Many law firms are striving towards complete transparency and customer responsiveness, in their endeavour to deliver a better service to clients. Fundamental to achieving this goal is an underlying infrastructure that ties together IT systems, processes and data. This then delivers full visibility of business performance down to a very granular level; a single version of the truth; and agility to make continuous tweaks to business operation in order to adapt to changing customer and organisational needs. Simplistically, this constitutes a ‘connected’ firm.
Nevertheless, this scenario is proving hard to achieve due to the existing environment of legacy and disjointed systems, lack of defined business processes and even legacy organisational structures.
Data, processes and systems all enable lawyers to function efficiently and productively. Aligning them allows lawyers and indeed the entire firm to continuously and proactively adapt to an ever moving and agile client environment. How often does it happen that a law firm budgets a matter, secures sign off from the client and then soon finds that unbudgeted expenses due to factors outside their control or even inadvertently un-scoped work begins to creep in?
I’m reminded of a phrase I recently read, “No plan of operation extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the enemy”. This statement was obviously made to describe the evolving nature of a war strategy, but in the business context, the underlying sentiment resonates. A theoretical plan of action related to an issue or matter is only relevant until the first discussion/activity with the client/customer or other party. Thereafter, agility is required to adapt to changing requirements that are driven by a broad set of external variables across the client matter journey. Being able to adapt and stay profitable, whilst still delivering the world class service that the client expects, is a huge challenge for most law firms today.
In a law firm context, to gain such agile capability, the business must be underpinned by technology that seamlessly and intuitively connects and streamlines business operation across function at the back-end. So, in addition to being nimble and sprightly, the firm is able to undertake best practice-led business improvements in real-time. Referring back to the unforeseen expense scenario above, in a connected firm with the HR and finance processes integrated, the law firm can potentially make adjustments in the way the matter is resourced to stay within the agreed pricing. Similarly, driven by business need, the finance department could execute new policies based on industry best practice pertaining to expense management across the law firm.
Manually creating such an automated environment is of course impossible. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are designed to provide this kind of single platform that can be manipulated to enable the firm to deliver against the changing customer and marketplace requirements. Perhaps most critically, ERP systems enable firms to capture the ‘unknowns’ – unforeseen issues that the firm has never come across before. Overtime, visibility of such issues can enable the firm to accommodate and pre-empt the problems by creating new measures – thereby continuously finessing the business processes for incremental efficiency and productivity gains. This in turn provides opportunities to devise new and innovative ways of working that are unique to the firm.
What this means for law firms is that change is still coming. Now is not the time to look back but look forward, it’s time to expose inefficiencies and disconnections, time to genuinely respond to the need for change. It’s time to act!
This is the final blog in the 'connected firm' series. Previous blogs in the series include 'Matter lifecycle management – the first milestone in the journey to becoming a connected firm' and ‘Employee lifecycle management – the second plot line in the journey to a connected firm’.