By Mark Homer
From my early days at IBM and throughout my career, I have consistently tried to apply the latest technology to allow things to work more efficiently than they previously had. Throughout that time, I remember working on many technologies that everyone else decreed could never replace a human.
Back in the late 1990’s someone even told me that the complexities of mortgages and leasing could never be put into an Internet application. Well, tell that to Quicken Loans and to pretty much every bank out there today relying on online forms and signatures.
Therefore, as a smart marketer, I know that technology will continue to chip away at the lower level tasks; there will constantly be the opportunity to utilize machines to provide more efficiency to my team, and in turn, more value to my clients. Technology, when implemented well, will allow our team to increasingly spend more and more time on high-level strategy and proactive communication, which in turn leads to more successful campaigns—and happier employees and clients.
To date, most of our efficiency via technology has been gained at the workflow tool and tracking levels. Instead of loads of documents and spreadsheets, our entire process is now managed through custom apps built on Salesforce CRM that are integrated with our project management system (we use TeamWorkPM) and document management system (we use Box.com).
We use Slack for constant contextual based collaboration. This tool allows for internal communication, but also provides context, history, and searchability for our entire team.
Using these basic workflow technologies has affected us significantly in a few ways:
1. Reduced the number of internal emails we send.
2. Decreased the amount of internal discussion/project catch-up meetings.
3. Provided dashboard level visibility for internal and
The dashboard visibility allows us to more efficiently evaluate client success.
We used to have entry-level staff and interns generate this kind of information in spreadsheets. Weekly, it involved running reports in different systems and pulling that data into excel for each client; this was certainly not a top task that anyone wanted to work on each week, as there was little thinking or challenge involved.
Now, we have this client success information automatically generated, and we receive it daily instead of weekly, allowing everyone to get a pulse of what is going on with their clients before the day even starts. We call these “coffee messages.” Plus, our team is able to focus on providing value to our clients vs. spending time generating manual reports.
Through these tools and integrations, we’ve significantly increased efficiency over the past year, but I am constantly looking for more.
I strive to help everyone use their education and experience for issues that require strategy and thinking, and less so on items that a system can address just as effectively (or more effectively).
When discussing some of this with a colleague, it got me to thinking that we don’t spend enough time telling our clients the benefits of our investment in technology and processes around it to deliver better results for our clients and provide better work for our team.
There are a lot of things in your firm that by adding technology to your general client legal workflow would provide much improvement to the tasks you need to work on every day and improve what you deliver to your client.
Common workflows that can be made more efficient and/or effective can include but aren’t limited to:
1. Intake of prospective clients
2. Managing client/matter information
3. Billing, managing your documents
4. Document generation
For intake of prospective clients, if you get your prospects into a system then you can automate some email follow up, categorize and track to know who to follow up with first, capture notes so whoever talks with the prospect next knows all the details, etc.
At GNGF we use Salesforce for this but there are some legal specific solutions out there like Avvo’s Ignite product, or as an addition to something you may already use, Clio has recently added this onto the front end of their cloud based system.
Just as we at GNGF use project management software to track all of our tasks and the associated estimated vs. actual time spent, to manage your client cases/matter information, tools like Clio, Smokeball or many of their competitors provide one place to see all the crucial information surrounding the case.
Contacts, meeting notes and documents, expenses, billable hours, etc. can be at the fingertips of anyone in your office. The time saved from looking for files, waiting to hear back from someone else who last talked to the client, and more can add up to a lot more time to dedicate to the case or to enhance your profitability.
As I mentioned above, at GNGF, we streamlined and automated most of the reporting we were doing and also increased the effectiveness by having it be daily and weekly, taking a low value, un-liked task away from a frustrated team-member giving them a much better feel-ing of value at the office. A similar example at many law firms is document/contract creation. I don’t think most of you went to law school to spend your hours manually creating contracts from base templates you probably already have on your hard drive.
Taking a few weeks to learn and integrate a document automation tool like Doxsera, or something bundled into a larger practice management system like Smokeball, can take a one hour task and turn it into a 10 minute task. You can provide better value for your clients, or if you are in a flat-fee environment, you just gained some good profitability or the ability to be more competitive on price if that is needed in your area.
This is just a short list of the many law firm workflows that can be automated or improved with technology. In implementing, you can focus on higher value work for you and your law firm.