How a Successful Law Firm Saved Tens of Millions While Improving Company Culture
In the legal industry, the right technology isn’t optional—it's table stakes. Choosing the correct digital tools creates an environment with simple communication to enable collaboration, boost productivity, maintain security, and even impact employee happiness.
With offices across the United States, China, Australia, and Europe, Seyfarth Shaw LLP is a highly dispersed and mobile workforce. We’re always traveling to our clients, the courts, our offices, and wherever our clients’ business takes us. Seyfarth operates much like a professional services organization. We've also been a Lean Six Sigma firm for almost 12 years now, so we also put a premium on efficiency. Mobility and ease of compute from a mobile device is extremely important for our workforce, so our technology needs to support and enable staff to do our jobs well—no matter where that takes us. Cisco plays a crucial role in enabling the Seyfarth team to get our jobs done—no matter where we do them.
The Mobile Life: Working Anywhere and Everywhere, Anytime
There's a big change happening in society: Our workforces are becoming more mobile. Work can—and does—happen anywhere and everywhere. Employees embrace that freedom and flexibility, and the workplace needs to keep up by providing the proper technology and environment to do their best work. And if Seyfarth doesn’t provide the necessary tools and cultivate an optimal working environment, our lawyers will go to a firm that does.
There's a vast suite of technologies to support differences in digital skill levels, ages, capabilities, and needs. It’s a spectrum. And we need to make eloquent, easy-to-use solutions for all those demographics. There's significant pressure on us to provide 24/7 access, in real time, from anywhere in the world. For some reason, many think that's easy to do. But issues like security, reliability, and even compliance complicate the issue. Providing a simple solution is anything but simple.
Going All-In: From Confusion to Connection and Collaboration
About four years ago, we struggled with multiple point solutions for conference calling, webinars, desktop sharing, and click-to-dial capabilities. That’s a lot to balance on its own, but even tougher when you have a different solution for each one.
Those different platforms didn't interoperate well. They each had different user interfaces and different levels of confusion. It was incredibly frustrating to try to make it all work, for both the IT team and our users. We realized we needed to go all-in on a solution that would streamline our workflow, improve efficiencies, and satisfy our workforce’s dynamic needs.
We started to look at different options and I worked directly with our vendors to find the right solution. We already had a Cisco telephone system, which we loved, but our voicemail was hosted on another vendor’s platform. But, again, while Cisco played nice, that lack of interoperability on the side of the other solution led to constant issues. Ultimately, it drove us into going all-in on Cisco. From my perspective, Cisco's Unified Communications products are more mature, secure, and higher-quality than those from other vendors we considered.
Inclusive and Intuitive: A Solution for All Ages, Skill-Levels, and Locations
In our first trial of Cisco Webex, we teamed up a retiring equity partner with a younger partner. The retiring partner was responsible for transitioning his business to the younger partner who lived across the country. Instead of flying them back and forth, we decided to test these new collaboration tools to see if they would work. From a demographic perspective, we couldn’t ask for anything better: an older, completely non-tech-savvy person and a young person with tech usage experience.
We introduced the two partners to our Cisco Webex Meetings capability. They started working together in real-time through the platform's integrated video. They both raved about how easy it was to use and very fast to learn. The outcome—including their feedback—cemented our decision that we were on the right technology path with Cisco Unified Communications.
Once we fully switched over to the new platform, we were able to quickly transition our people onto the new system. By using a multifaceted education approach, our employees were able to learn and adopt the new calling and conferencing features at a comfortable pace.
We distributed written materials, hosted 10-minute video micro-learning sessions online, and held presentations at our tech bar. I’ve since learned that offering free food always seems to attract people.
Once the education courses were launched, we began the Cisco product rollout to practice groups. We let leaders spearhead the education initiatives and got staff to run their calls through the new system. Webex filtered pretty quickly throughout the organization and people began to migrate to the new platform.
An Instant Success, But Lessons to Be Learned
People noticed the improvements almost immediately. We previously had trouble with large web conferences with other providers. But those slow response times, lag, and other issues we experienced all disappeared when we switched to Cisco Webex Meetings.
Since then, we've opened offices in China and Australia, so Webex and Cisco Jabber have become increasingly important for collaborative work with our expanding global team. I’ve already seen a significant increase in use of video. Our people use video in the boardroom, on the desktop, and hold more meetings where multiple people across the globe work together on the same project.
The Cisco tools revolutionized how our workforce collaborates. While one person goes to bed, another one picks up the baton and keeps going. We no longer have an eight-hour workforce. We have a global workforce that can work 24/7 on a big deal, if we need it.
