Legally IT: how to conduct a technology audit yourself, thereby keeping the process, and the results, internal to your firm

Last month we introduced the legal technology audit. This time we explain how to become your firm’s own auditor.

For many firms, this is a task they might not feel competent to undertake in-house, but I would advocate that you try this. “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” By doing so, you also keep the results and data you gather from the audit in-house.

Creating your audit document depends on what you want to find out. You can focus on areas that you can retrain in, areas you would like to grow (for example using cloud-based systems), or even areas you know that you don’t use as a firm but would like to (social media and apps?). This will need to be considered carefully before you design the technology audit document. Some relevant headings are suggested below.

A simple document can be a checklist or even a tick box sheet. You might decide to create a SurveyMonkey-style questionnaire: the choice is yours. Even a conversation is a starting point.

Technology skills

Everyone from the most junior staff to the managing partner will be using some form of technology, unless you practise law in a different century. In evaluating technology skills, some of the questions you might ask are challenging and the evaluation is dependent on your team being honest in their responses.

You might want to ask how competent they feel using email, converting documents to PDF or attaching files. You must make it clear that admitting they need extra help in technology is not an admission of failure but an opportunity for the firm to bolster its skills toolkit. A very senior partner may feel unable to undertake certain IT actions because they usually ask a secretary or junior member of the team to do it, but may regard revealing a gap in their technology skills as an admission of failure. Instead they will carry on, failing to maximise the efficiency of their systems and in effect placing the success of the firm at risk. Are they the kind who cannot send an email without dictating it?

BYOD (bring your own device)

Some firms provide mobile phones and laptops; others allow you to use your own devices for work. As work practices change and remote working grows, more and more lawyers can be seen in Starbucks on their phones and tablets. Enjoying the freedom technology provides to work away from your desk comes at a price for the firm, despite the savings of BYOD.

The firm saves because legal teams buy their own equipment, but is it worth the cost? What cost, you might ask?

Think of this scenario. Gilbert (a fictitious character) is a senior lawyer with a successful firm. He has all his work emails diverted to be accessed on his mobile phone. He also has access to his firm’s database and client files on his laptop, iPad and home computer. This is a brilliant scenario for Gilbert. He is no longer chained to his desk till 8pm; he can leave and go home to his family. After bedtime for his children he logs on and accesses his emails. He may log in and work on his client files.

When was his security last updated on his laptop? Who else has access to his laptop? How secure is his phone? Do you know? This is one area very relevant to the technology audit, and some food for thought.

Technological processes

Technological processes are one of the many processes within a firm that fall under the umbrella of legal processes: the “hows” of legal practice. Thinking about processes in any form is a new way of thinking for lawyers. As part of the technology process section in your technology audit it is important to consider what areas are important for your firm: not only what technology you use now, but thinking ahead. If your firm falls short of meeting and using technology now, how will you adapt as new technology is introduced?

Here is a bold suggestion: ask your newest trainee what technology they use outside of work. And speak to your clients.

Needs of the firm

Every firm is different in size, practice areas and direction, so this part of your audit needs to be addressed by the decision makers: the senior partners or even the board. Using the data you harvest from the audit, you will be able to analyse and identify where you fall short, and of course identify your technology toolkit. Conducting your own technology audit allows you the flexibility to adapt and change it as you go. It allows you the peace of mind that your own teams’ skills are private to your firm, and you can reassure your team that their lack of technology knowledge is a starting point that can be fixed. Ultimately, identifying this will help the firm to grow.

The Author
Michelle Hynes is legal process engineer at Inksters Solicitors, a firm that embraces technology, people and innovation. You can reach her at Michelle@inksters.com or follow her on Twitter: @legaleaglemhm
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