In a recent Digital Works Group podcast on ‘How Intelligent Automation can help the legal sector innovate’, I shared my thoughts alongside Damon Harding an established strategic business transformation leader and director of the Digital Works Group.
Damon’s been successfully transforming complex businesses for over 20 years and one of his key specialisms is process re-engineering and driving improvements to front and back office processes. He believes that three areas of pressure are creating flux within the legal sector:
- Increasing pricing pressures from clients and big moves to manage costs, including legal process outsourcing.
- The delivery model is still being worked out for new types of legal services created by Alternative Business Structures.
- The massive growth in new technologies and with it the new types of legal roles emerging.
He also quoted the Law Society’s benchmarking survey, which they did in conjunction with Lloyds, suggests that reduction in revenue in 2021 could be 10 to 20%. For the legal sector, that’s going to further compound the cost pressures that they are already facing.
“But it’s not all doom and gloom. Because while you’ve got some very hard hit areas such as litigation, PI, clinical negligence, commercial and corporate services where things aren’t really progressing during a lockdown. Then other areas like private client and employment law are thriving, because there’s so much extra work to do. Add on top of that the remote working challenges which many legal firms are trying to work out, as with every other industry, but for legal, you know, document exchange physical signatures, face to face meetings with clients, they’re all very big challenges to face.” Damon Harding, Strategy, Leadership and Innovation Partner at DWG
My most common observation, when I look at lawyers’ ways of working, is that they don’t have all of the tools they need to do the job effectively. That results in lawyers doing a higher amount of administrative work.
If I look more deeply at the causes of that, it breaks down to three things:
- The first is data management. Lawyers waiting to input or extract data when they’re away from the office, because they don’t have the right tools to enable them to do that. Also, not being able to store increasingly large amounts of data so that it is easily discoverable later, when it’s needed. Quite often data is held captive in the systems it is input into because these are niche systems, focused on very specific things. If you can’t get to the information, you limit the effectiveness of your ability to do your job.
- The second challenge is related to data management in that there’s a high reliance on paper documents or their electronic equivalents like PDFs, or even faxes in some cases. It’s just so difficult to get that data accurately captured. Quite often it’s rekeyed and it’s repeated with mistakes. So, quality also suffers.
- The third challenge, and it’s an enduring theme within the legal sector, is the concept of the billable hour. It comes up many times. Corporate clients are requiring more predictable legal costs. They’re questioning the breakdown of those invoices. So, if your Lawyer’s doing more administrative work that a support member of staff could do for them, it could be a lower invoice. As a result, they’re questioning what their lawyers are doing.
Also related to that is effectively extracting the information data held in the systems I mentioned before. That just takes too long so that adds to the bill on the invoice. Clients cannot be provided with the information as quickly as they need it. Ultimately, when you’re working in a billable hour, from a staff perspective, there’s a fatigue that can set in. Job satisfaction can suffer and there can be a degree of turnover as well, or just pure burnout because people aren’t being as effective as they can be when having to constantly undertake repetitive activities.
But the underlying point is, the challenge is that they don’t have the effective tools they need to do their job.
But why is now the time to tackle these challenges and why is Intelligent Automation such a key part of the answer?
Here’s Damon’s summary; “I think that legal firms really need to be focusing on the big themes at the moment because there is so much to focus on, if you don’t focus on the big themes, you’re going to miss out.
To reiterate those are;
- Client cost pressures, looking at efficiencies and better value.
- The liberalisation of the legal markets with the alternative business structures and legal process outsourcing, which are here to stay. Making sure that those processes are optimised must be a key focus. Then finally,
- The tech is advancing at such a pace and we know it will take up repetitive administrative tasks with greater precision, and also recall capability as well, so that’s a big advantage.
So, I would say that embarking on Intelligent Automation of processes now is a really good and smart way to start reducing your costs and redeploying skilled resources onto value-add activity.”
Technology specialists and lots of firms have been doing automation for years, the intelligence bit is really benefiting from the commoditised, artificial intelligence capabilities.
It sounds a bit advanced, but actually, when you look at what commoditized artificial intelligence gives you, it’s things like natural language processing. The hard work that would have been done, it’s been built for you and now it’s more accessible than before.
Some easy Intelligent Automation wins for law firms
These are a few of my favourites because they fit well with large chunks of legal work and they have been developed, refined and have proven benefits.
Natural language processing.
For example, train up the technologies to understand legal language better, because it’s more structured, than the conversation we’re having now. That then allows lawyers to process legal documents quicker. You can also get insight on what’s being said, but the judgment remains with the human, it’s an advisory service.
Thanks to social media this has advanced considerable to become a useable solution; Is your customer happy? Sad? Are they likely to praise you or criticise you? You can apply sentiment analysis to legal statements, documents, again, in an advisory capacity to inform the lawyer on the decisions they need to make.
Really, what that means is, if you have a photograph in a document, you can extract it by just pressing a button, and it’s in your system or evidence file or case file.
If you have a table of data that’s in a PDF file, rather than recreate it, the computer scans it and brings it in as editable text. So that rekeying problem and the errors, are mitigated by these techniques.
The automation aspect just really brings these together in a total package, enabling the lawyers to do their jobs more effectively. It reduces that administrative burden and obviously reduces costs for the company overall.
Will Intelligent Automation lead to lower billings?
With Intelligent Automation you can bill more clients and grow your business. Better value from invoiced services, but more services billed. From a private sector perspective, you could do more of the same thing. So, if your business now is at a point where you can’t really take on any more clients without hiring people, you’re going to add to your cost base but make less profit.
If you automate it, you could do more with less. You increase your profit, you don’t really have to create large amounts of invoices and try and build your customer accounts from within. You can look to grow from the outside and build your company at the same time.
Interested in finding out more, then listen to the full podcast here or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org