While we had a lot of success with the roll out, that doesn’t mean we did everything perfectly. Webex is very flexible, allowing users to customize their processes to their preference. But the challenge is that you can confuse your user base with all the possibilities. At first, we went through all the ways they could host a web conference, and I think that caused some confusion. If I could go back and do it again, I would keep it simple and not overwhelm people with options. From an IT perspective, we were excited about Webex’s flexibility, but we also need to consider our audience, along with their needs and priorities. Keep it simple initially; with employee use and curiosity, adoption of additional features happens when they are ready.
Telecommuting to Save Millions of Dollars
It’s no exaggeration to say that Cisco products have saved us tens of millions of dollars. The cost of real estate is, next to people, your second-largest expense as an organization. We reduced our office space square footage by one-third when we moved. Yet, we continued adding employees because we adopted telecommuting as a work-style for some of our staff.
This has all had a profound impact on employee retention, and our company culture overall. I’ve heard several stories from employees who say they’ve turned down job offers with higher pay, but less flexibility. Our employees demand flexibility and we’ve found the solution to deliver it with Cisco. Our collaboration setup is the model we've adopted for three offices now, and one we’ll stick with for any offices we remodel going forward.
Security and Cisco Webex Teams: Always Compliant and Encrypted
While flexibility and costs saving are incredible results, none of this matters if we aren’t secure. We serve clients in highly regulated industries and regions, such as the financial services, healthcare, and those located in the European Union.
With that comes significant audits from our clients. I get 350-page questionnaires with security-related questions associated with our architecture, privacy, encryption, and the like. Those are then typically followed up by a three-day, on-site inspection. It’s a very detailed and arduous process, but because we use Cisco solutions, we easily meet those requirements.
On the security front, a recent Cisco offering I'm excited about is called Webex Teams. Cisco is the only vendor I'm aware of that will provide an encryption key for the environment we need. We maintain a private cloud, multiple data centers for redundancy, our own encryption, and security, and everything associated with protecting our clients' data. But those audits typically prevent us from putting any of our clients' data anywhere in the cloud. However, Webex Teams and Cisco’s new encryption capability will actually allow me to put client data in the cloud while satisfying the audits. This is revolutionary for heavily-compliant industries like ours.
I think the Webex Teams product will soon become as tightly integrated into my environment as Jabber and Webex Meetings have been. Our lawyers currently work with clients through their Outlook inbox because everything is email-driven. It’s almost like texting because clients expect real-time email responses. The problem lies in organizing content in your email inbox. It’s difficult enough as an individual, and that compounds when you need to share that information with the up to 30 people who may also be serving that client.
That's what the Webex Teams environment directly addresses. We set up a meeting site where every client timekeeper has access. We post documents. We collaborate, communicate, and document every event on a thread. It's going to take people out of email and into more focused collaboration scenarios. I'm optimistic about the capabilities and the changes Webex Teams is going to bring to our environment. Cisco is finalizing a single encryption key for us and, once that's available, we'll start testing it. With security and efficiency well in hand, we can confidently focus some of our energy on maintaining a happy and healthy workplace culture.
Strong Teams, Strong Buy-In, Strong Culture
Company culture is incredibly important to our success, but some worry that it’s nearly impossible to maintain when people aren’t often in the same place. This is why we’ve implemented several initiatives to keep our telecommuters actively involved with their colleagues. The first is that everyone must be in the office one day a week. While we use technology constantly to keep our employees connected to work, it's equally important to bring them together to work side-by-side. We have different groups within IT, for example, and we require two of those groups to be in on the same day for a quarter, to strengthen cross-pollination within—and between—teams. It's important to keep information flowing across the organization, and it's been incredibly successful. And we don’t stop there.
We also do quarterly meetings at picnics or after work events where we talk about the business, goals, and onboarding. We’ve strategized on how to integrate a new employee when the office is often almost empty. We have a whole onboarding program now: People on a team need to be in the office for a couple of weeks or perhaps even a month, depending on this new individual’s role. We make sure that the new person is exposed to everyone in the office, and we answer questions. They meet the team, and they feel comfortable. Then we peel away and let them start telecommuting, but they're still part of all the activities. We've built a system that supports the interaction of our people and maintains the culture of our organization.
I recommend other leaders take similar approaches to ensure that culture stays in tact. Flexible work environments help with employee satisfaction and retention, but they aren’t a silver bullet. The work still needs to happen from the management side.
Technology in Law Is Table Stakes: Go All-In
It’s amazing what we’ve achieved for Seyfarth Shaw by simply going all-in on our communications technology strategy. Our people are happier and more productive. Collaboration enables our global offices to connect, and telecommuters to enjoy work-life balance. This shift has saved us tens of millions of dollars and, in all of this, our digital security has improved. As a global law firm, we think big—and implementing Cisco solutions was just the beginning. It has become our technology foundation.
To have the same transformation, you need to go all-in on your technology investments. Your employees, your clients, and your business will thank you for it.