LEGAL IT MASTERMIND: James Hood, Head of ICT @ Lupton Fawcett
Lupton Fawcett’s Head of ICT, James Hood tell us where his passion for technology began, what is so different about Legal IT and which projects he has recently completed to benefit the firm.
Becoming a specialist in a niche sector such as Legal IT can take years to master…. “You could know everything about technology, yet still be blind-sided on your first day in a law firm!” James begins. When he graduated from college at the turn of the millennium, he had a strong sense of how he wanted his career to shape up. After a childhood spent intrigued by technology and how things work, he used this zest to progress quickly and was immediately drawn to the Professional Services sector. The appeal came from the need to create IT solutions which offered tangible benefits to clients, suiting what he calls ‘his preferred way of working.’
How did it all begin?
A self-confessed geek from an early age, James started his career on an IT Helpdesk and gradually developed his skills within a range of managed services firms. Fortunate to have been exposed to pretty much all industries, when he was appointed as Head of ICT at Lupton Fawcett, he recalls the stark difference between how other sectors work in comparison to law firms, when it comes to technology.
“IT engineering is a niche area in itself,” James states, “however law firms really do have a decidedly different way of doing things compared to other office-based industries”. Fortunately though, this was one that James was naturally comfortable with and so soon found he’d landed his dream role.
James is lucky to work with a great team at Lupton Fawcett who collaborate immensely well to meet their objectives. Furthermore, they are supported by a senior management team whose style is to embrace change and forward thinking. He truly believes this is a magic combination when it comes to running a successful IT department in the legal sector, enabling them to invest wisely to ensure business goals are achieved.
The ‘Be All and End All’ in Legal IT
If there’s one thing James has learned about his industry since he joined Lupton Fawcett, it’s that customer service is everything. In the legal sector, everyone is working to extremely tight deadlines, and it’s a high-stress environment where even just a few minutes of system downtime can have a huge impact upon revenue.
Without being able to engage with people and understand the pressures of the sector, it’s impossible to deliver a quality service which fully meets their unique needs and mitigates stressors. James often reminds his team that customer service comes first, and the technical side follows on.
One of the Largest Tech Projects in History
Having accrued a number of significant successes for the firm since he joined just eighteen months ago, when asked, ‘what is your most notable achievement to date’, James says one word, ‘Nimble’.
He explains, “We are about to embark upon what is arguably one of the largest technology projects that Lupton Fawcett has ever seen. This project will involve the implementation of a new Practice, Case and Document Management system which will revolutionise the way we use technology – introducing efficiencies, reducing wasted chargeable time, minimising risk and ultimately better servicing our clients.”
“Before we could achieve this, we needed to ensure we had the best-of-breed infrastructure systems in place. With the support of Legal IT consultants, NETprotocol, we began the design and implementation of some impressively high-performance storage for our existing virtualised environment. At the time, known as Nimble (which has recently been acquired by HPE), this technology raised the bar on so many levels in terms of storage.”
“That said, it is down to the support of NETprotocol which exposed us to the benefits Nimble could offer. Lupton Fawcett has worked with NETprotocol for many years and we place a huge amount of trust in the advice they offer us. Their expert knowledge ultimately allowed us to commit to this investment with absolute confidence and be sure that there was no other solution that could supersede our choice”.
Following a detailed capacity plan and core performance review which took place earlier this year, the strategy has been to take a phased-migration approach to implementing Nimble Storage, initially installing it alongside existing tier one storage (HP SV) and migrating mission critical applications and services to the Nimble Arrays. The performance improvements have been quite remarkable to date, particularly within their Citrix XenApp environment. What has been most rewarding is the positive feedback that has filtered through from end-users, offering an immediate and tangible return on investment for the firm.
“Nimble is not only delivering very significant performance gains for us already, but the technology also saves on storage costs and has reduced storage space by 36% with its CASL Architecture and compression,” James confirms. “The stats really do speak for themselves. These figures have been taken directly from the Array today and are the main reason why our users are seeing such a positive benefit from the new SAN, when integrated with our existing infrastructure.”
As a 21st century law firm which aspires to ‘lead the way’ from a technology perspective, James and his team take responsibility for driving systems performance and customer experience across the company. James predicts that this reliance upon technology within the legal sector will only increase over time, as innovative systems and platforms continue to increase uptime and maximise efficiencies.
Driving Excellence in Legal IT
James explains that his firm is unusual in their readiness to ‘early-adopt’ new technologies, however puts this down to a Management Board which sees the raw value of a truly resilient and efficient IT infrastructure, and who is prepared to invest as a result. “This is further reinforced by the top-level talent we recruit in to the ICT team, together with the budget we are allocated each year. It has become widely accepted that cutting back on technology would have a hugely detrimental effect on our company performance and so this is simply not considered to be an option”.
The Future of Legal IT
Legal IT demands an efficient, resilient and super-secure infrastructure. “One key recommendation I would offer any person entering or working in the world of Legal IT, would be to embrace process automation and workflows. It is shocking how much time is still spent on manual processes which give rise to data pollution and deviation from policy and procedure, dramatically effecting performance as a consequence.”
“Secondly”, James continues, “my advice would be to do it once and do it properly! Take your time, plan ahead, get a second opinion and don’t rush the implementation. You can’t afford the mistakes that will arise if you don’t take this approach.”
“What I do know for sure, is that our achievements would not have been possible without the commitment and skills of the team of IT professionals that I work with, including those at NETprotocol. They would quite literally move heaven and earth to ensure that we meet and often exceed our objectives, and as a result the hugely positive impact we have together had on our ICT service delivery operation has been unprecedented and makes me genuinely proud to have been involved.”
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