Leveraging Technology to Realise Entrepreneurial Vision
An Opinion Piece by David Green |
By David Green
The legal market is not alone in dealing with continual changes, but how law firms operate, win business and are regulated pose a unique set of challenges. Laws change and constantly evolve and law firms must adapt quickly, even though there is often cost, effort and expense involved in many of these transformations.
Managing a law firm and generating profit isn’t easy. Regulation pulls heavily on the resources and finances; and increased competition from new and foreign law firms entering the UK market exacerbates the challenge.
Traditionally, law firms are not renowned or credited with driving forward technological developments, but in recent years these organisations have needed to resort to technology to assist them in gaining operational and financial efficiency to steady/ or turn around the business or simply to augment profits.
Regardless of whether a firm is a sole practitioner, niche boutique, large multi-office, multi-national and multi-service organisation or a volume legal services provider – all types of organisations can benefit from technology. In addition to driving efficiency and profitability, perhaps more crucially, technology helps to enhance client satisfaction, attract and sustain new business and retain talent. In the current digital landscape, law firms also need the capability to interact with clients, share information and capture communications effectively so that all those records are accurately reflected in their business systems.
For law firms to achieve all the above, deploying the right technology for the business will be vital!
Business challenges of setting up a new legal practice
The creation of a new law firm is unquestionably challenging and daunting – whether as a sole practitioner starting out for the first time or indeed as a law firm with heavy investment from a corporate investor, upfront.
Very few law firms today can boast of a low start-up cost, and investment is often sizeable even for the smallest of firms. The expense and time taken to gain regulatory certifications (and then maintain them) alongside the usual costs of staff, premises, office equipment, professional advisors and so on, takes a toll on the financial resources of a firm. Also, in a competitive local and national market, a significant outlay is required – initially to launch and then for marketing activities, to attract the attention of target customers.
Thereafter, ensuring that the firm flourishes, requires extreme focus on client satisfaction and service delivery. The newly formed entity needs to be ‘on its A game’ as there will be others waiting in the wings to lure away clients and critique their work.
From the point of first engagement with a potential client, to sending the final bill of costs; processes systems and operations must be slick and complement the work (with the same level of efficiency and quality) that the fee earners deliver in the form of advice and service. Simultaneously, the firm must ensure that the necessary controls are in place to meet the regulatory requirements and mitigate business risk. Every COLP and COFA must register and demonstrate controls through recording and reporting of events, as they happen. Insurers and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) expect firms to risk profile their business from a financial viewpoint through to case management. These systems of control must be in place from the start.
The business rationale for leveraging technology
Any law firm seeking to launch in today’s market will find itself significantly disadvantaged in the absence of a technology platform upon which to conduct business operation – everything from service delivery and financial management through to regulatory compliance. Burdening and embroiling fee earners in non-fee earning administrative tasks detracts them from delivering a high-quality service to clients and revenue generation.
On the other hand, by providing fee earners with technology such as case management, their productivity can be significantly increased through task automation, reporting, effective time recording, auditing and similar non-revenue generating activities. This means that fee earners remain focused on client-related activity, can take on a larger number of clients and matters, and do what they do best – provide high quality legal advice.
This technology-led approach to business is essential in order to thrive and flourish in today’s market. It eliminates the inefficiencies from the business and ensures focus on service delivery.
Systems and solutions exist today that can help revolutionise a firm’s service delivery by ensuring the following:
- Clients are engaged properly and consistently
- Information is obtained efficiently and accurately recorded
- Clients are kept up to date
- Fees are charged correctly and in a timely manner
- Complaints and disputes are captured and managed appropriately
- Real-time reporting allows managers to monitor exceptions so that direct action can be taken to avoid missing key dates or tasks
- Real-time management information is available to monitor business performance and adapt to changing market requirements
- Financial information is accurate, enabling sound financial decisions
- Regulatory concerns and issues are identified quickly and acted upon
It’s worth noting that it’s not simply about implementing a case management system (and there are some excellent ones on the market), but looking at the way the technology can be customised and developed in an ongoing, iterative basis. Also critical is how well the system interacts with 3rd party products so that the firm has a best-of-breed, holistic, integrated solution to meet its technology and business needs.
Key imperatives when selecting technology
Regardless of a firm’s size and budget, choosing a case management system or any technology for that matter, is a difficult task. Budgetary restrictions aside, the minefield that awaits a firm in choosing the best fit system is tricky. Here are some things to consider:
Price and affordability – Gauge the affordability of the chosen system by understanding what it can achieve for the firm in the long term. From experience, selecting a case management system that evolves with the needs of a firm tends to deliver a much higher ROI. So, to overcome budget constraint (if that is the case), it’s worth purchasing the best technology for the business, even if it means initially only deploying basic functionality with a view to implementing more features in the future as funds become available and the firm’s needs more acute. On the other hand, buying an inadequate system to later decommission and install a new one is expensive in both time and money.
