A balancing act between digitisation and data security
A successful modern law firm needs to adopt digital processes to improve its practices, with those ensuring compliance at its heart, says Doug Hargrove
Successfully running a law firm is a balancing act in more ways than one, not least in managing the drive for digitisation with the need for data security.
The government's Digital by Default (DbD) strategy - to make all its agencies or processes digital by 2020 - directly impacts every legal practice in the UK. The idea is to improve customer service while making cost savings through simplifying the way that billions of transactions are handled by government agencies, such as Companies House and the Land Registry, by moving from paper submissions to online forms.The DbD strategy has been active since 2012 and the drum has been banged so loudly that most people are well aware of it. Despite this, our own research suggests that there is still a dearth of law firms that have made the switch to digitally submitting data to government agencies. Only 23 per cent of 800 organisations surveyed by Advanced had made the move away from paper.
Part of the issue may be that the government still allows paper form submissions, and many firms will understandably choose that familiar path - despite the higher rejection rates and submission costs compared to digital.
Those that have moved to digital may also have been frustrated by the government's offering, which many feel falls short of what they need, with no ability to save drafts, re-assign work, or accurately track costs.
To become a 'digital law firm', lauded by many industry experts, a comprehensive digital strategy is imperative.
By digital strategy, we don't mean search engine optimisation or pay per click or any other digital marketing term you may have heard of. Instead, what is needed is a plan for how firms
can best adopt digital processes to improve
their practices, encompassing digital dictation, signatures, online form submission, document collaboration, lead management, and disaster recovery.
A digital plan is not only a necessity to meet the government's paperless objectives, but it can also deliver time and cost savings, and these efficiencies will help to improve customer relationships. With more data available and accessible online, there is more opportunity to analyse the practice as a whole business, from accounting data to client trends to department benchmarking.
While many may recognise these benefits, they may also feel torn between the drive to put more data online and the increasing need to protect that information. Many may feel that going digital will actually increase their vulnerability to data breaches, in comparison with the traditional 'paper and shredder' approach.
With more and more news stories about data security breaches appearing in the media, such as TalkTalk and Ashley Madison, no one can be in any doubt that they can happen to anyone, in any sector and of any size, and that the damage, not least to company reputation, can be significant.
Indeed, a recent Freedom of Information request to the Information Commissioner's Office revealed a 500 per cent rise of Data Protection Act breaches in the courts and justice sector and a 127 per cent rise among law firms and barristers' chambers over the past three years. This research also revealed that human error was the main cause of these breaches.
Concerns about data security are valid, but they should not be used as a barrier to digitisation. We now live and work in a world where people use multiple devices both for their work and personal lives, and where 288 billion emails are sent every day and 6,000 Tweets every second.
The comfort zone of the pen and paper is simply no longer an option. It is also not fail-safe against data breaches - some of you may remember media articles about Cabinet Office employees and Cabinet members leaving confidential documents on trains.
Law firms need a digital strategy that places data security at its heart. With powerful practice and case management solutions, processes can be automated to ensure compliance - and avoid fines - and risk can be managed via embedded security and data encryption within applications and documents.
With the right technology tools, firms can give equal weight to digitising their practice while ensuring their data is protected, enabling them to successfully balance the management of a modern law firm. SJ
Doug Hargrove is managing director of Legal at Advanced