It is a measure of how far ahead of the curve its progenitor Sir Clive Sinclair was that the device was little more than a basic games machine, and barely a home computer at all. In 1982, it was like putting a Lamborghini in the wild west. No roads, petrol stations, garages to service it, and nowhere to buy seat covers if you needed them.
Warren is a pioneer, not of the west, but of the landscape of useable computer technology, and he is the man behind the ‘cloud’ you have heard so much about. The world has caught up with him a little, insofar as computers and devices are now ubiquitous, and the internet is mature enough to render them useful, and the gadgets themselves are user friendly, rather than the preserve of the technical aficionado, as the early computers were. It is a wonder the nascent technology took root at all, given that the user had to laboriously type in reams of programming to get it to do so much as emit a beep. But Warren and his kind embraced the technology behind the curtain, developed it, and brought the results to market.
He quickly became a games writer for 80s software giant Ocean, when a solicitor family friend made an effort to develop business software in 1993, and recruited Warren to assist.
“At the time, people were making more money selling PCs for thousands than they were from the software,” he told The Firm.
“Microsoft had just launched their first version of Office, and it had in it Microsoft Access Version 1, and I used it to put together a specific, niche road traffic case management system for his office, and that was my start in the industry.”
The start soon morphed into an auspicious opportunity that overlapped Warren’s technical skills with the burgeoning needs of the legal profession. The late 1990s were a period when solicitors firms began experimenting with case management systems, work themed teams of personnel with tailored workflows, migration to desktop PCs and of course the emergence of the internet. Although none of these would be fully synthesised, even in forward looking firms, for several more years.
“I made a contact at the Law Society in England, who had just formed a consortium with the Law Societies of Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland to encourage the development of shrink wrapped, open type software to make it more affordable for the profession,” he says.
“They got together and with their combined buying power they would be able to encourage interest. While all the big companies were knocking on the front door, I walked in the back door as an individual, dead keen techie, to do something. I befriended this gung-ho project manager and was carried along on their wave of enthusiasm.
“It turned itself into the process that created the acronym HSSK [High Street Starter Kit]. Their idea was to get three different business to put together a starter kit and they would make it available to law firms. It developed into producing an accounts system, which was completely beyond what I had anticipated, but I just carried on with it. It developed to include a time recording system, and within about 12 months we had a prototype system, and this excited project manager started putting lots of money into it, and inviting lawyers to the Law Society at Chancery Lane in London and I was invited to showcase what we were working on as the system was developed. Hundred of people started seeing it and it became very high profile.”
It was a rare confluence of circumstances that looked set to deliver a tailor made technical solution to a willing and voluminous market that was finding its feet with the need to exploit the emerging technology. Until the rug was pulled out from underneath.
“It went to a council meeting for more funding, and someone stood up and said that they didn’t even know it was going on, that the Law Society were a regulatory body and shouldn’t be getting involved in any commercial project, and the whole thing got completely closed down,” Warren explains.
“But the Law Society of Scotland said that if I moved up to Scotland, they would help you make our member’s notes available, but we are not looking to buy. So in 1998 I moved up to Scotland. There are about 40 suppliers in England, as opposed to four or five in Scotland, so the Law Society of Scotland wanted to encourage a bit more software into Scotland to try and open up the market a bit. I moved up in 1998 and very quickly there were law firms interested.
“It led up to the Millennium bug, and all of a sudden there were very expensive upgrade charges being charged, and immediately I had 25 firms from nowhere. And then it started growing quickly through word of mouth, and I had to decide whether to take on staff and expand the company, or partner up with someone.”
And partner up he did, expanding and then buying out the business, expanding to a substantial client base and solid workflow, halted only by the onset of the recession and the reduction in solicitor spend.
“Law firms closed branch offices, made redundancies, all affected by the property market. An absolute disaster. Our order book went from healthy to absolutely nothing. All we did for the first 12 months was batten down the hatches, focused on good customer service and developing the product, but then the technology world started to change and the Cloud started to be introduced, with Microsoft and Google really pushing it. And LawCloud was born out of that,” Warren explains.
