IT Department vs. Barrister

Can’t we all just get along?  Is that even possible?  I believe it is.  The reason for my optimism is that the IT user requirements of the average barrister are not complicated.  Not at least when compared with your typical solicitor who has more line of business applications and uses them on a daily basis.  That is not to say that Barristers are technophobes, simply that you have less complex requirements as end users.  The good news is, IT is here to help you get the maximum from your investment.

So what does the typical barristers use?   Word, Outlook, a Web Browser and Diary access.  Possibly a PDF conversion or Optical Character Recognition tool (OCR) too.  The way that IT translates this requirement is; Endpoint encryption to protect files, anti-virus to stop the bad guys, patch management to fix security vulnerabilities. Monitoring for device errors/infections/inventory, so if something goes wrong, it will be fixed. Microsoft Office application installation and updating, print queue deployment for all to share the same print services, and finally, remote access installation, configuration and training to allow working from any location.  This is quite a lot for IT to consider, and this is just on that one computer.

IT is not an array of flashy lights and whirring fans, poor beard trimming and thick rimmed glasses, sucking of teeth and patronising explanations of why you really ought not to have done that. Providing reliable services, no matter how simple they might appear takes real skill and dedication to deliver.  If your services are reliable and your support dependable then we are all winning.  If not, engage and find out why not.  Please  report anything you need, what is missing, what your challenges are, and let IT deliver a solution that benefits all – if you have an IT Committee speak with them, if not, talk to your IT Manager or Account Manager if outsourced. You never know, you may already have the tools to address your problem.

The responsibility of IT to the legal market/barristers’ chambers is considerable – both, chambers and individual barristers.  Barristers work under high pressure to deadline, and we, in Legal IT, truly understand and respect that.  The amount of work being done by chambers’ in-house team, or outsourced IT partner, to address the chambers’ needs is not to be overlooked.  The presentation of services whether working in chambers or remotely is but a fraction of the system as a whole.  The fact that you might not appreciate what IT does behind the scenes means that your IT team are doing well.  You should not have to concern yourself with it.

As to what IT looks like when we, in IT, have only our technology hats on – IT, is everywhere.  From your VoIP desktop phone through to that Internet Café PC that you logged onto to check your webmail on holiday, and everything in between.  The number of different technologies that come together to reliably present a call to your desk, or a webpage to a PC abroad is quite amazing (If only we had time to stop and appreciate it).  That it works at all is quite impressive (at least with that techie hat on), but work it does.  Add compliance and security requirements, backup, disaster recovery and redundancy that is necessary, and that amazing system just gets a whole lot more complex.

So why all this complexity? All I want to do is print!  The reason you cannot print is because you do not have your door access fob with you that enables you to walk up to any chambers’ copier, authenticate, and securely print your documents. IT has moved on – from the periphery of your business providing a Diary and Email into a business critical set of services that allow you to work productively, in a secure manner, from wherever you are.  Remember, it is not all that long ago that we were able to get email on our mobile phones.  Now you can access all of your chambers files, remote desktop, email, take files offline, edit and securely share them, view your intranet and Diary, participate in a video conference, as well as authenticate via two-factor, all from your mobile or tablet.  That is quite a staggering step forward.  Or, is it.

Technology is only ever an enabler if you take the time to learn how it can benefit you.  Technology alone solves few of your challenges, but, if you are open to training or indeed reading those guides which IT helpfully send out, then you complete the investment made in your systems by investing your time to fully benefit from them.  It may sound prescriptive when you are self-employed, but there is much to be gained by sharing standard applications and services.  Consider how much time it takes to find an application you need.  Install several for trial whilst learning broadly how each works.  Now multiply that by your hourly rate.  Now multiply it again by how many within chambers have, or are doing the same.  Now all call IT and ask them to fix the 12 different products installed, that all essentially do the same thing, but work in a dozen different ways and wonder why it is not a 5-minute-fix.

Still, there will be one off applications that are needed for a specific case such as CCTV footage viewing, remote access to client or government systems, bespoke file sharing or digital forensics.  Simply, the fewer unique applications that are in use, the more efficient your IT team will be in supporting you and the happier you will be.

This complexity is unavoidable and will always exist, but we can certainly make the user experience better, repeatedly, by centralising applications and data within a virtual desktop environment so that you can log on to a standard set of services from any Internet connection. If we work in this way the email and file content remains on your servers, behind a firewall and is regularly backed up.  You can even get rid of the PC and use a thin-client device to connect to a central desktop (cheaper than a PC, with no moving parts). The thin client needs little intelligence beyond sending your keyboard and mouse inputs and displaying the resulting output on your screen.

Obviously, there is still a need to take files offline for those occasions when you disappear into a tunnel, or book that idyllic working holiday, but find you have no Internet connection.  Or, travel on a plane or similar.  We cannot avoid the requirement for encryption if the files and email are to be stored on a device, so if you can work in the central desktop, you can simplify IT’s life somewhat by removing the burden of end point maintenance and management.  This in turn saves considerable time and expense.

Our research shows that one thing that all barristers struggle with is the amount of digital content that now arrives via email.  Especially PDF documents that you need to annotate or redact, convert to a word document for editing or comparison.  There are many products out there that will do all this for you, but why not agree and use a standard product that can be used for the benefit of all.  This will allow a standard guide or training to be put in place.  It will ensure that IT are a step ahead in terms of support and version upgrades to provide security patches or product enhancements.  We will also let you know what the new features are and how to use them.

I am going to end on a controversial note.  Your experience of IT is your problem.  You have the right to demand what you like of “IT”, so don’t let the annoyances fester. Communicate your requirements through the correct channels and get someone from your IT team to sit with you and understand your experience.   The best in this market will already be engaged in this way and put your needs ahead of technology any day of the week.

By Danny Killeen, Director, Sprout Legal IT Specialist


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