Speaker Key: PB Phil Brown, DW David Whelan
PB: Hi, it’s Phil Brown and I’m here with David Whelan. Today we’re going to talk about tech audits.
DW: What do you think a tech audit means for most law firms?
PB: I think for most law firms, the idea of a tech audit would be, how many computers do I have, what kind of software do I have, and where do I store my information?
DW: And I think that really gets to the nub of what a tech audit could be about. It is a way that you can think about going through all the technology that you have and making sure that you know in a sense what your inventory of technology is. And one of the reasons you might want to do that is so that you’re prepared in case you need to do an upgrade or make changes or respond to a client who asks you, can you do something that requires a certain type of technology?
PB: And a tech audit can obviously do more than that. It can also be useful to plan for contingencies and I think also to make sure that you have the right policies in place so that you can use the Internet safely and know what your staff are doing so you can properly supervise them.
DW: That’s a great point. I think policies are one of those things that we sometimes overlook or we assume that everybody knows. But if you’re using technology with staff or if you’re in the cloud and using things that are online, making sure that everybody knows how to set a strong password can be a really simple policy to start off with. And then you can also talk about the other policies that are common in firms like appropriate email use, appropriate Internet use, and things like that.
PB: Sure – whether or not they can pay their home cable bill from the office, whether or not they can access various social media sites from the office, and possibly whether or not they can actually plug in a device or media from home, like a USB key into one of the computers in the office.
DW: Right. It’s surprising sometimes when you do your technology audit and you go through and see where these gaps are. The audit can really help you to understand if there is an issue that you need to address and maybe suggest where you or how you could address it.
PB: So safe to say, I think one of the things that should be top in the audit would be, do I have all of my policies in place to protect my law office?
PB: Moving on from there, I briefly mentioned contingencies, but that’s obviously one of the reasons you would look at technology in your office. In the event that something disastrous happened to your office – a zombie apocalypse, for instance. How would you get your office back up and running?
DW: Well, one of the basic things you want to make sure you have is the software and the serial numbers that you would need in order to reinstall everything in case your computer crashed or a particular application died. And I think that is something that is becoming a little bit more difficult as we move forward. You may no longer buy an actual disk with the software on it, and so if you have downloaded it or installed it over the web, then you should really make sure you have a backup copy of that software so that if you need to, you can install it again.
PB: So having the backup software and copies of licenses and so on is key. I suppose the other key thing is, in the event that your office was flooded or there was a fire, that software should be stored somewhere safely offsite.
DW: Absolutely, yes. You don’t want to find yourself having to recover a backup tape or restore a backup tape and find that all the software that you need is on that backup tape. You need to have it in a way that’s accessible so you can get up and running.
PB: Right. So some of the other things – the standard questions I suppose – on a tech audit would be things like, is your information stored in the cloud? Do you have onsite or offsite backups? How often do you back up your information? Things like that.
DW: For sure. And I think one of the things about the tech audit is not so much to identify whether you’re doing things right or wrong, because how a practice uses technology, how a lawyer uses technology is going to vary based on your own preferences, your practice areas, things like that. The tech audit can really help you to highlight where you might not have covered the bases that you wanted to cover, rather than saying you should do it one way or another.
PB: Right. And when we are talking about a tech audit, we are really talking about you doing an audit of your law firm to see what your technical requirements are.
DW: Right. The other benefit of a tech audit is that it can highlight issues that you know you have and you’ve never really gotten around to solving, and can help you to perhaps write down or to clarify what those problems are so that you can then identify new technology to fill that gap.
PB: Right. And so one of the important questions would be, what are my needs for technology in the next year or two and are they worked into the budget?
PB: Another thing might be, how much hard drive space have I used in the last year, two years, three years? Is there a trend that’s showing me I’m going to need more space and to budget for it? Also, to figure out what form that is going to be – whether it is going to be discrete hard drives in your office or whether it is going to be transitioning into a cloud environment.
DW: Right. And sometimes the cloud looks like a panacea for planning about technology, because essentially you are offloading a lot of your support issues, software installation and upgrade issues. But you still have things like maintaining your passwords and knowing what those passwords are, because if you have a problem with your computer and you can’t get back to your systems because you don’t know your passwords, then you’re stuck. So you really need to look at each element, even if it looks like it doesn’t have issues or technology components related to it to make sure that you are covering all those bases.
PB: Right. Also, the tech audit would be a good time to make sure that you haven’t had gaps when employees have left and you haven’t disabled passwords or home access to computers, things like that.
DW: One of the challenges with a tech audit is that you can really get down into the weeds. There are lots and lots of options. For example, if you wanted to monitor changes to files on your file server, you can download apps that will help you to do that. If you want to monitor things like whether your email or web servers are staying up, you can do those. If you want to find utilities that warn you when your hard drive is running out of space, all of those things are available. So at some level you may say, well, that’s too much detail. But you can do a high-level audit and identify issues, and then if there is a particular issue you’re worried about or a particular area, you can drill down further and look for tools or utilities to help you to cover the gaps.
PB: Right. So it’s important to have policies in place. It’s important to have a global look at your needs over the next year or so. It is also important to know what your staff are doing and how the technology is being used, and really important just to do a tech audit at least once a year.
DW: I think that once a year is a great opportunity.
PB: And if in doubt, you could always bring in someone externally to have a look at your law office and what your requirements might be in the future and how you are doing so far with respect to security policies and hardware.
DW: For sure. And if you’re budgeting for technology, then that can be part of your budget. You can budget for bringing that consultant in to have them look at it. And there are lots of consultants who would be happy to come in and talk to you about how you are using technology. There are many who focus on the legal profession, so they would understand issues relating to confidentiality and your other obligations.
So if you have budgeted for that, it can be a great way for you to not have to worry as much about staying up to date on the technology as you would otherwise.
PB: Right. That’s our view on tech audits. Thanks very much, David.
DW: Thanks Phil.