Jun 8 2015

“The good, the bad and the could do better” – a look at Legal IT conferences

Jason

This post is from an article I wrote for Legal IT Today magazine (you can download the issue in PDF format here) and was published in their March 2015 copy (issue #9).

Unfortunately due to work commitments I didn’t make it to either the “British Legal Technology Forum” or the “Inside Legal IT” events in London earlier this year, but if you did let me know what you thought of them in the comments.

 


Best conference ever attended? Well that would have to be the Microsoft Office 97 launch in the UK, I think it was held at the QE2 conference centre in London. This was Microsoft at its peak, no Apple or Google to be seen and the bar had yet to be raised by a Steve Jobs event. Since then every Legal IT conference I’ve been to has had this benchmark to measure against, some have come close most have come up short.

In my experience the early days of Legal IT conferences were poor. My first was what can only be described as a trade show held at the Barbican Exhibition Centre in London, I’m reliably informed it was called the “The Solicitors’ & Legal Office Exhibition”. It was relatively unmemorable, in fact the only way I remember it was back in 1998 was the image below of a caricature that Shaw’s legal office stationery were churning out on their stand! Other than this my recollection is a little vague but from what I remember it was just a hall full of vendors stands, people would come and dip in and out (usually during a lunch hour) rather than take a full day for the conference.

Sketch of Me

Thanks to a couple of “Legal IT historians” Chris Dale and Charles Christian answers to some crowdsourcing that there was the above show at the Barbican (which was bought by the LegalTech US owners eventually), then there was another than ran for a number of years in Islington. I also recall attending the latter “Legal IT Show” when it tried some regional variations. My local variant was held at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. But again all I remember was that it was the typical trade show format with nothing more than vendor stands. This was early internet days, so the lack of availability of product information online meant face to face was the norm I guess. But even so these early events weren’t a patch on that Microsoft event that had set my benchmark, in fact after a while I gave up on these general legal IT events and it wasn’t until 2010 that I attended another one.

However whereas the generic legal IT event had disappointed the vendors picked up the baton, especially when iManage merged with Interwoven and we got the “Gear Up” events in the mid 2000’s. I attended a couple of these, one in Florida and one in London and these were good, very good. There was a great mix of keynotes, product roadmap and specialist breakout tracks. Because the vast majority of Legal IT folk had come for a specific product the networking was great too. The Autonomy merger put pay to these events and unfortunately the user group format (albeit useful) hasn’t replaced Gear Up.

A couple of other vendors though have taken up this baton and crafted a couple of unique events worthy of mention. Bighand with their full day conferences in London and Manchester have managed to match the structure of those Interwoven events, good keynotes, product roadmap, good networking and good breakout sessions. Then there is Tikit with their Word Excellence Days, these are not product based but usually full of relevant customer led talks or panels on a range of pertinent topics (not just Word and document production).

Back to the general legal IT events and my return in 2010? This was a trip to the ILTA Conference in Las Vegas. And ILTA is something special, it has great keynotes, a huge range of smaller sessions on every topic imaginable in Legal, great networking opportunities and a vendor hall that has pretty much every legal IT solution on offer. The downsides are also due to its size. It’s difficult to catch everything you want to, the synopsis of sessions too can lead you to the wrong conclusions and into the wrong sessions. To get the most of ILTA you need to plan ahead, have multiple sessions for each time slot and leave one for another if it becomes obvious in the first few minutes the talk isn’t for you. Plan the vendors you want to see before, plan what you want to see when and if possible arrange some demos in advance. I attended a second ILTA conference in 2014 in Nashville and I wish I’d been more prepared up front. For me if you’re looking for a match to my Office 97 benchmark, then ILTA in the US is it. The other US show of note is the giant LegalTech in New York. I haven’t been myself and probably won’t, whether true or not I imagine it too much like those early days of Legal IT shows in London unfortunately.

So what about the UK shows? Well a few years back the LawTech Futures show shook things up a bit, it brought some fantastic keynote speakers and matched them with a good vendor hall and interesting mix of break out talks over three tracks. A very familiar format for those who have experienced ILTA.

The momentum seems to have continued across UK legal and has led to a great line-up of three big events for 2015, each with a different flavour.

