While not exactly like Minority Report where law enforcement could predict and sentence someone before they’ve even committed a crime, law firms are increasingly using tech to get ahead in business. “Throughout my career of working in law firms and with legal software providers, I have seen a marked change in both technology and the way in which systems are implemented,” says Dawn Dutton, founding director of New Dawn Legal, the IT solution provider for law firms. “Legal technology is constantly evolving to keep in line with changing regulations and laws, such as GDPR.” From introducing computerised telephone and conferencing facilities to entirely new systems they’re seeing a real return on investment not only thanks to more efficient working practices but from being more customer-centric organisations.
So let’s look at three ways that tech is aiding the legal profession.
Practice management system (PMS)
As you can imagine, running a law office lends itself to copious amounts of financial paperwork they don’t teach you how to handle in law school. These days, to let lawyers focus on many pressing issues instead of doubling up as accountants, more and more firms are making PMS standard in their offices.
It works by covering a range of different financial functions including time recording and billing but also automates approval processes, eliminating the need for paper requests and authorisations for constant compliance with the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
But it doesn’t end there – a PMS tracks budgets for laser-accurate cost and resource planning and flags warnings when budget limits are close or exceeded, something integral when handling multiple client cases. Many systems also incorporate dashboard functionality, allowing fee earners – the one’s carrying out the legal work to deliver fees to law firms – to track their time, work-in-process, billing and quickly scope an individual case’s financials.
In fact, a PMS benefits just about everyone. Management roles for instance get access to dashboards and reports detailing individual, team or departmental statistics, letting them plan coherent strategies with all the actionable information at their fingertips. And for finance departments a PMS lets them cover payments, bank reconciliation, VAT, credit control and ledger maintenance at a lightning-fast rate.
Case management system (CMS)
A CMS, also known as a matter management system, automates a wide range of day-to-day tasks to free up fee earners to focus on things that most require their legal expertise – as well as simply collect more fees.
To understand CMS it’s important to discuss workflow: This is a process whereby a fee earner, or paralegal, is led through the management of a case with a series of questions and prompts. And according to the answers given, documents and diarised tasks are then generated by the CMS. Work types such as conveyancing and personal injury, which have many key stages, lend themselves particularly well to such automation.
By the combination of workflows, business rules and process management, a CMS can be configured to a firm’s requirements to minimise risk, standardise service delivery and ensure compliance with legal requirements. Many systems also incorporate a portal, allowing clients to log in via a secure website to see details of their case, whereas others include a mobile app and browser access letting fee earners work remotely.
Document management system (DMS)
Fundamentally, a DMS provides secure, effective and versatile management of documents and emails by creating templates of frequently produced documents and merging them with existing client and matter information. Many also integrate with legal compliant form producers such as Oyez, enabling long and complicated forms to be filled out with pre-existing information with just a couple of mouse clicks. And with Outlook integration, the creation and management of emails has been made simpler than ever. Ethical walls and robust audit and versioning can keep data secure, whether at a desk or on a mobile device.
All this tech works like a charm for law firms. However, difficulties can arise when implementing even one of these systems incorrectly. Unless they’re customised for the needs of the individual business, they can actually be counter-productive. “I’ve witnessed many law firms take months to recover after implementing a new system because the project was not well managed,” Dutton recalls. “Not only is the software a major investment but going live with a system which does not allow users to carry on doing their job from day one costs more in lost time and billing.”
Subsequently, law firms must ensure they have a good project manager in their business and not rely on one who works for the software supplier. They need someone who understands their company inside out and will always act in their best interests. Moreover, such a person must be aware that, depending upon the size of the implementation, it’s likely to be a full-time job. “So if a firm doesn’t have anyone with the time or experience, I would strongly advise them to bring in a contract software implementation consultant or project manager to guide them through the process,” Dutton says. “It could pay for itself ten times over.
“In my experience, the most successful law firms have a range of systems in place to allow for efficient and agile working practices,” Dutton concludes. “Not only does that free up more time for fee earners to do more billable work but also allows for more agile working practices, which is better for everyone.”This article comes courtesy of New Dawn Legal, the IT solution provider for law firms