Technological innovations have now become standard, with each new technology promising to be a game-changer for business 'in the future'. For instance, Artificial intelligence (AI) and Blockchain are the latest 'silver bullets' with many law firms impatient to get on the bandwagon.
Undoubtedly, it's important that law firms explore these new technologies with vigour to evolve and innovate in the future; but it's also vital that they exploit existing proven technologies and approaches that are optimised and available 'today'. Often these existing technologies and methods are forgotten in the excitement of chasing the 'next big thing' – which in time meets the same fate as the existing technology – i.e. remains under-utilised and hence its potential is never fully exploited for business gain.
To derive the most gain from any technology – efficiencies, improved profitability, enhanced productivity and other such business metrics – it's imperative that law firms build a firm business foundation, and once established, don't assume it never needs reviewing again. One strategy, which is a combination of approach and technology, that can help firms achieve all of this is "Automated Intelligence". It entails a focus on the 'here and now' to deliver tangible bottom line benefits TODAY, with the additional advantage that it establishes a solid business foundation that can then be further exploited with ongoing innovation.
Automated Intelligence comprises a simple three-step approach:
- Review business processes and eliminate unnecessary steps
Firms should regularly review existing processes (NOT the technology) to ensure that they benefit the current needs of the business, with a specific objective of removing any procedure that is no longer required. These process reviews constitute a business operations health check to ensure that activities are being executed in the right manner to meet the needs of all stakeholders – staff, clients and the wider organisation.
- Automate what can't be eliminated
Having removed anything that should no longer be performed, the next step would be to automate what is left. The level of automation must suit the needs of clients, the staff and the business.
Say for example, that in the processing of a conveyancing transaction, there is a point where the client needs to be informed about the completion of a particular task. If this information is being relayed to clients manually by the fee earners, it's worth evaluating whether in the current environment of 24x7 internet access and smartphones; there might be a more efficient, effective and acceptable way of completing this task. Could a text message or email be sent in the first instance, with a phone number included for those clients that want to speak to a team member?
The key message to law firms here is: automate 'if' appropriate for your business model and customer service.
- If automation isn't suitable, allocate to and equip appropriate resources
Having identified and removed unnecessary steps, and automated where possible, it's essential to ensure that the right person for the job is equipped to action whatever processes and tasks remain.
Technology today supports the separation of activities within an overall legal process. The traditional 'cradle to grave' case handler/case owner isn't necessary, as involving individuals with different expertise at varied phases within the lifecycle of a case is arguably a more efficient and productive approach. It also ensures quality.
When considering Automated Intelligence, firms must maintain the balance between automation and human involvement. Take the example of personal injury claims. Rather than having claimants go through a tedious and sometimes even frustrating automated process for the assessment and authentication of their claim, a better approach might be to have an expert in road traffic claims triage cases and then take the claims forward via automated processes where little or no human involvement is necessary. In doing so, the firm will ensure that complex work is undertaken by people who are experts in their field, while the administrative work that is perhaps less visible to the client, is automated.
Automated Intelligence is the solid foundation of a firm. With a strong and robust base, layering on new technologies can deliver the most efficiency and productivity gains, ultimately resulting in superior client service, a good market reputation, customer loyalty and profitability.