IT for Law Firms: What Lawyers
Need to Know
Estimated Read: 15 Minutes
There’s a stereotype about law firms when it comes to paperwork—namely, that a lot of trees have to die for a law firm’s operations every year. There is a basis for the stereotype. Back in 2008, a study found that the average attorney generated up to 100,000 sheets of paperwork each year.
However, even back then, technology was already starting to make a significant dent in the amount of paper produced to meet the needs of the American legal system. Now, law firms across the country rely on electronic documentation and other technologies to reduce paper waste, make filing court proceedings faster, and perform important case law research.
Legal IT isn’t just some buzzword or hot-button topic—it’s a necessity for the efficient operation of a modern-day law firm in New York. Clients in the Tri-State area expect their legal team to have the right tools and technology to efficiently and effectively manage their cases.
What Is Legal IT?
Legal IT—also known as legal tech or legal technology—can be loosely defined as the use of any software or technology for the purposes of operating a law firm or for legal practice.
Lexology provides a more specific definition for legal tech: “software and technology which is used by law firms or legal teams to facilitate their processes and improve their effectiveness.”
Legal IT could include anything from legal document management software, to payroll management systems, time-tracking software, anti-spyware/malware solutions, and even the laptops lawyers and paralegals use.
How Is Legal Technology Evolving?
As technology continues to develop, so too do the solutions that law firms use in their businesses and legal practice. Some of the major trends in legal IT include:
Increased Adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI can be an incredibly flexible technology with many different applications. AI is, as noted by Investopedia, “based on the principle that human intelligence can be defined in a way that a machine can easily mimic it and execute tasks.” An interesting note in the Investopedia article is that advances in AI technology have made “previous benchmarks that defined artificial intelligence become outdated.” Some of the benchmarks that were once considered cutting-edge applications of AI are now “taken for granted as an inherent computer function.”
To say it in another way, artificial intelligence is an attempt to recreate how actual humans can perform tasks. This often leverages machine learning algorithms to help the AI program “learn” tasks using previous experience—such as by logging task successes and failures to identify what is or isn’t valid for a given task.
One of the uses that many attorneys may find interesting is applying AI tools to parse massive data sets in a fraction of the time it takes a person to do so.
How can this be of benefit to a practicing attorney? One potential use of this ability is to check financial records and other data sets for anomalies. By scanning a large table of financial transactions, an AI could use a machine learning algorithm to identify what activity is “normal” for those transactions and what activity is anomalous—calling out unusual transactions for review by a paralegal, attorney, or private investigator as needed.
This could be an enormous time-saver for an attorney in a protracted legal dispute that hinges on financial information—such as during divorce proceedings where expenses in joint accounts might be a relevant legal issue or in a case where such records could provide evidence of malfeasance or innocence.
The American Bar Association (ABA) refers to this application as “technology-assisted review (TAR).” The ABA also notes that AI can be helpful for conducting legal research to save time and analyze legal documents for errors, omissions, and inconsistencies that might impact the validity of those documents.
Other Law Firm Technologies Seeing Wide-Scale Adoption
While AI might be one of the most attention-grabbing law firm IT solutions seeing increased adoption, it’s far from the only one. Other IT solutions being used by modern law firms include, but are not limited to:
These are just a few of the different technologies that law firms in Long Island, Manhattan, and the rest of New York use today.
What Are Some Common Legal IT Challenges?
Although the goal of using technology is to make life easier for everyone in the law firm, legal IT isn’t without its challenges. Even as lawyers, business office managers, secretaries, paralegals, and front office staff benefit from the conveniences of law firm technology, the business itself faces new challenges because of the need for consistent access to IT resources for basic business operations.
Some of the biggest IT challenges that a legal practice faces include (but may not be limited to):
1. Managing Data Retention
Data retention is a major issue for any law firm. Having the ability to access critical legal documents is important, but so is being able to remove unnecessary documents after the data retention period is up.
When law firms primarily relied on paper records, the biggest challenge was accurately tracking where the paper file was when it was needed (followed by retrieving it from the records room). However, disposing of obsolete records that the firm is no longer required to keep is also simpler with paper records—a quick trip to a legal document shredder or a furnace would be enough to prevent the recovery of any sensitive information that the document might have held.
In the electronic age, data retention and management can be simultaneously easier and more difficult. How can electronic records complicate a firm’s data retention policy? While finding documents is often much faster and easier with electronic documents, disposal is often more complicated.
When someone “deletes” a file from a computer, that doesn’t actually destroy the data in the file. Instead, it frees up that space on the device’s hard drive to be overwritten by other information later. So, when getting rid of obsolete files, it’s often necessary to use an IT asset disposition (ITAD) solution to ensure that the data is really gone.
