Three Practical Examples of How Legal Technology Enables Law Firm Agility

legal software

Three Practical Examples of How Legal Technology Enables Law Firm Agility

by Marie Burgess, Director, Product Management

Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are two legendary professional golfers from different generations. The year 1972 was arguably the best season for Mr. Nicklaus who racked up seven PGA tour wins along with The Masters and the US Open. For Mr. Woods, although he had many outstanding seasons, his best was probably the year 2000.

If we could put these two golfers on the same course in their prime, who would win?

Usually, there is some debate, but most will say Mr. Nicklaus would win the match.

However, that answer would likely change if we introduce the concept of modern technology into the question.

For example, golf clubs in the year 2000 were made with better design and materials than those manufactured in the 1970s. Similarly, golf balls also made significant advances. The golf balls Mr. Woods used during his prime season were exponentially better than those to which Mr. Nicklaus had access.

In that context, we rephrase the question: If we could put these two golfers together to compete on the same course in their prime, with the condition they had to use the same clubs and balls they used in their best year, who would win? Invariably the answers switch unanimously in Mr. Woods’ favor.

Technology has advanced the game of golf and increased the effectiveness of today’s golfers.  In the legal world, the same has occurred.  The capabilities and efficiency of lawyers and law firms has been greatly increased and continues to move forward with leaps and bounds Even great lawyers can be better with the right tools. This is the role of technology in enabling the agile law firm.

What does IT Agility Mean in a Law Firm?

The concept of agile management grew out of software development. Whereas technology companies once rolled out massive software updates once every few years, today agile development has led to smaller, more iterative software releases.

The value proposition is simple: responsiveness. Agile development meant software companies could quickly respond to client needs, rather than wait a full year to see if the new software would be well received.

The definition of agile includes the ability “to move quickly and easily.” Similarly, an agile organization is “light on its feet” and can move quickly and easily to adapt to changes. In law firms, the lynchpin is the ability to do this without stressing internal systems.

Three Examples of How Technology Enables Law Firm Agility

While the agile methodology has grown beyond software development as a business concept, it has remained closely rooted in enabling technology. The operative phrase is enabling – here are three examples withinlaw firms.

1) Remove the heavy lifting of pre-bill processes

How long does it take to get an invoice out the door? According to the 2018 Aderant Business of Law and Legal Technology Survey, it takes 61% of firms a week or longer while the rest get it done in about a week or less.  About half of respondents (48%) said their firms spend too much time on pre-bills and invoicing.

For many firms, pre-bills are an important, but awkward, slow and manual process with a lot of different people touching a bill before it is finally ready to send out. This creates a lot of back-and-forth. It clogs up email inboxes and is a distracting and frustrating process of work and re-work.  It is also expensive in terms of time and resources. As the saying goes, the cost of paper increases with the number of people who touch it.

Modern technology provides workflow so that everyone on the team who needs to be involved in the pre-bill process, is.  They know exactly what needs to be updated, edited or corrected – and the correct pre-bill version is available at the right moment in time. In this way, the pre-bill is “live” and the next person with an action due isn’t waiting for someone else to come by their office with a printout.

As the information changes, a senior law firm leader can understand the impact tothe business, matter, or client in real time. In other words, the financial effects of those write-offs and write-downs become visible before the invoice is approved for publication.

We’ve seen law firms reduce a 14-day pre-bill process down to just eight. We’ve also helped firms take a week-long pre-bill process down to just 48 hours. This dramatically reduces the systemic stress on the law firm to publish invoices.

2) Facilitate compliance with e-billing guidelines

In our conversations with law firms, we’ve found billing guidelines are among the biggest challenges in invoicing. In the survey previously mentioned, e-billing (56%) was the top challenge in law firm billing cited by respondents, as corporate clients have increasingly turned to e-billing and outside counsel guidelines (46%) to reign in legal spending.

This is understandable because a large law firm may have hundreds of clients and each one may publish billing guidelines with more than 40 pages. This quickly becomes unwieldy and consumes resources and time, which interfereswith a law firm’s ability bring on new clients or engage in more legal work.

Legal technology can reduce the strain of unique billing guidelines by tapping into a database of the most common client requirements. These are used to create automated rules that alert timekeepers to violations as they enter time. Rather than flipping through a printout of outside counsel guidelines every month, the hard work has already been done.

This begins to tackle the problem much further upstream and can be replicated and customized to the specific needs of a given client. Most important of all, the right technology enables this without over-taxing law firm resources.

3) Eliminate the churn of client meeting preparation

A client calls and wants a meeting or conference call with a partner on short notice. This sets off a flurry of activity that disrupts the day-to-day legal workflow as the team – often junior attorneys and back office staff – scramble to prepare the partner for reasonable client questions:

  • What is the status of a matter or matters?
  • Are we on time and budget?
  • How are we spending our time?
  • Are we late on invoicing?
  • Is the client late on a payment?

Law firms have told us this is a common occurrence that can require an entire day or even longer, to gather up the information. It’s clearly not quick, and it’s certainly not agile, as it tasks a team with unexpected and additional work.

Because modern technology facilitates law firm processes – from accurate time entry to workflow and collaboration – partners have access to this information in real time on any device with connectivity.

Whether talking with a client on a surprise conference call or attending a business lunch downtown, a partner can showa client a status update for their matter on a tablet, with confidence in the fidelity of the information.

What Do Law Firms Gain from Agility?

Law firms with the leadership, culture andtechnology to foster an agile organization stand to gain more than just increased profits. The agile law firm can attract and retain the best talent because it’s better equipped to enable attorneys to work how they want to work.

This facilitates better collaboration that helps brilliant legal minds solve problems efficiently – and ultimately leads to higher client satisfaction.

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This piece is adaptedfrom a Legal Business Reporttitled The Agile Law Firm. The full report is freely available for download without registration.

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