Comment: What will legal firms’ top five priorities be in 2021?

Steve Whiter (Appurity director) and Jonny Watkinson (Enterprise Sales Manager UK&I at NetMotion Software) tell us what law firm priorities will be in 2021. NetMotion recently conducted a survey via their Connected Legal Forum in which 50 US law firms were asked about their IT, networking and security challenges for the coming year.

Improving the user experience

The pandemic has transformed our working environment forever. Most people are currently working remotely, many still getting to grips with the new devices and apps they’ve been given to do their jobs. Ensuring these remote workers have a good user experience will be vital in the next 12 months, especially in terms of increasing employee productivity and generating competitive advantage.

That’s why two thirds of IT leaders at legal firms rated this as top priority for 2021.

Firms have had to move extremely fast in 2020 to get everyone set up for working at home. That’s led to all sorts of issues with internet connections, access to cloud resources, using apps on external networks, the list is exhaustive, not to mention exhausting for inundated helpdesk staff. People can no longer just pop in to see the IT team whenever they have a problem. And all this upheaval is having a negative impact on user experience.

The solution involves providing a secure and seamless user experience on whatever device, application and network employees are using at any given moment, while they’re on the move or working from home.

It’s no secret that most firms aren’t planning to return to the pre-Covid model where everyone works an eight-hour day at the office. Instead there will likely be an 80%/20% split (home/office) with lots of flexibility built in.

Right now, everyone’s working at home so they’re relatively static. But in the not-too-distant future, there will be the post-vaccine working environment to consider. What happens when everyone’s free to work from coffee shops, client sites or wherever they like again? As people start becoming more mobile and relying on lots of different networks with varying degrees of connectivity, it will be important for their applications to transition between connections and provide a seamless user experience.

Moving to the cloud

If it wasn’t for the pandemic, this would be the number one priority with many firms already moving more and more of their applications to the cloud.

As legal companies increasingly rely on cloud-based applications like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to have highly confidential conversations and share information in a secure way, many are now asking why they don’t have more of their core applications (including document management systems) to the cloud. After all, it’s in their interest to off-load the risk and management of these apps to other companies, like Microsoft. Plus, there are the cost savings from a resource and infrastructure perspective to consider.

A key challenge here is that companies moving applications to the cloud would not usually use a VPN tunnel to access them. VPNs are traditionally designed to access on premise resources, not cloud resources.

So, firms should be looking to adopt a Remote Access tool that actively improves remote working, while providing policy capabilities that will enable the business to visualise, manage and control all traffic flowing both inside and outside the VPN tunnel.

Embracing Zero Trust

An important part of the Zero Trust concept for legal firms is Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA): the ability to access applications in a highly secure, uncompromised manner.

Traditionally, when everything was on premise, if someone hacked into a firm’s VPN that person could usually gain access to the corporate network. Think of it as a central point of vulnerability. And now that critical applications are moving to the cloud, there are new risks and security concerns to address.

This is where NetMotion Software-Defined Perimeter (SDP) comes into play, giving firms the ability to make decisions at the device level as to whether an individual should have access to a specific application or not. These decisions are based on a broad range of factors, including the user’s situation and what they’re trying to achieve, plus, location, time, device, network, application and so forth.

Updating remote access VPN

As firms migrate various technologies from on premise to cloud, many are considering more effective alternatives to VPN. Companies are realising that their VPN isn’t the ideal solution in a hybrid environment comprising on premise, cloud and SaaS technologies. Most VPNs do not perform well over external networks and variable connectivity. In fact, many are renowned for disrupting the user experience.

Plenty of firms still need a VPN, even if they have minimal on premise technology, but their ideal VPN solution should also be actively enhancing the user experience, as well as monitoring and controlling traffic either side of the tunnel.

Upgrading EUM/EMM

Many firms are considering moving away from using industry-leading enterprise mobility management (EMM) platforms and using Microsoft Intune instead, which is bolted on to Microsoft’s main enterprise licensing suite. The logical question being: if we’re already paying for Intune, why aren’t we using or at least testing it?

However, companies switching to Intune lose the tunnelling capability that some EMM platforms provide. So, a mobile-ready, remote access tool will be a key requirement for those companies looking to make the move in 2021.

Join the Forum

If you’re working in IT for a legal firm, you can participate in the Connected Legal Forum. With special ‘wine webinars’, online conversations and stories from the frontlines, this private network is where the latest thinking and technologies for legal firms are discussed.

Steve Whiter is a director of Appurity, specialists in business mobility, with extensive experience of secure mobile communications for the legal profession.

Jonny Watkinson, Enterprise Sales Manager at NetMotion, provides enterprises with technology to efficiently and securely support mobile workforces with unparalleled user experiences.

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