ITAD solutions use a few different solutions to render data on a hard drive irretrievable:
Degaussing the Drive.
By applying extraordinarily powerful magnetic fields to a hard drive or other storage media, the data on a disk platter can be completely destroyed beyond all hope of recovery. Unfortunately, this only works on storage devices that rely on magnetic information storage/writing technology, so it does not work on CDs, DVDs, or solid-state drives (SSDs).
Physical Drive Destruction.
By physically destroying a data storage device, it’s possible to prevent the recovery of any data on the device. This is more effective at preventing data retrieval for devices that may be resistant to degaussing.
Total Data Rewrites.
To avoid having to completely destroy a data storage drive, some ITAD vendors may instead delete the data on the drive and then fill the drive completely with junk data to overwrite every sector on the drive. This overwrite helps to ensure that the older data cannot be retrieved later while preserving the drive itself for future use.
This level of thoroughness is necessary to help protect clients’ sensitive information from malicious actors who might try to misuse it.
Additionally, law firms need to have a solution to track when it’s okay to delete a file and prevent the accidental deletion of mission-critical files needed for active cases or those that have what the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) refers to as “intrinsic value,” such as wills or deeds—which the firm is required to maintain indefinitely for ethics requirements. This is one of the things that a legal document management solution is often useful for.
2. Maintaining a Strong Cybersecurity Posture
There will always be someone looking to take advantage of new technology and resources for nefarious purposes. Unfortunately, law firms can be a tempting target for cybercriminals because of the sensitive nature of the documents they process, such as:
- Court case notes
- Client lists and contact information
- Financial information (From both clients and records used as evidence in court cases)
- Wills, deeds, and other legal documents
A malicious actor could easily use stolen data to commit fraud, resell it to interested parties, or even blackmail a client.
Alternatively, instead of stealing data, a hacker could carry out a denial-of-service attack to prevent the law firm from being able to conduct routine activities. For example, some cybercriminals leverage massive networks of infected devices, called botnets, to carry out distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against businesses.
Another major threat to the security of a law firm’s data is basic user error. Many users of IT resources simply aren’t able to accurately identify actual cyber threats. In fact, ZDNet reported on a survey which revealed that although “nearly everyone (96%) knew about phishing and 88% said they could accurately define it… nearly half (47%) didn’t know that phishing can happen through software.” Worse, only “5% were able to correctly identify all types of [phishing] scams.”
In other words, if you had 20 people working in your firm, only one person would be able to successfully identify and avoid every kind of phishing scam—and that’s just one of the many cyber threats that your firm has to contend with!
This is why law firms need to maintain a strong cybersecurity posture that incorporates not only solid security tools but comprehensive training and testing to ensure that good cybersecurity practices are followed throughout the firm.
3. Ensuring Uptime/Availability of IT Resources
Without consistent access to critical IT resources, operations in a law firm can grind to a halt. The ABA reported that “the majority of outages affect businesses for more than seven days and technology disruption is a major concern.” Ensuring that mission-critical IT resources remain available when they’re needed can be a huge challenge because there are many issues that can cause an outage, such as:
Many businesses—not just law firms—invest heavily in business continuity solutions to help curb the risks posed by IT service outages.
The state of New York experiences more than 1,700 power outages each year.
- Tara Energy
4. Managing IT Expenses
Managing IT projects and maintaining IT infrastructure isn’t always cheap. There are numerous costs to consider when managing IT internally as an organization, such as:
- Software licensing fees
- Hardware costs (for computers, smartphones, laptops, network routers, cabling, etc.)
- IT staff salary and benefits—which can easily be upwards of $128k/year for IT engineers in New York (Source: Glassdoor)
- Software development costs
Handling IT internally as a law firm to the standard needed to ensure compliance with industry requirements can be incredibly expensive—especially if the firm needs to change IT solutions or launch any other major IT project at any point in the year.
This is where finding an IT service management (ITSM) vendor can be helpful. By outsourcing basic IT tasks and getting expert support for legal IT management, law firms can help reduce their IT costs by removing the need to recruit costly internal personnel and eliminating unnecessary hardware and software acquisitions.
5. Integrating Existing IT Solutions with New Ones (Such as the Cloud)
One of the biggest challenges with managing IT for a law firm is keeping up with all of the new developments in technology.
For example, most IT solutions for businesses used to be based on locally-installed software running on hardware in the business—which is referred to as “on-prem” solutions by some in the IT industry.
However, after the turn of the millennium, as the general speed and reliability of internet connectivity improved, many IT solution providers changed over to a “cloud-based” service model. Instead of relying on locally-installed software running from a data center located in the building, so-called “cloud” solutions use hardware and software in a remote data center for common business operations.
