Berys Amor has spent 25 years providing technology services to legal firms. From the early days at Ellison, Hewison and Whitehead (now Minter Ellison) to her current role as director of technology at Corrs Chambers Westgarth, one thing has never changed: it’s all about the customer.
“I think sometimes technologists can lose that – they get lost in technology and get too separated from customer service,” Amor tells CIO Australia.
“I’d like to think that every one of my team can interact not only with people inside the firm but the firm’s clients as well. There’s a real drive towards making sure everybody has that customer service focus and a willingness to deal with people, which has helped the technology team get a better understanding of the business’ needs and our clients' needs more importantly.”
And innovative thinking – internally and externally – is at the heart of this change. Internally, Corrs Chambers Westgarth has just completed its premises project, adopting a more open, flexible working model across its four offices in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Perth.
Under the new model, staff are equipped with laptops and are free to move around within the offices outside their dedicated workspace.
“That’s opened up flexibility outside of the office. By providing these tools, people can choose to work out of the office at home – with internet connectivity – using the same desktop they have at work.”
But it’s the solutions that Amor and her team offer external clients that are really adding value to the firm. Over the past 12 months, Amor has created a ‘client technology solutions’ team – staffed by a manager and three developers – to create IT-driven solutions for the firm’s customers.
One of these solutions – created last year – is Corrs Crisis Covered, a smartphone, laptop, and tablet app that enables organisations to manage their legal risks following a workplace incident.
The cloud-based communication tool – which won an innovation award last year from the International Legal Technology Association – was created with the help of a workplace lawyer.
“She gave us the inside knowledge on how she worked with clients and what they needed from her.”
Clients use the app to communicate with a Corrs partner from any location using a mobile device following a workplace incident such as a serious accident or even a death. Both parties can exchange images, documentation, and potential evidence in real time.
“When a client launches the application, it sends out – depending on how it is set up for that client – multi-channel communications to our lawyers and other key stakeholders in the business,” says Amor.
This is particularly useful because the sooner the firm gets involved in a situation, the better it can manage risk because sometimes lawyers don’t find out what’s going on until hours or even days after an event, she says.
“[With the app], we can provide real time communication to that worker on the ground via their phone and help them with instructions on what they should do next and who they need to contact. It has been designed to manage that critical period in the first 24 to 48 hours of a serious workplace incident.
“It’s helping them manage the risk; it’s giving transparency across the client and also our lawyers. The feedback we’ve had has been good – it’s helped clients to review their whole business continuity and disaster response,” Amor says.
Amor adds that the app can be customised to suit different areas of an organisation. Although the firm has focused on workplace incidents in factories, for instance; it is talking to other clients about customising the app as a response tool for an environmental incident like an oil spill. It could also be used as a tool to offer clients instructions and advice following a data security breach, Amor says.
A second innovation is Corrs Collaborate, a new cloud platform that offers clients a database, workflow capabilities, calendaring, a blog and wiki.
“Clients can use this to manage their own internal business processes and the legal services that might be part of that,” Amor says.
“For example, they may be looking at potential sites to lease. Their site inspectors can go out with an iPad, log onto the platform, put in details of potential sites, upload a photo, link to Google Maps and search the area for competitors. We can then aggregate this information and the client can repurpose it for the next stage of the site acquisition, [using it] in risk analysis reports and lease documents.”
One of the firm’s clients also uses the Corrs Collaborate tool to manage trade promotions.
“We help their in-house council review for trade promotions but they’ve also got their marketing people that log onto the platform and look at the trade promotion that’s proposed.
“We’re moving from just being a provider of legal services to really understanding the client’s business so we give them a tool they can use to improve their business processes and we’ll slot the legal services into that.”
The aim is that Amor and another manager inside IT will become part of Corrs’ client-facing management team, she says.
“It’s happening right now, we are slowly building up, we are getting involved more and more in tenders … taking these solutions to key strategic clients,” Amor says.
