Law firm network infrastructure: a Q&A with Chris Petrie
Chris Petrie is the IT Director of legal firm Stephenson Harwood, and has recently overseen the firm’s transition to a new global network. Below, Chris Petrie discusses why Stephenson Harwood has moved to a new global network, and what it means for the firm.
Can you provide a bit of background to Stephenson Harwood and the ICT work it has recently undertaken?
Stephenson Harwood is a full service legal firm with offices in the UK, France, Greece, Hong Kong and Singapore, with a further three offices in mainland China. This means we’ve got over 600 staff members around the globe. As part of our international growth plans, we wanted to improve collaboration between sites in order to deliver international services to new markets and improve the way we work with our existing clients. We determined that a global IP network connecting our offices was fundamental to this strategy, so we started a project to create the global ICT infrastructure that could support our growth plans.
What were the main challenges you faced?
As this network was designed to play a major role in the way that our regional offices work together, there were a number of practical challenges we had to surmount. One of the most fundamental of these was finding a global network operator. The provider we selected would need both the global reach we were looking for, and the ability to deliver and manage our ICT infrastructure in-country. We ensured there was one point of contact at NTT for our entire infrastructure, which made managing the migration far simpler, and also made it easier to resolve problems and provision new services. We also ran into some big questions over the physical routes the network would follow across the globe. This was an important consideration as we had identified high levels of uptime and low latency as key issues for us: we were keen to use our new network as a platform for video conferencing and sophisticated collaboration. Our shortlisted providers had to show their network infrastructure followed the shortest possible routes to ensure lower levels of latency. This automatically excluded those network providers that couldn’t offer these kinds of routes for their IP network.
What solution did you use to meet these challenges?
We spoke with a number of network providers about our particular needs, but eventually chose NTT as it was able to meet all of our criteria. The solution that it provided was a fully managed MPLS network, to which all of our offices are connected. NTT’s network proved the most attractive for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was able to provide a gateway to Asia, where many of our offices are based. The network we use stretches across Europe and over the Russian Steppes, rather than under the Mediterranean. This offers lower latency than other routes to Asia, because of the shorter distances involved.
What has the new network enabled Stephenson Harwood to do?
The low latency aspect of the network allows us to easily arrange and participate in face-to-face video and conference calls. It also ensures that local offices can access the global financial system as well as legal research tools and other centralised services and support in London, without experiencing any noticeable lag. In addition the London IT team monitors system health in all locations and intervenes when required, and the network improves visibility to each office of the work output from each legal team, regardless of where they are based. Bringing all the offices onto a single network has also made it easier for us to expand overseas. For example, NTT Europe played an integral role in the transfer of ICT systems from our former office in Paris to our new premises. It provided a complete service, so that we only had one supplier to deal with for all of our ICT needs, from the network itself to the ICT systems in each individual office.
In addition, the network features an IP traffic steering system to improve access for lawyers working remotely. The traffic steering system automatically finds the network path with the lowest latency back to the lawyer’s home office, so they can work as effectively remotely as they could if they were in the office.
Do you have any advice for legal firms in a similar position?
Our migration has brought home to us that our network has become a vital platform for our operations – it’s far more than a simple conduit for data. Thinking about our infrastructure from this perspective informed our technical requirements and enabled us to make the right investment decisions to support the long-term development of our business. Finally, finding a provider that had the global reach and also local delivery capabilities helped ensure our migration was a success.