The problem was that many businesses were still using legacy software that wasn’t originally designed with the cloud in mind. This led to the need to either adapt the existing solution to work in a cloud-based environment or completely replace the legacy software and have everyone in the business learn a completely new IT solution from scratch. Both of these solutions had their own challenges and could be costly to enact.
Even now, whenever there’s a new IT solution for a common business challenge, law firms are forced to consider if they need to adopt that solution as well as how it will impact their tech stack and existing process workflows.
Dealing with Compliance Issues in Legal IT
One of the biggest challenges that any attorney or legal practice in the U.S. faces is the sheer variety of regulatory requirements they face on the local, state, federal, and even international level. There is no one codified list of standards that will cover every situation in every state.
However, there are a few regulations that lawyers in New York will need to keep in mind when dealing with IT and digital information storage and retrieval, such as:
The EU's General Data Protection Regulation set forth a series of data privacy and data protection rules that would be applied to any organization that collects, stores, or processes the data of EU citizens.
Major IT Services for Law Firms
There are countless IT services on the market to help businesses tackle all kinds of IT challenges—from managing their tech stack to defending against cyber threats, providing tech support for the business, and more.
What are some of the biggest managed IT solutions for law firms? Here’s a short list of some services that can help law offices make the most out of their IT investments and minimize their risks and liabilities:
Co-Managed IT Support
For organizations that already have an IT department/team, but need help because the demands of IT management have outpaced their available resources, a co-managed IT support service can be a lifesaver.
Instead of replacing your existing legal IT team, a co-managed support team accentuates your existing team to free up their time and resources for what you need them to focus on. These services can be highly customizable to meet your specific needs—allowing you to address gaps in your IT team while minimizing the impact of your office’s total cost of ownership (TCO) for IT resources.
Managed Helpdesk Support
A managed helpdesk helps an organization by providing around-the-clock support that encompasses IT discovery and roadmap, IT service management, remote monitoring, and service desk support in a single offering.
Fully managed helpdesk solutions help organizations that currently lack a dedicated IT team quickly access the resources and expertise they need to maximize the ROI from their IT investments.
For example, a managed helpdesk with a vendor management system can help a law office manage their IT vendors—identifying redundancies and other opportunities to streamline solutions to simplify IT costs or improve the business’ IT infrastructure.
Every organization can benefit from having a strong cybersecurity posture. With the sheer variety of cyber threats out there that can cause IT service outages or data breaches, law firms need a comprehensive suite of tools to protect their business from malicious actors.
Four essential cybersecurity services offered by managed service providers (MSPs) include:
To more accurately address your needs, some MSPs offer an IT assessment service that inspects your current IT infrastructure, your goals, and your operational needs to identify the best resources to use. These IT assessments may vary depending on the tools and resources available to the MSP.
For example, Converged Technology Group’s complimentary, no-obligation IT assessments generally include:
- An IT Infrastructure Check. Using an industry-standard software agent, we check your infrastructure to find potential vulnerabilities.
- Onsite Interview/ (Walk Through) Inspection. We send an IT specialist to you to provide professional, courteous, and thorough service during the assessment.
- No Cost/Obligation Check. The inspection is a no-cost, no-obligation check.
Remote Data Backup and Business Continuity Services
One of the most important outsourced IT services in NYC is remote data backup/business continuity. These services are vital for helping ensure:
- Legal documents aren’t lost to a catastrophic event.
- Important business information (such as customer billing data) is maintained.
- The impact of service outages or data loss events is minimized.
The cost of IT downtime is generally between $137-$427 per minute (Source: Atlassian). When data is unavailable, the software, platforms, and applications that rely on that data will be rendered inoperable or ineffective.
However, the average cost of a data loss event can vary depending on the nature of the data. A law firm could face additional costs for losing important data.
For example, losing documents with intrinsic value or losing a case because of missing important legal documents may mean having to defend a malpractice case—which can significantly increase costs.
The Benefits of Outsourcing Legal IT
So, why would a law firm want to outsource its IT functions to a third-party legal ITSM company? There are a number of reasons, such as:
Avoiding the Impacts of IT Turnover. In addition to getting immediate access to a team of IT experts, using an ITSM for your legal IT needs helps you avoid the risks of labor volatility. For example, if you’re relying on a single internal IT engineer to manage your IT infrastructure, what happens when they’re on vacation, get sick, or decide to leave for another employment opportunity? With an MSP, you have several IT engineers working on your account, so there aren’t any gaps in service just because one person is missing.
Are You Ready to Transform Your Legal IT?
Need help managing your law firm IT in NYC or the Tri-State area? Get help from an outsourced IT NYC company! Converged Technology Group specializes in providing comprehensive managed IT services to companies in New York to help them save time, avoid headaches, and meet their business goals.
Reach out to us today to get started!
Download the Whitepaper
Want to take this to go? Access our downloadable whitepaper now!