The legal sector is rapidly evolving and many time-poor companies and solicitors are now tasked with finding new ways to manage workloads and their ever-growing pools of data. This has led to many businesses shifting previously manual practice and case management processes over to digital solutions and investing significantly in systems designed to relieve the pain points and reduce time spent on a traditional, paper-based workflow.
Digitisation looks set to continue shaking up the role of practitioners and has even prompted regulatory changes within the industry. For example, HMRC’s Making Tax Digital initiative, which came into force on 1st April, now requires firms to record and report their VAT transactions digitally and many will have to overhaul their current VAT processes and opt for more digital procedures to ensure full compliance.
The challenges of legal software
Given the intricate nature of the legal sector and with the role of lawyers, solicitors and accountants both changing and quickening in pace, it can often be challenging for firms to ensure that their software is not just working effectively for every user, but is driving maximum value for their business and ensuring full compliance with industry legislation.
There are undoubtedly efficiency and time-saving advantages when reaping the full benefits of legal IT software. Modern practices now require more flexibility from their computer systems than ever before, which for the most part is due to the ongoing global shift in workplace culture towards a more remote and ‘on-demand’ outlook. As a result, we are now seeing a rise in the number of practitioners adopting this approach to case and practice management, with many now favouring cloud and mobile solutions across their firm in order to meet the demands of the sector.
The introduction of new legal management tools gives firms the opportunity to review their processes and look at how they want their staff and their procedures to come together. These things take time, consideration, planning and expertise, and most practitioners will inevitably still require some level of support in order to get the most out of their software. Making these systems work for you and your practice is the way to drive operational efficiency. With practitioners typically juggling increasing caseloads and time-sensitive tasks, getting help from an online chat, a website contact form or vague automated support line will no longer suffice. This is where the human behind the machine plays a vital role for the users and technology providers alike.
The age of transparency
Over the past few years, the use of legal software has been on the rise and most firms have been adopting new technology systems in order to streamline management processes and improve customer service by reducing the time spent completing tasks assigned to them. Yet, as with every new piece of technology, some firms may have experienced issues both during the onboarding process and when completing specific tasks via a new platform. Inevitably, this can also take up large amounts of valuable time and resources before a task can be completed, often burdening practitioners with pressures to resolve or update cases within tighter time constraints.
As a result, firm decision makers not only need their legal software to be cost-effective, but also want their providers to be transparent and responsive as they grow familiar with a larger range of digital tools. Suppliers that take much of the heavy-lifting away from their customers throughout the onboarding process and offer support beyond online chat and website forums are ultimately best placed to deliver the expert service needed to drive maximum value for their customers and flourish in a growing legal IT market.
The amount of human support needed for software typically varies from sector to sector and is largely dependent on their level of intricacy. For the legal industry in particular, these solutions are used by practitioners to undertake a range of important tasks, whether this be managing legal accounts, tracking case progress and storing vital case documents. Facing pressures to complete these accurately and on time, practitioners would look to their legal IT providers to help them when issues arise and suppliers must ensure they have the ability to meet these requests with punctuality and expertise.
Software providers can therefore take action to ensure their solutions are provided in tandem with the necessary support for the end user. For example, putting a customer straight through to an in-house expert on the phone as opposed to a generic support line will reassure them that their provider isn’t a ‘call centre’ and that it has the right people in place to offer clear guidance when technical issues occur.
Adding the ‘human touch’
Whilst technology is now offering huge potential for greater efficiency and productivity in law firms, many practitioners are still getting to grips with the full functionality of these systems and software providers must not overlook the importance of human intervention when completing important legal tasks. As the next-generation of legal software unfolds and offers more sophisticated functionalities, the onus is also on its providers to ensure they have the level of expertise in place amongst their staff to provide quality support at every point of need.
