The annual Lex Conference (now in its 10th year) from the Ark Group is “dedicated to driving law firm efficiency through innovation and technology”.
Last year I was a speaker at Lex2011. This year I attended Lex2012 as a delegate. This video, from last year (in which I make an appearance or two) gives you a flavour of the event:-
Lex2012 kicked off with delegates being told to switch off their smart phones as they interfered with the AV system. Hardly a social media friendly technology conference! How were lawyers outside of the Conference venue going to be able to follow proceedings via Twitter and the hashtag #Lex2012? “The irony” as Jon Harman tweeted. Jon also pointed out in a tweet that this was an issue that was easy to avoid if you knew a thing or two about mics and wireless systems. Hopefully, the Ark Group will take a look at this in order to make their Conferences (and they organise many) in the future social media friendly ones.
Being rebellious I kept my smart phone on and Tweeted regardless. There was an occasional crackling via the speaker system – whether I was to blame or not will probably remain a mystery. The only other delegate tweeting from the Conference (Damien Behan) was, like me, from a Scottish law firm. I wondered whether the English were behind the curve or perhaps just more obedient and had switched their smart phones off!
Tweeting from Conferences I find to be a good way of taking notes and capturing the salient points. It also can create interesting comments and debate from outwith the four walls of the Conference venue. In fact those are sometimes more interesting and enlightening as the Conference talks themselves.
IT’s future: Keeping up with rampant consumerism and delivering tech savvy solutions
Charles Christian was the first speaker up with a look at ‘IT’s future: Keeping up with rampant consumerism and delivering tech savvy solutions’. The first slide was of Charles as a young boy in a space suit. Charles pointed out that the future was not always as we expected it to be. It was 40 years ago that man last set foot on the moon. Back then we might have expected great advancements by now in moon exploration (this brought the TV series ‘Space 1999’ to my mind) but nothing further had happened. There have been changing fortunes in the IT industry e.g. ZX Spectrum and, more recently, Blackberry. Innovation is not always what the consumer wants e.g. the Sinclair C5. Although Jason Plant pointed out in a tweet that Sir Clive knew what the customer wanted with the C5 (clean, cheap transport). His solution to the problem though was a mile off! Jon Harman pointed out in a tweet that Innovation has to fail sometimes, that’s the point. It’s how you manage minimising those risks. Stephen Allen commented in a tweet that in fact, properly mitigated, failed innovation will normally be the “mother” of successful innovation. Jon Harman pointed out in a tweet that this is why kids are so good at innovation, not afraid of failure, fail often, learn and improve. Jon went on to point out that a key ingredient is “sense making” in your environment – this mitigates your risk.
Back to Charles Christian. He said that many law firms (present company excepted – although I have my doubts on that after hearing some of the talks later in the day) think IT is something you do every 5 years. Technology is moving too quickly and you really need to be adapting and changing things on a more regular basis than that.
Charles thought we were perhaps moving into a third age of Legal IT. He saw the three ages as:-
1.0 Keep the background infrastructure running.
2.0 Practice support, becoming more core to legal work.
3.0 Help firms deliver services AND support and drive
Charles said that in the future people will do stuff differently and they won’t respect your work ethic and values – you just have to get over it.
He quoted the CIO of an American Tech Company who said:-
“We’re constantly connected at the office, at home, getting coffee and at the Airport. And we’re constantly working. That’s how we live.”
Charles wondered why lawyers were hung up about the cloud. He didn’t think it was any different from electricity and I would tend to agree. However, the afternoon talks (which I will come onto later) showed the hang ups that clearly exist even with firms who have implemented a cloud solution of sorts. Charles reckoned that the main issue with the cloud was not the infrastructure but the contractual arrangements.
Not being an iPad user (I am typing this blog post on a netbook with a proper keyboard as I travel back to Glasgow by train from London) I smirked when Charles told us that the easiest way to get a print from an iPad is to photocopy the screen! Someone tweeted “Genius!” I now have this mental image of iPad users up and down the country photocopying their iPads!
