legal IT, Infrastructure | 24 July, 2019

How Microsoft end-of-life is causing chaos for legal firms

There is an IT bottleneck occurring in the legal sector currently. Ahead of the approaching Microsoft end-of-life date, firms are trying to migrate their IT systems to updated versions in order to ensure compatibility with newer operating systems. Yet, the resource available from software providers to facilitate this is not enough. 

Alongside Windows 7, Server 2008 and Exchange 2010 both reach their end-of-life dates in January 2020. The current pinch point is that there is a high number of firms using these systems who need to upgrade their software. However, the practice management system (PMS) providers used by legal firms are required to support these changes. 

As newer Microsoft operating systems are rolled out and servers installed, compatibility between them and PMS software needs confirming. This ensures that the company data sitting on the PMS software can be transferred successfully to the new applications. PMS providers are, more often than not, those to complete these data migrations.

The problem is, these PMS providers are struggling to generate the engineering resource to account for the sheer volume of migrations needed. Many PMS providers now only have limited availability remaining to make these updates. Compounding this, there are many law firms and non-legal IT specialists, simply unaware that there is any need to upgrade. 

It is important for law firms to plan ahead and upgrade their IT systems now, so that they are prepared when January 2020 rolls around. This time also presents a good opportunity to assess the IT infrastructure road map. Firms should look to put things in motion now to ensure compliance, taking a few important factors into consideration. 


The risk of doing nothing

Doing nothing is the easy option, however, it brings huge vulnerabilities with it. Making no changes, for many firms, means their software will reach end-of-life without them being prepared to deal with the threats. 

At this point, Microsoft stops releasing patches and will no longer support the operating systems. Which leaves known vulnerabilities open. Firms also risk noncompliance with legal regulations including Cyber Essentials certification, Lexcel accreditation and Solicitors Regulation Authority standards. All of which requires operating systems to maintain the latest secure software. 

Additionally, law firms have a duty to protect client data and sensitive information. Leaving systems unpatched, leaves them vulnerable to data breaches. Upgrading outdated solutions can be the first step to protecting servers and systems from malicious threats.


Making the upgrade

The process of moving from an old system to a newer version requires more than simply moving data. Depending on the infrastructure and system in place, a firm may need to replace their Microsoft servers or update their PMS software to ensure compatibility with the new Microsoft operating systems. 

The same is true for Exchange 2010. Whilst often firms will simply be updating to Office 365, the integration between the existing mailbox and the PMS software will need to be managed. All historical data needs moving to the new mailbox, and therefore PMS providers are required during this transfer process to confirm compatibility, as well as complete data migrations between the old systems and new.

For a successful migration to take place, it is not merely a case of a single PMS provider and your IT partner being available at the same time. Often, many different software providers need to come together and align their availabilities to complete the move. 

To minimise disruption to your workforce, it is advisable to complete such a change when there is typically low user activity. Out of hours, at the weekend or evenings for example. This is where the main issue lies. There are only so many weekends left until the end of life date is reached, meaning limited opportunity to arrange the migration. Plus, many of these weekends are already booked up, with the remaining spaces filling up fast. 


Limitations on resource

We have now spoken with a number of firms about making the move to new versions of their PMS systems. However, it has been striking that when they (or us) liaise with the PMS provider to arrange the engineering work needed, the providers are lacking the resource to carry out the work within the time frame. Already, with 6 months remaining, some providers are saying they only have 1-2 weekend slots left for the rest of the year. This means, that even with the best will in the world, not every firm who needs to will be able to get their upgrade booked in before the solutions reach end-of-life.


Forward Planning

It’s often said that hindsight is a wonderful thing, yet forward planning can be argued to be even better. Firms need to assess their situation and future road map as soon as possible, giving plenty of time to earmark what is required. Not only from a resource viewpoint, but also from a budgetary perspective.

Without these factors accounted for, firms will be left vulnerable, without the means to complete a successful system migration. These upgrades are necessary to maintain security and avoid leaving systems at risk of a cyber attack.


In summary

We highly recommend you to look at whether your firm currently run any of the Microsoft systems fast approaching end-of-life. And if you do, to bring forward the planning of how and when the required action will take place. 


Further resource

To understand the common IT challenges faced by law firms, and how increasing IT complexity presents additional risks, watch our webinar on ‘increasing IT complexity: a risk to law firms' security and compliance’. We outline the steps law firms can take to minimise complexity.


Posted by Matthew Newton

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