In March we have the “British Legal Technology Forum”. The format follows a similar vein to LawTech Futures, unsurprising as the folks behind both are NetLaw Media. This year’s keynote is by Dr Michio Kaku. There are the familiar three stages and a vendor hall. It’s a tried and tested formula that works well. It’ll be interesting to see how the tracks go, across all conferences in the last few years the same old “disruptive, cost cutting, law needs to change” topics have been churned out. There are some great case studies to be told on mobility, service centres, document automation and legal project management. But I haven’t heard many yet at a conference.

In May we have a newcomer to the scene. The “Inside Legal IT” event. Now this could be interesting, it’s an attempt to forgo the keynotes and talks and focus on the vendor hall. Sort of back to the beginning with a twist, the twist is to inject some fun to try and facilitate the networking and discussion. I hope it works, if there is one problem I find with all the events it’s the vendor hall. The booth surely has to be the most awkward way to learn about new products and maybe this conference can shake this up.

Finally in November is the “ILTA Insight” event. I attended my first one of these last year and was pleasantly surprised. I had avoided previously as I’d already “driven the Golf” with the US ILTA show, surely the London one day version wouldn’t live up to it. But it was good, the format is keynotes, talks and vendors. Standard fare. But with the talks been run by ILTA firms it seemed to be more relevant and have real world examples that I want to hear.

To finish up I’m going to ask for a wish and ask a question. My wish for conferences, what I would like all the conference organisers to do is use technology! In a world of live streamed events it’s about time the organisers of all the Legal IT shows started using it. It’s impossible for large numbers of Legal IT staff from one firm to attend these events, especial from the firms in the north. It isn’t cost effective. But for a nominal fee I’m sure the online audience would be much bigger and with social media there is a massive opportunity for vendors to tap into this streaming audience. That’s my one wish.

And finally my one question, why compared to the US conferences do so few European folks tweet at our conferences? You can almost have a second conference online with the discussion generated from US events.

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May 5 2015

“Lawyers are like any other machine….”

Jason

“Lawyers are like any other machine. They’re either a benefit or a hazard. If they’re a benefit, it’s not my problem”

Rick Deckard, Los Angeles, Nov 2019.

 

The last time I really looked at Artificial Intelligence (AI) was when I studied it in my second year at university as a module for my degree. AI bookOver the last year I’ve seen it pop up again and again at various Legal IT events and in a number of Legal publications. If the talks and articles are to be believed, then in the next 10 years or so we’re going to see AI become pervasive in the legal sector, both through the need to legislate against its usage in society and as a replacement for trainees and junior lawyers (Note: this is a link to a pay walled article, though you can read the synopsis). In fact the latter view point is becoming the new topic of choice on the Legal IT event circuit, Richard Susskind has talked about it, Dr Michio Kaku keynote at the recent British Legal Technology Forum has talked about it, Rohit Talwar talked about it at last year’s ILTA in Nashville and there are many many more examples.

I’m not convinced by the timescales, but it’s daft not to think this will feature in the reasonably near future. But then a recent article in The Spectator made me start to doubt whether this in fact will be our future? The article was actually about this year’s re-release of Ridley Scott’s ‘Final Cut’ of Blade Runner and the announcement of the sequel. But it talked about the concept of “virtual paranoia” in the original Philip K. Dick book. The uncertainty of what is real and what is not. Will this fear be the one to scupper AI in the legal profession? Will virtual paranoia mean we’ll never have the digital lawyer? Well if you’re after a key piece of legal work or advice would you be happy a computer giving it you or would you insist on a human being? I think there would be a bit of worry, this virtual paranoia is already creeping into society. We see people dislike the their online actions being used to tailor adverts for them, so much so they are removing themselves from sites that facilitate this.

The other point that struck me from this article was the question “What is the meaning of memory, now everything is a click away on Google?”, something this article on the ABA Journals site also raised recently. Will this aspect further enhance our virtual paranoia?

Maybe though what we’ll see is a future that will be somewhere between the extremes. Rather than full on replacement of the lawyer, we’ll see AI support the lawyer. AI used to speed up the legal process, provide the knowledge to the lawyer and become the KM function of law firms. I think it is unlikely that AI will ever become “human” enough, they may pass the Turing Test but I’m sure there is something of human interaction, of human behaviour and thought that will mean that the human lawyer is still required for quite some time.

