Monthly Archives: September 2008

Outsourcing behind the scenes management of e-mail is now an option

Email is critical to every law firm now but there are many ways in which you can easily waste expensive time if anything goes wrong; not to mention the stress and tension that even the smallest hiccups can create for lawyers, support staff and clients.  We have all seen it sometime!

Managing this critical email system is becoming increasingly difficult and even more critical, with demands on your IT team’s time and expertise increasing in a number of areas:

Making sure the system is up and running most of the time, even over weekends and at night when more and more people are using email from home and on the move.

Anti-virus, ensure that all incoming and outgoing emails and attachments in many formats are scanned and cleaned effectively and that these systems are constantly updated.

Anti-spam, ensurning that the highest possible percentage of spam is removed from emails to desktops without interfering with legitimate emails and that the spam that has been filtered out is checked effectively to keep this balance right.

Archiving and retrieval of emails and attached documents so that they can be kept and readily searched for regulatory and compliance (e-discovery) purposes but with minimal manual administration and interference for lawyers.

Encryption of outgoing emails to make sure all emails and attachments are secure, with the ability to read incoming emails without disruption.

Management of the connection to the Internet and blips in speed or availability that can result in lost data.

Here are a few demos that try to explain what a “hosted” Exchange (email) system does in terms that are not too technical. The smallest files are probably good enough quality for you to watch the material as quickly as possible.  These solutions are from Microsoft direct, but they are invariably implemented by Microsoft Business Partners, some of which have developed these solutions (integrated with all the rest of your technologies and systems) specifically for law firms.

Exchange Hosted Filtering
This video shows how Exchange Hosted Filtering can help protect your organization against e-mail borne malware.
Download: 110k | 300k | 750k

Exchange Hosted Archiving
Watch to learn how Exchange Hosted Archiving can help your organization satisfy retention requirements for compliance.
Download: 110k | 300k | 750k

Exchange Hosted Continuity
View this video to see how Exchange Hosted Continuity can help your organization recover and preserve e-mail in emergency situations.
Download: 110k | 300k | 750k

Exchange Hosted Encryption
This video shows how Exchange Hosted Encryption can help your organization maintain confidentiality.
Download: 110k | 300k | 750k

To find out more about these solutions and legal-specific providers, or other technology options that might improve productivity in your practice, please request more information by emailing solutions@inpractice.co.uk

Search Engine Optimisation – Preparing for the U.K. recession.

With analysts in the U.K. predicting an economic recession in the coming months, and the cold, harsh winter looking bleaker than ever, the chances are you are thinking of ways to create new revenue streams to increase the number of customers and sales for your business.

As it goes, the definition of an economic recession is that there is zero or negative growth in Gross Domestic Product (or GDP). This in turn leads to unemployment through job losses, spending is cut and so on.

If you don’t currently trade on-line, now might be a good time to start thinking about it. Every main stream company owner will tell you that there are three ways to increase your profit:

  • Increasing the number of customers
  • Increasing the margin on products being sold
  • Increasing the frequency in which products are sold

Taking these points into consideration, Search Engine Optimisation perfectly covers all three. By driving targeted traffic to your web site, you are getting visitors who are actually looking for your products. If you can work with a good SEO Company you will see the growth of new customer numbers, who in turn will purchase your products.

Statistics show that more and more people are buying online, rather than going to high street stores. This not only means that SEO has become more and more cost effective, but it also means than the return on investment for SEO can be huge.

As with any advertising, SEO is actually only any good if its a continued investment.

So if you are looking to tackle the forthcoming recession head on, then give us a call on 07779 653105 / 07791 703944 or email isheldon@inpractice.co.uk for more information on our SEO services and how they can benefit you and your business.

What's top of today's agenda for legal firms?

This was an “off the cuff” survey conducted as we updated the subscription records for our online newsletter when everyone was returning fresh from holiday; so it just gives a flavour of what areas are currently seen as priorities amongst law firms.  540 subscribers clicked through, of which 91 (17%) responded to the short survey – not a bad result from busy senior managers in law firms when everybody is catching up on email backlogs in early September.

We asked our subscribers to identify the top 3 items on their agenda from a pre-defined list of initiatives with the results in the following table showing the % of firms that included each initiative in their short list.  CRM (client relationship management) came out top of the agenda followed by development of new business strategies.

1 CRM (Client Relationship Management) 39.6%
2 Developing New Business Strategies 37.7%
3 People performance management 35.8%
4 Tactics to improve sales 32.1%
5 Introducing New Technology Solutions 28.3%
6 Mergers with other practices 27.2%
7 Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity 24.5%
8 Routes to market in the legal sector 22.6%
9 Quality systems – Lexcel, IIP, ISO 20.8%
10 Moving offices 13.2%
11 New business structures – LLP, ABS etc 13.2%
12 Restructuring management of the practice 9.4%

 We were initially surprised that new business structures came so far down the list, but concluded that developing new business strategies (ranked high at No. 2 and not far behind CRM, which is itself potentially a new business strategy anyway) is the other side of this equation – developing strategies to cater for changes in the market.

