Reducing the difference – law firms’ use of technology

Information technology (IT) is no longer viewed only
as a back office function, according to the latest
Group of Experts survey. Law firm's increasingly
see it as an important part of their infrastructure,
helping to instil institutional knowledge, and which now
requires the input of all their lawyers. Although getting
the IT right can be a major challenge.

Los resultados de la
encuesta realizada al
Grupo de Expertos de
Iberian Lawyer
concluyen que los
servicios de IT o
Teconologí­a de la
Información ya no son
considerados como
una función de apoyo,
sino que se han
transformado en una
parte importante de la
infraestructura del
despacho en cuanto a
gestión de
conocimientos, cosa
que requiere la
implicación de todos
los abogados en el
desarrollo de los
sistemas. Sin
embargo, el crear un
sistema eficaz no es
tarea fácil.

Competitive advantage

Iberian lawyers suggest that technology is increasingly
important to law firms 'Ea way of effectively developing,
managing and sharing knowledge within the firm and
externally with clients. With some even going so far as
saying that technology can provide a law firm with a
competitive advantage.

Others report however, that introducing new
technology is always very expensive and often
unsatisfactory. Technology helps, but fundamentally it
can only ever support lawyers'Eexpertise.

'We have always seen technology as a key element in
the management of the firm,'Esays Hugo Ecija, at Ejica
Abogados. 'We believe that the use of sophisticated
technological tools allows for an increase in productivity,
efficiency and for the coherent management of all the
firm’s knowledge and resources. As such, we have
always made a significant investment in the best IT
applications.

'IT helps to narrow the difference between large and
medium firms, believes Pedro Cardigos, partner at
ABBC in Lisbon, 'and even allows small boutique firms
to tackle issues as only larger firms could in the very
recent past.

The Portuguese market is an interesting IT showcase,
suggests João Vieira de Almeida, managing partner of
Vieira de Almeida & Associados, where investment has
increased considerably as law firms have raced to equip
themselves to face each other and foreign arrivals.

'Technology is obviously an extremely important tool
for a law firm to be competitive. But whilst it seldom
provides an advantage 'Egiven the fact that most firms
are up-to-date in terms of IT 'Eit may provide a
disadvantage if one falls behind competitors, he says.

The issue is no longer whether to invest, but where
and how much to invest. The main challenge therefore is
to ensure that firms get the most from the significant
investments that IT inevitably demands.

'At Abreu Advogados we strongly believe that IT is a
fundamental arm of a law firm and that is why we have
always been and intend to continue to be, at the
vanguard of its applications, for example, billing,
databases, document management, and knowledge
management, says Guilherme Santos Silva, Abreu
Advogados.

The added value that technology can bring, say many,
is to speed up and enhance communication 'Einternally
and externally 'Eand to ease access to information, which
inevitably increases productivity and knowledge sharing.
“Good quality and high technology assets make work
easier for everyone who works in a law firm” says
Francisco Guijarro from Hammonds.

What benefits do technology bring to a law firm and what
motivates firms to make the high level of investment required?

'Technology – the right technology – provides the leverage
needed for firms to go that extra mile with clients, whether
that is being more responsive, more proactive, more
informative or more up-to-date.” Pedro Cardigos, ABBC

'We see IT as an important tool to manage the know-how created by the
law firm, specifically increasing time efficiency and ensuring quality
control.” Lourdes Ayala, Araoz & Rueda

quote

'The benefits of IT are real and I do believe that the
Portuguese firms coming of age has, amongst other factors,
relied pretty much on their ability to modernise their IT
infrastructure to be able to manage growth and change.”
João Vieira de Almeida, Vieira de Almeida

'Technology is now not an extra but a vital, basic, essential and imperious
part of a law firm. The world, clients and their issues and needs travel today
at the speed and capacity of an e-mail and those who are not technically
equipped to accompany the rush and complexity will simply sink.”
Guilherme Santos Silva, Abreu Advogados

Is IT increasingly part of a firm’s knowledge management and how best can this be managed?

