Today’s business ecosystem is digital. Information Technology (IT) plays a role in virtually every business unit. From sales and marketing to R&D and operations, business efficacy is guided by technology. For law firms, IT is intrinsically tied to billable hours, and a digital transformation strategy directly impacts your long-term growth rate. Unfortunately, Gartner surveys reveal that 81% of law firms and corporate legal departments are unprepared for digitization.

Despite cues from other sectors, the legal sector is still murky on how to effectively leverage technology to bring about forward holistic change to the firm floor. Part of the problem is that digital transformation is not a clearly defined thing. Neither are its benefits. Too often, companies invest in a broad tech approach. But implementing an IT plan must be laser-guided; otherwise, money is thrown away.

Digital transformation is here to stay. Law firms that embrace technology are set to thrive in the modern industry. Those that don’t will be left behind. So how do you strategize around IT? What can your law firm do to prevent folding under the pressure of modern tech? And how can you maximize your tech investments without wasting time, money, and resources on failed implementations?

The answer is IT strategic planning, and it may be the single most powerful tool in the modern law toolkit.

What is IT Strategic Planning?

In simple terms, IT strategic planning involves creating a blueprint (i.e., an “IT strategy plan”) to guide IT investments, utilization, and organization in your firm. The overall goal of IT strategic planning is to discover gaps and develop goals for technology. Sounds simple enough, right?

Here’s the problem: most law firms make three vital IT planning mistakes.

  1. They only focus on immediate-term goals to help them gain pace against competitors
  2. They fail to accurately identify investments
  3. They think plans are set-in-stone

There’s a reason that 0% of law firms with 10 – 49 lawyers have invested in AI technology. They aren’t willing to think about AI holistically, spend the initial investment to secure future-proof technology, and leverage emerging technology. If you only focus on the immediate term, your mind shifts towards simple, easy-to-integrate tech. If you fail to think of IT as an investment, you aren’t willing to spend the capital to secure the right solutions. And if you think your IT strategies are set-in-stone, you aren’t ready to act when new tech enters the space.

How Do You Tackle Strategic Planning?

You can break down an IT strategy into 6 core parts:

1. A high-level framework

It’s important to understand that modern IT strategies are rooted in business strategy. IT bleeds directly into operations. So, when you first start thinking about IT strategy, consider your overall business goals—not just your IT objectives. What are your long-term and mid-horizon business goals? Do you want to use technology to facilitate marketing growth? Are you looking to improve your cybersecurity architecture to brace against the ongoing wave of threat actors? (26% of law firms were targeted by hackers last year, according to the ABA). Or, are you looking to use technology to handle compliance needs? (data privacy, industry-specific regulatory bodies, etc.)

2. Opportunities & barrier recognition:

Once you understand your broad goals, sit down with your team, and discover the opportunities and barriers surrounding that goal. Do you have old legacy systems that are impacting your ability to integrate new solutions in your stack? Are you thinking about deploying a cloud solution to rapidly expedite integration? These are the types of opportunities and barriers you should note.

3. Action items:

This is the point where you start thinking about solutions. We’ll cover this in the next section.

4. Budget:

In 2020, the average business spends 33% of its budget on IT. Yes, this year is out of the ordinary (i.e., remote needs from COVID-19), but even in 2018, businesses forked over 28% of their budget for technology. Spending money is necessary, but keep it contained. Don’t overspend on fancy, unnecessary tech, and half-baked solutions.

5. Assigning the right players:

Who is implementing the tech? Typically, this role belongs to your IT team or managed IT provider.

6. Evaluation:

Once the pieces are in place, you should regularly review and evaluate your strategy to meet your firm’s overall cadence. This may be annually, or it may be monthly. It depends on your needs and end goals.

What Technologies, Platforms, and Integrations Do You Need to Plan Strategically?

Typically, law firms focus on three core IT competencies:

  1. Cybersecurity
  2. Compliance
  3. Custom solutions

1. Cybersecurity

Few law firms are ready for a security breach. In 2019, malware breached 36% of law firms’ security gates. A further 26% had no idea if their systems had been breached by malware or not. Security failures, viruses, and vulnerabilities hit firm bank accounts hard. In fact, ABA surveys show that 14% of law firms dealt with destroyed documents due to cybersecurity issues, 3% had sensitive client info stolen, 40% incurred fees from 3rd party security firms post-breach, 32% experienced disruptions in billable hours, and 17% had to replace hardware.

Fixing these security shortcomings relies on two primary investments:

  • Security monitoring, mitigation, and resolution software
  • CIO and incident strategies

At Vertex, we tackle both issues. Our best-of-breed Vertex Cloud Desktop offers a full suite of security tools, 24/7 proactive monitoring, and enterprise-grade security across apps. And our managed IT services include virtual CIOs (vCIO) to help you tackle security strategy and frameworks.

2. Compliance

With over 100 omnibus bills relating to data privacy ( GDPR, LGPD, etc.) and thousands of regional and local data privacy laws (CCPA, etc.), navigating the compliance landscape isn’t easy. It requires a holistic, top-down approach to data privacy. This bucket is solved with both technology and strategy. Ideally, law firms should outsource their security and compliance needs to a third-party firm. Hiring the necessary staff to handle these increasingly complex issues is expensive, time-consuming, and outside the expected reach of firm operations.

On the technology side, many law firms develop custom solutions. Compliance is too variable for catch-all software.

3. Custom Solutions

After security and compliance, things get tricky. Your law firm has specific workflow needs. The technology required for day-to-day operations will differ based on how you function. The following are custom solutions that law firms engage to handle niche needs:

  • New Office Setups
  • New IT Infrastructure Builds
  • Migrations to the Cloud
  • Backup, Disaster Recovery, and Business Continuity Solutions
  • IT Security Services
  • Technology and Workflow Optimizations
  • Remote Access Solutions
  • Practice and Document Management Solutions
  • Document Assembly Systems
  • E-discovery systems
  • Accounting Systems

Are You Ready to Accelerate Your Firm’s Digital Transformation?

IT strategy is complicated; one size does not fit all. An analysis of your tech needs is the first step. Deploying the right technology at the right time to stay competitive, secure, and viable in today’s tech-hungry landscape happens next. At Vertex, we help law firms develop custom solutions, manage IT workloads, and improve their security posture with best-in-class technology. Contact us to learn more.