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Client Interview: Stephen Brown, IT Director, Higgs & Sons

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Stephen BrownHiggs & Sons is one of the Black Country's largest law firms with three offices across the West Midlands. The firm has a 135-year history and was awarded Corporate Law Firm of the Year 2013 at the Midlands Insider Dealmakers Event. Interestingly, they were also recognised outside of the legal industry as finalists in the 2012 UK IT Industry Awards for their innovative approach to client relationship management and its integration into the firm.

We spoke to Stephen Brown who has been the firm's IT Director for six years. He told us that IT is something the firm has earnestly embraced, but he was keen to point out their insistence that technology must never be put in front of the business; that decisions or investments are geared towards efficiency and to taking care of clients.

What did you do before joining Higgs & Sons?

I was a legal IT Professional Services Consultant at LexisNexis. My career in IT has always been centred on law.

If there was one technology a law firm should invest in, what would it be?

Definitely case management, or process/workflow management. It is the cornerstone of any law firm's IT. Efficiency is the core of good client care.

Would you say the firm is forward thinking when it comes to technology?

The business has fully embraced technology, within the boundaries of regulatory constraints. We are careful to ensure the IT department and the rest of the firm do not operate as individual components. IT is an intrinsic factor and fully aligned with the firm's values and goals.

We are always mindful not to put technology in front of the business, ensuring we prioritise in the right way so that the business (and its clients) come first. It's no good adopting technologies just because they are the latest must-haves. We look at individual issues then we invest in the right technology to address those issues.

What is the firm's biggest IT investment this financial year?

Much of our investment this year has been infrastructure related. It is just as important to update and improve the backbone as it is the user tools. We upgraded to a production sql server as our current server was nearing the end of its supported lifecycle. We've now got a far more feature rich environment to work in that will hopefully reduce downtime: a direct benefit for the firm and its clients.

Is CRM important for law firms? If so, why?

Absolutely. As a business your core aim is to take care of clients, so anything that can assist in a feature rich way will benefit. For me it's about using technology to create a culture where the client is number one. We must strive to get to know our clients better and CRM is highly valuable in doing this. We have been using SugarCRM for almost three years now.

What are your thoughts on cloud computing?

I see it as one of a number of IT solutions. Yes it offers flexibility and can reduce certain risks, but it won't solve all computing ills. I think as a solution it is going to be in transition for a while yet.

Have you adopted any cloud solutions at Higgs & Sons?

Only to a certain extent. There are numerous barriers to cloud adoption for the legal profession. The SRA's Silver Lining guidelines have helped in our understanding of the responsibilities and risks concerning data in the cloud. However, I do think it would be helpful if IT suppliers were to understand the issues we face under regulation. Of course the onus is always going to be on us, but it would be helpful for suppliers to acknowledge our unique challenges and know how to meet our responsibilities.

Technology is always ahead of regulation and as it evolves, issues arise. Such issues are necessary for the industry to move forward. I think within 5-10 years there will be a major shift to the cloud due to wider adoption. More issues will surface and the market will surge forward. Then it may work for regulated businesses. The question will be whether or not the law puts a halt to the progression of the cloud in the legal sector.