Legal Technology Q&A with Paul Albone

Q&A session with TM Group Managing Director Paul Albone.

Law firms are not always the earliest adopters of new technology but with growing numbers of consumers looking to shop online, it has never been a better time for forward-thinking firms to embrace new ways of doing things to capitalise on this huge market.

Paul (pictured right) has been in technology for over 25 years, having spent the last 12 of those with TM Group; prior to that, he headed up product management at Optimal Communications.

We asked him to give us the low-down on IT in the legal world:

Hello Paul, what do you think are the main IT problems that law firms across the UK face today?
Well, one of the main issues for most law firms is their use of legacy systems because unless they are broken, there’s no driver to upgrade and so you find that inertia sets in. But it also depends on the size of the firm, for example it is rarely cost effective for small firms to upgrade their IT systems whilst, for bigger firms, it becomes a large-scale problem: there’s training to consider, migration of data, as well as the expense of kitting out multiple offices.

In addition to this, a lot of law firms use old or outdated case management systems and gear their work practices around them rather than seeing the potential in more modern software.

And last but certainly not least, there is still a lack of understanding of cloud technology. Many firms are concerned about data security and are hesitant of sharing private information over the internet but, in reality, it’s often much safer using the cloud than storing data on-premise.

We know that some law firms are often using obsolete and unsupported software, how important is it to keep up to date?
Very important but actually there’s no need for the typical law firm to be cutting edge. Generally you want to wait for a solution to mature and to reach wider adoption before upgrading to it – to make sure that any bugs or inconsistencies are ironed out with a service pack. Equally, if you don’t keep up to date, you could be vulnerable to hackers and viruses. More than half of TM users are accessing our system through Internet Explorer version 8 or 9, but Microsoft will stop supporting these web browsers as of January 2016 so I’d urge all solicitors to upgrade to the later versions (10 or 11). It’s free too – simply visit the Microsoft website to see if you can upgrade.

What one thing would make the biggest difference to a law firm that wanted to modernise its technology processes?
Use a cloud service. You will always have the latest version of it, you won’t require any infrastructure or on-site hardware, you can use it right from your desktop because it’s internet based – plus, because cloud services will have disaster recovery measures in place, it will help with your BCP (Business Continuity Planning) should anything go wrong. Many businesses run purely on Amazon web services – the cloud services that Amazon set up because they had so much data to process.

Consumers now are increasingly shopping around online for insurance, banking and other sensitive products – what can law firms do to be found online?
Make sure your web presence is a key part of your marketing strategy – in the modern age, you cannot rely simply on clients to knock on your front door. Your main goal should be getting your website to the top of the search results in Google for relevant key phrases, such as ‘conveyancing’ and so on.

If you have a marketing budget, it would be worth developing a relevant and unique digital content marketing strategy. A well implemented strategy will improve your organic search engine position with Google and Bing as well as improving industry and consumer opinion.

With small/medium sized law firms often lacking budget for in-house IT teams, does this put greater onus on suppliers to the legal sector to provide out of the box solutions that require little-to-no IT resource to implement and maintain?
This has always been the case really. I.T. is certainly cheaper than it used to be but, in our everyday lives, people are using lots of isolated applications or apps to complete small tasks e.g. checking BBC sport for the football results. The challenge is how do we integrate smaller apps with each other to provide a single holistic solution? That is something that we think about as a supplier to the legal industry.

Jomati Consultants recently asserted that ‘artificial intelligence will cause “structural collapse” of law firms by 2030’ – how likely is this to being implemented and what impact would it have?
I’m not sure I agree on the timeline. Just because something is technically possible, doesn’t necessarily make it cost effective. However I do think that the technology will be used to create higher levels of automation so people can concentrate on more complex matters using intrinsically human skills.

We all need to start with the basics to get a good grounding in our disciplines, so I do not see the fundamentals changing. Hopefully, the next generation of solicitors will have been brought up with technology as part of their everyday lives and so perhaps the buying and adoption patterns of IT within the legal sector will speed up and become part of the normal way of doing business.

SRA Research for better information for clients in the legal services market

tmgroup responds to The Law Society’s The Future of Legal Services report