Will we see client facing interfaces by law firms that are Facebook in style? These would perhaps be more recognisable and user friendly as a result. Charles told us that this was already happening in the US.
Charles finished by telling us that his graphics from the Conference could be found on Pinterest (which he knew that at least one other person in the room used – that will be me as Charles has reported on Inksters’ use of Pinterest). I don’t think any other law firms in attendance at Lex2012 are pinning yet. Given their Microsoft migration rates (that we will come to later) it may be some time before any pick up their first pins. However, whether or not you pin you can still see those graphics at http://pinterest.com/legaltechnology
Aligning IT in the business: From reactive to proactive project management
Next up was Stephen Brown from Higgs & Sons on ‘aligning IT in the business: From reactive to proactive project management’. Stephen told us that Innovation was to introduce something new; make changes in anything established. With regard to a Trusted Adviser, building trust can only be done by demonstrating and proving trustworthiness over time. The Holy Grail in Legal IT was to become that Innovative Driver and Trusted Adviser. I will look at the Holy Grail in relation to Legal Technology Conferences later in this post.
There was some discussion in questions and answers with Stephen about issues arising, from a project management point of view, from the roll out of a new version of Microsoft Office in a law firm. No mention was made of Office 365 in the cloud which should create no issues at all – for those law firms wise enough to make the move.
Rising to the challenge and delivering desktop virtualisation
Janet Day then told us about ‘rising to the challenge and delivering desktop virtualisation’ at Berwin Leighton Paisner. They are replacing all PCs with Wyse Z50s Linux based (thin client) terminals. They analysed the usage of their 700+ notebooks and found that 2 out of 3 had never left the office and 6% only were used offline. Those that really need a notebook will now have instead a Wyse X90m7 Windows Embedded based Portable Terminal (that is a lightweight laptop for internet connection with no local software on board). It occurs to me as odd that law firms do not analyse the need for notebooks (which are more expensive than PCs) before (rather than after) deploying them. If staff are deskbound most of the time there should be no need for them to have a dedicated notebook. Some law firms at the height of iPad mania dished out iPads to staff. I am sure this was often a gimmick rather than looking at the needs/benefits involved on a lawyer to lawyer basis. Quite sure many of these iPads will be being used mainly for personal purposes rather than true business ones.
It was interesting that at Lex2011 Janet had spoken about the future being one where law firms would not provide devices at all to their lawyers but provide them with an allowance to buy their own (Bring Your Own Device). One year later and Berwin Leighton Paisner are not doing that but providing thin client devices to all staff. Staff can, however, still bring their own devices as well and these (e.g. iPads) can work with the firm’s systems.
I had the opportunity to see a Wyse Terminal as Wyse Technology were one of the solution providers at Lex2012. The terminal is tiny compared to a PC (about the size of a standard Router). It can plug into an existing monitor and I assume keyboard (although Berwin Leighton Paisner have introduced Wyse keyboards as part of their project). It is cheaper than a PC and something for any law firm moving to the cloud to consider as an alternative to a PC. If we add users to our existing cloud system at Inksters I will certainly be looking at the question of thin client terminals then. I understand that another provider of these devices is HP.
Moving to the cloud: The risks, opportunities and limitations
The afternoon at Lex2012 saw two case studies on moving to the cloud. The first one saw Maurice Tunney of Field Fisher Waterhouse tell us about ‘the risks, opportunities and limitations’. Maurice told us that the hardest part of any journey is taking the first step. As part of their move to the cloud an analysis was carried out that interestingly showed that the highest peak usage time on their servers was 11pm and 1am when backups were running. What surprised me most was that Field Fisher Waterhouse had virtualised onto their suppliers kit but kept it on their own site. The kit was owned by the supplier, leased by Field Fisher Waterhouse but still housed in Field Fisher Waterhouse’s offices! This is surely not cloud computing as we know it but a hybrid designed by a committee of lawyers. Camel computing perhaps!
