Case Management Technology…put clients at the centre of law firm delivery
An Opinion Piece by David Green |
Case Management is not new to the legal sector. It has long been a necessity for a law firm whether undertaking high value specialist legal work or high volume process driven transactions. When case management systems were introduced over 10 years ago lawyers found themselves with an ability to capture, record and process information quicker and faster. Routines became easier and tasks became quicker.
The advent of next generation work flow systems took another leap forward. Now firms could control the actions of junior staff and ensure cases were handled the way they wanted with less reliance on experienced staff to undertake or oversee every transaction. Consequently, paralegals became more common place particularly in large operations handling personal injury, debt or conveyancing. For the first-time systems could recognise actions taken and direct a case handler on what to do next, they provided controls that made monitoring, supervision and allocation easier and more efficient.
Whilst much of this development was revolutionary for the legal sector there was too often no ongoing improvement cycle to reiterate and improve the original process and it could therefore be argued that law firms of today operate from 10-15 year + old paper heavy “chase” processes. These were originally designed prior to the advent of changes in the legal market, pre-financial crisis, before the introduction of fixed fees and the continued downward pressure on costs. Most firms we have engaged with are still following the 10-15 paper heavy processes and continue to operate in this way today. Some even replicate the same ideas when they move to another platform (many of which are reliant on the software vendor to recognise the shift in requirements and make revolutionary changes to these key business processes).
This is not to say that there have are no technology advancements available. For example, in recent years’ firms, have been able to send SMS messaging to their clients with updates directly from their case management system, offer apps/portals to push messages on key case stages, get documents signed electronically and introduce less paper reliant systems due to improved hardware and software.
Law firms, like most other industries post 2008’s financial crisis, face downward pressure on fees and increased expense. These pressures present themselves in a variety of ways. Reforms such as those seen and to be seen in the personal injury sector, competition and new ways of working as has been seen in the property sector, new regulations or simply commercial deals requiring lawyers to get off the clock and reduce their fees.
Have law firms been able to rely on technology to help them maintain or keep profit margins in their firm? It could certainly be argued not and most firms have chosen to absorb the increasing expenses or reducing costs and in some instances exit the market.
It is very important to note that case management technology has typically driven law firms away from the phone and onto paper and more latterly email. A case handler running routines from a case management system to chase a client or third party for information via paper/email, is simply not driving the results required for efficient case progression. These 10-15-year-old techniques may achieve the goal of shifting a matter forward and reducing immediate outstanding tasks for the case handler, but law firms need to progress cases and they can only progress cases when the information they have requested arrives, not when a chaser has been sent to request it.
If a client or third party is not responding to letters most firms process will simply be to write another letter to chase. Even if that elicits a response, at best the firm will be waiting over a week for receipt of the information by the time the letter or email has been sent out, received, processed and responded to.
In a number of cases the information will simply not arrive as it is too easy to ignore a letter, or perhaps the client is struggling to understand the content, either way the firms persist with chasing in the traditional way and as a consequence cases stagnate and case lifecycle times elongate.
The time has arrived for technology to address this and for a new step change in approach to be delivered.
The law firm of the future needs to be able to respond to the current needs of more demanding and a mobile client base, case life cycles and transactions times need to be made quicker to drive down the costs of managing the files.
How can that be achieved with 10-15-year-old processes? It is not acceptable to send a letter wait for a reply and send another letter. Firms must be quicker, they must be more aware and they must be pro-active and interactive with their clients.
Firms need to stop looking back at technology that has not seen any genuine evolution for some time and start seeking out a fresh approach to delivering their service.
They must become more efficient and they must do so to survive in a competitive environment.
Firms need to embrace technology that works for them. Not every firm or legal service can benefit from workflow driven case management but those which do need to: -
- Capture data correctly
- Monitor case progress and identify and deal with those which are not
- Have an efficient time recording platform capable of identifying inefficiency
- Provide visibility and supervision for managers
- Process information and drive cases forward using work flow technology
- Highlight and report on cases not within tolerance enabling immediate interaction
- Adapt quickly to changes around them
- Be able to introduce new technology as it arrives
- Interface with third party systems
- Have a system which they can be programmed and adapted in house without reliance on software houses and or expensive IT programmers.
The law firm of the future that will survive the changing market is one that can respond and do so quickly.
Sending documents to clients that are heavy in technical content and often written to protect the firm and not just advise the client is not an efficient way of working.
Writing a letter and chasing by letter after no response is not efficient. Even if a pre-programmed ‘robot’ does the chasing for the firm.
The law firm of the future will embrace technology that enables them to interact with clients and third parties in a more efficient way. They will collect information and get it into their system and drive a case forward.
It will use its case management system to produce reporting to identify delays and problem areas and then address them quickly and efficiently.
Law firms of the future will speak to their clients. They will engage with them to explain more complex documents and obtain instructions, not hide behind a 10- 15-year-old diary system, letters, emails and their desks. They will engage with their clients and tackle the number one client complaint, lack of communication and contact with my lawyer.
The law firm of the future will put clients at the centre of service delivery
They will speak with their clients and delight them with their improved communication and customer service. They will engage with third parties to obtain information immediately, they will not be delayed by waiting on a reply from organisations with inefficient processes who fail to respond. They will invite feedback on service from their clients, publish the results, and be seen to be leading the market in terms of service and improved settlement times.
Whilst it is accepted that written communication is imperative in law, once the point has been made in writing the chasing of the information is best achieved by actually speaking to someone.
No law firm can simply tell their case handlers to make calls and engage with clients, it is too much of a cultural change from what they have been doing for the last 10-15 years. Most fee earners may try once to contact a client but they will not try again and if they do it will not be systematic and intelligent. It will most likely be that a letter or email will be sent or a call made when it is remembered.
Systems that embrace technology to make intelligent use of the phone and drive calls to clients with intelligent dialling will help to secure the future of a law firm. The firm will be able to obtain the information they need, address any misunderstandings, and quickly progress the case to the next stage. It will enable them to advise their clients properly, and talk them through complex areas, providing simple explanations to a process that can appear complicated and convoluted to a non-legally trained individual. These calls do not need to be carried out by highly paid fee earners, but by case workers familiar with the case and the process who can bring a level of customer service and interaction that has been sorely missing in the processes of the past. They can then update their chosen case management system and workflow and truly move the case to the next stage and bring it to a resolution quicker.
The Technology to Deliver
Systems that can work in harmony, combining powerful work flow technology that is programmable and changeable by the user together with improved client contact and overall service. Businesses that want to succeed must make use of these market leading innovative technologies to drive efficiency into the interaction with clients and the obtaining of key information. The systems identify what needs to be done, extract the requirements and uses dialler technology to improve engagement with clients and other parties to ultimately drive cases forward.
These systems provide law firms with the ability to combine quality legal service provision with direct client and third party interaction. They minimise unnecessary touch points and delays and they increase efficiency, reduce transaction lifecycles and improve overall client satisfaction.
The days of hiding behind a process, an email address or a letter have gone and have no place in today’s market.
The law firm of the future must engage pro-actively with clients and third parties and do so with optimum efficiency. They will lead improvement in the industry and will ultimately win a reputation for driving a better client experience.