Is There Room for Innovation in Legal Management Systems?
Henry Ford is often (mis)credited with saying “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Even if he never uttered those words, the reason this resonates with people today is because it gets to the heart of what innovation is. Innovation requires you to think outside the traditional products, methods and processes. You’re not simply improving what you currently have, you’re rethinking the core problem and seeing solutions from outside the proven model.
Most law firm administrators, partners and other law firm personnel understand that they need to find ways to grow through innovation, in addition to what they’re already doing. The challenge most firms face, however, is how to identify and implement innovation.
Innovation in law firms can be categorized in a number of different ways. For purposes of this article, we’ll limit the discussion new ways of delivering client services and streamlining internal processes. But if you’re interested in innovations in new areas of the law, you can check out this 2016 ABA Law Practice Today article, which suggests some areas of the law that are predicted to see increased growth over the coming years.
Delivering Client Services
Innovation in client services starts by taking a good look at your client service models. Is your firm’s client service model producing results in the form of satisfied clients and referrals? If not, how can you change it? If so, is there a better way to meet client needs and how will you continue to anticipate client needs?
As technology has evolved, so have opportunities for web meeting functionality and communications through non-traditional means like text messaging and social media messages. Do attorneys have the hardware (i.e. laptops, tablets or smartphones) they need to serve clients effectively in the digital age? We are a mobile society, and having the option of doing business when you’re not behind a desk with a desktop computer is necessary if you want to meet client needs effectively.
Another thing to evaluate is whether your firm has the in-house capabilities to handle all of the related tasks that come with serving your clients’ needs. Firms may want to consider outsourcing certain tasks, like discovery, legal research, transactional due diligence, or any other area the firm does not handle on a regular basis. This can help improve client service while freeing up time for partners, associates and staff to focus on providing effective representation.
Some law firms have had success by implementing client advisory boards or using more informal survey tools to hear first-hand what clients think is, and is not, working at the firm. When you get feedback from clients and employees, take it seriously and use it to improve your client service experience.
After evaluating where you are and pinpointing the problem, step back to look for a solution that is “outside” the box. See what other firm’s are doing, but also look to other industries to see how they deliver “customer” success. What are their customer service models and how are they adjusting to a mobile, digital world?
Streamlining Internal Processes
Firms should also explore ways to serve clients better by leveraging technology to collaborate and spur innovation. Adopting a new legal management system for your firm can spur innovation in more ways than one.
Consider the firm that is still maintaining manual spreadsheets or rudimentary databases to track client revenue, billing, expenses, client outreach and service. Using such manual processes is fraught with the potential for data loss, errors and inefficiency, which incurs costs.
Client Service Innovations
Today’s legal management systems offer law firms the ability to streamline their processes through the use of cloud computing. Documents, records and financial data are maintained online, making searching and retrieving them simple and fast. Gathering and maintaining data in one place makes marketing and servicing clients much simpler than relying on spreadsheets, paper files or difficult systems to access when needed.
From a client service standpoint, this means any attorney working on a specific legal matter will be able to access current versions of documents, motions, filings, notes and financial information from almost anywhere, with an internet connection and the proper login credentials. So, collaboration among several attorneys and/or other professionals involved in a legal case is significantly easier when a law firm has adopted a legal management system that is cloud based— the law firm administrator can grant access to authorized personnel for the required system modules and data needed within moments
Internal Processes Innovations
Legal management systems do much more than offer the opportunity to enhance the client service experience; they can enhance firm operations in meaningful ways. When it comes to storing firm-level data, changing from manual, spreadsheet-based systems to a legal management system can create efficiencies in back-office operations — efficiencies that can enable the firm to expend time and resources in other ways to spur revenue growth.
Billing and accounting, attorney management and law firm practice management tools can also do more than help law firms be more efficient in their day-to-day operations; they can provide a source of valuable, real-time insights into the firm’s client service, billing, revenues and expenses.
With reports readily available, partners will be armed with the information they need to position the firm for continued growth and success.
How Will Your Law Firm Innovate?
Any law firm that wants to grow and continue to be competitive must constantly strive to find new ways to innovate. Whether that innovation comes in the form of new or expanded practice areas, enhanced client service models, law firm practice management systems, or some combination of these ideas, firms should recognize that change can be a positive and powerful force.