12 Sep 2014

The Future of Work: The Mobile Lawyer

Most lawyers are now accessing work documents on the move, a potential security and compliance nightmare for law firms, says Barrie Hadfield, founder and CTO at Workshare.

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Today’s digital-savvy-employee boom has changed the way people work. They are turning to software and applications that enable them to work from anywhere, and reap the benefits of increased mobility. This movement is radically altering the types of applications that legal firms and corporate counsels need to provide for their legal professionals. The younger generations’ mobile-first approach is fuelling an explosion in mobile working – to the point where it is now an integral part of most businesses.

Recent research by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) and Workshare revealed that more than four out of five workers (81 per cent) now access work documents on the move. Law firms that fail to embrace this cultural shift towards mobile document collaboration and file sharing will find themselves tiptoeing through a compliance and security minefield. As a result, the pressure is now firmly on law firms and their IT groups to provide systems and applications that are not only easy-to-use, but ensure corporate documents and data remain safe and secure.

BYOD strategies for legal 

The rise in mobile working has also resulted in a significant adoption of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategies across firms. In Workshare’s survey of 5,895 of IT professionals worldwide, 62 per cent of employees are already using their personal devices in the workplace – be it a phone, tablet, or laptop. 

The surge in applications that facilitate mobile working and collaboration outside of the office environment is clearly evident in the legal sector, where 96 per cent of IT professionals report using mobile devices to access documents on the move. Our research also indicated that this trend is becoming a common requirement for knowledge workers across other semi- and highly regulated sectors that include the legal, financial services and pharmaceutical sectors. 

Moving away from corporate-owned devices enables employees to use the productivity applications they know and love in their personal lives – such as Dropbox – for work. Although providing an easy way to share personal photos and documents, these unsecure applications pose a number of data security threats when used to share high-value corporate content. These threats can include sensitive information being inadvertently leaked, data loss, and risk of data breaches. 

The research also revealed that over two-thirds of employees (69 per cent) are bypassingcorporate policies and opting for free file sharing services to share corporate documents, this is a concern that legal firms should be paying close attention to. Employees working in legal and professional (88 per cent) and financial services (78 per cent) reported the highest usage of free file sharing services, and therefore robust BYOD strategies must be put in place by IT groups in order to mitigate this risk and secure company data.

Provisioning secure and easy-to-use cloud applications 

To successfully meet lawyers’ needs, firms and their IT groups must consider enterprise-grade cloud collaboration applications. In the immediate future this will enable firms to dramatically reduce the volume of emails being sent and received, by enabling multiple users to work simultaneously on one document. Employees can accurately compare versions of a document to instantly see what changes have been made; make direct comments on a document with all collaborators retaining visibility and auditability of the conversations; or make comments within a group, ensuring that all conversations are in context and document-centric. 

The new generation of collaboration tools ensures that all users can view a single version of the truth and that everyone has access to the latest version. Further still, users are notified of any changes – preventing long email trails and reducing the time it takes to track down various versions of documents. Over the next five years these file sharing and collaboration applications will drive advances in Cloud Content Management and usher in a new era of applications that drive productivity due to their simplicity and ease-of-use.

The onus is firmly on IT to strike a balance between user demands and the firm’s data security requirements. IT must keep up with the fast-paced shifts in mobility trends and proactively introduce file sharing and collaboration applications that benefit both users and the organisation. Doing this effectively will ensure users no longer feel compelled to keep the IT group in the dark about what they’re doing, as they are being provided with everything they need to get their job done.

The first step in achieving this harmony is to reassess the tools being offered to users and cooperate with employees to gain a deeper understanding of the file sharing and collaboration solutions they prefer to use. IT can then ensure relevantapplications are built from the ground up to meet the bespoke needs of bothemployees and the firm. Only when this is achieved will the organisation begin to realise the true benefits that file sharing and collaboration applications can bring to the business.

An example of a legal firm which is making technologic leaps to mobilise its workforce is Garrigues, the largest global law firm in Spain. Garrigues selected Workshare to enable its workforce of over 2,000 employees to securely compare, share, and collaborate on high-value documents without the risk of inadvertently exposing sensitive information.

Prior to using Workshare, Garrigues faced a number of security issues with clients turning to unsecure, consumer-grade file sharing applications to share large files with lawyers. One of the major reasons for using Workshare was its ability to integrate with the law firm's legacy document management system. 

Garrigues is now able to enforce policy to ensure all metadata is removed by default, preventing inadvertent leaks of “hidden data” and allowing users to continue to work as they always have. The law firm can also control how documents are accessed and shared and can maintain a full audit trail, even after the document has left HP Worksite’s environment.

Enabling collaboration & maintaining data control

With firms having invested huge amounts in Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and Document Management Systems (DMS), which hold years of corporate information and intellectual property, it no longer makes sense to go through costly ‘rip and replace’ processes. IT groups within legal should look at ways to extend their valuable IT infrastructure by implementing file sharing and collaboration applications that integrate with existing systems. This approach will help IT become enablers, allowing legal professionals to collaborate, while maintaining an audit trail of content being shared via mobile devices and exert some level of control IT groups need to fulfil their role as the guardians of company data.

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