The new devices are complicating hardware refresh decisions, as well. It used to be that a lawyer got either a desktop or a laptop. But 37 percent of respondents think a tablet should now be added to the mix. How it should be added is another story: Twenty-five percent plan to issue attorneys a desktop and a tablet on their next refresh; the other 12 percent plan to issue a laptop and a tablet. The "consumerization" of IT is also influencing, at least at some firms, the amount of time elapsing between purchasing cycles. While 80 percent of firms said their cycles were as long or longer than they were five years agolittle surprise given the economy and the increasing longevity of computer hardware19 percent said their cycles were shorter. "For us, what it came down to was attorneys traveling more, with weight mattering, so we updated the laptop pool with ultrabooks and other lightweight machines," says Ted Ferguson, chief information officer at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman. "The consumer market is in a way pushing the corporate market."
Then there is the cloud. More firms are embracing it: Seventy-four percent of respondents use hosted services, up from 65 percent last year. And they are in agreement about the biggest benefits of cloud computing: Eighty-three percent of respondents pointed to simplified support and maintenance; nearly half (44 percent) noted the ability to get by with lessand less powerfulhardware in-house.
But when it comes to how the cloud is used, firms once again take very different positions. A majority63 percentuse hosted services for e-discovery and litigation support, and more than a third use the cloud for human resources and email management (virus checking, SPAM filtering, and so on). But only 13 percent use cloud-based storage, and just 8 percent look to the cloud for that bread-and-butter law firm task: document management. Indeed, the breakdown was uncannily similar to last year's. Certain types of applications, it seems, just aren't catching on.
Given that security remains the biggest worry about the cloud68 percent of firms using the cloud and 91 percent of those not using it cited it as a concernone might chalk up the tepid response to hosted storage and document management to firms' unwillingness to put client-related material on third-party servers. But e-discovery relies on client information, too, and that's been a popular use for the cloud. In interviews, CIOs offered various explanations for the seeming inconsistency: E-discovery vendors have a long history with law firms, so they are trusted more; document management systems are often integrated with other law firm platformslike dictation systems and IP softwaremaking them harder to push out to the cloud; storage is often cheaper to do in-house than in the cloud. But one IT chief, whose firm has wholly embraced cloud computing, work product and all, says there's a simpler explanation: Firms are just being inconsistent. "You'll see a firm saying the cloud isn't secure, we can't use it, we can't put our client data at risk, but then think nothing of letting a partner put half their database onto a thumb drive and take it home," he says. "You can't have it both ways. You're either in a secure environment, or you're not in a secure environment."
Firms are also still working out how to leverage social networking technology. As was the case last year, three-quarters of respondents reported using services like Twitter and LinkedIn, but open-ended responses to the survey and follow-up interviews reveal very different levels of engagement. Some firms are using these sites merely to issue press releases, or for recruiting or alumni relations. Others, however, are actively pursuing business development. Williams Mullen, for example, has presences on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube, with each of these sites seen as having unique attributesand potential. LinkedIn, says Isaacoff, is "a key networking tool," and all attorneys are encouraged to have a profile on the site. Meanwhile, Twitter is "a great vehicle [for] communicating with clients, but without disclosing our client relations," she notes. On YouTubea newer initiative for the firmWilliams Mullen has its own channel, posting videos of attorneys talking about changes in the law, among other things. "These avenues," says Isaacoff, "let us reach a very new, very active audience of potential clients."
The consumerization of IT may be daunting and complex for tech departments. There is still much that needs to be figured out and fine-tuned. But on one point, there is no disagreement: It's here to stay. As Brian Conlon, chief information officer at McDermott Will & Emery, puts it: "Any CIO who ignores consumerization is choosing extinction.