When did mobile access to Law Firm systems go from distracting gadget to essential tool?

Anybody with more than 10 years’ employment will recall the corporate technology platforms of old, perhaps even with memories of green screen VT100’s and their endless, blinking pages of text.  Of course, the software that we encountered at that time focused on function rather than on form because of the limitations imposed by the available development platforms, hardware systems and cost of communication bandwidth of those times.  

Times have moved on and a big challenge for law firm managers is that the developers of their core practice systems, Practice Management Systems (PMS), are stuck in a hard place.  Legal PMS are beasts of systems, complex and full of detailed functionality that closely meets the needs of this niche market.  Keeping them up to date from a feature perspective is one thing; refreshing them so they feel ‘modern’ to a current day user is a completely different topic.  It’s hard for the PMS developers to keep the investment up for all areas of their technology so, naturally, they need to place the focus on the essential areas like trust compliance and matter management.  The PMS ends up so deeply entrenched in the working life of a law firm that it makes even the contemplation of changing suppliers a daunting and expensive one.  

Users, however, are starting to make new demands upon their law firms.

Trends that have been changing in the wider corporate world that are now moving into the legal sphere.  We’re seeing a shift in work patterns from fixed hours and desk based to open plan, activity based working models.  This style has been very much the standard in corporate lives for many years. Law firms, naturally conservative in their nature, are now starting to adopt these work styles for a number of reasons.  These include becoming more flexible places to work as part of efforts to attract and retain a more diverse workforce.  It’s happening for economic reasons too, if a workforce isn’t present in the office then one simply needs less floorspace.  This big shift tends to come when a Law Firm moves offices and takes the opportunity to do a fabulous new fit out that meets this new mode of work. This further increases the demand for users to be able to undertake key tasks and find essential data without having to locate a desktop device or unfurl a laptop, connect to the internet and then start working. 

In the background to all of this it goes without saying that mobile devices are now ubiquitous.  In 2018, 52% of all website traffic worldwide was via mobile devices[1].  It’s a trend that could presage the not too distant demise of desktop technology with, for example, 97.5% of online Chinese citizens accessing the internet via their mobile phones[2].  In our own lives, we expect to be able to find just the right app without having to think too deeply about how to download it, with our data held securely in the cloud and expectations that it will integrate with our other favourite technologies.  

This all boils down to the fact that our individual use of mobile technology, through our smartphones and tablets, has acclimated us to new expectations of access to immediate answers and to do this through visually appealing and genuinely easy to use apps.  This impacts everybody in the legal eco-system, whether they’re working in or with law firms.

The economics of software acquisition have also been changing in the background too.   In the “olden days”, software companies would demand that a company licence their systems for all of their teams on the basis that some users might use it.  There is now so much more activity in the world of software and app development that it puts the boot on the other foot of the corporate consumer.  We can see this in the shift in licencing structures of many of the newer platforms, where they tend to provide Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) models of usage. 

New software is built with the pre-conceived expectation of the ability to integrate in its chosen world.  This is a logical development because it ensures the product has the largest potential client base to aim at.  Unless law firms have very ancient PMS technology in place, they are no longer locked into only using products from one development stable or forced to pay for integration services.  Even with older platforms, there may still be ways to add some modern software components, so it’s worth investigation your options.

Red Rain specialises in legal technology. We felt the impact of this at least five years ago, because of our close relationships with law firms of all sizes.  It started us on a path to build a suite of software modules to help their clients rise to the new challenges that changed workforce working patterns and mobile devices placed on them.   

The result, RedView, offers bite sized pieces of the flexibility puzzle which can be deployed for a small group or the whole firm, enabling law firm managers to closely meet the needs of specific people within their firms.  

[1]Statistica, Percentage of all global web pages served to mobile phones, 2009 to 2018

[2]China Internet Network Information Center, https://cnnic.com.cn/IDR/ReportDownloads/ 201807/P020180711391069195909.pdf