At Bradford & Barthel (B&B), last year we chose to integrate our business model with Google, specifically the Google Apps collaborative cloud platform. A brave (and/or stupid) move, some have said.
Not ‘just’ because of the cloud security/functionality argument, but also because of Google’s lack of experience in legal (at least on paper). We’re told that in our industry, everything must be custom-made for lawyers given the way they work with legal taxonomies and so forth. Also, comparisons to other professional service organizations and how they are run are often few and far between.
With several years of corporate business experience under my belt, I see many ideas and best practices, especially as they relate to technology and change management, from which legal can learn and benefit.
At Oracle and Intel, I learned one must redefine his/her role every 18 months to survive. At these companies, change is so expected, so fast, such a thriving part of the business culture that one could expect not only technology interfaces to change, but behavior and outlook to quickly alter as well. Individuals in these corporate environments are expected to bring about this change themselves. Granted, most behavioral change and change management initiatives are driven by the consumer first, with the tools coming second. However, with the onset of social, media-driven technology, behavioral change is often being driven by tools first, by the consumer second, and then integrated into business.
With this change of perspective, but also with a tangible list of technology needs to check off, our firm ventured to ILTA1’s 2009 Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. Based on our learnings at conference, and in keeping with what “others” outside of legal were doing with innovative cloud solutions, we decided to shift our paths toward an environment that would be competitive, social media-driven and innovate day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month to drive behavioral change.
Choosing Google Apps
We wanted our entire information management platform to be exposed via our intranet, extranets, and portals, and integrated through unified search, both internally and with clients. We needed this platform to aid in our alternative staffing models and to enable outsourcing through efficiency change management initiatives. We did not want to develop this platform ourselves, support this platform, nor devote resources to product upgrades and rollouts. This platform had to evolve, compete, and move forward through continual innovation.
Enter Google Apps.
We chose Google Apps for this platform, though in reality we chose to merge our business model with the innovation Google represents, as opposed to clinging to the name of their particular ‘flavor’ of cloud. With platforms like Google and competing solutions, the focus has to not only be on what these collaborative platforms offer the enterprise, but how their enormous resources and drive for competition improve the evolving platform at speeds and in ways in-house solutions at global firms or firms of any size cannot realistically replicate.
While our firm’s leaders are not high-risk gamblers, we did make a few bets when it came to Google Apps… we bet that our resources at Google2 would be better able to build, innovate, and evolve their technology than B&B; we also bet this platform would integrate between our firm, our clients and our goals as a business.
One Year In
Since B&B’s initial phase Google Apps rollout last April, we have rebuilt a combined Knowledge Management and Technology Department. We now use our collaborative cloud Google Apps platform to apply KM concepts and behavioral change initiatives to the firm’s areas of practice, to its business model, and to attract new lines of business.
The following changes have also taken place:
- Collaborative cloud solutions instead of traditional software licensing models: B&B has formed a revenue-generating line of business focused on change management, risk management, and project management, and integrating Google Apps with future clients’ business models and information management platforms. This fresh approach has enabled us to deliver revenue-generating strategic collaborative cloud solutions not only internally, but via consulting services to future law firm clients.
- Technology and personnel outsourcing: Within this environment, we are initiating alternative staffing models by outsourcing both technology and personnel, and shifting existing work processes with project management initiatives. This process began across departments such as HR, finance, marketing, legal and administration, and then moved to our varying areas of practice. The outsourcing and alternative staffing models led to substantial cost savings and innovations in alternative fee arrangements (AFA). In outsourcing personnel and processes, both legal and otherwise, our AFAs are negotiated with each client relative to their needs and our ability to meet them.
- Collaboration: B&B uses the social media-driven aspects of Google Apps to collaborate and drive efficiencies, reshape how attorneys think about their practice and act as a catalyst in the ongoing evolution of the firm KM library. An internal social media environment that is shared with clients—integrating through all aspects of the cases we work, how they’re worked and how they’re shared—is a key component for future successes.
- Licensing: We no longer engage in license upgrades. All upgrades to the platform are part of the evolving nature of the cloud-hosted platform and touch all areas of information management and unified messaging. Be it search, voice, video messaging, intranets/extranets, docs, etc., it doesn’t cost anything different or more than it does on a per-user, per-year subscription basis.
- Security: A recent Homeland Security memo indicates law firms are being breached by outside entities to obtain sensitive, privileged information. In response, B&B’s senior management demanded a plan whereby security and privacy needs evolve into a solution that competes directly with multibillion-dollar fortune 500 solutions. Based on Google’s ongoing developing security resources at play, we have among the most competitive infrastructures/environments possible to quell security issues both internally and for firm clients, with no additional cost to the firm in resources, licensing or infrastructure.
Challenges for the Future = Opportunities Today
From my perspective, many of the technological, behavioral and business challenges associated with collaborative cloud computing are excellent opportunities for law firms to expertly marry technology (hosted or not) with business objectives. Examples include integrating third-party business solutions into evolving social media platforms; communicating to peers that concerns on security and privacy are met by investing in a solution that has the resources to devote to quickly evolving solutions; continuing creative AFAs as the industry moves toward a new era of relative transparency through social media-driven technology; alternative staffing arrangements being facilitated and expanded through outsourcing; and legal project management creating (and advancing) the roles of strategists and business analysts within law firms.
As we communicate through ILTA toward Law2020TM, social media-driven technologies and collaborative communications will ensure the focus on the ‘international’ thrives, while business, legal, knowledge management and technology initiatives continue to merge together.
Eric Hunter is the Director of Knowledge Management and Technology at Bradford & Barthel, LLP, where he is currently integrating a cloud-hosted collaboration platform within the firm’s 12-office environment. Eric has written and spoken about collaborative cloud solutions at numerous legal events and conferences and is frequently quoted in articles pertaining to legal cloud computing and SaaS delivery. He is also the recipient of ILTA’s 2010 Distinguished Peer Award for Knowledge Management Champion. Eric can be reached at email@example.com.
1 International Legal Technology Association has—for over three decades—led the way in sharing knowledge and experience for those faced with challenges in their firms and legal departments. Through delivery of educational content and peer-networking opportunities, ILTA provides members with information resources in order to make technology work for the legal profession.
2 Google currently maintains $57.851 billion in assets and 24,000+ employees on the payroll.
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