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Feb 23 2015

North, SaaS, East and West – split-shoring

Jason

So I’ve had a poll on this blog for a few months now asking “When do you think a top 10 law firm will take the plunge and move to the cloud for documents or email? (e.g. netdocuments, office365 etc)”. The results show a clear feeling that this will happen in the next 5 years (68%), 41% think it will happen sooner.

I’ve posted about Office365 previously and how some large companies are already on the platform, but the push for cost reduction and innovation in law firms at the same time surely means there has to be a move to focus staff on the new technology rather than the utility technology (and by the way I really dislike that term as it has connotations that this technology is old, unimportant or a simple commodity, it isn’t but it is the technology that people like Microsoft are now delivering as SaaS – Software as a Service).

This week also saw the news that Freshfields was looking for space in Manchester to set up a 80,000-100,000sq ft office to house back office and possibly a legal support centre. Legal Week (no link as it’s a paywall article) talked of a an initial squeeze on the market in terms of available talent, but that this will be offset by more lawyers coming into Manchester given the attraction of big names like Freshfields. But what about the squeeze on Legal IT? Manchester has a number of mid-sized law firms with IT depts in the city, I’m sure the draw of the Freshfields name will be a pull for some in Legal IT but it’s not as if Manchester is a backwater small city that is suffering from higher supply than demand in the IT sector.

I wrote a post back in 2011 on near shoring, it was around the time of Allen & Overy’s move to Belfast. I finished that post with a comment that still holds true. The lack of movement of the big London firms to shift resources out of the capital. This goes beyond law firms, but where as in recessions business is capable of rationalising their staff they still seem to miss the obvious efficiencies of moving out of the capital. Given a lot of big law now runs offices from the US to Australia and most places in between, there seems little technological reason for those functions not needing client contact to be located outside of the high cost capital city.

Now you may be reading a conclusion into this post already? But let me first throw in the other 22% of the votes on the poll, those that said big law would “Never” move to cloud based SaaS for the core document and email systems. I presume these were based on one of two things a) the feeling that law firms aren’t tech savvy enough to take the plunge (sorry but this is as tired and as untrue as the “Manchester United fans don’t come from Manchester” line!) or b) security! I can see the latter point being an issue, but I can’t help feel we’ll bust through this one at some point soon. It isn’t as though the clients won’t be considering this kind of move.

So what is my conclusion?

Well I haven’t one. As with anything in IT there is never a one size fits all solution, what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. But I do have a couple of thoughts:

  1. If you’re a small firm without a dedicated IT dept then surely SaaS is for you. I can’t think of many cons to this choice.
  2. If you’re a London based firm who has yet to think of moving their IT out of the capital you have to ask has the boat already sailed? Should thought be placed to a combined move North and SaaS move? (Split-Shoring?)
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Jan 28 2015

A Fork in the Road : From Single Partner to Largest Legal Practice in the World – Roger Lane-Smith

Jason

Over Christmas I finished Roger Lane-Smith’s autobiography “A Fork in the Road”, definitely the first biography I have read about a lawyer. How fascinating can a corporate lawyers life possibly be? Well I have to say it was actually a really interesting insight into modern law firms.

If you look at the modern day mid to large sized law firm, this book plays through a history of how we got to where we are. The “good times” of too much work for too few lawyers and the opportunities that were there to make good money and grow firms. There was clearly an ambition in a number of the partners across Alsops and Dibb Lupton to be a trailblazer to what is the norm now in law firms, I mean take a look at Dentons’ news this month!

In the book, there are also some stories of corporate politics thrown in, a surprising number of celebrities and the world’s greatest football team to keep you turning the pages (or clicking the next page button if like me you’re on a Kindle!). One story I found particularly interesting was that of Stafford Pemberton Publishing, Starsky and Hutch, Aaron Spelling and a meeting with Muhammad Ali! To think a law firm from the North West could mix in deals like this back in the 70’s shows what opportunities were there for the law firm willing to push the boundaries and aim high.