Although digital solutions are removing the need for manual processes across the Legal sector, they can never fully override the ‘human touch’. Smaller firms, or those without an IT department, for example, may need more guidance when it comes to legal software and a company that offers greater levels of human support for every customer will ultimately benefit now and in the future. From experienced legal cashiers, to ex-practice managers or a qualified bookkeeper, having in-house experts will understand user pain points due to their professional background – offering the vital input needed to help customers navigate their issues and resolve them quickly.
No matter how advanced and intuitive legal software becomes, with even larger companies now dabbling with new and advanced technologies, the legal sector will always need some form of human interaction and intervention. Regardless of their need to digitise, the demand for quality human support amongst law firms remains strong and software providers must now be prepared to put users at the heart of their business. Achieving this will not only allow them to streamline case and practice management and maximise fee earning time for users, but will ensure that they remain competitive in the ever-growing legal technology market.
We are proud to announce our recognition as an Approved Supplier by The Law Society of Scotland, as we continue our efforts to deliver market-leading support and technology advancement for law firms in the country.
The Law Society of Scotland acts as the professional body for over 11,000 Scottish solicitors, with an overarching objective of leading legal excellence and serving the needs of its members and the public. As an Approved Supplier, Insight Legal will be subject to the market standards upheld by The Law Society of Scotland, which strives to ensure the provision of excellent legal services and public confidence in Scotland’s legal profession.
The news follows our continued growth throughout the UK and in Scotland, having recently announced the expansion of our Glasgow office to provide the working space our team require to deliver a reputable service and exceptional support for our clients.
Insight Legal now serves 700 firms, a 30% increase year-on-year with a number of our customers based in Scotland. In order to support the Scottish client base, we employ a dedicated local team, ranging from Sales and Software Support to Training Specialists, to assist all clients with managing legal accounts in the region.
Brian Welsh, CEO of Insight Legal and based in the Glasgow office commented: “As the Scottish legal market continues to advance, it is essential that firms are equipped with the level of technology and support needed to serve their clients effectively and with maximum value.
“Our recognition as an Approved Supplier by The Law Society of Scotland comes at an exciting time in Insight Legal’s growth and is the latest milestone in our commitment to deliver an honest, proudly independent, approachable and technologically unique service for firms in the ever-growing legal IT sector. Delivering on these core values, we look forward to continuing our support of firms in Scotland and the wider UK market with our customer-centric approach to legal software.”
We will be helping Step by Step to support local young people facing hard times, by joining in with the popular Sleep Out on 21st June 2019
Swapping our comfy beds for the floor under the EBB Stadium terraces, we will be asking for sponsorship from our customers, colleagues, friends & family to support Step by Step….
Giving up our beds for one night and sleeping out seems a small thing to do to ensure that the young people in our community don’t have to face homelessness.
Based in Aldershot, Step by Step passionately believe in supporting local young people, providing a range of services to help them fulfil their aspirations and reach their full potential; providing accommodation, personal development, opportunities and specialist support services.
Please click here and take a few minutes to read Lydia’s story of her time at Step by Step, reminding us of why we are all Sleeping Out.
*** 12th June UPDATED NEWS ***
THE GREAT BAKE-OFF CHALLENGE & OFFICE ANTICS
This week saw the first Insight Legal Great Bake-Off Charity Challenge take place.
Members of the team spent their weekends, baking, cooking, icing and decorating to create masterpieces and delicious foods for the charity event; from award-winning sausage rolls to a smartie filled rainbow cake and plenty of tarts, muffins, breads and flapjacks inbetween, the office tables were a feast.
To keep us occupied and updated whilst we munched our way through the delights, Anda from Step by Step gave a presentation to remind us on the fantastic work that Step by Step do for the young people in our community and bought us up to date on the preparations for the Sleep Out Challenge on 21st June. 8 members of the Insight team will be taking to the cold and hard floor to sleepout for the night and experience the hardship that some of the young people face before Step by Step are there to help them.
All the funds from the Bake-Off, the Onesie of Shame nominations and Pick a Winner game, held in the office during the Bake Off day, have been added to our Just Giving page.
We also heard from the board of Directors, who have announed that whatever our Just Giving page achieves Insight Legal will match the donation – brilliant news for the team and the charity! So now over to you to help get this Just Giving page as many doantions as possible ….
