Small firms driven to technology by clients

Client demand is the main motivation behind investment in technology for smaller firms, according to Max Audley, a partner at Hobson Audley Hopkins & Wood.

Addressing delegates at the conference, Audley outlined the thinking behind his 14-partner City firm's investment in technology and cited client influence as a recurring theme.

"Client perception and client pressure are vital," he explained. "It is not just a question of what the partners want, but of what clients are hinting they would be impressed with."

Audley said the firm had created a Web site in response to client demand and not because it hoped to win new clients through it, but because existing clients expected the practice to have one.

"One of the dangers of small firms is that stick-in-the-mud partners are going to veto IT expenditure," he claimed.

"Partners must lead from the front and not be seen sneering at technology."

Robert MacLeod, head of technology at Clifford Chance, speaking from the perspective of a much larger firm, agreed that client demand played an important part in law practices' IT strategy.

"If nothing else will convince a partner that technology is an important and growing factor in the business relationship, questions – even demands – on this subject from the client are likely to have the desired effect," he said.

Commenting on technical compatibility with clients, MacLeod said: "Initially, this tended to be a purely reactive response as a result of interest shown by the client, but this is definitely changing."

He added: "Increasingly, we expect to see long term requirements that will strengthen the relationship between ourselves and the client."