It is definitely worth a read if you work in a law firm, there are so many aspects of lawyers and the way law firms work that come across in the book. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. But there are plenty that will raise a wry smile. If you don’t work in a law firm, but have an interest in business biographies I’d say it’s probably still worth a read.

Overall though I came away with two observations:

  1. This journey for law firms seems to me a big first act that is almost complete. Most corporate law firms have followed suit and there is now becoming too little work for too many lawyers. The market has definitely changed and thus the book felt like a fitting epitaph to part one of “The Law Firm” and we seem on the cusp of a totally different second act.
  2. There was no mention of support staff in the various law firms at all. For the most part that’s understandable, it’s a book on Roger’s life as a lawyer. But there is also a lot about how the largest legal practice in the world was built. It’s telling that in act one of “The Law Firm” it was all about the lawyers, you can’t imagine for one minute that part two won’t have a large non-lawyer part to it!

The-Law-Firm

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Jan 12 2015

Explaining things in 140 characters is impossible!

Jason

I remember a time when you were wary of trying to explain things in email, would you be able convey exactly what you wanted to say in a way the recipient would understand? That now seems child’s play compared to making a point on twitter, a simple “I think A” statement creates a raft of responses “Why not B???” “Hey what the hell is wrong with C???” **

The benefits of having a blog is I have the space to write more than 140 characters to try and explain what I was trying to say in such a tweet this week:

I tend to judge how successful companies will be on their social media abilities nowadays. #LegalIT

This tweet was based on two IT companies who I have dealt with recently, both with good and very similar products. My attitude to them has been shaped by their social media abilities, well OK my perception of their abilities based on their attitude to social media. Both companies have new products or features on the horizon.

One company went out of their way to let me have advanced information about their product in the hope that I would blog about it, they know about this blog and therefore for them it’s a channel to get word out. It’s a risk, as I wouldn’t necessarily give the product a positive spin, but they’re confident enough in their product.

The other company insisted that the information they had told me remained confidential and shouldn’t be blogged about or posted online. I’d actually love to write about this firms new product, I think it’s a great direction and one that would interest the market they’re in.

This scenario was the point of my twitter post. To me the former shows confidence in their product, a real understanding of the modern IT environment, a willingness to engage customers and potential customers and to receive negative as well as positive feedback. The latter, well the opposite. I understand that in certain scenarios there may be a need to stop others getting to market before you release a killer new product, but this isn’t the case here. These attributes for the first company though for me are attributes of a firm more likely to be successful going forward (most other things, product etc being equal).

As an aside the status actually generated a conversation that took a different direction, even though that wasn’t the original intention of the point. So be careful when you tweet, either be prepared to converse on twitter or get a blog to explain yourself!

 

** thanks to a colleague for the first paragraph, that’s how he explained this twitter phenomenon

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Jan 6 2015

NetDocuments Acquires Decisiv Email Technology and Team from Recommind

Jason

Well today NetDocuments has made a move into controlling the explosion of email in law firms. Not the first to do it, but a bold move to acquire Decisiv Email from Recommind. I didn’t know too much about Recommind’s product until last summer when they (Recommind) were on a panel at ILTA, the session was titled “Predictive analytics: email management magic”. Given the challenges that email management brings in law firms (underlined by ILTA’s 2014 technology survey where it was shown as a major technology headache) the session got my interest.

The panel were mainly vendors looking at predictive technologies to try and understand the email content and context to be able to control and manage the email received, there was also a bit of “sales talk” sandwiched in between this and some good case studies.

Neil Etheridge of Recommind talked about approaches to email management and the scenarios they were best suited to, for law firms the most pertinent was:

  • Suggested filing (great for the day forward)
    • Great for matter-centric filing
    • Filling location suggested to the user
    • No training = minimal set up time

The case study in the ILTA session was from a mid sized North American law firm where Decisiv Email  was implemented, it was used to suggest likely Client/Matters, with the user then confirming or editing. They ended up with high accuracy through the combination of Recommind’s analytics and user intervention.

