Traditional versus new methods for getting ahead
by David J Bilinsky
I know things are tough all over,
ain’t getting any better…
Written and Recorded by Tom Waits
Despite government pronouncements to the contrary, lawyers can feel recessions in their bones in the same way that arthritis sufferers know about changes in the weather. What can you do in a recession? There are at least two possible reactions – the first is to start taking in whatever work comes in the door, on the premise that any work is surely better than no work at all – and the other is to step back and evaluate how you can come out of the recession retooled and revitalized.
Traditionally, applying technology meant automating discrete tasks – such as automating a will precedent – using mail merge in MS Word or WordPerfect. However, it has become apparent that a limit is quickly reached in applying this approach as you do not change the basic business structure around handling the transaction.
“Workflow analysis” looks at the entire process from the moment of initiation (the first telephone call to the firm) to the destruction of the will file and examines how information technology can facilitate the processing of the transaction rather than just a discrete part. Workflow analysis is closely related to electronic document management and is credited with bringing about 20 to 50 per cent productivity gains in the tasks they automate and a 30 to 90 per cent reduction of delays in processing transactions, according to www.wngs.com, a member of the Workflow Management Coalition. Since lawyers are always looking for ways to make jobs better, faster and cheaper, workflow analysis is a particularly promising area for us to investigate.
Let us take that will file and do a rudimentary workflow analysis and see how we can apply technology to change how a law firm approaches this transaction:
Someone in the firm takes the initial call resulting in an appointment to meet with a lawyer to give instructions for the will.
Traditional method: The secretary jots a note on a phone slip pad, goes to the lawyer’s calendar, sees when a suitable time is available, checks with the client and then makes an entry into the lawyer’s diary. A duplicate entry is usually made in the lawyer’s secretary’s diary as well. The name of the prospective client is also run through the firm’s conflict system (as you don’t want to find out that another lawyer of the firm is suing the prospective client).
New method: Secretary receives the call and with the prospective client on the phone, runs the prospective client’s name through the networked case management system – allowing an instant conflict check. If the results are negative, then the secretary opens the lawyer’s on-line diary, finds a free time slot, makes the appointment (and duplicates it in the secretary’s on-line diary), completes an on-line file opening form – thereby capturing the client’s coordinates (the new word for all contact information) and makes an entry into the firm’s accounting system that is linked to the case management system. The client’s coordinates are now in the firm’s conflict management system without any further re-keying.
Gains by using the new system: Minimal time is required to make entries in the conflict system, the file opening system and the accounting system. Data is captured in a form that is useable for not only the lawyer’s needs but also for the firm’s business process needs.
The client appears for the appointment.
Traditional method: The lawyer completes a hard-copy will information sheet and tells the client to expect the draft in the mail in a few weeks. The lawyer dictates the outlines of the will and any novel aspects to his/her secretary.
New method: With the client present, the lawyer types his/her notes into an electronic will interview sheet on their computer and tells the client to expect a draft copy of the will attached to an e-mail. The lawyer then files the interview sheet using the firm’s case management and document management systems. The lawyer then sends his/her secretary an electronic memo that outlines the will precedent to be used and any novel aspects to his/her secretary. This memo is also recorded on the client’s file in the case management system.
The secretary drafts the will.
Traditional method: The secretary uses “search and replace” from a previous will and must key in all new information from the client’s name onwards.
New method: The secretary uses the word processing merge facility that is integrated into the case management system to create a new will using a standard will precedent. There is little re-entry of information as the word processing system is able to reach into the case management system and “pull out” such matters as the client’s name, address and the like.
The secretary prepares the covering letter and draft bill for mailing to the client.
Traditional method: All contact info must be re-entered for the letter and the bill. All documentation is delivered to the lawyer to review prior to mailing.
New method: The secretary prepares a draft bill (which also is generated by merge capabilities) and transmits the draft will and bill to the lawyer for review. The lawyer reviews both and transmits them to the client via secure e-mail (noting to the client that a signed paper invoice will be available at the next appointment to comply with the LSBC rules, e-bills not yet being permitted by our Rules).
The will is executed. The file is sent off to closed storage.
Traditional method: The file is forgotten, only to be reviewed in later years for destruction when closed file storage becomes too costly.
New method: At the time the file is closed, a notation is made in the firm’s case management system that will generate a BF (bring forward) at some predetermined time (say 100 years) to consider destroying the firm’s hard copy of the will (all file info being preserved on the electronic case and document management systems including a graphic image of the fully executed will).
Then years later – the client requests changes.
Traditional method: The old file sits in storage necessitating its retrieval from some remote location for review.
New method: The will can be easily brought up on the network using the firm’s document management system – including all the notes made by the lawyer drafting the will which are preserved in the firm’s case management system. A hard copy image of the fully executed will can be printed up for the client to review.
While things are tough all over, by applying information technology to restructure the business processes involved in the practice of law, we can say that in lawyer’s offices things are getting better.
Case Management Programs
The Workflow techniques mentioned in Practice Talk are available today. Examples of case management programs that can do some or all of the functions mentioned in this article are:
Examples of document management systems are:
Document assembly programs are:
David J Bilinsky is the Practice Management Advisor at the Law Society of British Columbia. He can be reached on the Internet at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed herein are strictly those of the author and may not be shared by the Law Society of British Columbia.
This article originally appeared in the December 2001 issue of BarTalk and is reproduced here with permission of both the author and the Canadian Bar Association, British Columbia Branch.