Over the past few decades Legal Practices, like other sectors, have embraced digitisation. From digital dictation to online searches, digitisation has affected virtually every aspect of how Law Firms operate. This article will look at how some of the modern and future digital trends might affect Law Firms, along with the technologies that Law Firms are using today to improve efficiency.
Taking Data to the Cloud
Most legal practices have embraced Cloud Computing to some extent already, whether planned or not. The advantages of moving data and processing to the cloud are that it increases flexibility and access to your data and systems. By reducing the Firm’s reliance on local servers and systems, costs can be reduced, reliability can be improved and you gain considerably more flexible deployment options.
Good examples of where firms are often enjoying the benefits of cloud computing are those firms using services like Microsoft’s Office 365 for email. This is particularly popular as it replaces a local Microsoft Exchange server with a cloud-based version managed by Microsoft. Purchasing and managing Microsoft Exchange Server was a costly exercise and required an expert to maintain the server on a day-to-day basis. By removing the need for an on-site server and simply paying a moderate monthly fee for each user this has saved practices a lot of expense and also dramatically reduced their reliance on local servers and technical staff.
Another good example of migrating local systems to the cloud would be moving an on-premise SQL Database to Microsoft Azure. As with Exchange, the initial outlay for SQL Server is not inconsiderable, so to combine this with the need to maintain regular backups, moving this service from on-site to something like Microsoft’s Azure service brings many benefits in both initial outlay and ongoing support costs. Of course, the other benefit of moving your data to a service like Microsoft Azure is that you can now potentially access it from anywhere that you have a good quality internet connection. This means that it is much easier to combine a Firm’s branches into a single digital entity and have staff working from home or any other location that they may need to.
That said, it is crucial that a Firm ensures that any cloud technology employed is done securely and in line with professional regulations. Engaging with practice recommendations by The Law Society, as well as the Legal and regulatory obligations under GDPR and the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s Code of Conduct will ensure that you meet your compliance obligations.
Enable Intelligent Case Management
Case Management means different things to different people. There can be very few firms that have not put in place at least some kind of case management system within the last few years. The early generations of Case Management Systems were often either inflexible, cumbersome or did not provide the functionality that firms needed to assist them with running their cases. All too often, a Case Management System would be just a set of tools and the Firm would then need to spend a lot of time (and in some cases a lot of money on consultants) before they would have a system that worked for them which would actually improve the efficiency of the firm and the staff. Not only that, but often these systems took a lot of work to keep them up to date. This of course meant that the effort and costs involved in getting a Case Management System up and running combined with the cost of maintenance would outweigh the efficiency gains achieved.
More modern Case Management Systems take a much less prescriptive approach to the process of implementation allowing the users and managers to adopt the new functionality in a more evolutionary rather than revolutionary way. Your Firm’s staff are the experts in what they do, not the computer. By utilising one of the more modern flexible Case Management Systems, you might find that your staff have software which will assist them in their work rather than feel like they are working for the Case Management System.
When you combine a Case Management System with the flexibility of Cloud Computing as well as the ability to access from Mobile devices, these things then are together “more than the sum of their parts”.
Streamline Practice Management Processes
To manage a practice effectively, managers must be able to scrutinise the performance of their firm; if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. An effective Practice Management system is essential; however, it is only as good as the information it contains. By utilising a modern Practice Management system, a vast amount of data can be captured digitally and automatically.
Modern Practice Management Systems will allow the Staff and Fee Earners to monitor their own performance and take action where necessary before being directed by a Practice Manager. Historically, every month firms would issue to each Fee Earner a printout of all of their active matters so they could monitor things like overall WIP, outstanding Bills etc. Modern Practice Management Systems will allow Fee Earners to have all of this information available to them on demand. As with all management, it is far better if people can manage themselves. Being able to see for themselves where action is needed rather than relying on the Firm’s Practice Manager to remind Fee Earners to bill WIP or chase outstanding invoices.
Find the Right Technology Partners
Many of the solutions we currently see across the sector offer the general functionality needed to help Legal practitioners digitise most aspects of their operations. However, having the right support in place when using these tools is just as essential for any Law Firm wanting to streamline operations and get the most value from their digital efforts.
Striking this balance is not just the responsibility of practitioners themselves. Technology providers must now ensure that their staff have both the knowledge and level of expertise to fully support their customers throughout all stages of their digitisation – whether this be migrating from a different system, or providing adequate training to help Firms utilise the software effectively.
In order for Law Firms to take advantage of innovation, software suppliers must ensure that they are continuing to develop their products and services. Meanwhile, Law Firms must equally consider whether their technology providers are meeting the requirements imposed on them by local regulators and legislation, to ensure full compliance when completing day-to-day management tasks. This is essential to helping Law Firms grow, stay relevant and remain compliant in an evolving industry.
Enhancing digital innovation within the demanding Legal sector can by no means be performed instantly. However, those who take the necessary steps towards implementing a more agile, cloud-based approach to Case and Practice management will ultimately benefit from better working processes for their staff and a greater competitive edge over their counterparts.