Lavan Legal is deploying a cloud-based content management system to keep ahead of the consumerisation of IT.
The Perth law firm has decided to move ahead with deployment of NetDocuments after a successful pilot with two small legal teams. The cloud-based service will roll out on a team-by-team basis and finally be available to the entire 190-person firm by the middle of next month.
The new system enables attorneys to work outside the office and access emails and documents at any time, according to Lavan Legal IT director, Marco Marcello. The documents are kept in a central place, referenced to specific legal matters, and they can be easily searched and shared.
Marcello told Computerworld Australia that he wanted to offer the attorneys a document sharing system useful enough to discourage them from using less secure services like Dropbox.
Marcello said the law firm has not had problems with lawyers installing Dropbox or similar document sharing services. "I've been very, very strict and also had good communication process to warn about the dangers of it."
However, the IT director realised that approach would not work forever. "I knew that in time, if I didn't provide a better system, they will be forced to do those sorts of things."
"We weren't in desperate straits, but I knew if I didn't do something, in a couple of years I would be under intense pressure."
Similarly, Marcello saw a new document management system as a way to address increasing demand from lawyers for mobility.
"The consumer trend with mobile devices has really sown a seed in people's mind," said Marcello. However, he agreed there is much benefit in allow attorneys to access documents whenever and wherever they want.
"There are certain partners and certain lawyers who are out of the office a lot. Having access to their documents quickly and easily ... is just very, very useful."
Before, when a travelling lawyer wanted a document, he would have to phone the secretary and ask for the paper to be faxed, Marcello said.
Even for those who do not travel a great deal, the NetDocuments platform enables them to more easily work from home, he said. Marcello predicted that more staff will choose to work from home as they become more comfortable with the documents management system.
"It's flexibility--you're not locked to your desk. You have the flexibility to work the way you need to work and where your clients want you to work on any given day."
While the NetDocuments system can support any device, Lavan Legal uses mobile device management to restrict what devices have access to the law firm's network. The organisation has a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy but devices must be approved by IT before being connected.
Implementation of NetDocuments has been smooth so far, said Marcello. The IT director said he was particularly relieved when there were no problems transitioning a team that included four senior partners. "Litigators can be quite difficult at times ... but that went really well."
Change management has been the biggest hurdle, he said.
"People have worked on other systems at other law firms [and] some have worked on the same system for ten years, and of course that's ingrained in them," Marcello said. "You have to very tactfully make them understand that there could be better ways to do things."
Taking a SaaS approach
Lavan Legal had seriously considered a rival document platform, Autonomy iManage, which is used by a majority of law firms in Australia, said Marcello. However, Marcello said he ended up choosing NetDocuments largely because of the benefits offered by the cloud, Marcello said.
While Autonomy can take advantage of a private cloud, it is not software-as-a-service (SaaS) like NetDocuments, he said. The upfront costs of Autonomy would have outweighed the ongoing subscription costs of NetDocuments, and Autonomy would have required Lavan to add capacity and storage infrastructure, he said.
By choosing a SaaS platform in NetDocuments, Marcello believes he has bolstered the security around Lavan's important documents, he said.
"I can't and don't have a dedicated security person because we can't afford that," he said. By outsourcing document management, Lavan has gained the vendor's security resources and expertise, he said.
"If the Chinese government really wanted to get into NetDocuments, I don't know if they're going to be stopped. But having said that, NetDocuments is going to have a much better chance of stopping them than I am."
Using a SaaS service also means more frequent and easier upgrades. "NetDocuments in particular do updates pretty much every three months," he said. "You get the latest software with pretty much no pain and no cost."
"A risk would certainly be that the cloud-based supplier goes bust," he said. However, Lavan has protected against this by keeping a local service with copies of documents and emails. "If there was a major disaster or unexpected event ... we've still got all of our documents."
Keeping a local copy also gives Lavan freedom to change vendors in the future, he said.
"If we want to move to another document management system, we can migrate those ourselves. We're not relying on this third party. We're not over a barrel. We can't be coerced or blackmailed."
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