von Briesen & Roper: Simple Innovation

von Briesen & Roper’s strapline is “We do things differently” and, according to CIO William Caraher, that statement also applies to their approach to technology – but it’s the simplest innovations that have been the most effective.
In the role for 13 years as both CIO and director of operations, Caraher’s role extends to office and expense management for the circa 192-attorney law firm.
When Caraher came on board, von Briesen had outsourced most of the technology function but against the wider trend he slowly brought it back in house, only going out for particular areas of expertise.  “I put a focus on customer service and useful technology but not the latest, flashy thing,” he says.
Half of Caraher’s career was spent in investment banking and hedge funds, which he says gives him a different perspective to his legal peers.  “I feel we’re more of a leader than a follower, so when it comes to new things, we don’t just go for what is being marketed to legal,” he says.
That become obvious in 2011, when von Briesen was a runner up for ILTA’s Emerging Technology Champion Awards for an open source intranet that has a similar functionality to iGoogle, called vBDash.
“Everyone was talking about Microsoft SharePoint and I thought ‘there’s got to be something better’.  SharePoint is expensive and costs a lot of money and the users often hate it.  So, I went out and found a really good open source solution.  Everyone looked at me as if I had two heads.  But I said, ‘if we can customise it with no licensing fee, why wouldn’t we?’”
In 2013 von Briesen was again up for an ILTA award for Innovative Project of the Year for its Apple-styled inGenious Bar tech training programme, which Caraher helped to develop after the firm’s existing training appeared to be wasting everyone’s time.
“I took the approach that if they only have a few minutes, let’s create a five-minute training programme.  At Apple you can make an appointment with a ‘genius’ and say, ‘how do I do X’.  So, we take the top help desk calls and put training around that but dial it down to five minutes, such as ‘here is how you send a secure email’, or ‘here is how you redact using this new PDF program.’”
Do you ever look at the ILTA awards (or similar) and wonder if the project was actually a success?  Well in this case, Caraher says it’s still a big success.  “We do it once a week and there’s a skill of the week – you can be in and out in five minutes.  Then next week we will demonstrate a new skill.  We run it for 90 minutes and do the same five-minute training for that time,” he says.
“It gets face-time with our staff and IT team so when you’re calling and upset it’s a case of ‘Hey Mary, nice to hear your voice again,’ not just a scripted ‘I’m sorry to hear you are having a problem with X.’  We’ve had great success and one of the things I put out to all my legal IT peers is that when we get people to come for inGenious training, it adds up to four hours of non-CLE IT training per attorney per year – if any firm can beat that, let me know!”
Caraher and his team of seven find that keeping training on the same day and time works best – Friday between 9am and 11am.  “Friday is more relaxed, and people grab a coffee before coming to see us.  If they have to wait it’s just a couple of minutes and people can socialise in that time,” he says.
“There’s definitely a trend towards outsourcing the help desk function to cut costs, but we hear from attorneys that come to our firm that our IT team is the best and it’s great to have firm leadership invested in IT and not just seeing it as a money-saving opportunity – it’s a core service to our efficiency and operating model.  If you have a problem, you need somewhere you can go and say, ‘I need this fixed right now.’”

 von Briesen & Roper core systems
Windows 10 desktop
iManage 9.5
What you might not know
von Briesen & Roper was one of the early adopters of ROSS Intelligence