A long career in legal
During her early career in legal IT at Ellison, Hewison and Whitehead, Amor worked with proprietary Unix systems before becoming a certified Netware engineer.
“At the time, the IT degrees were in computer science and that really didn’t appeal to me; I did courses on how to take a PC apart, how to build a server and things like that but it wasn’t a degree as such. It’s only in more recent years that I went back and completed a masters degree in business and technology,” says Amor.
After an initial stint at Ellison, Hewison and Whitehead, Amor was a consultant at legal consulting organisation, Interlegal, between 1996 and 2000 before spending seven years at the national IT manager at law firm, Deacons Australia.
Amor joined Corrs Chambers Westgarth in June 2008 as national infrastructure and applications manager and was appointed director of technology in March 2012 following former CIO Jon Kenton’s promotion to COO at the organisation. Amor says she was attracted to the role at Corrs since she would be responsible for applications and infrastructure – an area that she had not been directly responsible for in previous roles.
A more agile, cloud-focused organisation
In the past, legal firms haven’t been as agile as they should have been when it came to embracing IT, and organisations felt that they needed ‘special technology’, Amor says.
“I think this is starting to change now. Our CRM system for instance – we are trialing Salesforce – which is not a legal-specific platform,” says Amor. “In the past, upgrading a core internal system was a 12 to 18 month project and by the time you did that, everything else had moved on and what were once new features were old.”
Corrs currently has a ‘fairly mature cloud strategy’ as Amor puts it, with many of the firm’s core systems either going to the cloud or currently in the cloud.
Around 200 early adopters inside the organisation are using the cloud-based NetDocuments document management system with the rest of the busines moved across this month. Other cloud systems being used include OnePlace, a CRM built on the Salesforce platform, SAP’s SuccessFactors human resources software, and the HighQ collaboration platform.
However, it was a challenge getting the business comfortable with moving to the cloud due to fears around the security of client information.
“And with good reason because we are dealing with legal, client-confidential information,” she says.
Around 18 months, Amor and her team compiled a cloud security framework that alleviated these concerns and enabled the firm to take advantage of a next-generation of cloud applications.
“I didn’t want to have to seek approval for every [cloud] project so we put together a framework that classified information by type, and then we created a matrix covering the types of security that we could apply internally and in the cloud,” she says.
“Client confidential information, for example, had a certain number of security layers [applied to it]. The business approved this framework and we didn’t need to seek approval.”
The next crucial phase of this cloud strategy would be to find out if cloud service providers would adhere to the framework.
“Not all cloud providers we wanted to work with would meet the framework but the ones that did, we have moved forward with and they have worked hard with us to improve their security,” Amor says. “And they were happy to do that because they felt it also improved the solution they were taking to other businesses.”
Still, a key criterion of working with Corrs that some cloud providers found difficult to meet was the requirement for the firm to hold the encryption keys for client and business-confidential information.
This held some projects back but ultimately put the firm in a better position when talking to clients about the security of their information.
“At the end of the day we can say with confidence to our clients that the providers can’t read their data. From the service provider’s perspective it’s more complex and some of the providers we talk to say they have to be able to the read the data to provide the service to us. We don’t move forward with them,” Amor says.
The right to influence
As a CIO, having influence across the organisation starts by getting the basic things right – essentially delivering stable systems, says Amor.
“If you’re not delivering some of the basic functionality required around Microsoft Office and email for instance, then the business won’t give you the right to participate in strategic conversations and I get that,” Amor says.
But often CIOs and their teams do good things that are invisible to the business, she says.
“Sometimes the business doesn’t see it but it’s up to me to make sure that my team realise it and that they are appreciated for how their work contributes [to the business],” she says.
Respect is earned through actions and behaviour, says Amor, with listening being a key trait of a good CIO.
“And I don’t think CIOs need to be deeply technical – I might offend some CIOs by saying that – but I think your soft skills are important. You have to be the bridge between the business and the technology so softer skills are so important rather than being highly technical."
Follow Byron Connolly on Twitter: @ByronConnolly
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