The Legal Adminstrator's Evolving View of IT Services
(This is Part 1 of a two-part series on How Cloud Computing Implementation Simplifies the Evolving Role of the Legal Administrator.)
The role of legal administrator has changed significantly in recent years. A more competitive market landscape, the quest for a “paperless office”, and issues such as client data confidentiality all play a part in the evolving role of the legal practitioner. This article identifies the key challenges today’s legal administrators face, and outlines a proactive approach to operations starting with the organization’s IT infrastructure.
Legal administrators are taking a more proactive, business-focus approach to the IT services their firms employ. Here are a few reasons why:
Texas Lawyer's 2008 Salary and Billing Survey reported that the average hourly billing rate for attorneys ranges from $176 to $184 per hour for first-year associates and from $292 to $309 per hour for non-equity partners. At these rates, firms run the risk of losing thousands of dollars for just one hour of downtime.
Challenge #1: The Rising Cost of Practicing Law
The cost of practicing law has substantially increased in recent years – most notably in purchasing new equipment that was not required years ago. The 2008 Association of Corporate Counsel Value Challenge findings report frustration on law firms' abilities to effectively budget, staff projects, and track fees to budget. While the trend to digitize documents has promised to streamline processes and avoid excess paperwork, many are overwhelmed by the plethora of newly available options. Computer problems and their related costs have some questioning the cost benefits.
Challenge #2: Keeping Pace with Client Demand
Keeping up with client demand is a major concern. Large clients expect lawyers to keep pace with their demands, and still work within very strict budgets. Recession-induced layoffs have decreased the lawyer-to-secretary ratio, thus effecting office productivity. More clients are utilizing new technology to meet certain demands and expect their legal council to keep up with the speed and efficiency the technology has created for their business. In order to accommodate client expectation, most law firms end up overinvesting to keep up with client demand.
Challenge #3: Ensuring Security of Client Data
Rule 1.05 of the "Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct" is specific about an attorney's duties to keep client information confidential. To avoid excess paperwork and create more office space, more firms are digitizing and storing documents. Today, firms must now contend with security breaches such as viruses, hackers and rogue employees. Loss of critical data due to inefficient computer systems leads to loss of client trust. The Ponemon Institute estimates that a lost or stolen computer can cost a firm $50,000 in costs associated with remediation.
Challenge #4: Adapting to Changing Market Conditions
In efforts to create or build revenue, firms are constantly merging or disbanding, requiring legal partners must take the proper action to make sure that the integration or relocation process is done quickly and without disruption. Law firms’ long-term commitments to fixed costs make it difficult to scale back quickly or easily – specifically with regard to layoffs. Integrating new computer users and applications with existing members of a law firm can be a lengthy and costly task. Legal practitioners run the risk of data loss or computer failure – greatly delaying the integration or relocation process.
Challenge #5: Managing Risk and Liabilities
Legal practitioners are under constant pressure to evaluate the level of risk and return on any investment. During times of recession, lawyers must reduce costs to protect the bottom line. However, in today’s competitive market, they must do so without harming growth potential, or putting the organization at risk. The more IT equipment, the greater the risk. The conventional process of purchasing, installing, managing, protecting and supporting an onsite IT system has become a vicious cycle and runs contrary to the need to reduce recurrent expenditures.
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