Re: Winter 2013/14 - Page 13

lucky), and accounts information on one basic computer that only certain people could access. Our marketing information (such as it was) was stored in Partners’ brains, and if anyone wanted to know how many Wills we were holding on behalf of clients and whether any might need updating, someone had to review all of the record cards and that could be months of work. I’d like to say that it’s a lot different now. Of course, in many ways it is. All documents that we create are now held electronically in our system and many (most) are printed out as well. But what about documents we receive rather than ones we create? No electronic versions there unless they are sent to us by e-mail or on a disc, because we don’t (yet) scan incoming post. In terms of information we hold about clients, let’s just say we are comfortably traditional. We hold a lot of client records – somewhere around 130,000 at the last count. Of course we know who our clients are and where they live (unless they haven’t told us they have moved) and we probably know how old they are because that’s required for money laundering checks, but in terms of data that is recorded in our system, that’s about it. Sometimes, that’s absolutely fine, but it can lead to problems if, for example, we have been asked to act against a client’s business or lifelong partner and we haven’t made the connection. Similarly, if as a business we don’t systematically record that we have sent some marketing material from one office to a potential client that may need to update their Will, and that person then receives similar material from another office (and we have six offices so this sort of thing could happen) we begin to look rather silly. Even more so if a third office has in fact updated the Will in the last two weeks. The links between the people we are in contact with (primarily clients, but also people that refer work to us and others too numerous to list) are very important to establish where we can, but we can take this one or two steps further if we make sure the data works properly. For example, if we have (as we do) various travel business clients and we want to let them know about some development in travel regulations, we can do that so much more effectively if we have a system that draws those links for us and prompts us to take that step. This ensures that our clients get added value from their relationship with us. So, having data can bring opportunities - for clients, in being reassured that we are anticipating their legal needs, and for us in making sure we are becoming more efficient. However, it also brings responsibilities. It is of course a minefield in terms of regulation and protection of privacy. For example, it is potentially a breach of the Data Protection Act if personal data is not stored in the EU, unless the person whose data it is has agreed it can be stored outside that area. And how long data should be stored for needs careful consideration. In some respects it is useful to have records of clients and their matters for lengthy periods of time, in case queries arise at a later date, but the longer that data is held, the more risk there is that it will be out of date and inaccurate, and if it is never destroyed the storage costs, particularly with data held in paper form, become astronomical. Increasingly, we are therefore looking at our data as one of our three biggest assets, the other two being our people (our partners and staff) and of course our clients. That’s difficult to register on the balance sheet, but intuitively, it works for me. By Chris Randall 11