Back in November of 2020, we brought a group of US law firm IT professionals together to discuss their goals and priorities for the following twelve months. When asked whether their main priority was going to be transitioning to the cloud, embracing zero trust, updating their remote access VPN, improving user experience or upgrading their EUM/EMM solution, a very significant 68% responded that their biggest goal was to improve user experience.
This result perhaps revealed a painful truth. Like many businesses today, law firms have struggled over the past year to adapt to the needs of fee earners working primarily in a distributed network rather sitting behind a desk in an office. Having to shift from a model with a high degree of network visibility to this very different network environment has often wreaked havoc. These firms’ IT teams are having to cope with a whole new set of pain points, ranging from connection quality and authentication issues, to security software and cloud resource access problems.
So, as a follow-up to that previous survey, we recently held another virtual gathering, this time attracting an audience of 60 legal IT professionals representing more than 50 law firms.
The participants were asked just three questions, which we discuss in more detail below:
- What is the biggest priority in your organization in 2021?
- What would be the single biggest improvement for fee earners working remotely or in a hybrid environment?
- To better support fee earners and the firm as a whole, if you could get more visibility into remote working what would you like to see more of?
Participants were asked to select their biggest priority for the year. Almost exactly the same number of respondents (67%) indicated that improving the end-user experience was their biggest goal, making this by far the most important challenge facing IT leaders. By contrast, the next highest response was the need to transition to the cloud, which garnered almost 35%, as seen in the following graph.
At first glance, the fact that zero trust was cited by only 20% of respondents would seem to indicate that it is low on the corporate to-do list. When you consider that improving end-user experience is a clear and practical business outcome with tangible (and often urgently needed) benefits for fee earners, it makes sense that a relatively new concept such as zero trust gets less attention.
Supporting fee earners
Over the past year, Helpdesk teams have been inundated with trouble tickets for problems that are often now out of their control due to a sudden lack of network visibility. In addition to run-of-the-mill IT problems, remote workers now face a raft of new issues, such as poor internet connections, authentication troubles, security software concerns and cloud resource access problems to name a few. Without adequate insight into the root cause of application and network performance issues, many of these tickets go unresolved for long periods, causing frustration and loss in productivity that many law firms are now attempting to tackle.
So, when it comes to supporting fee earners, it stands to reason that law firm IT teams have their sights set firmly on improving network reliability and application performance. As you can see in the graph above, roughly 50% of respondents each nominated application performance and network reliability and speed as two areas that would greatly improve the working environment.
By contrast, only 14% of respondents indicated that a better software security experience would provide the single biggest improvement to the user experience. As in the first question, this result may suggest that IT teams are looking for more tangible and practical improvements to the overall user experience, which in turn will provide better business outcomes for these law firms as a whole.
With so many businesses continuing to operate in a remote environment, it may be a long time before we see many law firm fee earners return to their offices full- or even part-time. As a result, remote working is going to be with us in some form or another for the foreseeable future.
When asked whether they would benefit more from visibility into remote diagnostics, threats, end-user experience or data usage, the clear choices were diagnostics (59%) and end-user experience (53%). Again, this is not surprising given the need to keep employees connected to the applications and services – many of which may be mission critical and highly time-sensitive – that they require as part of their daily work.
Perhaps surprisingly, the ability to see threats related to remote workers ranked 3rd, with just 31% of respondents wanting more. Considering that the legal and financial sectors are already heavily regulated, the issue of threats and vulnerabilities may be something that IT teams feel they already have a good handle on.
One thing is certain; things will continue to change throughout 2021. It is difficult to anticipate what exactly will occur, but the ability to ‘roll with the punches’ will at least ensure that businesses can keep their attention directed towards those tangible business outcomes.
If you work in IT at a law firm, feel free to join the Connected Legal Forum, where you’ll find more content and links to future webinars. You can also join the forum by using your LinkedIn account to connect directly to the community.