A senior partner has told a conference that lawyers need help from IT departments to do their jobs properly.
Peter Leonard (pictured), the head of the communications, media and data protection practice at Gilbert + Tobin, was one of four panelists at a breakfast seminar organised by Janders Dean in Sydney on Wednesday (5 December).
Leonard said that, with lawyers travelling more often as cross-border transactions increase, he needs to trust his mobile work devices in order to fulfill his brief.
“The mobility challenge is particularly great because it is generational,” said Leonard. “I need a lot of care and attention from an IT team. Although I work with technology I am not that technically savvy.”
Leonard relayed a story where he was working overseas recently in the early hours of the morning and his laptop was not working, meaning he had to implement a back-up plan.
“I need people to help me through things that my younger lawyers readily understand,” he said. “That is particularly a problem when I am remote because quite often the problem will be occurring at 3am on a Sunday morning, like when my laptop didn’t work in a Kuala Lumpur hotel room a couple of months ago on a Sunday morning at 4am.
“That has led me to institute a policy of carrying two laptops.”
Leonard, who also called on IT staff to be more visible and interact more with lawyers, was joined on the panel by his G+T colleague Simon Gilchrist, the head of innovation at the firm. The other panellists were Peter Campbell, the chief information officer and chief knowledge officer at Sparke Helmore, and Chris Davis from Phoenix Business Solutions.
Before an audience of law firm partners, senior management, IT and knowledge management professionals, the panel discussed how lawyers can get the right information to their clients at the right time.
Leonard said clients expect prompt service but also expect their external legal providers to work within budgetary constraints.
“In 32 years of legal practice the major challenge I have seen during that time is the pressure from clients to reduce the number of lawyers at the table,” said Leonard. “That means collaboration requires dispersed lawyers working effectively together, often at the same time, because the client won’t have them at the table and you have to be efficient about that collaboration.”
Campbell said that Sparke Helmore was currently rolling out a survey looking at how staff use technology. He said feedback thus far indicated lawyers seek to collaborate but wanted more assistance around ensuring the secure transfer of documents.
“I think they all have an understanding of how important it is to look after client information, but I don’t think they are perhaps as aware of the consequences of what they are doing might be [when transferring documents],” he said. I don’t think there is a technical way of locking it down, because then you stop them from being able to work collaboratively.
“But at the same time we can teach them more about security.”
A survey of Australian law firms by IntApp recently showed that client information can be accessed easily by most staff. The survey also found that most respondents did not know how much their firm invests in risk management.
The panellists acknowledged the pace of technical change and that the proficiency current law graduates have with using mobile devices and social media meant that methods by which firms communicate with clients and internally was in a constant state of flux.
“Kids these days don’t use email,” said Gilchrist. “I have been talking to some work experience people and they don’t use email. It is a generational thing and such a shift in work practices.”
Leonard relayed the story of how he has tried to pen a social media policy for the firm, but this project is ongoing due to the pace of technical change and a lack of clarity about what sort of policy is needed.
“I tried to write our social media policy at least one year ago and I ended up giving up in disgust because every time I would write something new technology would come by and I would have to write about that too,” he said.
“Then I realised that what I was really writing was the ‘dos and donts’ risk management manual.
Leonard added that the process has since stalled due to conflicting opinions about what should be contained in any such manual.
“And then we all got bogged down because I couldn’t sort out with the risk management people whether we were writing a ‘dos and donts’ manual or writing a guide [on how to deal with new technology].”