Connecting the Four Courts: Creating secure, digital spaces with the Law Society

Summary: The Four Courts is one of the oldest, busiest buildings in Dublin City Centre, with solicitors using its consultation rooms as a base every day. Making the building's consultation rooms had up-to-date technology, from fast broadband to removing black spots, for solicitors was a priority.

Gillian Cregan, Finance Director of Law Society, in consultation room

First opened in 1786, the Four Courts in Dublin is the seat of the Irish Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the High Court and the Dublin Circuit Court. Its corridors, meeting rooms and courts are a hive of activity each day and for The Law Society Consultation Rooms staying on top of the needs of its solicitors is important.

The law and its practice is an age-old profession but as technology has advanced, so to have the needs of solicitors. And bringing facilities at the Four Courts Law Society Consultation Rooms up to 21st century standards hasn’t always been straightforward.

The James Gandon-designed building is old with thick cut-stone walls, and mobile and data coverage have traditionally been inconsistent and unreliable. In particular, in the case of the Law Society’s 26 Consultation Rooms, there was a great deal of variation in the quality of data coverage achievable depending on where in the building each room was located.

Solicitors reserve these rooms when they need a base for a day, because they’re in court or need to meet clients to facilitate arbitration and mediation.

Law Society of Ireland plaque

“These rooms are public facing and so they need to cast a modern reflection for our profession, so back in 2012 we refurbished them. But since then, the way our solicitors work has slowly changed and since Covid that change has accelerated,” said Gillian Cregan, Finance Director of The Law Society.

Cregan and her team realised that what they needed from these spaces had changed, even since 2012. They no longer needed just meeting spaces, they needed tech hubs. It wasn’t enough to create pleasant spaces, new kinds of functionality were needed to really make them fit for purpose.

“Yes, our solicitors need a place to meet but increasingly they also need to use video conferencing to engage in collaborative remote work. They want to be able to securely access data in the cloud or on their own systems, and they want to be able to work with others who work this way.”

“We knew where the demand was. Everyone wanted to book the upstairs rooms that were bright, airy, have windows and decent data coverage, but the meeting rooms in the basement were much less popular. These old buildings have thick walls and getting data from one place to another isn’t easy,” said Cregan.

“As a result the downstairs rooms always had issues with WiFi speed and general issues with mobile data coverage.”

Door to Law Society of Ireland's vault

Cregan realised that The Law Society needed a technology partner that could help create a bespoke solution exactly suited to its needs. After looking at what was on offer in the marketplace, Vodafone was invited to carry out a proof-of-concept renovation of a downstairs meeting room, to show Law Society solicitors what was possible and just how good next generation technology could be.

“We knew we needed to improve our WiFi speeds by about 20 times, but exactly how to do that in a difficult and listed building wasn’t obvious and wasn’t easy. So we needed an actual partner, people who would understand what we were dealing with and work with that, and Vodafone was able to do that for us,” she said.

To make the challenge more interesting, together they chose what Cregan describes as the ‘trickiest of all the basement rooms’ as their test case. First up was updating the Wi-Fi network to create a modern digital meeting centre that offered high quality connectivity, robust security, and the possibility of efficient collaboration for solicitors.

Gillian Cregan, Finance Director of Law Society, in consultation room

The pilot room was an enormous success.

“The building now enjoys 100 per cent Wi-Fi coverage in all meeting rooms and in the reception area, with newly implemented high-speed LAN ports delivering up to 20 times the previous accessible speed, to enable best-in-class connectivity,” said Steven Corrigan, solutions principal for Vodafone.

“We also paid special attention to making sure that these new facilities have the most robust security measures in place, using Palo Alto Strata Networks Firewalls to protect solicitors from a wide range of cyber threat.”

In addition, audio and video conferencing systems were installed as part of a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) project that allows Law Society solicitors to connect their personal laptop and tablet computers to large screens and cameras when they need to.

“Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex, and the virtual courts software Pexipcalls have become much more common so a situation where WIFI reception was spotty just wasn’t viable. We needed to completely reinvent how we facilitated our members using these shared spaces at the Four Courts,” said Cregan.

The front desk of the Law Society of Ireland

“It wouldn’t matter how nice the spaces were if they weren’t functional. It doesn’t matter how nice the furnishings and carpets are if you can’t maintain a stable video connection with a client. We needed high-speed internet to facilitate the fact that most of our solicitors have shifted towards a ‘digital-first’ approach to their work activities,” she said.

The Law Society is now focusing on refurbishing all 26 consultation rooms to provide modern, comfortable spaces that meet solicitors’ needs.

“The feedback has been phenomenal. The basement room has gone from the least to most popular meeting area, and basically everyone just wants to know when the rest of the building will be brought up to speed with it,” said Cregan.

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