Adopting Technology that Requires the Business to Adapt to “Fit the System” is a Detrimental Approach
Tête-à-tête with our new Product Management Specialist, Katie Jones, continues
Continuing our conversation with Katie Jones, our new Product Management Specialist, who is a lawyer by training, but caught the “tech” bug early on in her career. Who better to talk to about how firms can adopt technology for Service Level Agreement (SLA) compliance and Management Information (MI) and reporting.
- Given how important compliance with SLAs is for law firms, how can technology be used in this area?
Katie Jones: The risk of failing to meet the basic requirements of SLAs are pretty high in the absence of an automated process to help to keep track of them. All it takes is for an auditor to come in and say, “you missed X deadline by a day”. For a lawyer who has worked hard on the case to deliver a positive outcome, to get marked down because they missed the SLA by a day, is a hard pill to swallow. This said, it’s a problem that is easily cracked with technology.
One of the challenges is that SLAs aren’t set in stone. Client SLAs can change anytime, and firms have to accept and accommodate those requirements. Adopting a case management system that is flexible and can incorporate different and changing SLAs in the day-to-day workflow is key to ensuring compliance.
However, the greater value of having an adaptable system is that it allows firms to be more proactive in managing and building client relationships. Being able to monitor and assess SLA compliance through their own reporting tools allows a firm to pre-empt any issues and suggest solutions to clients that are beneficial to both parties. For example, if initial strategy advice is not being provided to a client in a timely manner, and the management information reveals that the delay has arisen because the client isn’t providing full information on instruction, a proactive conversation can be had with the client to suggest improved methods of instruction. In this way, being able to approach a client with a proposed solution before they have raised it as an issue is far preferable to being on the back foot and reactive.
Working with an adaptable case management solution provides firms such capability to propose alternative and more effective measures as they oblige to changing client requests.
- Can technology also help lawyers and law firms comply with the intangible SLA metrics – for example, client experience?
Katie Jones: Most definitely. Client experience can be greatly improved with the use of technology. Communication is one example. We all expect to be able to communicate with service providers in a way that is convenient to us, at a time that suits us. Communicating with a lawyer should be no different. An individual buying legal services expects the interface between them and the lawyer to be modern and accessible. Lawyers can leverage their technology to provide that experience and make efficiency gains in the way they do their work.
For example, if a lawyer requires the client to provide documents, it is beneficial to both the client and the lawyer if this can be done digitally. Most clients would rather submit electronic documents through a portal that offers a simple uploading processes than send them attached to an email or post them in the mail. For the lawyer receiving the documents, with the appropriate case management solution, they can have those documents appear in their electronic file automatically. No need for manually saving attachments and emails, or scanning documents. Time is saved and the potential for error reduced, and importantly, the client has a better experience.
- Coming to MI and reporting, how has this function evolved with the help of technology?
Katie Jones: When I was first introduced to “management information” as I joined the legal profession it was the bane of many of my colleagues’ workloads – mainly because of the valuable time it took up. MI was essentially manual data entry and time spent on reporting meant less time spent on billable work. It was also often an after-thought – lawyers had settled the case and moved on to the next piece of work already when they would be reminded that they hadn’t completed the MI submission for their closed files.
Today too, in firms where MI is done manually, it remains a real challenge. Given that many firms require that lawyers justify their time every six minutes, regardless of how the work is fee’d (based on hourly rate or fixed fees), work that is non-billable and time consuming is not something that a lawyer wants to be doing.
But it is important work. By asking the lawyers to manually “do MI”, firms are inviting risk. Utilising the case management system to gather the data at meaningful times, and having that data feed into the system output, is a far more compelling approach.
A top tip for firms – think about what you can give back to the lawyers for entering MI data as part of their daily workflow. For example, if the return for accurate and timely MI entry is a smart-looking, client-ready document or email that a lawyer can generate at the click of a mouse, they are incentivised, and data entry will improve.
- Presumably, the hybrid environment has further changed the deliverables for these areas?
Katie Jones: A hybrid environment and a dispersed workforce most certainly make supervision and risk management more challenging. Those firms that didn’t have automated processes will find that they need to put in place processes as a priority.
If a firm can automate the process whereby a piece of work is referred to the supervisor from within the case management system at the right time in the case lifecycle, then the likelihood that the task will be approved and completed in a timely manner is much greater.
When I was a practicing lawyer, we created a process within Visualfiles whereby anything my team needed me to look at could be attached to a reminder that would automatically appear in my ‘to do’ list in the system. The supervisory and approval process became easy and hassle free for my team – and there was a complete audit trail. No need for the team to remember to send me the documents for review, no chasing for feedback, etc.
Fundamentally, a key aspect of risk management is the ability to have eyes on business operation – case progression, compliance, workload and resource management, quality of service delivery, and such – so that timely action can be taken to pre-empt problems. In the post-pandemic world, with dispersed workforces, automated risk management capability will become essential.
- To conclude, how can law firms leverage their existing technology systems to address all these three priorities – i.e., risk management, SLA compliance and MI and reporting?
Katie Jones: One of the challenges that law firms face is that they typically deploy a ‘one size fits all’ case management system, which then is integrated with all the other systems of the organisation. The problem with this approach is that the types of work lawyers are doing are different, but the case management system is not customised for every department’s unique requirements.
Firms need a technology platform that is flexible and customisable enough to meet varying needs of different departments and practice areas. In other words, the technology must meet the requirements of the business – rather than the typical scenario where the business has to adapt to fit the system.
My role at LexisNexis is to help develop Lexis® Omni so that it delivers exactly such capability. A system that enables lawyers to leverage the kind of data capture and workflow capability that I benefited from when I used Visualfiles, but in a way that allows them to do the work the way that they want to. It will be a huge asset to them.
Additionally, we are working on providing capability that allows lawyers to manage their case work alongside their “other” work – i.e., activities that fall outside of the case work – practice management, client relationship management, business development and so on. This work that they do outside of lawyering is equally important and providing them and their firm visibility of all the work will be very beneficial to the organisation as a whole.
With the way technology and workplaces are evolving, this is a great time to be in legal tech!
This is the final part of the interview in this two-part series.