Mobile technology offers undeniable and essential benefits for lawyers and their clients, but there are challenges to overcome, says Roger Jackson, chairman of the Legal Software Suppliers Association
With the development of communications and mobile technology, we are living in a world where people can, and more and more expect to be able to, connect with providers of all goods and services 24/7.
This is a challenge whatever industry or market you operate in, but when your service is based on careful, considered advice, backed up by solid procedures and processes, tight security and legal precedent, how do you operate successfully in this modern, mobile world?
Remember the days when you could never get hold of your solicitor? If you were lucky, you would be able to get them on the phone during working hours. And this is probably exactly what you expected. But now this has all changed, partly due to increased competition with new regulation, but largely to do with the introduction of mobile devices which enable “always on” information.
Mobile e-mail, driven by partner demand, began the mobile revolution in the legal profession. Now, regular, timely e-mail communication is the minimum that is expected. A lawyer needs to have access to filtered, important information and needs to have access to it on the move. Whether it is by using a smartphone or a tablet, your lawyer should be able to keep in touch with you at all times.
But how do lawyers manage this and keep up their professional standards, integrity and strict security? Key to this is understanding both the rewards and risks of working with mobile technology.
There are two main approaches that law firms adopt to mobile working. One is BYOD (bring your own device) where an individual’s smartphone or tablet is linked to the firm’s system, or CYOD (choose your own device) where the law firm pays for the mobile phone or tablet and lets the user choose from an approved list.
Technology suppliers to law firms are making mobile working more secure by introducing more controls for remote working. For example, if a user loses a phone, the IT department can remotely wipe all the data from the phone. Data can now be encrypted on the device.
Mobile computing is a challenge as the rate of change can outpace the IT department’s ability to control and put policies in place to secure devices and the data contained within them
Should data not be encrypted, then that data is at risk. For a law firm this is a big deal and there are concerns over the security of client information to be addressed.
The rewards of mobile technology are huge and immediately appealing for the lawyer and the client. The lawyer turns up at a meeting with you and is fully prepared, having read the e-mail you sent while on the train or waiting in reception. Travelling time can also be useful work time.
However, there are some key challenges that need to be addressed. A big challenge for law firms in dealing with mobile technology is software. If users are downloading software, then the law firm may never be certain which version of the software a user may have, making upgrades difficult. And people using different versions of software may cause further issues.
If a law firm wants to control this, it has to install expensive mobile device management software, which can be complex, especially if users are connecting with different devices and platforms. This brings compatibility challenges.
For smaller law firms there is an issue that they can no longer control mobile applications in the organisation. There is more risk for the smaller firm as they don’t necessarily have the budgets to implement the control systems, but if the right precautions are taken, risks can be minimised.
The answer lies in having policies and controls in place, and educating staff on the dangers of not protecting devices with PIN codes, timed lock screens, reporting lost devices immediately, so the remote wipe features can be implemented, and finally making people think carefully about where they store sensitive information.
Mobile computing is a challenge for all companies as the rate of change can outpace the IT department’s ability to control and put policies in place to secure devices and the data contained within them. Third-party solutions do exist to assist with this, but these will typically involve expense and effort to implement correctly. The alternative is to ban personal devices, but this will inevitably lead to employees feeling let down and having to carry multiple devices as there is likely to still be a need to access e-mail and information on the move.
The issue of mobile data doesn’t stop at the mobile devices people carry around though, as the need to have instant access to information from wherever the user is also impacts the desktop environment. Services such as Dropbox, Google Drive and SkyDrive all provide the ability to get instant access to your documents from any of your devices, but they store them in the cloud on servers that could be located anywhere in the world. These all provide the opportunity for sensitive information to leak out of the control of the organisation.
The rewards from mobile computing are huge and mobile is certainly here to stay. Mobile devices bring enormous benefits to clients in terms of response times and availability of legal support, and enable better use of time and more efficient preparation. Mobile will prosper in the legal profession, providing your law firm recognises the risks – and sensible precautions are taken to keep your data safe.
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