The recently released 21st annual LTN Tech Survey, which surveys law firm technology and operations leaders on technology-related issues, reveals a slightly different nuance than in years past. While the survey continues to note the rising fears that law firm leaders have regarding security (a 3-percentage point rise from last year), there are also signs that law firms may finally be relaxing the tight controls firms typically have over technology vendors and processes.

This year’s survey indicates that law firms are willing to overcome some of the historic tension between productivity and quality when it comes to technology, and may finally be embracing more efficiencies (within a structured environment).

Law firms often have a very clear perspective on the risks the firm is willing to take. In many IT decisions, firms often opt to insource IT servicing to the greatest extent possible, under the belief that they will be more secure if they have more control. However, this onus on internal staff requires maintaining multiple systems internally at all points in time, as well as infrastructure and security.

This is a tough ask when firms most often have a ratio of one IT user to 15-20 firm members.

Ratio of IT Staff to Users

Source: ALM Intelligence Legal Tech News Survey 2016

This year’s survey notes a slight rise the number of firms willing to outsource tech support, from 52% of respondents in 2015 to 56% of respondents in 2016.

Increased firm willingness to embrace the cloud is another indicator of loosened control. Cloud computing usage jumped from 51% in 2015 to 75% in 2016.

Surprisingly, more firms also noted that they use cloud-based storage like Dropbox and iCloud, an 18-percentage point increase from 2015. These types of providers are typically seen as having the least amount of control and are not services traditionally used by law firms.

Areas the Firm has Invested in Cloud Computing

Source: ALM Intelligence Legal Tech News Survey 2016

Most indicative of this point, while the majority of respondents noted that the firm’s biggest challenge with cloud computing continues to be security (84%), respondent concerns about ‘less control over data’ dropped slightly, from 61% to 58%.

Bring your own device (BYOD) policies are another area where firms have shown some willingness to adapt. According to ALM’s annual Cybersecurity and Law Firms Survey, 81% of respondents agreed that their firms have policies permitting BYOD. Users that did not permit BYOD policies cited a desire for complete control as the primary reason why BYOD practices were not permitted. Write-in explanations focused on the “lack of complete audit and control.”

According to the LTN Survey, data security continues to be the largest area of concern when it comes to BYOD policies (91% of respondents in 2016 and 86% of respondents in 2015 said that data security was their chief concern in allowing BYOD policies). However, those security concerns are offset for many by the increased productivity that the firm experiences from users. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said that the biggest benefit of BYOD policies is increased productivity.

In many instances, this fear of ceding control can hurt the firm more than help it. The key is to find policies and providers that will work with the firm to ensure that their services are cohesive with firm strategy, rather than leaving the firm to handle the majority of servicing internally.

As an example, some firms permit BYOD policies but within a structured setting. Respondents to the Cybersecurity and Law Firms Survey noted that they used Mobile Device Management (MDM), allowing the firm programs to run in a container on private devices. This strategy enables firms to enhance security, such as password encryption and remote wiping ability, while allowing employees to use private devices, and thus enhancing productivity and flexibility.

MDM Software Vendors Freq

Source: ALM Intelligence Legal Tech News Survey 2016

Experience with MDM Software

Source: ALM Intelligence Legal Tech News Survey 2016

Firms that will not use MDM argue that it still results in ceding control to employees, and is too great a risk given the potential for human error. Similarly, firms that will not use the cloud have similar fears about loss of control, particularly as cyber risks increase.

This year’s LTN survey indicates that law firms may finally be industrializing their business. They are recognizing that increased control will not always mean increased security, nor will it mean increased efficiency in the long run. Firms should focus more on structuring internal and external guidelines and handpicking outsourced partners than establishing complete domain over IT services. It seems likely that next year’s survey will show that firms have continued to be successful at this task.

Agree or disagree? Feel free to reach out at disaacson@alm.com or on LinkedIn.

ALM Intelligence Notes

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