“We moved from the traditional installation of software to an internet based business, and it picked up again. Easy access, low fixed monthly cost, flexible working. We look after the technology so it really simplifies backups.”
LawCloud emerged as technology evolved to permit servers to be stored offsite in a wholly web based environment, providing what Warren believes is the essential tool for High Street law firms that don’t have the extensive budget of some the larger commercial organisations.
“The bigger law firms have always just thrown money at IT, and have great systems. But other practitioners have distanced themselves from it. They often don’t think about how it works. As long as they have a PC on their desks it doesn’t matter,” he says.
“Our system is a business management and a business productivity tool. If a law firm isn’t being run like a business, then a business tool is only going to do part of the job. The people who run the business need to align themselves with the technology. Some of the partners need to put themselves in the position of becoming the technologist of their firm. Take over that role, own it and then delegate it back once they understand it.”
Cloud technology has been extant for several years now, and much like the social networking platforms that are quickly adopted by some but not others, Warren believes an understandable degree of tech-reluctance is to blame.
“Voice recognition technology is a good example. People tried it, it was cumbersome, it didn’t work. So they just don’t touch it again. Ten years on it is much better, but people don’t go near it, and are almost left with scars. But it is completely different and worth having a go again,” he says.
“There is something else to remember. Lawyers are risk averse. They don’t like to just have a go, and if it fails it doesn’t matter. These dot.com people have failed a hundred times before they hit the top. The newer generation are prepared to have a go and fail. Its part of the mindset that helps you move forward. But lawyers are trained to be cautious. And of course you do want a risk-averse lawyer, but they have to change that mindset and have a go at technology.”
The purpose of the cloud system is to provide secure offsite backup in the event of a fire, flood or if you can’t get in to your office. Law offices will never be paperless, but some are moving towards becoming paper-lite to remove the storage burden and associated costs when floor space is at a premium. Caution, and the conditioning of a paper led office can be overcome, he argues.
“You need to at least address some of it. The more of it you can embrace, the more you will find that it is not as daunting as you thought, and you’ll become more au fait with it. It is all about taking small steps,” he says.
“All of this is based on things being done right, and lawyers will have had their fingers burned in the past. It is a very cut throat market. People have been oversold systems that they never got to work, and they are scarred by those experiences. It is a question of having another go, but doing it alongside someone who’ll guide you in the right direction. That should probably be someone like the Law Society or a trusted adviser who will tell you there is a certain way to go about it.”
The phone book is practically obsolete, and even Googling someone to find their contact details is being replaced by the direct contactability of social media platforms. Paper itself was once a novelty, as were typewriters, mobile phones and the internet itself. All revolutionary developments at one stage, and commonplace now. There is a next stage, and Warren believes it is the cloud. But, he stresses, only as a tool to supplement the lawyer’s basic skills.
“What do we want a lawyer for? If you take technology out of the equation, its about people. People want people. Its about personal relationships. You want to be dealing with a lawyer who you trust, who you know well and who you know will give you good advice,” he says.
“There are people who want to sell their house through Tesco. If it is done like that, it‘ll be churned through a computer system. If you want good personal advice on writing your will, you want to talk to the lawyer, you want the lawyer to understand you. Its about personal relationships. If you then start putting technology on top of that, for instance you make an appointment to see your lawyer, and you get a text at 10 o’clock that morning reminding you, you might think that the lawyer is on the ball. It is about finding the bits of technology that work. The guy who doesn’t send a text isn’t going to be remembered.”
Outsourced cashroom services, typing and virtual offices are already being embraced by some in legal practice, affording flexibility and saving costs, whilst losing none of the core skills.
“Technology is an enabler for that, and it wasn’t before,” Warren says.
“People with a vision who specialise in a niche and just want to grow, we can apply our technology to helping that growth. We can really segregate the high street end of the market into three types, new, growing and traditional, and we can help all of them.”