Also striking from the detail of the responses was the variation in the mix of top priority initiatives across the range of firms taking part; but then that demonstrates the fact that firms are at different stages of development and are of very different character.  Every firm has to be developed in the way most appropriate for a) where they currently are and b) where they want to go.

This response fits with the work we are doing in these areas for law firms.  I think its fair to say that items ranked 6 to 12 in this list tend to move up the agenda for law firms we work with in all the top ranked areas (1 to 5) as part of the implementation of initiatives that evolve from this work.  Top of that list – CRM comes in many shapes and sizes depending on what kind of practice you are, your current stage of development, resources, personal skills and technology. 

Next Steps?

Understanding what you can realistically get out of your investment of time and effort on CRM based on your current stage of development in the firm – objectives, timescales, potential results – is the best place to start.  To kick this off, or to review progress so far, you might want to to take the (first) step of running a workshop for your senior management team to begin to get consistent thinking on these areas (from the outset) to avoid confusion later on.  If you want to consider options here, you can set up a free, no obligation meeting at your offices by contacting Allan Carton at acarton@inpractice.co.uk or 07779 653105.

Hosted, outsourced, managed IT services

Providers of “managed IT services” and the solutions they offer have just come of age and are proving very effective for the law firms that are leading the way down this route to maintain more reliable, secure, effective IT systems, either just in key areas or across the board. Yet, while Virtually every firm can now improve on IT in terms of cost, performance or reliability, but getting to grips with the options can be difficult.

“Managed services” come in many varieties. They range from using an expert to maintain some areas of your IT where they have particular expertise, such as security (perhaps working on your system online from their premises), to providing IT personnel to do the IT work in your office; and to hosting some or all of your IT systems on their equipment at their premises (which you access online from your offices) – all subject to contractual service level agreements.

The mix of managed services – including “hosting”, “outsourcing” and “Software as a Service” (SaaS) -that will produce the best results depends on the size of your firm, nature of the business and mix of internal resources available.

The rapid increase in the range of options here stems from the increased ability to use the Internet securely, quickly and reliably to connect:

  • From a support company to the system sitting in your office – to access, diagnose and resolve software problems on your system remotely. Support companies can have a large bank of specialist knowledge and skill sitting in their central office servicing the needs of many customers who each could not afford that level of expertise;
  • From your firm – to access, submit and use data stored on systems managed by a support company at their location, which they can actively monitor, manage, soothe and tweak, using levels of expertise – and technology solutions for security, connectivity etc. – that one firm alone cannot afford.

Also because:

  • Rapid “convergence” of all communication technologies means that data – voice (telephone, dictation, messages etc.), your emails, video or documents – can be read digitally by a range of interchangeable devices. You can dictate on a mobile phone and phone from your PC.
  • Critical elements of these services can be managed 24 hours a day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year (24/7/365), by providers geared up with enough people and expertise to do this effectively – on site with you or at their premises.
  • Home and remote users can get support outside normal business hours by calling the provider after your IT people have gone home for the night or over the weekend.
  • Monthly charges, rather than up front capital investment options; so you effectively rent hardware, software and services on a per user per month basis, or based on the volume of data or transactions.
  • Different firms will have different reasons for considering the use of “managed services,” including:
  • Concerns about expertise and availability of in-house IT staff. Technical solutions are very complex now so a small team cannot be expert in everything. The best IT staff – who know their limitations – can benefit most.
  • Sudden growth through e.g. merger or down-sizing change demands on IT; additional support for growth and flexibility for downsizing at a proportionate cost is attractive.
  • IT teams can spend too much time fire-fighting, so high priority issues like security, workflow development and database development are left on the back burner.
  • Downtime is just no longer acceptable, so better technical expertise and proven solutions are needed. Sharing the resources, now that it is possible, makes sense

Examples of the solutions:

  • Some applications just cannot be allowed to fail, where “managed service” providers add reliability – whether they “host” your services on their premises or you “outsource” management of the systems in your office to them. For example:
    •  Your email – where a “hosting” provider will guarantee to maintain your email system 24/7; to deliver clean, filtered email with 99.9% uptime, to support remote users, and more.
    • Automated backups of accounts and your system overall to a secure remote location away from the office; actively managed, tested and available to be restored reliably and quickly.
    • Disaster recovery facilities (now a Lexcel requirement) so your people can then log direct into the pre-configured recovery setup to start work from any location virtually immediately – with the complexities managed by the supplier.
    • Network connections to the Internet, between offices and to remote workers, actively managed to the extent of being able to interrogate a router being used on the network by a home user.
    • Security, which includes protection against hackers, encryption, virus protection, where use of online services (including email) is routine.
  • There are other areas where there is potential to achieve big improvements in day-to-day operations. For example:
    •  Management of telecoms services using the Internet to channel calls (using VoIP – “Voice over Internet Protocol”) creates opportunities to bring all forms of communication (written, dictated, telephone, mobile) together providing better back up options and easier access to all kinds of data from anywhere through mobile communications.
    • Storage of data – with most firms now using email and electronic documents as routine and aiming to store archives electronically, there are options to store and access the data off site in really secure environments.

You will find more information and case studies on how law firms are using these services at MSC – see www.managedservicesconsultancy.com.

This article was published the September edition of Independent Lawyer – see www.independent-lawyer.com