Doing things differently DWF-style

One of the key pillars of DWF’s three-prong strategy is ‘doing things differently’ and it’s something the top 25 UK firm is taking seriously. Led by chief technology officer Richard Hodkinson, DWF is preparing to create a virtual platform for homeworkers – expected to treble from 100 to 300 in the next 18 months to two years – as it also launches the third client app produced by its software business 15squared.

While DWF currently has around 100 support staff from the document production unit working from home, Hodkinson and his team are planning an environment in which not only can that number grow dramatically but also incorporate fee-earners for the first time.

“For fee-earners, we will have to address confidentiality issues and supervision rules but it’s now possible,” says Hodkinson. “We want to create a virtual experience, so that we’re building out capacity in the cloud – on Azure or Amazon Web Services – that is technologically divorced from the business, so that if there is an outage we don’t have 200-300 people sitting around doing nothing. “We’re already thinking about putting together a virtual platform that incorporates Office 365 and it’s just a case of putting it into action,” he adds. One advantage of this sort of platform will be that staff can use their home computer and standard software and Hodkinson says: “We’ve got to create a ‘Fisher-Price’ experience, where people coming on board are immediately up to speed and a two-year old could use it.”

From a security perspective, the firm will be able to ring fence the platform and Hodkinson says: “We can cover the virtual world in as much security as we like – it’s far easier than giving someone a £1k laptop with all our software on it.”

The moves comes as DWF looks forward to the formal launch of its client crisis management app, Notify, which will be available in March and enable users to store contact details for everyone who needs to be notified in the event of a crisis. If and when a crisis hits, users will be able to press the ‘panic button’, which will trigger a message to all contacts stored, asking them to call back.

Hodkinson, who joined DWF from Irwin Mitchell in 2011, told Legal IT Insider: “If there’s flooding and the facilities manager needs to get a team of people together but maybe can’t get to the office, Notify gives them business continuity and control.”

The app is one of three under the umbrella of 15squared, a wholly-owned subsidiary of DWF that generates a turnover of around £500,000 a year and employs 15 developers across Europe. The other apps are a cloud-based claims handling tool called Claimbase, and an app to store your property portfolio in called Pinpoint, although this will be renamed due to trademark issues. It is anticipated that the 15squared stable will continue to grow in line with DWF’s ambition to productise a number of its activities, as clients increasingly look for added value and solutions from their legal advisers.

DWF has stood out in recent years for innovation including last year’s announcement of a new flexible client services offering, to be underpinned by a combination of process mapping and Business Integrity’s (now Thomson Reuters’) automation software ContractExpress.

The firm in the past looked at HotDocs but one recent catalyst for change was the arrival in 2014 of employment head Andrew Chamberlain from Addleshaw Goddard, and chief executive officer of commercial services Stephen Miles from Pinsent Masons.

Formed from multiple mergers (including snapping up Cobbetts out of administration in 2013, marking a period of aggressive growth for the firm), DWF’s clients are varied in type and demand, necessitating a high degree of efficiency and innovation.

Hodkinson says: “We cater for commercial, bespoke clients that expect a very personal service as well as volume, fixed fee clients where we need to be very efficient, incorporate lots of process mapping and methodology and operate against service level agreements.”

This article first appeared in the latest Legal IT Insider