quote

'It is of great importance to align technology with a law firm's business strategy
objectives and other parts of the business in order to achieve a competitive
advantage for both the firm and the client. The use of technology is also
fundamental in the commoditisation process. Clients increasingly require us to
standardise our work in a number of practice areas. Technology is an important tool
in collating and disseminating precedents and information both internally and to
clients.” Manuel Barrocas, Barrocas Sarmento Neves

'We implemented a web-based solution
two years ago to enhance not only our
knowledge storage capacity and access
to it, but also to create an online
knowledge improvement program for
our lawyers. We call it ‘Saber+'”
João de Macedo Vitorino, Macedo Vitorino e
Associados

quote

'We invest in the most sophisticated and advanced
technological systems on the market. This facilitates fast and
efficient identification of clients and
conflicts, information sharing among all
the offices of our network (27 offices in 16
countries) in
real time across geographical borders
and time zones.”
Vicente Sierra, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

'The added value is sought in early delivery, in other
words, in receiving the deliverables from your counsel
before your competitor does,” says Diego Ramos of DLA
Piper. 'In addition, IT systems allow lawyers a faster and
more complete understanding of the factual background of
the case. Law firms invest in IT because clients demand it!”'

'Technology brings better access to people and to
knowledge. By shortening the distance between us and
our clients IT increases the level of communication and by
increasing the information available it increases our
quality of service, adds João de Macedo Vitorino,
Macedo Vitorino e Associados.

Build or buy?

But while there may be a consensus of what technology
can help firms to achieve, there is considerable variation
on how to best target and manage IT systems.
'We are focusing on getting the right IT system for the
targets we are aiming at,” says Pedro Cardigos, partner at
ABBC in Lisbon. 'Boutique firms are grounded in their
particular expertise, having it handy, cross-checked and
quickly accessible to new demands is paramount.

Document and knowledge management has become
pivotal to smaller organisations and key to compete in the
global legal arena.”

Nelson Raposo Bernardo of Raposo Bernardo &
Associados, says that his firm is benefiting from a
specifically designed system. He adds however, that
'Obviously the benefits from the system only become
possible with the involvement of the whole team.”

Barrocas Sarmento Neves is another firm that has
sought to develop it's own systems, explains Manuel
Barrocas. 'We have worked with specialised IT
consultants to create and tailor-make an integrated
software system, which brings together a billing system,
client data base, know how information storage and
management, as well as a platform for clients to access
information on their matters online.”

It is a similar story at Ejica. 'We have developed our
own IT system 'Ecijanet which acts both as an intranet
and extranet, a system which is used by all our lawyers,'E
explains Hugo Ecija. 'Ecijanet acts as a secure central
knowledge tool containing our own online library, all
the lawyer’s working documents, client details, targets,
timesheet etc. The system is designed to ensure maximum
transparency within the company.”

'Being a medium-sized firm, our worries are more in
the aspect of organising than, for example, the creation of
an intranet,'Esays Francisco G. Prol of Prol & Asociados.
'However, we are always unresolved with new IT
material. Therefore we count on management software
that is quite advanced and has helped us enormously in
organising the office.”

Although technology may now be at the heart of
Garrigues’ international strategy, explains César Mejí­as,
the firm's Director of Technology, it has chosen to
outsource almost 80% of its services. This enables them
to better manage the service received.

Getting the buy-in and support of lawyers is central
to implementing an effective IT strategy, says Francesc
Muñoz the Director of IT at Cuatrecasas. His firm has
developed an IT Board, chaired by the Managing Partner
with the participation of the Executive Director, Financial
Director and the IT Director. This cascades down into
regular communication with the practices and business
units and the know-how, human resources, financial and
marketing functions. Most importantly, Francesc regularly
survey feedback from lawyer across the firm.

“It is a slow process, concludes César Mejí­as, 'But
with time law firms are viewing technology as part of
their global strategy.”

But while lawyers agree that technology offers a great
opportunity, or risk if you are behind your competitors, it
is clear that there is no 'magic fix’ to the technology
challenge – Iberian firms of all sizes are inevitably
utilising a variety of means to support and manage their
IT functions.

Some respondents suggest, strictly off-the-record, that
getting it right can be a huge financial, technical and even
personal challenge.

Reducing the difference – law firms’ use of technology

Garcia-Sicilia

iberianlawyer.com

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