Law firms can save substantial time and money though updating and automating processes around tasks like document management, practice management, and legal research. This analysis piece will discuss how these organizations can determine whether various businesses processes should be modernized, and what kinds of solutions are available to make this happen.
Determining whether processes should be modernized
Before deciding to update processes, law firms should understand the workflows currently in place. They are encouraged to map out processes in areas like document management, practice management, case management, note-taking, and research. They can take advantage of visualization tools like Microsoft Visio and SmartDraw to create flowcharts and other diagrams for this purpose.
Mapping out processes enables workers to see how data enters into a practice, who it is routed to, and what is done with it. This helps these individuals detect areas of overlap and inefficiency. For instance, requiring a case document to receive multiple authorizations may appear unnecessary. This exercise can also reveal ways in which paper is still being used, and potentially slowing down processes.
It may be clear that automation through software and/or other technology is a worthwhile endeavor for specific processes. In other instances, it may be necessary to weigh the pros and cons of this type of change. For those who decide automation is not the best choice, they may find there are other ways to improve upon processes—such as removing unnecessary steps or rearranging current steps.
Deciding what software solutions make sense
Law practices may know they need to automate, but lack information on the software solutions that can help them achieve this goal. They can conduct their own research and/or seek advice from their business technology providers. Below are ideas of categories for them to explore.
Document management software
Document management software involves converting paper into electronic documents as well as routing, editing, classifying, and storing these documents effectively. It can also integrate other features such as the ability to create and fill in forms. Document management software can help organizations save money, access documents more quickly, and increase employee and customer satisfaction.
Practice management software
Another potentially beneficial area of software is practice management, which describes the management of a law practice. Practice management software typically includes capabilities for time capture, due-date monitoring, billing, and accounting functions like accounts payable. Sometimes, it includes expense tracking and reimbursement.
Transcription/voice recognition software
Many organizations still take notes by hand, and then enter these into a computer. Or, they enter what is being said directly into a computer. These tend to be costly approaches, however, that often require dedicated staff to perform transcription and data entry. Recent advances in speech-to-text/transcription technology have improved the accuracy of this software, providing an affordable alternative to traditional transcription methods.
Law practices were among the first workplaces to take advantage of digital research, first with CD and DVD services and then online. Today, research services are available for specialized law practices; more general services from vendors like LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters (which owns Westlaw and other services) are also in the market. While many practices currently incorporate electronic methods of research into their workflows, new features, functionality, and/or processes may be worth considering.
Law firms that are adding or replacing automated systems are encouraged to consider the cloud. Online applications are available for almost every area of practice; in some cases, they are the newest and most capable versions of the application.
Considering other technology updates
Not all practice improvements lie in the area of software and workflow changes. Sometimes the bottlenecks are hardware-related. For example, an organization with several multifunction printers may find that these devices aren’t scanning fast enough. By adding several stand-alone scanners (which are often priced below $1,000), they can potentially turn around jobs more quickly.
Another possible bottleneck is the organization’s Internet connection and network. Law firms may want to consider upping their Internet connection speed; some providers are now offering connect speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second. As part of this upgrade, it may make sense to update routers and access points for Wi-Fi connectivity.
- Before deciding to automate or change processes, law firms should understand the current workflows that are in place.
- Carefully reviewing current workflows can help determine where redundancy and inefficiencies exist.
- Organizations that have determined business process improvement is worthwhile are encouraged to strengthen software, hardware, and/or network capabilities.