You can support the Insight team and their fundraising by clicking on this link to our group Just Giving page. By giving a little it will go a long way;
Onesies are the outfit of choice for the sleep out… starting with Emily!
More photos and updates around the event will be on our social media pages;
In most industries, the process of transferring software suppliers will involve some degree of migrating data from your current system to a new system. Transferring your Practice Management System in today’s legal sector is no different, and you would expect your new supplier to charge some sort of fee to complete the transfer.
When moving you to a new system occurs, some suppliers may look at the lifetime value of you as a client and charge a set fee for the service rather than consider the actual daily rate and time taken to complete the task. Others offer an import solution, which allows the customer to import the data themselves if they wanted to. But what happens if your current supplier then also says it wants money in order to hand you back your data?
Smoke and mirrors
In the days before cloud, data lived on premise. There would be a good chance that a reputable chosen software supplier who has been in the market for some time would know how to access the databases of competitor products, pick it up and then migrate it without having to involve the incumbent supplier. However, as software increasingly operates in the cloud, data now often sits in a multi-tenanted environment, making it impossible to merely pick up and provide a copy of an entire database.
It goes without saying that client retention is a very important metric for modern software companies, which can greatly impact the value of a business. Therefore, it isn’t uncommon for providers to try and find ways to keep customers in any way possible. For example, you might be informed the only way to retrieve your data is by running reports. However, this doesn’t provide you with a complete ‘data dump’ and may leave many pools of data locked up in the system. These pitfalls often leave firms stuck with suppliers even if the solution isn’t fully supporting their business.
It could even be that they aren’t actually working to give you back your data, or it is a last ditch attempt to get some money from you before you leave. Either way, this can potentially leave unsuspecting firms out of pocket or with inaccessible data – or both.
Keep control of your data
The moral of the story is that many firms are being unknowingly held to ransom by software suppliers using their data. But what exactly can you do to ensure this doesn’t happen to you?
- Check the fine print: To mitigate this risk before it’s too late, firms should check the fine print to ensure they only do business with suppliers which offer full control over their entire data set if they ever decide to leave. The clauses facilitating this data ransom effort are often buried within the detail, under the layers of information about the value that the software can deliver for the business. Read the terms for data retrieval with a fine tooth comb before signing a contract.
- Come armed with questions: When tasked with finding a software supplier with no tricks for retaining your data, it is important to ask the right questions in the market research phase. Be direct and ask potential suppliers about their data supply and retention policies to understand exactly how your data will be unlocked from their system if you leave. Chances are, those able to answer these queries quickly and with clarity are your best bet for keeping full control over your data.
Some vital questions to ask your potential new supplier, or check in your current contract include:
- Is there an exit clause in your contract?
- How is my data supplied back to me?
- Do I get access to all my data in a format that my new supplier can understand?
- Do you charge to supply my data back to me? If so, how much?
- If I leave, what happens to my data and how long is it left on your servers? (One particularly crucial area given the control that GDPR regulations now offer data owners)
- Take your time: When faced with fast approaching contract expiry, or even looming regulatory changes, it is easy for firms to make fast and sometimes, rash decisions about their next software supplier. It may sound obvious, but this haste can ultimately lead to oversight when ensuring the status of a firm’s legal data once they choose to invest in a particular provider. Ensuring firm decision makers are abreast of upcoming changes and starting research well ahead of change can give firms the time they need to evaluate the options available and distinguish the suppliers who do not hold data to ransom from the rest.
Taking these necessary precautions can ultimately be the difference between a firm retaining full control of its data or having to stomach a sizeable bill when trying to take their information out of these systems quickly and effectively. They are also the essential steps for firms to cut out the market noise and hone in on reputable and transparent legal software suppliers, instead of falling victim to the efforts some providers take to retain their business through conditionally holding their rightful legal data to ransom.
