Incredible though it might seem, sometimes lawyers look for ways to reduce their fees. When Marcus O’Leary, a lawyer specialising in IT-related issues, saw the hourly rate of specialist legal work appreciate exponentially, he knew there must be a way to give clients a better deal while maintaining profits.
The solution he came up with: to remove the significant operating cost of owning or renting commercial premises.
In 2005, he founded Network Law, a specialist law firm whose lawyers do not congregate in a fixed office space every day, but instead work from home or from local, individually sourced office facilities.
That meant finding a way to provide secure and reliable access to business applications, such as practice and case management software, as well as the voluminous legal documents lawyers need.
At first, O’Leary tried to host the systems and materials himself, but with maintenance and management took up too much time. “For a while, I went from being an IT lawyer to becoming an IT practitioner,” he recalls.
The concept worked though, and he began to look for a solution that would ease the IT management burden. That search led him to managed service provider Intercept, whose OnlineDesktop offering – which enables employees to access desktop tools, applications and documents remotely – met his expect-ations for cost, performance and scalability.
The service, which is based on Citrix’s remote desktop technology, transmits only mouse movements, keystrokes and graphical data to and from the remote workers’ systems. That mechanism complies with the Law Society’s strict regulations governing the transfer of client information.
Even the firm’s post is now digitised. All mail is sent to an administrative office in
NetworkLaw’s innovative modus operandi does have an impact on what work the firm can undertake. “We tried to move into consumer work such as conveyancing,” says O’Leary, “but event-ually we had to pull out.” Outside of the IT realm, they found, clients were less com-fortable with electronic documentation.
But the greatest challenge has been to maintain a sense of a collective enterprise among people who rarely meet. The company keeps in regular contact using online communication tools such as Skype, but still there are some drawbacks when it comes to managing personnel. “It is more difficult to get a feel for how well new hires are working when you are not in the same building,” he explains.
Working for a ‘virtual law firm’ is not for everyone, says O’Leary. “People have to be more insular.” But for others it is a blessing. Employees’ travel costs – and carbon footprints – are greatly reduced, and for some it is an opportunity to continue their career while looking after children.
Network Law is forging a path that environmental and employee-retention pressures may force many more organisations to follow. But there is no ‘right’ way to go about it yet, O’Leary points out. “This is a new way of doing things,” he says “and we are still feeling our way around.”
Virtualising the desktop
The delivery of desktop services from a virtual PC estate within the data centre has become a core ambition of many IT organisations