NetDocuments intend to rebrand Decisiv Email to be NetDocuments Email. It will be separate from NetDocuments EMS Folders and EMS Profiler. What’ll it bring? Well this section from the press release sums it up nicely:

Email continues to grow at a staggering pace and firms are struggling to incorporate, protect, file, and manage email in the document management system. The Decisiv technology will bring several key components to email management that will improve the ease of use when filing and managing email. Key features for effective email management across the firm’s matters, clients, and internal communication include:

    1. Predictive filing to the DMS – The Decisiv technology allows for robust predictive filing based on key criteria such as To, From, Cc, Subject, contents, etc. Predicted locations are visually ranked, indicating probability and enabling filing to the correct matter with just one click. Automatic filing can be enabled with a set threshold (e.g. email that reaches a 95% confidence rank or higher will be automatically filed to the predicted matter).
    2. De-duplication – Email is filed to the content management system once, regardless of how many individuals file it.
    3. Folder Mapping – Select folders in Outlook and map to the document management system. Email filed to mapped folders will be sent to the DMS.
    4. Global filing indicator – Email is visually tagged in Outlook for all internal recipients to see in their own mailboxes, indicating it has been filed to the DMS regardless of who in the firm filed it.

Now to an iManage customer with WorkSite Communications Servers and Email Management plumbed into FileSite this may not seem a massive deal, but it does bring the feature set of the two DMS products closer in terms of email management. I guess the key will be down to whose analytics engine produces the better recommendations. I presume that Decisiv Email under the Recommind guise could be plugged into iManage, so I’d be interested to hear any analytics stories in the comments from people who’ve used both?

My final thought though is one I’ve had for some time, is the DMS actually the right place for email? It’s probably too late given the volumes of email we’ll all have in our DMS’s, but I’d love someone to come up with some way of leaving the physical email in an email archiving product and the DMS hold a pointer to the physical item in the matter file. All this wrapped up in some lovely UI that was available on multiple devices with multiple apps for different use cases!

Link to the NetDocuments full press release

 

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Jan 5 2015

Speaking at the Enterprise Mobility & Mobile Device Management conference

Jason

Happy New Year to everyone!

Just a short post to start the year, below is a short video interview I did after speaking at Whitehall Media’s 4th Enterprise Mobility and Mobile Device Management conference towards the end of last year.

Answering some key mobility questions:

  • How is Mobile Application Management (the video text says “Access” Management but it is “Application” I’m referring to) different from Mobile Device Management?
  • How are Apps helping employees and why are they so important to the business?
  • What are some of the security considerations and challenges associated with mobile apps?
  • How important is end user experience and what are you doing to engage with end users?
  • What key tips would you offer other enterprisesbuilding apps for their business?

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Oct 21 2014

Matter Centre – aka Microsoft’s legal DMS in the cloud

Jason

I know, I know this post is late. Very late. I posted my last bulletin from ILTA back at the beginning of September and now we’re a few days from the clocks going back at the end of October! Yes, back at ILTA Microsoft launched their legal DMS (Document Management System) entitled “Matter Centre”. Developed for their in house legal team (not an insubstantial team, 1100 employees across 55 countries), they have decided to open it up to the legal world in general. The press release can be found here with details of what’s on offer, basically it offers the functionality of a DMS as you’d expect.

Two areas were of interest to me:

1) It’s built on Office365. So for a small to medium firm you can now have email (via Exchange), instant messaging and telephony (lync), your intranet (sharepoint) and your DMS (matter centre) all in the cloud. All secured by Microsoft. All monitored, managed, backed up by Microsoft. All the business continuity and future proofing you could want from a top class infrastructure team managed and all delivered for you by Microsoft. What’s more you can access at the office, on the move or at home with ease. It’s a compelling case for a firm that hasn’t the IT resources to manage a bespoke on site set up.

Now the downside for me is the DMS is effectively SharePoint at its core. I’m still not 100% convinced on SharePoint, however the potential manageability and scalability issues are taken away from being your problem, so maybe it’s not a big deal?

2) Now although I’m wavering on the first point with it being SharePoint underneath, this second point for me is the killer. Apps for Office, the method of integration for Matter Centre isn’t the old plug in method but the newer Apps for Office developed for Office 2013 and Office 365. This brings much slicker integration, the look and feel just works with Office. So no additional toolbars that look out of place or dialogue boxes designed for Office 2 or 3 versions back, it looks slick.

