How Case Management Enables Better Law Firm CollaborationAderant
by Michael Clavell, Product Manager, Aderant
It’s not uncommon for law firms to be running two or more completely different case management systems at the same time. While expensive, we see this frequently when firms ask us to assess their legacy applications for modernization opportunities.
Often these systems are really a patchwork of technologies – client intake, contact management, document assembly, document management – that have been loosely glued together with custom integrations. Usually, there is also an array of files and folders on a shared drive with varying degrees of organization.
And then there are the email applications. It’s typical to find large volumes of client communications and documents squirreled away into email folders on an individual attorney’s Microsoft Outlook.
Aside from the cost and time of maintaining multiple systems, the challenge this presents for law firm efficiency is that it creates silos of information and unnecessary dependencies. For example, a team becomes dependent on one individual to share the latest version of a court petition that’s saved on someone’s desktop.
When working on pressing client deadlines, this example has all the makings of a frustrating fire drill – and the subsequent disruption of back and forth over email and phone.
While different practice groups may have their own way of doing things, when we get down to it, the fact is they are all managing similar information and tracking categorically related processes. Therefore, converting multiple legacy systems into a single modern case management system, not only saves money, it provides better technology that facilitates collaboration.
Collaboration Creates Shared Case Understanding
In a one of our market reports – Efficiency is the Future of Law: The New Role of Modern Comprehensive Case Management Technology in Competitive and Profitable Law Firms (PDF format; no registration required) – we describe collaboration as follows:
“True collaboration requires the ability for a legal team to see everything that is going on with a particular case.”
This means providing a lawyer and supporting staff with a centralized source of information so the team they can work together on different matters. This eliminates information dependencies and facilitates the development of a shared understanding of clients and cases.
Four Ways Collaboration Drives Efficiency
Conceptually, collaboration makes sense – we’re all going to work together on a legal project…Kumbaya. However, we find the word collaboration is so overused in legal technology circles that the meaning has become obfuscated.
In order to foster a better understanding, we thought it would useful to provide some tangible examples. To be clear, these examples are over-simplified for the sake of illustration.
1) Instantly assigning tasks when opening a new case.
When a new case file is opened, the event initiates a series of tasks that need to be completed. With case management, those tasks can be documented and automatically assigned to staff. In just a few clicks, everyone on the team has access to all the relevant files and knows who needs to work on what next.
For example, when a partner initiates a new legal project the system automatically notifies the following:
- The legal assistant to add, verify or update client contact information;
- The paralegal to begin drafting a standard memorandum; and
- The associate to research and add the opposing counsel.
When a task becomes inactive or a deadline is looming, the system automatically notifies relevant parties and sends a reminder. That can include both the persons responsible for the task and the supervisor accountable to the client.
The value of the visibility and automated task management provided by case management grows exponentially in matters that are more complex or involve more attorneys.
2) More accurate document assembly.
No matter the legal document – memos, briefs, contracts, petitions – they all have standard information requirements such as names, addresses or clauses, to name a few. This information is usually entered by different people – i.e. the legal assistant entered or updated the client’s address, while an associate added the name of the opposing counsel.
When the paralegal starts drafting the memorandum, the case management system automatically pulls the client’s address, opposing counsel or other relevant information as the document is assembled. The memorandum is more accurate, completed faster and benefits the firm by leveraging the information contributions other colleagues have already made to the case.
3) Seamless legal document review.
Reviewing documents by passing them around through email, or worse, by hand carrying a manila folder around the office is a slow, cumbersome and error-prone process. Even worse, no one really knows where the document is at any given moment – and that’s how documents get lost.
This conjures up questions such as: Did you get my email? Did you get a chance to review that memorandum? Do I need to send it again?
Continuing with our example, when the paralegal finishes the memorandum, he or she adds the document to the file in the case management system. This automatically triggers a notification to the partner that the memorandum is ready for review.
It also provides version control, in that, when the partner has “checked out” a document, no additional edits can be added and everyone on the team can see the team leader is reviewing the work.
When the partner is done reviewing the document, he or she can email it to the client directly from the system or from their own email account – and yet everyone on the team can still see the task is complete and move on to the next phase.
4) Dashboard style view of case status
It’s perhaps the epitome of collaboration when an entire team can gain a shared understanding of the case, but it’s also helpful from a leadership and management perspective. A dashboard-style view of a case provides a partner with several benefits:
- Have a precise view of who on a team is working on what;
- An easy way to brief clients on the case status on just a moment’s notice; and
- Identify and remove obstacles when a legal project is slowing or is delayed.
Modern case management systems provide the means for individual users to modify and personalize this view based on their role. For example, what paralegals need to see is usually different from the needs of partners.
Collaboration for Greater Efficiency
Over the last few years, law firms have faced greater competition and from new sources. Even clients, which have beefed up in-house legal teams, are a source of competition. This new competition has brought with it a re-examination of the value of legal services from outside law firms, especially among corporate clients.
As a result, we’ve noticed that law firms have sharpened their interest in modern legal technology in order gain an edge. Better collaborative tools aimed at the very center of legal work is a direct path to that end.