20 Jun 2017


What does the future of legal services hold and what do CIOs need to deliver today?

This year’s Legal Leaders IT Forum contained plenty of sessions on how the legal industry is evolving in the face of technological change and a world shrinking in size.

The event was your usual mix of futurist trends and practical examples – from disruptive technologies such as Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and virtual agents, to newer systems and solutions that enable lawyers to deliver efficiencies, bill more hours and grow revenues.

Alongside all this industry soothsaying and forecasting, we felt there was one underlying topic that required more discussion – globalisation.

Or, more importantly, how do organisations deliver a cohesive client experience around the globe when local market challenges are so diverse? And how does the IT department enable this outcome?

Individuals and corporations from China, India and Russia have flocked to UK law firms to conduct business through or in the country. Their requirements span everything from criminal and civil proceedings, to corporate investment, high-value property law and gathering best practice to modernise their own legal systems.

With highly sensitive documentation, regular video meetings and bandwidth intensive communications now underpinning international client relationships and knowledge sharing, the IT department is having to react faster than ever. As a result, this has a knock-on effect on a company’s global network and creates a new set of challenges – cost, reliability, resilience, performance and security.

Globalisation drives innovation

Part of overcoming these issues, especially for CIOs and CTOs at multinational law firms, is knowing what steps to take to enhance the innovation process, not hinder it.

The positive news is many law firms are now aware of the benefits of technology compared to a decade ago, and business stakeholders are perceptive as to why having a high-performing global network is necessary for scaling the practice internationally.

This topic is covered in a report from The Law Society which explains, “Businesses that are repeatedly successful at innovation, whether in services, processes or market, have often already established an effective system for innovation.”

A component of this ‘innovation system’ is knowing what business and IT tools are critical, and recognising the important role global access plays in delivering sustainable change.

After all, there is little value in advocating video conferencing to build trust with prospective international clients if video calls are of poor quality. Investing in Machine Learning demonstrates a firm’s commitment to innovation, but what about getting the basics right?

For example:

  • Are international branch offices suffering from intermittent access to resources because of an underperforming network?

  • Is network security considered part of the organisation’s overall risk management strategy?

  • Do cloud applications and data access enrich a partner’s workflow or do they act as a roadblock to collaboration due to service issues

  • If investment in innovative services is planned (AI, Machine Learning, etc.), have the effects on the network been thoroughly scoped, planned and tested?

Any law firm committed to delivering a modern workplace and practice is to be commended, however those in the IT department responsible for organisational innovation should ensure these questions are addressed first, especially within the context of international business.

Network infrastructure forms the foundation upon which all other systems, software and application performance is measured. Often forgotten, networks typically only become visible to the business when performance is unsatisfactory for employees and partners. It’s crucial that network investment is considered a core business requirement to prevent costly downtime that consumes the productivity of partners spread across the world.

Emerging economies leading the way

Despite recent geopolitical developments that have made some industry commentators sceptical of globalisation’s long-term validity, market data suggests the demand for international legal services is stronger than ever. Global transnational M&A activity was $4.9tn in 2015 and global foreign direct investment was $1.7tn in 2015.

2016’s figures will be interesting to analyse, though irrespective of what they show, it’s clear many still believe the opposite and that, “the progress of social productivity and technology means the trend of globalisation is irreversible.”

The strength of emerging marketplaces and economies in recent years has certainly boosted the stature of UK legal services. Furthermore, if the UK wishes to maintain its position as a leader on the global stage, looking internationally for new opportunities must continue and be supported.

Any law practice that has invested in its infrastructure and prepared its workplace to take advantage of these opportunities should be poised to reap the rewards. They will also be better positioned to take advantage of the new ways of working and technologies entering the industry. Can you say your firm falls into this category?