Matter Centre 2So as you can see from the photo above with Outlook, the Matter Centre “dialogue” just appears in the email body. Now I have to say the system looked very much beta 1 and some of the apps need a bit of polish. But, this has to be the way to integrate a DMS in future! With a bit of thought and design you could craft an interface that just feels as though its the norm for office. In fact think how OneDrive is now integrated as the default over the C: drive.

The same integration is available in all the Office products, so below is the integration into Word:

Matter Centre 1Again instant access to the Matter Centre system integrated into Word. And installing them is simple, just go to the appstore and install!

AppStore for Office

For the IT dept. Microsoft has released a product called Telemetry Dashboard which will allow monitoring of all the apps installed across the user base. As the Microsoft blurb says, you can “monitor loads and load failures for apps for Office in Word, Excel, and Outlook. This information will tell you which apps for Office are frequently used in your organization and which apps for Office are experiencing errors”.

This for me is the key feature of Matter Centre, the use of apps could potentially allow me to install the DMS on my home version of Office365 and get seamless access to the DMS. It’s a feature I hope the current DMS vendors will take a look at and maybe design and build a user interface from scratch for Office 2013 onwards, maybe also throw in a nice “DeskSite” Metro app in Windows 10 and we’ll have a DMS for the future!

 


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Oct 6 2014

Some dates for your diary in October and November

Jason

Just a short post as a bit of an advert for a couple of legal IT shows in the coming months, both at which I’ll be speaking at.

On the Wednesday 15th October in London at the Tikit Word Excellence Day. I’ll be talking about Mobile Working and BYOD with Ali Moinuddin from Workshare and Matt Miller from Microsystems.

Then on Thursday 13th November again in London I’ll be joining a panel at ILTA Insight 2014 to talk about a variety of challenges law firms have around mobility.

 

 

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Sep 30 2014

Windows 10 in the law firm

Jason

Back in June I did a talk at a conference on mobility. There was a bit of future gazing from me on where I thought law firms would go next with their desktop PC’s. It was a conference sponsored by the UK magazine Computing, unfortunately one of their journalists then reported what I’d said as the current strategy for our firm!

Windows 10

Today’s launch of the next version of Windows by Microsoft, Windows 10, made me more sure that the future of legal desktops is from the Redmond company rather than from Cupertino. The following are the highlights I picked out, things that iron out those kinks in Windows 8 to make Windows 10 more of a certainty in law firms.

  • Continuum” – this is a new feature that adapts the OS to the device, got a keyboard and mouse and the new modern UI apps will open in windows and the device acts like a Windows 7 desktop machine. Snap off the keyboard and use like a tablet and things revert to a full screen more touch friendly interface. You could do it in Windows 8.1 but this now works as it should, automatically.
  •  The Start Menu is back. This wasn’t a big deal for me, but for lots of folks it was. So can only be a good thing it’s back, allows that desktop or modern UI split in a seamless rather than jarring way.
  • Desktops for different purposes. You can use one for personal and one for business. I’m not sure whether this is more than Windows 8.1’s ability to have a desktop on one monitor and a modern app on the other, it sounds like it but information is light at the moment.

I’m sure there’ll be much more over the coming weeks, but I’m convinced Windows 10 and the hybrid desktop/modern UI works for legal. Allowing old legacy apps to continue in a desktop mode as now, but then brings the flexibility to pick up the screen and access data in a modern touch friendly way on the move. Also this will be one version of Windows for phone, tablet and desktop with one Windows Store. This one platform and the develop once platform Microsoft are pushing should be great news for legal vendors. In fact it’s the one thing I liked about their Matter Centre product they demoed at ILTA (more about that in a post I promised early in September but have yet to write!)

But to pinch a headline after seeing the launch today, I do believe Windows 10 could be the catalyst for law firms next PC refreshes!

Update:

Just read some more on Windows 10 and the new security features really stood out. Whereas bitlocker in Windows 7 protected the data on the device, Windows 10 will have an additional layer of protection using containers and data separation at the app and file level to protect the data wherever it goes – on tablet, PC, USB drive, cloud etc. Very interesting from a law firms point of view in protecting client data.

 

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