Recently Actionstep kicked off the new roundtable discussion webinar series “Subject Matters.” In the first instalments, they brought together legal thought leaders from around the globe to share perspectives and discuss how digital automation supports lawyers, clients, and the industry at large.
David Woolstencroft, Co-Owner and Editor of Legal Practice Intelligence and CEO of Novum Global hosted the session for Australia and New Zealand and was joined by legal industry leaders:
- Emma Elliott, CEO, Australian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA)
- Steve Pickering, Director, Verlata Consulting
- David Hepburn, Global President, Actionstep.
The session for the United States and the United Kingdom was hosted by Oliver Tromp, Actionstep’s UK Regional Director, who was joined by legal industry leaders:
- Alex McPherson, Founder and Partner, Ignition Law
- Sarah Cox, Co-CEO, Burlington Media
- Chris Dunsford, Document Solutions Manager, Element Technologies
- Wayne Pollock, Co-Founder and Partner, Cloudify Legal.
The conversation about implementing automation and technology in law firms has been happening for a long time, however, only recently has it gained traction due to the necessity to adapt due to Covid-19.
Emma Elliott, CEO of ALPMA, shared “Covid, when it came along, accelerated that sense of urgency, and it actually broke down a lot of the barriers in terms of decision making and roadblocks to get decisions made internally in law firms. This drove a fresh look and a mindset shift in law firms, and I think it got to the point where they couldn’t embrace some sort of change within the law firm – it just had to happen, and I think digital automation is just one of those things that covid accelerated.”
During this period of global change, there was a fundamental need for law firms to learn how to operate in this new working environment and to meet the evolved expectations of employees and clients. David Hepburn, Global President of Actionstep, added, “The glue that holds an office together, between a paralegal and a partner, for example, burst apart. In order to help that work well, nascent technologies such as task management or well documents processes or steps that needed to be done through the legal process just had to be automated, and without that, it was really hard to govern, organize and report a firm.”
Automating tasks and processes
The biggest impact that automation can have on a lawyer is taking out the repetitive and often time-consuming tasks and processes in their role. The monotonous nature of these tasks often gives room for the human error element to slip in. Automating repetitive processes or repeat processes, reduces risk, provides great visibility to businesses, and gives time back to lawyers to work on higher-value tasks.
“The bottom line is lawyers want to practice law, that’s what they want to do. So, you take away the time spent on the administrative tasks, and you let them get back to the business of practising law.” – Chris Dunsford, Document Solutions Manager, Element Technologies.
Lawyers are always looking for efficiency and serving their clients better – an element of this is to meet and exceed the expectations of client experience. Emma Elliott, CEO, ALPMA, shared “Just because you streamline a process within your law firm, it doesn’t mean the value to those clients decreases, it means the efficiencies within your firm have improved and you can reallocate those resources to other projects, which then should attract more revenue for your firm or add value to your existing clients.”
Talent attraction and retention: How to differentiate
Having technology in place to automate routine tasks and processes is becoming more commonplace in law firms today. Candidates in search of new roles are now asking about what technology law firms use. Emma Elliott said, “they are looking for law firms that embrace technology and have really good systems in place that remove the administration burden on lawyers because the lawyers are more interested in doing the lawyering and the high-value work than those administrative tasks.” If these candidates for new roles join teams where automation is not in place, they become change agents and champions to ensure it is in place at the new firm. Alex McPherson, Founder and Partner, Ignition Law, shared that getting the balance right where you still want to be a law firm, not a technology firm is essential to retaining people. This can be done by ensuring your firm has a safe and candid culture where you encourage feedback and conversations that are constructive and inclusive of everyone who will use automation and technology.
Automation also enables staff to be onboarded easily and efficiently by the nature of processes and tasks being so clearly outlined, David Hepburn, said, “a practice management system and a well-documented workflow and automation process that is really well understood across the practice, increase velocity so quickly in terms of becoming productive.”
Automation aids in succession planning
“Any amount of time that you can invest into your business and its structures that retain your IP within a platform, it then becomes a really sellable asset,” shared Emma Elliott. By putting all processes through automation, the IP no longer becomes something in lawyers’ heads but is rather trackable, practical, and sellable. If you are planning on selling or handing over your law firm, this is essential in increasing the value left behind.
“We’ve seen firms that operate in a franchise model, where they put a lot of emphasis on their systems. One of the big attractions of coming is that there are going to be good systems around them, they know they can focus on their legal work, and everything else around them is going to be run really well. You have a business model that you know works well and is scalable which really adds value to that firm,” said Steve Pickering.