Scalability – Growth is what a business seeks. Choosing a system with limited scalability will hurt. Any system that is deployed must be truly capable of expanding with the firm and supporting its aspirations.
Functionality – Does the system actually do what the firm needs, or are compromises being unduly made? The functionality is, after all, the main reason for the purchase. For example, a case management system is ideal for executing property transactions. Most transactions follow the same path – the case must be set up correctly, the ‘know your client’ (KYC) checks completed in accordance with the SRA and firm requirements, information obtained and shared on the client and the property, and so on. With a case management solution, a firm can allow fee earners and case workers to work the way they want to; while gaining efficiencies through standardised letters and interaction with outsource partners (search providers) who can link their systems directly to the firm’s solution to speed up processes.
Controls and regulation – Technology can help any firm minimise risk of non-compliance, which is essential for the successful running of a law firm. Relying on manual interaction with the staff for compliance is dangerous territory; whereas a system can monitor compliance at case and firm level and report back to key staff. Again, using property as an example, a firm can monitor its portfolio to ensure that regulatory requirements are being complied with, that quote conversions are accurate and followed up on, and that KYC checks have been completed properly. If there are delays in the processing of transactions, the system can determine the reasons, where the interruptions are occurring or why a client hasn’t returned a form, and so on. A case management system that is well configured to a firm’s way of working automatically points managers and owners to potential problems before they happen, so that timely corrective action can be taken.
Financial management – Every firm must have a grip on its finances – from simple day to day book-keeping and daily management through to financial projections and forecasts – in order to gain a true and accurate picture of the business. The case management system should have the capability to provide financial information that is accurate and reliable, both as standalone data and the records that are being fed into the firm’s accounts package.
Management information – Without quality management information, a firm cannot truly assess its operational and financial performance. Foremost, data has to be captured correctly for the case management system to produce accurate reports. Additionally, the reports generated by the system must be easy to access and insightful and simple to comprehend.
Efficiency – A case management system isn’t just about storing client information and documents. It is a tool to help gain efficiency and systemise routine tasks to minimise wastage and assist with key decision making. Execution of matters requires skills and legal knowledge, but also information sharing. How this information is obtained and processed is key to driving efficiency in any legal business model.
Why I chose Lexis® Visualfiles™ for each of my new ventures?
Quite simply, the Visualfiles legal workflow and case management system is a platform that provides law firms with the head start they need to secure their future. The solution is highly adaptable and scalable in response to a firm’s changing business needs and it meets all the technology parameters described above.
I have implemented Visualfiles in all the firms that I have worked at or founded. These range from smaller, niche organisations of fewer than 50 employees, to multi-office businesses of over 500 employees. The firms offer legal services in areas of law such as property, costs, personal injury, debt, commercial and private client. The Visualfiles case management system has provided the organisations with enhanced levels of operational efficiency, and the senior executive teams with visibility of transactions, offering peace of mind in a heavily regulated environment. The level of control alongside consistency of case management and financial reporting delivered by Visualfiles has been key to the management and success of each of my businesses.
The unique advantage of Visualfiles is its powerful developmental capability. Out of the box, Visualfiles provides firms with rich case management functionally that delivers a high level of efficiency. Where it really comes into its own and stands head and shoulders above the rest, is its adaptability. It can be evolved in tune with business and market changes – without the need to rely on the supplier!
It really has no limitations. Each of my organisations required a different focus or took an alternative path from competitors. Using just one system and overlaying workflows for the different work types, meant that we could support common requirements of the firms (such as risk profiling, complaint handling etc,) and yet deliver against the needs of the bespoke areas of law by programming the relevant workflows so that they delivered the necessary actions. For example, a personal injury case is very different from a conveyancing transaction, but there are common requirements such as risk profiling, case management, auditing, requesting payments, raising bills and such. Visualfiles enables each of these consistent aspects to be introduced into workflows whilst still driving the case down the appropriate operational path to a conclusion.
With Visualfiles, you are not limited to fixed solutions; firms can create any bespoke workflow for operational processes, management and reporting that is needed by the organisation.
Capturing information is what all case management systems should do alongside the progression of routine tasks. With Visualfiles, firms can implement a multi-layered approach that penetrates deep into the heart of the business to provide unrivalled levels of efficiency, controls and visibility – all of which are imperative for success.
Visualfiles is excellent at integrating with other best-of-breed applications, to take the functionality and flexibility of case management to new levels. One of my ventures, Rubix Technology, has introduced several products that interface seamlessly with Visualfiles to help organisations extend their efficiencies. We have developed integrations directly into Visualfiles for 3rd-party organisations and systems such as Experian and HM Land Registry. Such integrations allow Rubix Technology customers to progress and monitor the Visualfiles cases even more efficiently.
So, my experience has shown that Visualfiles, due to its flexible programming capabilities, ease of use and functionality alongside its ability to interact with all the major 3rd party systems; is a key to the success of law firms of the future. My own successful ventures are clear evidence of this.