Strategic CIOs touch every point of the organization, even some areas that are not considered to be their immediate territory. Over the last decade law firms have changed from fusty redbrick elite clubs to thrusting commercial organizations that compete for business in a market where customers are now fully aware that they can shop around. For Graeme Low, head of IT at Cambridge based law firm Mills & Reeve, his role involves enabling a company to continue its recent record of rapid growth, provide systems that entice staff to join the company and improve communications to customers. He tells CIO how he and his team have achieved this.
"Clients are shopping around, and they are looking for value for money," Low says of the common business challenges that have now become part of the legal industry in the last 10 years. "We have to work hard to keep fees competitive. IT really comes into its own, we are important for efficiency, quality and client service to help the firm retain clients and do work efficiently." Law firms have become more competitive against each other to meet their client's needs. Low said that society is becoming increasingly litigious there is an increasing market for the legal sector to capitalize on.
Mills & Reeve is one law firm that has profited from the increasing market for legal representation. "The company didn't want to be just in the eastern region, it wanted to be national," Low says of the explosive growth in his own organization. Mills & Reeve now has offices in Birmingham, Leeds, London, Manchester, Norwich and a head office in Cambridge. With the majority of its partners working outside of London, Mills & Reeve is able to offer lower legal fees, which is credited in part to the recent success.
"We do regular business plans and growth has always been part of that," Low says. Mills & Reeve is now working towards a 2010 business plan and each year's targets move towards that end plan. "There's a number of agreed priorities, every support department has this business plan in mind," Low says of his department's role. "We're into supporting innovation and a belief that innovation will deliver efficiency. There's a supportive attitude to investment in IT. Many organizations I've been with before worry about the cost, it is so refreshing here."
Business development and growth means retaining and enticing quality staff. "We have to offer an incentive to leave London and profitability is part of that," Low says. "Most of the lawyers that are attracted out of London are surprised by how sophisticated we are. The attraction is the culture, it is not as highly pressurized and we emphasize the work-life balance. I certainly don't think they find a dilution of quality."
IT's role is to ensure that the Mills & Reeve legal team have the best information system possible to assist their work. "Since I've been here there has been an emphasis on information. Lawyers need lots and information sources are growing." They have developed a portal to pull together external and internal information sources.
The latest information tool to be implemented by Low is unified communications, a system he describes as being ideal for law firms. "We think that technology has to contribute a lot to giving lawyers the information they need to increase production." Low's approach to the telecommunications for Mills & Reeve was that it is also another form of information system, "a process for improving workflow".
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