In an increasingly competitive legal sector, law firm decision makers must now work harder than ever to ensure that each area of their practice is functioning in the most effective way. However, that responsibility does not come without challenges. Deborah Edwards, Director & Head of Training and Support Services at Insight Legal explores the role of modern legal practice managers and offers a best practice guide to managing a productive and profitable law firm.
1. What do you think are the main challenges in managing a firm today?
Juggling the many aspects of managing a law firm can undoubtedly be a challenge! The term Practice Management can cover areas as varied as financial management, human resources, facilities and equipment, IT, marketing and business development, client relationships and compliance. Every practice manager gets pulled in different directions and will find themselves taking on many and varied tasks. There will often be the temptation to take on these tasks yourself. This can be anything from fixing a printer to recruiting a new member of staff, or from designing a new company logo to drafting office procedures. You may look at the cost of having a third party or an outside agency to complete this work for you and then decide that, instead, you will do the work yourself. What it is easy to forget is that cost doesn’t always equate to value. I am certainly not saying that you have to spend a lot of money, but it can certainly sometimes be the case that spending money and saving yourself time can be more cost effective.
When it comes to managing your staff, you will undoubtedly ensure that they are offering the best possible service to the firm’s Clients, but you must also make sure that they are providing the same level of service to the firm itself. What I mean by this is that you need to make sure your staff are doing enough – but not too much – work; working efficiently and effectively rather than spending hours of chargeable time that cannot be recovered. You don’t want to stand over them as they work and you won’t have time to review every file every day, but you do need to understand just how much work has gone in to recovering your professional fees. This is where firms need to look at the case and practice management tools available to them.
Compliance rules and regulations are constantly changing and firms need to be abreast of these changes in order to survive, let alone thrive. The accounts department of any law firm is crucial to ensuring compliance in many areas but, of course, the partners and managers within the firm must do their own checks too. This is where firms must look to their accounting software and the compliance reporting available to them.
2. What tips and advice would you give to someone when it comes to leading a firm effectively?
The first thing to remember is that Law is not just a profession; it is also a business. When it comes to driving the business forward, it is important to remember that there are many ways to generate new work. Examples can include creating an attractive website and building an engaging and trustworthy brand to make your Client want to spread the name of your business through word of mouth. Other cost effective ways to drive growth for your firm can be to establish a presence with active social media platforms, and to plan relevant advertising and publishing of thought leadership pieces where potential new Clients will see you as an expert.
Responsibility for meeting compliance requirements and for operating effective systems and processes lies with those leading the firm. It can be difficult to balance the pressures of practice management with the responsibilities of Client work, but that is something that every successful law firm manager must do.
3. How can decision makers execute this without taking away from fee earning time?
The most successful practices are those that learn and adapt quickly. If you haven’t already, it is vital to ensure that your financial staff are fully trained and up to date with the relevant accounts rules, especially when changes are brought in. In 2019, the SRA accounts rules undergo their first major overhaul in years and there are significant changes that all legal cashiers and practice managers will need to be prepared for.
In addition to changes by the SRA, there are other regulatory changes to be aware of too, such as HMRC’s Making Tax Digital initiative taking effect on 1st April 2019. Every law firm needs to make sure that their legal accounting software is up to date, compliant and fit for purpose. Having specialist software to prepare your management accounts and compliance reports will save many valuable hours.
Developing firm-wide case management processes to guide staff through the running of their cases can also be invaluable in reducing supervision time. Of course, you need to remember that you and your legal staff are the experts and not a computer system, so you shouldn’t rely on a prescriptive workflow that leaves your staff simply ‘painting by numbers’ or ‘joining the dots’. However, systems that allow you to streamline your chosen working practices can ensure the delivery of high quality, tailored, efficient service.
4. Can you share any direct experiences of dealing with these issues and what you learned from this?
In my work, I speak to law firms everyday about case and practice management systems. I always ask the question, “Do you time record?”. Some will say yes with no hesitation, however most will either say, “We don’t, but know we should” or even “No, because most of our work is either agreed or fixed fees.”
