The legal profession is one where any chargeable minute wasted is money down the drain. Irish legal practitioners are increasingly focusing on technology to improve business productivity. But where to get started? Here’s a list of seven key questions to ask your IT provider:

1. How can we best use our data?

The most useful IT systems both record information and provide access to it in more meaningful ways that can be used to advance your business – for example – in profiling clients, providing guidance as to their current and potential future needs and serving as a route map to business opportunities that can be explored and developed.

Most Irish law firms would struggle to produce a single, current and complete picture of their client base and yet, shouldn’t that be a starting point for any business planning?

2. What cloud features are available?

For legal firms in particular, the cloud is both an asset and a potential liability. Being able to access information remotely and 24/7 is invaluable, but only if that data is securely hosted and the systems offers a rigid authentication process and other data protection layers. One great advantage of the right cloud-based IT systems is that they are scalable, meaning that legal practitioners can start with a basic suite of functions and add to them as their legal practice grows.

3. How can we use our IT to make us more responsive?

Good IT systems, processes and support allows legal firms to respond to client needs more rapidly and comprehensively. Clients often find it more useful to communicate out of ‘normal business hours’ and one of the key advantages of IT is that it can give a higher level of interaction, often without the corresponding workload – such as by providing the ability to access progress reports on their own cases, which satisfies the client and gives a legal firm an obvious advantage over rivals.

A good IT provider will be able to demonstrate how their tools will improve the workflow of your employees and firm as a whole in responding to the needs of your clients

4. How does this IT meet both the security requirements and the ethical standards of our profession?

Legal firms have to meet strict confidentiality standards relating to their client information. While it can be appealing to access all the information relating to a client or case from a single location – this can only work as long as the IT complies with both statutory regulations and ethical standards.

At an absolute minimum, legal professionals are required to take reasonable steps to minimise any risk of a confidential information breach – this means controlling access to your data, ensuring there is proper encryption, and overseeing secure data backup and storage. An IT provider should be able to give you absolute clarity in all of these areas.

5. How can our IT help our legal firm to follow up leads and network more effectively?

Marketing can still be a dirty word for some law firms but it’s becoming a significant feature in work of modern legal organisations. A flexible IT system can allow for sensitive marketing of a legal practice by creating communications like newsletters and white papers that specifically address the needs of the firm’s client base.

Imaginative marketing isn’t just a case of selling legal services, it creates loyalty, drives action, sustains relationships and provides added value for your clients. It can also be used as a diary to remind clients of actions to be taken in the future such as updating contracts, reviewing wills and checking that current agreements conform to new legislation.

6. What is the training load we should expect to keep a comprehensive understanding of our IT?

It’s crucial to choose an IT system that balances ease of use with functionality. While picking the system that is easiest to master can seem the simplest way to please your legal team (especially senior members who can be unwilling to cut into billable hours for training programmes) it won’t necessarily give you an IT structure that supports growth and development in a rapidly changing field like the legal profession.

Bear in mind that temps or locums will need to use areas of your IT system and somebody needs to be able to get them up to speed without wasting time.

7. How does our IT setup help us manage unexpected risk?

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of an effective IT system is that it delivers business continuity in unpredictable situations. While most Irish legal firms now have a plan to manage ‘fire and flood’, it’s the uncategorisable risk that really challenges a business. For example, if a senior partner fell ill unexpectedly, how would your organisation pick up their workload? With a strong IT systems in place, all outstanding tasks can be recognised and addressed, work can be tracked in real time so nothing slips through the net and senior administrators can instantly oversee workloads throughout the firm, distributing work appropriately to ensure deadlines are met and client need is satisfied.

This question is also crucial when it comes to addressing cybersecurity threats that can derail a legal firms standing altogether.

So there you have it, 7 simple questions that you can and should put to your IT provider today – in an email or over the phone – to make sure you have a good understanding of how your IT systems are supporting your legal firm.