DLA Piper’s COO Bob Bratt details how his firm went fully remote in response to the coronavirus pandemic. He says several factors were at play, including IT readiness, business resilience, and office mobility, and he shares lessons learned.
We find ourselves in uncharted territory. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented change to the world; among those changes, the global move to remote work, which has been one of the most disruptive technological shifts in recent history.
At DLA Piper, we were able to transition our 3,000 person U.S. workforce to a fully virtual environment in 36 hours because we began preparing for a moment like this years ago. Our senior leadership team participates in a rigorous planning and management process that frames everything we do in terms of client service and requires innovative, forward-thinking initiatives from every department.
Over the past few years, these initiatives have been laser-focused in the areas of infrastructure modernization, cyber hardening, business continuity planning, and workflow and process improvement. Collectively, they have provided the firm with a stable IT environment that has allowed our workforce to work securely and entirely remotely. Our prior experience, coupled with the discipline and ingenuity of our people, prepared us to execute in the current reality.
To ensure our ability to continue to seamlessly serve our clients, we relied heavily on a carefully curated senior leadership team, many of whom came to us from outside the legal industry and from companies such as Microsoft, Booz Allen, Accenture, and Hyatt.
These senior executives were tasked from Day 1 with working with their respective teams on innovative approaches to the issues the firm would face as the pandemic continued. The evolution of our staff and management technological tools also has positively impacted the ability to work remotely and more cohesively as teams.
Managers and staff in accounting, HR, marketing, client development, and pitch and proposal have long provided regional or nationwide support on a remote basis.
Being one of the first major law firms to move to the cloud was a strategic IT priority in 2019. After recovering from a substantial cyber attack in 2017 that affected companies worldwide, the firm was committed to overhauling our IT infrastructure to increase our cyber hardening beyond the accepted standard in the legal industry.
Moving to the cloud enabled our users to securely access email from anywhere without having to connect to the firm via VPN or Citrix. Our authentication and authorization also were moved to the cloud, allowing us to securely deploy new applications and services within hours.
We designed and deployed a new network that is cloud-aware and highly redundant, efficient, and able to direct network traffic directly to the cloud from each office instead of running it to a data center first. The improved access and stability of cloud email and the network allowed the entire workforce to move to remote working easily and efficiently, enabling our people to keep their focus on serving our clients and communities.
Our managed services vendors provide 24/7 management of our security operations center, network operations center, and Citrix support and were critical to our ability to bolster our move to mandatory telework. This stability allowed our IT team to turn their attention to providing laptops and other mobile devices to first-time remote workers, and quickly providing newly needed capabilities, e.g. increasing teleconferencing capabilities by rolling out Zoom to the firm in a single day.
Each year, we review and update business continuity plans for the firm’s most critical business processes and systems. All department personnel are trained and practice via desktop exercises that depict real-world disruptive scenarios, be it loss of data, system access, facilities or personnel. IT disaster recovery plans are also in place and practiced. Firm leadership participates annually in crisis management training and mock scenarios.
Our Workforce of the Future initiative has been an ongoing management initiative for several years. Our in-house secretarial teams are augmented by a 24/7 virtual processing center and an internal firm-wide administrative support team. We have also implemented specialized workflow tools to move work among and between teams, across offices and to virtual resources, ensuring that no request is ‘lost in email.’
These tools have allowed for a more seamless transition to, and will continue to be critical support for, an all virtual workforce as long as it remains necessary. They have enabled us to easily support our attorneys after-hours, allowing them to manage their workflow while working from home and ensuring their ability to provide the same caliber of support to our clients.
All Systems Go
Because we were fully remote in a short period of time, we were able to quickly and efficiently utilize our resources to meet client needs without distraction. We distributed client alerts and hosted webinars ensuring timely access to insights and thought leadership.
We also were able to take a big-picture approach, looking at ways we can help serve our communities. Our pro bono team began reaching out to national and community organizations, including food banks and domestic violence resource organizations, to offer our assistance, leveraging our experience in transitioning to a remote environment and providing grants that, in some cases, enabled them to do the same.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
Bob Bratt is DLA Piper’s chief operating officer. With more than 30 years of experience managing multibillion-dollar commercial and federal legal programs, he oversees all U.S. operations for the firm and plays a key role in the integration of its international operations, ensuring uniform delivery of services globally.