In my experience, if you are a firm that doesn’t time record due to fixed or agreed fees or charging agreements, then you really have no accurate way of telling how the work you and your staff do compares to what you are charging and in turn what you recover. Analysis of your billing success (cost v charge out rate v recovery) is invaluable for any practice and if you have a good practice management system then it is very easy to achieve.
I also find that many firms dismiss the idea of case management because they use very little in the way of standard letters and correspondence. I wholeheartedly agree that the management of legal matters is not just a process to be followed, but what I would encourage every firm to do is to look at how you want your matters to be run and to use the available software tools to optimise your efficiencies.
There are many resources, services and software tools available to practice managers. They offer varying levels of automation and assistance, with different offerings being suitable for different law firms of course. Use them to your advantage.
19th March 2019: Insight Legal Software today announces its continued expansion, welcoming a head office move and the appointment of former Director, Brian Welsh as Chief Executive Officer.
The news follows a period of significant growth for Insight, with us averaging 25 new customers per month over the last six months, ranging from single users to over 70 user sites. We now serve 800 firms, a 50% increase year-on-year. The team has also expanded as a result, having bolstered our management team and doubling the size of the development team over the last 12 months.
To aid our continued growth, we have also appointed Brian Welsh, our former Director to CEO. With over 25 years experience in Legal IT and the provision of software solutions, Brian is responsible for directing the strategic position of Insight Legal, with a focus on bringing the team together to steer the business through a period of internal investment and growth and beyond, as we excitingly move towards our next chapter.
Insight Legal has also recently established a number of in-house senior positions, including a Marketing Manager, Sales Manager, Project Manager and Support and Training Manager. The growing team is now also supported by a Marketing Assistant enabled by its close relationship with Knights Training and yet another dedicated Migrations Specialist. The increase in technical and support staff is timely given our recent Making Tax Digital-compliance update to our software, which has been recognised by HMRC.
To accommodate the increase in headcount and focus on delivering market-leading customer support and technology advancement, Insight Legal has moved to a new head office situated in Farnborough, UK. Our Northern Ireland offices have also moved to a bigger space as has the Glasgow office, in order to provide the working space its team require to deliver exceptional services and support for its entire client base.
Commenting on Insight Legal’s growth, Welsh said, “At Insight Legal, we recognise that creating an enjoyable working environment for our dedicated team of industry experts is integral for continuing the development and success we have achieved across the market to date. Our service is built on the core foundations of honesty, independence and unique technology and our recent growth is a testament to the ongoing investment in upholding these values in all areas of our business.
“We are focused on maintaining our core values of being honest, proudly independent, friendly and approachable for customers and ensuring a customer centric approach throughout this period of growth. Relocating to our new and improved head office and strengthening the range of expertise within our team will help us to keep enhancing the functionality of our suite of solutions. By doing so, we can provide our clients with the most effective software for their business and remain competitive within an ever-growing legal IT marketplace,“ Welsh added.
The ‘go-forward’ legal sector
When it comes to legal software, it is no surprise that firms typically opt for solutions which offer maximum compliance and longevity for their practice. Finding a piece of software which meets a firm’s individual needs and those of their clients can therefore be both time-consuming and tedious. The research involved, time taken and the pressure of choosing the right system can often seem like a daunting task – particularly in a time where new legal technologies are emerging regularly across the sector. That said, the appetite to invest in technology is clear to see, with a 2018 report by HSBC indicating that 87% firms believe it will help to boost revenue by enabling enhanced service offerings to their clients.
However, the Legal Software market today is now also going through a period of change and consolidation with many providers now looking to larger organisations for the resources needed to rewrite their solutions with modern technology. In years gone by, suppliers in the 1 to 200-user firm market tended to be owner-managed businesses. Firms looking to purchase from them bought into the ethos of the company, the service and the people, safe in the knowledge that if they needed assistance or if there was a problem, the Managing Director (MD) of the supplier company (and in most cases the owner) was a phone call away.
