law firms for 2021
The most important area – by far – is managing a better user experience. Two thirds of IT leaders at law firms rated this as a primary area of focus for the next 12 months. It’s no secret that the 2020 lockdown has changed IT and the work environment forever, but experience management is clearly one of the most profound areas of change. IT professionals are traditionally used to a high degree of visibility. As was historically the case with partners and fee earners working in fixed locations most of the time – behind a desk and connected to a corporate-managed network – it’s easy to see what’s happening. Monitoring uptime of networks and applications is typically coupled with a variety of tools designed to better diagnose problems as they emerge. The problem is that when those same workers moved to a distributed work model as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, with lawyers working from home and elsewhere, that visibility disappeared.
IT teams at law firms have struggled to maintain a high-quality user experience. Employees are often facing unexpected challenges with the new working environment, encountering issues with their internet connection, accessing cloud resources, managing auth and other security software, as well as a endless list of other problems. Helpdesk are dealing with more support tickets than ever before, with less information about how to remediate it. Enhancing the end user experience has become a critical strategic goal for many law firms. Overcoming this mounting challenge will require collective thinking.
For more information on experience monitoring, including original research, case studies and insights from analysts like Gartner and Forrester, you can view an introduction to the topic in this entirely free interactive report – you don’t even need to share your email address to access it.
The second most frequently-cited focus for 2021 was transitioning to the cloud. This is a decade-long process for many law firms, but going through the process of upgrading legacy technology doesn’t happen overnight. Long term commercial commitments, complex hardware concerns, security considerations and other factors all play a role in making this an ongoing journey. A NetMotion survey in July revealed that 98% of organizations still maintain at least one on-premise application, indicating that this will be near the top of the priority list for years to follow.
The next priority was revealed as law firms wanting to embrace zero trust, with 1 in 4 considering its implementation next year. The concept of ‘deny by default’ can be applied to a variety of different technologies, though is most commonly associated with SDP or ZTNA. This new, more secure form of remote access takes into account the context of each request (such as the device, the network, the app, the location or the time) to grant access to a resource. It’s a much more sophisticated approach, reducing the attack surface and no longer exposing the entire network like a legacy VPN solution might. With most employees at modern law firms now operating remotely, this conditional-based approach to remote access is naturally at the forefront of many IT leaders’ agendas. This is also illustrated in next priority listed in the poll – 11% are seeking to evolve their VPN toolkit.
Lastly, perhaps surprisingly, there is very little appetite to engage in rethinking EMM (also known as UEM or MDM). Microsoft Endpoint Manager has been slowly taking market share from the traditional leaders, such as MobileIron and VMWare, with the assumption that a good amount of law firms are experiencing a similar overhaul. The data, however, suggests this is not the case, perhaps also as a result of COVID. Just 3% of respondents put EMM as a priority for 2021.
If there is one lesson from 2020 to keep in mind it’s that nothing is predictable. Anticipating the trends for 2021 can be helpful in sharing focuses across the legal sector – plans that can change and adapt as the year unfolds.
If you are working in IT for a law firm, you can participate in the Connected Legal Forum. Find out more by exploring our webpage on the subject, complete with links to future webinars and relevant content. You can also apply to join the online forum by using your LinkedIn account to connect to the community there.