Client demand forces firms to put files online

More than 90 per cent of law firms plan to offer clients online access to their own confidential files and billing accounts by the end of 2000, according to a new survey.

The survey claims clients are demanding the access and that lawyers see it as an advancement in efficiency.

But more than half of the practices questioned admitted to not having a formal security policy.

Nine out of 10 firms are planning to open up files to clients via external computer link-ups.

Currently less than one in three offer such a service.

Law & Finance International recruitment consultants compiled the report based on the responses of law firms' IT directors.

A spokesman for the consultancy says: “I think that high figures demonstrate that this is an irreversible trend.

“It is surprising that such a high proportion are opening their security systems. It reflects very much the pressure on them from clients and also the pressure to work remotely.

“But they should make sure they have security before opening up.”

Law firms are worried external computer links are not safe from hackers and some are reluctant to offer the service.

Nick Thomas, senior partner of Kennedys, says: “I am not yet happy with internet security.

“Our word-processing system means every piece of paper we generate is also on an electronic file.

“So if a client wants to know what is happening they can in theory look at his file. But we are not offering that because of web security.”

He adds: “A good example is that a service provider had to be closed down because a hacker ransacked it.

“We are comfortable with our own security but we are not comfortable with what could happen to it outside our own walls.”