Law firms make massive use of technology - anyone still under the quill-pen illusion should prepare themselves to be disillusioned.
Imagine the press a law firm that inadvertently leaked the take-over details of one of its clients would attract. Not only would the firm lose the client, but the firm's reputation would be badly damaged.
Few transactions can take place today without access to electronic communications - be that simple e-mail or more secure methods of communication.
Transactions often cross geographic and time-zone boundaries, increasing the need not only for electronic communication, but also for a comprehensive audit trail and security model behind these communications.
IT teams working for legal firms face many challenges. Two of the biggest are keeping services available at all times and ensuring that the security model is not breached. This requires locked-down policies and considerable control of the user workplace.
The union between lawyers and the technical professional has to be absolute. Trust must pass in both directions. The technology team must be sure that lawyers are working within the security model and the lawyers must understand why they should do so.
Lawyers supporting international transactions may work anywhere - airport lounges, hotel rooms or clients' offices. The technology has to work, and work first time. This puts huge pressure on handheld devices, secure virtual private networks and controlled community access sites.
Most firms maintain control of their communications and mobile-working strategies. Co-sourcing arrangements and outsourcing of gross infrastructure aside, the strategy behind communications is almost always kept inside the firm.
The modern legal kitbag
Much is done to make the travelling lawyer's life easy - handheld devices, unified communications and secure access to know-how are all a part of the normal kitbag. It is a symbiotic union - technology sitting behind and underpinning the way the modern transaction works.
Within BLP, the technology team evaluates, with the guidance of third parties, best-of-breed technologies. As a result of this, our employees are well placed to understand the threats to the business and the remediation required. Having well-informed, knowledgeable staff on tap ensures an efficient and effective service offering to lawyers and in turn to clients.
The outside view may be that banks and other financial institutions need high levels of security - but so do legal firms. The possibility of leaking a client's corporate strategy or price-sensitive information could have severe repercussions.
Security is a high priority - and rightly so - in law firms. It continues to be managed internally, even when the external manifestation may involve committed third parties. For the legal profession, the need to manage and maintain our data is clear: our data is our business.
l Janet Day is IT director at Berwin Leighton Paisner
This was first published in October 2007