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From iPhones to networks, law firm spending on systems ticks up

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Indiana Lawyer Focus

If your firm hasn’t bought you a new smartphone, provided better remote access options, or replaced an aging monitor lately, you might nudge the purchasing department.

Among large law firms, 52 percent spent more on technology last year, compared with 50 percent in 2011, according to an annual survey released by the International Legal Technology Association in August.

il-technology05-15col.jpg Hall Render attorney Kendra Conover displays her company-issued iPhone. The firm bought iPhones for all 185 of its lawyers about a year ago.(IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

The numbers represent a slow but steady recovery after a slump in tech spending that began after the economic downturn in 2008. Firms are investing most in hardware and desktop upgrades; laptops; notebooks; wireless devices; and network, server and storage upgrades.

At Hall Render Killian Heath & Lyman P.C., an Indianapolis firm that took part in the survey, the biggest recent technology investment went right into the hands of 185 attorneys.

“About a year ago we distributed iPhones to everyone,” said Jeff Short, a Hall Render shareholder and chair of the firm’s IT committee. “We were due for an upgrade.”

Hall Render’s big purchase replaced a former network of BlackBerry devices after Short said the firm reviewed wireless solutions, a process it does every couple of years.

The switch reflects a trend that’s been expedited in recent years. The once-venerable BlackBerry is now virtually even in market share with the Apple iPhone among large-firm attorneys, according to the survey.

“People love them, and it’s an almost weekly occurrence, someone calling me up and telling me about some new app they found that helps them,” Short said.

At Benesch, the focus on tech spending has shifted toward mobile devices, said Jeff Kosc, partner in charge of the technology group for the Indianapolis office that employs 29 attorneys.

“We still have the standard-issue laptops, and we offer full support for mobile devices,” Kosc said. The firm takes a different approach on smartphones, though. Attorneys get allowances to choose the kind of mobile device that meets their preference and to pay for data plans and maintenance. Most prefer iPhones, Kosc said.

Benesch also is considering providing an allowance for tablet support and has given its staff remote desktop access from any number of platforms, Kosc explained. “The force behind it is really making sure we can empower folks to get work done as easily and efficiently as possible. That’s the goal.”

Hall Render, which focuses its practice on health law, had explored iPhones previously and had the infrastructure in place to support them, Short said. There had been concerns about security that were resolved in subsequent Apple operating systems.

“It’s been great as a firm to give everyone that freedom that you can still attend to what you need to do because you’re away from your desk,” Hall Render shareholder Regan Tankersley said.

“I don’t so much use the iPhone for productivity,” she said. “I and a lot of people in the firm are also using iPads, and everything works so well together.” She’s found apps useful for annotating digital documents, for instance.

“The iPhone for work has been great for purposes of keeping in touch and email,” she said. “I think everybody’s come to an understanding now that they’re going to be reachable by email all the time.”

That might be the prevailing view, but there still are places where such accessibility is patently rejected – the patent law firm Woodard Emhardt Moriarty McNett & Henry LLP among them.

Given the firm’s practice niche, few time-sensitive matters come through the doors, said senior associate Bill McKenna. “Most of our work is handled on defined windows – 30 days, 60 days, 90 days – and it’s a little more amenable to planning ahead. … We don’t have urgent general rush business.”

“We have quite a few attorneys who by choice don’t receive email on their phones,” McKenna said. “Certainly some of our more senior partners fit that category. Some literally believe email causes more harm than good. Some choose to have email accessible on the phone but not automatically forwarded.”

Nevertheless, McKenna said the overwhelming majority of the firm’s 30 or so attorneys carry iPhones they purchased for themselves. The firm supports any and all mobile devices its attorneys might use, he said, including tablets.

And while Woodard is a smaller firm compared with those surveyed, its tech support reflects trends among bigger firms. In 2012, 74 percent of firms in the ILTA survey reported their IT departments support their attorneys’ tablet use regardless of who purchases the device.

While tech budgets increasingly embrace smartphones and tablets, firms last year also recommitted to hardware in the office. A whopping 75 percent of firms surveyed reported spending on desktop hardware in 2012, an increase from the 59 percent of firms that did so a year earlier.

Woodard also reflected that trend. “In the last three years, everyone at the firm has gotten at least a 24-inch monitor,” McKenna said, including his own 30-inch monitor. It sits between two vertically oriented monitors he uses for work and for legal research.

McKenna said he strives for a paperless office, and files from his desktop computer are updated daily and synched to his iPad and iPhone.

Such a commitment to letting attorneys work anywhere is one that Harrison & Moberly LLP also takes seriously. Partner A. Barclay Wong chaired the firm’s IT committee a couple of years back when the decision was made to install VMware, giving the full-service firm’s 26 lawyers a virtual computing model.

The system allows attorneys to sign in from their home computer, laptop, iPad or smartphone, Wong said. Once logged in, an attorney has his office computer desktop at his fingertips.

Wong said such arrangements were more common for other businesses, but law firms were slower to adopt. Security was a chief concern. “We have access to internal document servers, so we can access internal documents everywhere.

“I think we were kind of on the forefront of this movement,” he said. “It’s really helped us have people be able to be more productive remotely.”

The investment up front also has meant that Harrison & Moberly hasn’t had to allocate as much for technology purchases in the years since, Wong said. It’s meant less wear on office machines, for example.

“We used to be on a three- to four-year machine rotation where everyone would get a new computer,” he said. “Now we basically use them till they break.”

Among other findings, the ILTA survey also revealed:

• 63 percent of firms responding reported 2 to 4 percent of firm revenue is invested in technology.

• 32 percent of firms indicated they are using or implementing a cloud solution, but security, reliability, performance, cost and speed are concerns.

• 35 percent of firms have a tablet security policy.•
 

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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