There are processes within legal where automation delivers value, offering benefits to both the organization’s workforce and its operations that comes from technologies designed to help streamline legal functions
Like many professional service industries, the legal profession is saddled with many repetitive processes. Due to legal, regulatory, or other types of requirements, some of these rote tasks can’t be avoided. However, advanced technological approaches can help either streamline such processes or eliminate them altogether.
In fact, there are already a few forces in place that are working to drive efficiencies into the legal function.
One landmark improvement is the increasing impact of system integrations — often fueled by application programming interfaces (APIs) — in our profession. The more systems exchange data between systems — or present data within the framework of another application (viewing an iManage document via Teams or Sharepoint, for example) — the less time one spends reentering data or switching back and forth between applications.
Another catalyst is workflow technology. Long present in the technology and service fields, these are now increasingly present in legal with many such third-party platforms offering this service, and many no- or low-code providers offering law firms the option of constructing their own workflows. A few key uses of this technology include the legal intake process, moving matters through the litigation process, generating client reports, or the automation of the client electronic billing process.
Let’s take a closer look at three key law firm functions which are strong candidates for automation and process improvement.
1. Automating the processing of court filings
Streamlining the processing of an email Notice of Electronic Filing (known as an NEF or ECF) is a great example of using technology to wrap a process flow around a specific and measurable set of manual or mundane tasks. Accessing and downloading the filed documents, storing them in a document management system, and distributing copies of the notice to the case team and docketing centers, are all opportunities for automation.
Data shows that this work takes 8 to 20 minutes per email notice — the real time is often more because of interruptions. Intelligent automation can deliver scores of hours back to law firms, while processing state and federal court notices and getting the filed documents into attorneys’ hands in a timely manner.
There are already services in this space that offer court notice process automation to get filings from court-to-pleadings index, and from court-to-case teams, often in less than a minute. These APIs and process automation workflows, when applied to manual mundane tasks can help improve staff efficiency, eliminate errors while saving documents, reduce risk associated with delays, and provide visibility into a process that is difficult to manage manually. One law firm recently processed their 100,000th court notice and calculated that the firm saved 13,500 staff hours by automating the process.
2. Improving document generation & data collection
The legal industry has enjoyed the benefits of collaborative systems for many years, as well as no- or low-code approaches to constructing new systems and tools to empower document preparation. The amalgamation of all three of these capabilities in a unique manner is now further accelerating work in this area, allowing end-users to build systems, without programmers, that can collect necessary data and compile it in a manner which will automatically generate the required legal product — a customized, final document.
Imagine the number of times a law firm works with clients to collect information and prepare documents. Common legal documents, such as wills and non-disclosure agreements, are artifacts with which most lawyers are familiar and can conceptualize the benefits. Other types of documents — like deposition summaries, site inspection reports, local counsel matter updates, and many others — can also benefit from automation.
“A meet users where they are mantra helps accelerate the speed with which existing or new documents can be automated, as well is offer real-time tracking and ease of sending reminders regarding these process flows,” says Karl Chapman, CEO of Kim Technologies, one of the companies driving innovation in this space.
That, in essence, does a great job summarizing the value of this class of system — one which supports the conversion of legal documents to web-based forms which, once completed by business partners, then automatically generate the final work product for an attorney. In addition, this process can provide full data analysis through enterprise search, bulk download, or API integration while eradicating large volumes of administrative time typically dedicated to supporting such processes.
3. Enhancing time entry & financial analytical functions
Time entry is one of the oldest administrative tasks in the legal industry. It’s a critical element to the success or failure of the law firm, as every one-tenth of an hour not captured is 10% not billed. Since most lawyers are loathe to perform administrative tasks, however, it’s no wonder that some wait until the last minute to capture their weekly time. Unfortunately, waiting until the end of the week or month guarantees that they will forget some billable activities.
Accordingly, this makes time entry automation an alluring enhancement. By leveraging automated time entry to capture all the work being done by their lawyers, a firm can ensure that all time is captured. Modern time capture solutions seamlessly connect to the corpus of tools routinely used by the lawyer, including emails, phone calls, documents, web research, and more. Indeed, there are two very clear benefits of automated time capture: i) all time is captured automatically; and ii) workers need only complete and save the entry.
“When one digs deep into the math, the business case is ever more compelling,” says Rod Wittenberg, Vice President of Financial Productivity Software at BigHand. “Consider a set of assumptions where the average task is 30 minutes, and each lawyer is expected to bill seven hours per day. The result of that, obviously, is that there are 14 tasks to be entered each day. Then, assume it takes one minute to exit your task and complete the time entry before moving onto your next task. If we round it up to 15 minutes for ease, then you are talking about 3,600 minutes per year of administrative effort to get time into the system. If a system can capture that time automatically, this significantly reduces the administrative burden for all timekeepers.”
Overall, organizations need to understand the massive implications of lost time and the value of automating certain processes like court filings, document generation, and time entry. Law firm leaders want to improve their lawyers’ efficiency and effectiveness at work and in life — to improve the quality of life and offer better financial management within law firms, automating certain manual rote processes can deliver great value.