Jim Darsigny, chief information officer of Brown Rudnick, says his firm is always looking for ways to make sharing information easier for attorneys and clients, while at the same time keeping proprietary information safe and secure.
Based in Boston, Darsigny belongs to Brown Rudnick’s executive management team. Unlike many others, he’s optimistic about the impact that technology is having on the legal profession. For instance, Brown Rudnick is making the firm’s financial performance more transparent to partners through a new technological platform. Darsigny also spoke about cloud-based systems and how law firms can store and share information without compromising data security.
The following is an edited transcript of the conversation with Darsigny.
Big Law Business: What are the major concerns for law firms as technology changes?
Darsigny: Law firms have a tendency to create a lot of data relative to their size, whether it’s e-mail or support-related data, document review or discovery sets. If you have a healthy litigation or restructuring practice, as we do, you can from one day to the next be faced with the challenge of hosting large amounts of data for specific cases, (some) data that isn’t really a firm work product. Even your own work product, making it available and protecting it, backing it up – the “plumbing” that underlies virtually any business from an information perspective these days – figuring out how all those types of questions are going to be answered by cloud-based data storage and services is, I think, maybe the most current challenge for law firms.
We’re starting more and more to embrace the cloud, but we are probably behind most industries because of our concern about security and confidentiality. But it’s an evolution in the way data is used and managed, and the costs and challenges of handling data that are managed are coming for everyone, and we just need to figure out how to do it the right way in our environment.
Big Law Business: What are some of the challenges associated with cloud-based storage?
Darsigny: You always have to be concerned about maintaining control of the data. Is the data encrypted so only you hold those encryption keys? A lot of law firms will refrain from using some services because they can’t get that assurance.
If a client is subpoenaed, you have to be concerned that the information is delivered only properly and appropriately, after the correct procedures have been followed. We don’t want anybody turning over a large chunk of data because they’ve been subpoenaed directly.
You need to think about encryption, and the ability, once you’ve committed data to a cloud storage environment, to be able to move it back to your own proprietary environment or another cloud environment. You wouldn’t want to recycle an old PC without the hard drive erased. You want to make sure you’re making a clean exit from that environment.
It can be very difficult to pull something from a cloud environment. You need to take steps to make sure you can do that, if you’re going to go in that direction.
Law firms are always thinking about protecting client confidentiality, so when you entrust your data to a platform that is not in your direct control, you have to have confidence in the company or companies that you’re doing business with and ensure they know what they’re doing and are properly certified in whatever your certification requirements are.
Big Law Business: Are you concerned about security breaches like those experienced by big banks and insurers?
Darsigny: I’m not directly aware of any significant or large data breach at a law firm, but I’m also aware of the fact that (law firms are) primary targets because of what we do for our clients. We have much of the same data that these corporations may have, that is their intellectual property or at least pieces of it, and that makes us an attractive target to people who may be looking at that type of thing. I think we’re constantly guarding against that as best we can. Many firms have regular security assessments, either on their own initiative or because their clients require it, and are constantly trying to tighten security.
Big Law Business: How do you balance the convenience and ease of access with the need for tight security?
Darsigny: I wish I knew the magic answer. Security and convenience are antithetical. The more convenience you want for your users and your clients, the harder it is to apply strong security to it. The stronger the security around any tools or portals you offer, that affects the convenience; you’re using two-factor authentication or doing any number of other things to help secure the environment. You’re constantly trying to balance those two things.
Using technologies like mobile device management and secure VPNs are ways of accomplishing that, but it doesn’t always make everybody happy to limit their ability to just pick up their tablet and access any data they feel like they need, any time, from that particular piece of equipment.
Above: Jim Darsigny, chief information officer, Brown Rudnick
Big Law Business:What are your thoughts on data analytics?
Darsigny: For the legal industry, it’s kind of a challenging question. I think there are lots of ways in which big data can be used in law firms, but at the same time, a lot of the data in our industry that would contribute to really industry-wide data analytics is confidential, and we’re not in a position to, nor do we necessarily want to, share that data with other law firms.
For law firms, data analytics tends to be focused even more inward than in some other industries. Some things transcend the individual law firm and don’t necessarily represent a question of confidentiality, like usage patterns, but when you get into how you’re practicing law and what’s successful and what isn’t -- law firms are a little bit careful about sharing that. Data analytics for law firms is a very hot-button issue right now, and law firms are more and more trying to mine internal data to make sure they’re meeting their clients’ needs, being profitable, etc., but at the same time, I think we’re a little bit challenged industrywide to take advantage of data analytics.
Big Law Business: Talk to me about the firm’s technology initiatives.
Darsigny: We have kind of a broad array of practices and technology needs that we are trying to meet every day. We’ve been working on expanding and improving our SharePoint environment. We launched an equity partner information portal that provides them with a direct link into our financial data, that gives them a picture of the performance of their matters and activity -- billings, collections, etc. -- so they have quick and easy access. When they launch the portal to their data, it’s all there. They can drill down if they choose to, but it gives them quick access to data they would otherwise have to mine out of our data system, and they don’t necessarily have time when they have a very busy practice.
We’re also expanding on our SharePoint environment to involve our clients more directly with an interface. Every law firm’s lawyers are looking for a more secure way to share data with clients and outside parties. For many companies, not just in the legal space, e-mail is an increasingly inefficient way to communicate with others, particularly when you’re sharing work product. There are concerns about security and version control that e-mail doesn’t have a good answer to, so using secure, collaborative sites is one way of addressing those concerns.
We’re also constantly looking at ways to make our attorneys more productive, whether in or away from the office. We have lately been working hard to improve our remote access capabilities, shifting to a secure VPN environment. We’re pushing ultralight notebooks to our attorneys and providing them with a better remote experience. We’re using cell phones and home-office platforms as well, so we are more able to be accessible through a single point of contact, whether e-mail or a phone system, regardless of where people may be.
Big Law Business: Any other thoughts?
Darsigny: Technology in the legal industry is always in flux, and we’re always trying to introduce new capabilities and take advantage of advances in technology, whether legal-specific or more general. I think that’s always going to be the case. It’s a pretty interesting time to be involved in this aspect of law firm business. I think you’re seeing more and more how technology can impact the ability of law firms to be successful in a really, really competitive law firm environment.