Monthly Archives: November 2008

Don't let your lawyers get too comfortable

Digital dictation has been a success amongst law firms … but it troubles me for two reasons. First, that many of the lawyers in firms that have adopted it already, haven’t used it to help improve the way they work. Secondly, because the comfort they have been given will prevent them going the next step to releasing their secretaries to become true assistants, rather than just typists. Speech recognition can now achieve much more, with some innovative suppliers like LOASys (www.loasys.co.uk) on the scene but will lawyers really want to get it?

The UK legal market leaders in digital dictation are Winscribe (www.winscribe.co.uk) and BigHand (www.bighand.co.uk) who are both continuing to develop their products – with more integration into document and case management systems that further increase the potential for improving productivity.

There is an inherent flaw in digital dictation; what a lawyer dictates, someone else, somewhere has to listen to again some time later to get it onto paper; then the lawyer has to spend time approving it. This may not sound like a lot, but going through this process repeatedly day on day wastes a huge amount of time and resource.

Lawyers like digital dictation because it can enable them to work in exactly the same way they always have – dictating instructions for someone else to type, for them to approve. Where there are improvements, it tends to be the administrators who produce results from introducing digital dictation by re-organising operations around the lawyers, rather than the lawyers themselves. Valuable improvements include more centralised services, improved mobile and home working, less lost time spent searching and prioritising, enhanced use of secretarial support, and a ‘single enterprise solution’ enabling fee earners who travel between offices to work seamlessly; also easy access to domestic language secretaries when fee earners are in foreign language locations. That’s all good – but not enough.

Digital dictation just makes it easier to shift the costs and delays in getting work typed and out elsewhere. It is too easy for lawyers – as opposed to others around them – not to make the effort to streamline as much as they can about the way they work, to cut overhead costs or to speed up the service to clients

Digital dictation is good as long as it is seen as a stepping stone towards use of “speech recognition” which can now create a different and better way for lawyers themselves to work. I have been sceptical about its potential until I experienced some of the newer technologies that have begun to become available over the past 12 months or so, which has resulted in significant improvements. Although voice recognition was rejected and tarnished by poor experiences in the past, this new brand of speech recognition has now become a realistic option at a price that can be justified by improvements in productivity.

Traditional suppliers of digital dictation face a problem though. Their users have only “gone digital” recently and the lawyers like it. They will not take easily to being pushed a bit further out of their comfort zone, when they already regard themselves as innovators, having made this transition.

On the other hand, there is a chance for lawyers in firms that have not used digital dictation successfully in the past to leapfrog those who have; working with innovative suppliers of new “speech recognition” solutions, who recognise the need to work closely with the lawyers to introduce better ways of working more easily.

That appears to be what is making suppliers like LOASys (www.loasys.co.uk) an increasingly attractive option, producing substantially higher improvements in productivity and a faster return on investment than users of digital dictation.

But here is the challenge. Lawyers will only produce results if they re-examine the way they work in detail; their own business processes and the documents they produce. An approach that does not come naturally to most lawyers, even though the potential return from investing in improvements for lawyers that are repeated day in, day out are huge.

Lawyers don’t have to do this on their own. The return justifies paying a supplier or a consultant to do it and get it right, but few firms do. Many struggle on to produce a fraction of the return; often with frustrated lawyers who eventually “make do” with 60% of the email, document templates and training that could transform their working life for years to come for the better.

As law firms have to become leaner – because of the current financial climate and the need to be more competitive when the Legal Services Act reforms begin to make an impact – now is the time to investigate options and resources in this area

Defusing the IP telephony timebomb

If your business hasn’t yet taken the plunge to IP Telephony, then time is running out. Manufacturers are rapidly replacing their phone systems with IP-based ones, which means that spares for older systems will become harder to get and upgrades and patches will eventually stop. The momentum is unstoppable and inevitable. Even BT are ripping out their UK digital phone network and replacing it with an IP voice infrastructure as part of their ‘21CN’ project.

So what’s the problem? Surely it’s just a new phone system?

Well, no. IP phones do look like a normal office phone but that is where the similarity stops. IP phones are, in fact, small computers that connect to your PC network, but just happen to look like phones. Pretty much everything about IP telephony is different and you need to be prepared for the change over.

So where are the risks?

  • Your PC network: Phone systems usually have had their own voice network to guarantee call quality. IP telephony instead runs over the PC network so your phone calls are now fighting for space against e-mail, web browsing, basically everything that your staff use their computers for. When the network gets busy, IP telephony systems can fail.
  • Your phone numbers: You will want to keep your existing phone numbers, but these will be with a traditional phone supplier like BT. To move these numbers over to a IP telephony provider is possible but is fraught with logistical and regulatory problems. And if it goes wrong, you can end up with disconnected numbers that don’t go anywhere.
  • Hidden costs: The majority of costs associated with IP telephony are with maintenance and software upgrades. All of the major IP telephony vendors make significant profit from ongoing upgrades to the core system. To maximise this they frequently release new versions of software that you must eventually upgrade to otherwise they will not support you. These upgrade costs are not trivial and can be £100,000+ for a large phone system.
  • The transition process to IP: Your phone system is the communication lifeblood of your organisation, and moving 100s or even 1000s of users to a brand new phone system without dropping a call is major logistical challenge. Not only are the technical issues of installing a new IT system significant, but how calls flow around your organisation – hunt groups, help desks, switchboard, etc – needs to be replicated exactly between the old system and the new.
  • Technical support: Once this new phone system is in place, who will look after it? Your current phone system could well be looked after by the facilities team, whereas your computer network and systems are looked after by IT, which is the natural place for IP telephony. But does your IT department understand phone systems? Who is going to help them get up to speed?

However there are a number of providers that are offering a complete shrink-wrapped, managed IP telephony service to address these issues, and this model is rapidly growing in popularity. Instead of buying a PBX with all the associated costs and risks, you agree a fixed monthly charge per employee. Like all managed services, it is supported by a 24×7 technical team and the monthly charge is guaranteed not to increase over the duration of the contract – there are no nasty surprises or bills for upgrades.

The migration from your existing system to IP will be professionally project managed by the supplier and you can usually phase it over months to reduce the impact. A major advantage of a managed service over a PBX is that it can be introduced one phone at a time which minimises the risk associated with traditional ‘rip and replace’ scenarios. Unlike your in-house IT team, your managed service provider will have done this migration many times before with other customers and know how to avoid the pitfalls. And because the provider is responsible for looking after the system both at installation and during the contract, they have the job of paying for all the expensive IT people to maintain it, not you.

The managed service model is not for everyone but it is a serious alternative to the IP PBX and much less expensive than you may think. And with the clock ticking on your old phone system, it could be one way of diffusing the IP telephony timebomb.

Article supplied by: Richard Quine, Director of Product Management, InTechnology