The Grant Thornton Legal IT Interfirm Comparison

March 1, 2000

Theyreceived more than 300 detailed responses and the firms responding representmany different types of firms. It may be a snapshot but it is a snapshotcovering many angles with a claim to 3-D effects.

The insights from the survey are of very substantial interest to suppliersand practitioners alike. I had the opportunity of discussing the findings of thesurvey with Grant Thornton partner Andrew Levison and Richard Blasdale, who didmuch of the work on the survey itself. Although there was no time before goingto press for a detailed breakdown and analysis to be covered in the magazine,their insights into the interpretation of the various figures revealed somedramatic changes in practice and some worrying insights into the future for thelegal profession.

Further details of the survey can be viewed at the Grant Thornton Web site

One of the findings which is probably predictable is that there has been anincrease in the number of fee earners with their own PC. Overall 79% of feeearners use a PC but the figures are higher in larger firms with as many as 95%of fee earners using a PC in large firms. In Richard Blasdale’s experiencethis shows a dramatic increase of roughly 30% over the last two years. AndrewLevison expects to see a continued increase but much of this can be attributedto a likelihood that all fee earners will require access to personal e-mail overthe next 12 to 24 months and this will be the major factor leading to what heenvisages as a 95% figure for the use of computers by fee earners.

The mere possession of a PC is not necessarily the solution to all problems.While investment in advanced office automation had been shown by the survey tobring real tangible rewards, by no means all fee earners are using their PC toits full potential. The survey specifically shows high usage of the PC fore-mail but low use for case management. Richard Blasdale points out that the bigissue here was training; the more the firm invested in the training of feeearners the greater the efficiency achieved by them in their use of the PC. Theresults of the survey appear to indicate clearly that the firms rating theirsystems as effective or very effective were those with the higher number oftraining days per fee earner.

Perhaps the most exciting trend identified by the inter-firm comparison is infirms where there has been a substantial investment in document managementsystems and advanced office management systems. In large firms where this hasbeen implemented fully there is evidence of a reduction in the secretary to feeearner ratio of more than 50%. Thus where in equivalent firms the ratio was 0.6secretaries to one fee earner the drop is to 0.25 to one fee earner. AndrewLevison was himself surprised by such findings and pointed out the dramaticsavings in costs involved. However Richard Blasdale points out that thesedramatic savings can only be achieved, as with so many other savings fromtechnology, where the system is properly implemented. In too many cases, AndrewLevison observed, the document management system was used as little more than anelectric filing system rather than for the purposes of recall. The main savingsin secretarial time arose where dictation was reduced by the proper and full useof the document management or advanced office management system. Moreover veryfew firms had seen the connection between the document management systems andknowledge management and the potential extranet. It was possible, withrelatively low levels of continued expenditure above and beyond the documentmanagement system, to integrate document management, knowledge management andextranets, so as to provide a streamlined service which could be of real benefitand create a real competitive advantage, and there was little evidence that thiswas happening.

The survey supports many of the views which Andrew Levison has in the pastexpressed about the need for firms to consider strategic exploitation of theopportunities provided by the Internet.

One further shocking revelation arising from the inter-firm comparison is theabsence of IT policies in many key areas, particularly in relation to the Web.For example 27% of the firms responding to the survey did not have a viruspolicy and 83% had no Web policy. Employers run substantial risks whereemployees access material on the Web (some of which is of an extremely unsavourynature) and download material on to the firm’s server. IT managers andpartners could be liable to criminal sanctions in relation to such materialbeing maintained on their server. It seems surprising, given the widespreadpublicity devoted to the dangers of the Internet, that so few firms have graspedthis particular nettle.

The absence of policies is further evidenced in relation to the most popularof the Internet’s uses. 32% of firms have no e-mail policy and yet, AndrewLevison emphasised, the firm’s liability for advice given by e-mail is nodifferent than that for wrong advice given in other circumstances and theparticular temptation of e-mail to give a speedy, and perhaps ill considered,response means that there is a need for a firm and well defined policy in thisarea. Grant Thornton’s policy requires a pause so as to allow for time forreflection and consultation.

Of the firms surveyed, 54% had no disaster policy in place. Even those with adisaster policy have failed to test it in a high proportion of cases. GrantThornton are well aware that even for something as simple as backups, there is areal danger that what appears to be a backup will turn out to be a meaninglessjumble of data which is of no use to a firm when an emergency strikes.

In our next issue Richard Blasdale will draw together some of the moreinteresting trends (for example Word Perfect is now down to 16% of firms andthere is evidence that within 12 months 90% of firms will be using Word). Iconfidently expect that many of our readers will be visiting the Grant Thorntonsite to see how they can obtain the full results of the survey – particularlythose suppliers anxious to see how they are rated by their customers.