Today’s landscape is very different, with a good number of these MD-owned businesses having been bought up by larger Venture Capitalist backed businesses seeking to consolidate the market and drive new product development with greater access to new technology. Yet, this focus on innovative, ‘go-forward’ products has created inevitable risks for the existing products already in use across many firms. While these older products may still be supported by their suppliers in the short term, many won’t receive the active development required to keep pace with the changes in profession and may well even be ‘end-of-lifed’ in the future. Ultimately, this means that users risk either not being totally compliant or will have to employ work-arounds to make them both function and remain compliant.
As 2019 gets underway, more change is fast-approaching for many legal businesses and these movements are turning up the pressure on Law Firms to digitise in order to adhere to industry regulations. A great and pressing example of this is the HMRC’s Making Tax Digital (MTD) scheme, which launches this year and is set to make fundamental changes to the way the tax system works.
Preparing for Making Tax Digital
The first stage of the initiative, taking effect on 1st April 2019 will require firms to record and report their VAT transactions digitally. Currently, VAT registered firms can submit their VAT returns online by manually entering the figures that would have previously been recorded on the old-style paper forms. MTD significantly changes this by now requiring firms to have suitable software in place that can record all VAT transactions and then submit the data to the HMRC via a new Application Programming Interface (API).
Keeping paper only records will no longer be acceptable, every VAT registered firm will need to maintain their accounts digitally. From now on, not only will companies need software that is capable of recording all of their transactions digitally, this software will also need to be capable of communicating directly with the HMRC’s systems. As the current online VAT return submission system will cease to function come April, it is essential that all VAT registered companies have HMRC API compatible software by this time.
The requirement to maintain digital accounting records means that the details of each transaction must be stored in some kind of electronic ledger system. Obviously, almost every firm will have been running accounting software for many years, so this requirement is not particularly onerous. However, even firms that only use Excel to recording their accounts will still have to purchase software that integrates with Excel to allow the VAT return submission and continue working in this way.
It is therefore vital that Law firms are checking the status of their systems and that their chosen software has the controls in place to maintain an efficient and compliant operation. As the industry continues to be impacted by new regulations, firms that don’t ask questions of their existing software provider could be leaving themselves open to risks of falling short of legal requirements or incurring higher fees. These risks are particularly high in cases where their current legal software products are no longer receiving the updates required for users to remain compliant, as the industry continues to digitise and regulations change.
Staying compliant in 2019
Amidst the almost certain possibility of both further changes to the likes of MTD in the future and the continuing digitisation of the industry, many legal software suppliers will unsurprisingly invest heavily into developing their ‘go-forward’ products in order to meet these demands. The end result of this can be that the software products that law firms invested in are no longer supported, and in many cases are ‘end of lifed’ or ‘sunsetted’. This will of course have repercussions on its users and will potentially push them to make a number of unwilling changes.
For example, the impact on a Law Firm could be that their existing supplier requests that they change to an alternative system, which could come at a large expense to the business. Should they chose not to, remaining with their existing system could mean that they simply will not be compliant from the moment any new legislations come into force.
In addition, many law firms may not have considered the potential time it takes to implement and migrate to a new software solution. Data migration takes considerable time and resources to make sure it’s done right. This can leave many Firms caught out should this process be left too close to regulatory deadline or if the transition is not complete before their current system ceases entirely and is no longer available for use or supported by its provider.
This could have a number of consequences – such as forcing them to accept a high renewal or large migration fee to remain with the current supplier, or even sign a lengthy agreement on a software that they are not fully satisfied with. With a chance of increased costs and non-compliance looming in these circumstances, law firms must now check their existing software’s status and make clear decisions over their software soon if they are to adhere to new industry regulations and remain cost effective as soon as any issues arise.
Taking active precautions, such as asking suppliers about the state of existing software or seeking advice from legal IT experts will help firm managers to make early decisions about the best course of action when faced with potentially outdated or non-compliant products. Taking these steps now could help firms to reap the benefits of providers which offer fast migration with full support and expertise, giving their practice maximum compliance and longevity and allowing them to thrive in an increasingly digital sector.