This ‘solution’ defeats the benefits of full outsourcing. Surely the overall costs are going to be higher and the benefits lower. Indeed Maurice revealed that an unexpected extra cost was the need to beef up the line to connect to the system. Hmm… not surprising and not an issue if housed in a dedicated data centre rather than creating your own mini version. Security was cited as a reason for the ‘camel’ computing route. Again lawyers need to get over this myth. I am sure most data centres will be far more secure than Field Fisher Waterhouse’s in-house effort. See my post on a visit to my law firm’s cloud. I trust delegates will not be leaving Lex2012 wanting to emulate Field Fisher Waterhouse.
Moving to the cloud: Every cloud has a silver lining
Next cloud case study was ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’ given to us by David Bennett of Thomson Snell & Passmore. This was yet another big law firm that has just made the move from Microsoft Office 2003 and Exchange 2003 to the 2010 versions (what did Charles say earlier about 5 year plans!). A couple of snippets from David’s talk:-
- Closing down an infrastructure is as challenging as building a new one.
- Moving to the cloud is like moving house. The old furniture will fit, but do you want it to?
All the speakers had mentioned at some point printing issues arising from moving to the cloud. I will visit that topic myself in detail in a future blog post. However, I found David’s comment that Lawyers don’t trust double sided print an amusing one. His reasoning seemed to revolve around Court documents but I didn’t really follow it. Double sided print should, of course, be used in any business (law firm or otherwise) to reduce paper costs and be more environmentally friendly.
Information and Data Security for law firms: Are you sufficiently protected?
The next slot was on ‘Information and Data Security for law firms: Are you sufficiently protected?’ by Jon Segger and Mariette Kruger of Linklaters. This was where IT lawyers worry other lawyers about the risks of cloud computing resulting in the ‘camel’ computing I mentioned earlier. Lawyers do of course require to ensure they are sufficiently protected but any data centre and legal software supplier worth their salt will have that sorted. It is really for lawyers to satisfy themselves of this when entering into agreements with those parties.
The key principles mentioned by Linklaters were:-
- Security awareness
- Protect the infrastructure
- Protect the data
- Auditing and accountability
- Balanced approach
- Audit third parties
They did point out that information security was not all about saying no but about recognising risks and putting safeguards in place.
IT as a driver to improve cost efficiencies and streamline business processes
The final slot of the day was a panel discussion on IT as a driver to improve cost efficiencies and streamline business processes. By this stage in the day the panel almost outnumbered the audience and I could, unfortunately, not stay for the duration as I had to cross the road to get ready for the Lex2012 Tweetup (more on that later). One snippet I took away from the panel discussion before I left was that there has been limited success in using case management systems. I do wonder whether this is more down to the lawyers involved rather than the technology that exists.
The Holy Grail of legal technology conferences and the Camel
I promised earlier to cover the question of the Holy Grail of legal technology conferences. I first raised this in my blog post on last month’s LawTech Futures 2012 Conference. At that conference Charles Christian had said that the Holy Grail of such conferences was getting law firm partners to attend. So I got my Holy Grail monitor out and analysed the delegate list for Lex2012 and can reveal that only 5% of attendees were law firm partners. Instead of attending these conferences they are perhaps having long meetings in their boardrooms designing ‘camel’ computing which their IT directors then report back on to the legal technology conferences. As Charles said at the outset the future does not necessarily bring you what you expected it to!
Linda Cheung and I returned to host the Lex2012 Tweetup following on from the success of last year’s Lex2011 Tweetup and subsequent Legal Tweetups hosted by Shireen Smith, Jon Harman and Jonathan Lea. The Tweetup was held in the Melton Mowbray just opposite the Lex2012 Conference venue. 50 or so Twegals (Legals who Tweet) turned up to celebrate the anniversary tweetup. These events are always well attended and enjoyed by all. It is a great way to meet fellow Twegals in real life and strengthen existing social media contacts. By now there are always old faces to see again and new ones to meet.
The next Twegals Tweetup or Tweeting Legals is likely to be held in June and hosted by Jon Harman and The College of Law. Details will be published by Jon in due course.