To say the legal industry is competitive would be an understatement. Legal firms face competition not only from other firms but also from clients who choose to build their own in-house legal teams.
Your firm may operate under a different business model than a typical business, but at the end of the day, it is still very much a for-profit business.
Hiring the right lawyers, consultants and administrators is only one half of a successful business. Providing them with the right supporting solutions and resources to perform their roles faster and better (and improve overall operational efficiency) is the other half.
It can mean the difference between profits or losses, growth or collapse.
Today’s smart firms are prioritising staff and operational efficiency to output more high value, billable work and to improve the client experience.
There are several legal firm technology solutions that exist to improve efficiency. Start with automating as much of your manual, time consuming legal processes as possible.
1. Forms and Workflows
Repetitive manual processes are time consuming to follow through with, cause processing delays, and lead to inaccurate data entry that eventually needs to be corrected. This takes away valuable time from staff that could be better spent practicing their profession.
Paper-based forms have almost become redundant in today’s digital age. Online forms and workflows significantly improve operational efficiency. Data from forms completed for everything from annual leave to new matters, can be captured electronically without the need for administration staff to get involved.
A good legal forms software will have a point and click form creator tool with the ability to drag and drop default and custom created fields into forms; allowing staff to quickly create and publish forms without technical input.
Adding an automated workflow component then allows users to design and implement complex approval processes, sending form responses onto different paths for different users to approve (or reject) based on form answers, or the profile of the user who submitted the response. These intuitive workflows can skip steps, reassign the approver or terminate early.
It’s easy to imagine the countless hours that can be saved by automating the collection and processing of thousands of forms every year.
2. Document Management
Locating information and resources is another time consuming process, particularly when lawyers spend much of their time between the office, client meetings and the courthouse. Most rely on calls and numerous emails to keep on track of important documents such as opinions, transaction files, judgments and so on, which isn't an effective means of storing information to reference later on.
Document management systems not only makes it much easier to organise and locate documents, it provides a host of additional efficiency functions that is important for an industry that relies heavily on accessing and referencing the latest, accurate documents to use in cases. At minimum, best practices for document management software include version control, check-in and out features, document descriptions, document tags and advanced search capability for easy retrieval.
If you are concerned confidential information may be seen by too many staff members, choose document management software that enables you to add security permissions and provide access to specific folders with confidential documents for only a select group of users e.g. level of seniority, teams and/or location.
3. Knowledge & Information Management
Legal technology exists which can harness the collective minds of your staff, as well as store information on every case and area of the law into a centralised database.
This also helps to counter knowledge drain if a partner, consultant, lawyer, assistant or administrative staff leave. Knowledge and information is stored electronically in an organised and easy-to-access way, dramatically improving knowledge management and retention in your firm.
Start by adding files, FAQ pages and other key information into a centralised database. Then create and add tags to each item to group them and make it easy for staff to find and reference.
This database should provide a powerful enterprise search functionality with the option to access and pull in results from other databases and RSS feeds, for easy information retrieval wherever your staff are located.
4. Corporate Directory
You might be surprised at how much time lawyers and their assistants spend ‘tapping shoulders’, calling and sending emails trying to locate the right person with the right expertise on a specific case. This is where a fully set-up corporate directory makes all the difference.
A corporate directory provides you with a full list of contact details of in-house staff directory, along with additional information including skills, experience and any other information deemed relevant.
Take this further by including in your database full contact details and areas of specialties for regularly used external consultants and barristers. This makes finding the right resource for assistance, just a click of a few buttons away.
5. Secure Cloud-based storage
Securing the integrity of information is critical for any legal firm. It is also key to ensuring your operations continue to remain efficient as you build an innovative, digital workplace. The problem for contemporary firms is how to share documents and data online without compromising security.
Cloud-based solutions using cloud-based storage ensures that sensitive information remains secure in special Data Centres. These facilities are subject to intense security requirements and layers of physical and virtual defences, including 2FA (two-factor authentication) and secure password technology.
Cloud-storage providers also have the resources to keep up-to-date with the latest threats, with a full team of IT security experts who know how to handle them.
Additionally, cloud-based storage offers enhanced backup recovery, as they routinely backup your data while providing redundancy by default. In contrast, storing your information on hard-drives in your office leaves your valuable data protected by just your in-house security system and a deadlock.
When your reputation rests on your ability to keep confidential information secure, cloud-based storage delivers a user-friendly system at a fraction of the price of maintaining a comparable in-house cyber-security team.
Where to start?
These are 5 of the key technology solutions that help to improve operational efficiency in legal firms. It can be confusing to decide what to focus on. But in a world where clients demand value and efficiency, this is vital to reducing the cost to provide services while maintaining a high quality of work.
The low hanging fruit is to start by looking at what is causing the most friction to getting a job done as quickly and seamlessly as possible for staff. What low value task is taking up their time? What is causing them frustration? What would speed up their performance?
Generally, this will involve automating as much manual, paper based processes and storage as possible.
Also, consider choosing a solution that offers functionality covering several standalone solutions such as a legal firm intranet software.
Remember the more efficiently your firm operates, the more billable hours your staff can output and the more competitive your firm remains in this digitally connected world.