Spring 2020 Survey on Remote Working and Information Governance

remote working

We recently conducted a brief informal survey of law firms of various sizes in the US and UK regarding the remote working challenges they are facing — and the implications for information governance.

Business Continuity Plans in Action

The current global pandemic has put firms’ information management capabilities to the test. On the whole, firms reported that their prior investments in disaster recovery and business continuity planning, as well as infrastructure required for agile working, have paid off. One firm shared that their incident response team met every morning for three weeks to deal with specific issues as they arose. And several weeks into the crisis, most firms have been able adapt reasonably well under the circumstances to remote working for all lawyers and staff — without a significant impact on client service delivery.

At the same time, firms listed a number of critical areas where they are working to address specific gaps, adapt firm policies and procedures, and minimize security risks. These include:

  • Availability of laptops, monitors, peripherals and other remote working equipment for all support staff (in addition to lawyers)
  • Secure remote access to documents in firm-managed information repositories for all employees in compliance with firm policies
  • Defense against cyberattacks and an increase in COVID-19 related phishing scams
  • Adoption of electronic signatures and notarization
  • Adoption of secure document scanning apps on employee smartphones
  • Use of image-on-demand services to retrieve paper-based records as needed
  • Migration from paper-based billing review processes to digital review of invoices
  • Collaborative review of certain types of documents such as title plans, maps and deeds
  • Consistency of application delivery across all platforms

As they make changes to their internal processes, information governance leaders are understandably concerned about maintaining compliance with information security standards such as ISO 27001, as well as regulatory requirements and clients’ outside counsel guidelines.

An Accelerated Transition to Digital

To what extent do information governance leaders view the current crisis as an opportunity to advance IG initiatives?

There is a strong consensus that the current crisis has demonstrated how important it is to “go digital” and become less reliant on paper as a matter of necessity.

Many respondents want to ensure that any progress that has been made in adopting good remote working practices is not lost when things return to “normal.”

Stuart Whittle, Partner and Business Services and Innovation Director at Weightmans, stated:

“Assuming we come out of the other end of this, I don’t want to waste a good crisis. “It has been remarkable how we have almost completely digitised our law firm over a few days at the beginning of the crisis. I am very keen we capitalise on this and that our working practices don’t revert. What was, heretofore ‘completely impossible and unworkable,’ has within a matter of days become the norm.”

A business analyst in the UK commented:

“Without question we are learning new things every day about our business. It will be a fine line to tread on return — how to best invest to prepare for similar scenarios and economically recover.”

In terms of next steps, respondents had a range of responses, depending on where they are in their respective information governance journeys.

Ken Kroeger, CIO at Kutak Rock, listed the following points as lessons learned for the future:

“Notebooks for everyone. Seriously, we redeployed another 120 old units that were in the destruction pile, and have already discussed with management about eliminating desktops altogether.

Training, training, training on all the nuances of remote access and remote application use. We are at 95+% notebooks at the attorney level, but just having one doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to get the most out of it when remote.

More formal disaster recovery processes and procedures. We have a DR plan but this happened office by office, region by region — way too much local discretion at first, but we caught it early.”

Steve Dagleish, Head of Technology at Shepherd and Wedderburn, said regarding his firm’s response to remote working:

“I think (touch wood), we’ve done pretty well…If anything, it will put a focus on digitising those remaining paper-based processes.

I can’t see us going back to fully office-based and there’s no reason now for all processes not to be accessible regardless of location, I think this will change our business continuity picture now too — where we previously had options on room space at external locations for BC [Before Covid], we have proven working from home is effective and removes a cost.”

One records manager commented:

“Updating information management policies would be one area. We would need to survey users on their experiences to better understand this.”

Another respondent predicted:

“[This crisis] most definitely will stimulate the process to see the retention and destruction policies we have in place fully enacted.”

Finally, there was broad consensus that remote working will become more commonplace in the future. As one CIO put it:

“There will be greater reliance on remote working as a way to manage expensive real estate.”

How FileTrail Can Help

We understand that the transition to a fully digital remote-capable work environment goes beyond setting up laptops and VPNs. We can assist your firm wherever you are in your information governance journey.

We have designed the FileTrail experience to be seamless regardless of where you are — working remotely or in the office — with technology that allows you to:

  • Centralize management of multiple information repositories — including both electronic documents and physical records — by providing an integrated view via a secure web-based system
  • Automate classification of documents and assignment of the correct retention policies
  • Enforce retention policies by identifying physical and electronic records that are due for disposition and automating workflows for review, approval and destruction
  • Reduce the volume of physical records stored and transition to a paperless or more paper-lite environment
  • Ensure compliance with regulatory and client requirements and capture an audit trail of all activity

We also work with and can recommend consulting services partners that can assist with updating your information governance policies and procedures as needed, in light of our new reality.

While we understand that there are many urgent issues that need to be addressed in these challenging times, we feel strongly that an integrated approach to information governance and records management will yield dividends as your firm digitizes and progresses toward even greater agility.

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