A problem which is bugging firms' PCs

Firms millennium-proofing their computer systems are also keeping their clients informed, says Philip Hoult. Philip Hoult is a freelance journalist.

As firms race to millennium-proof their computer systems, some are taking time out to tell their clients just what is going on.

Andrew Seddon, partner in the IT Department at Masons, says that after starting an internal review of the problem in July 1997, the firm decided to install a new practice management system by December 1998.

But Masons also decided to issue a policy statement for clients setting out the steps that it is taking to ensure that the legal services it supplies are unaffected by the year 2000 problem.

Eversheds is also keeping clients informed. Its approach is being co-ordinated by the Birmingham office, with particular responsibility for the implementation of its firm-wide Elite practice management system.

Michael Hervey-Murrey, director of IT in Eversheds' London office, says the firm has also set up a national database to deal with enquiries from clients and suppliers on a uniform basis.

Eversheds has, in turn, been making enquiries of its suppliers to establish what remedial action, if any, it needs to carry out and to ensure that services it relies on will remain unaffected.

The operation of a firm's computer systems is of primary concern, with both front-office and back-office functions such as practice management and payroll administration affected. But there will even be costs involved in checking building and other systems such as lifts, air-conditioning systems, fax machines and videos.

The failure of these could not only seriously affect law firms but also seriously benefit them.

At the moment there is a marked reluctance on the part of the experts to say who exactly should be paying for the costs incurred in implementing the necessary changes.

As yet no actions appear to have been brought to settle the question. Seddon from Masons suggests that the reasons for this are that the true costs of implementation are not yet known and that both businesses and their advisers are adopting a consensual, "let's sort it out first" approach.

John Yates, partner and IT specialist at 11-partner firm Oxley & Coward agrees that the overriding business imperative is to ensure the problem is fixed. However suppliers, according to lawyers, are getting increasingly edgy about their potential liabilities.