Think Tank: Why it Might be Time for Law Firms to Rethink Case Management Tech

Expert Case

Think Tank: Why it Might be Time for Law Firms to Rethink Case Management Tech

By Michael Clavell, Product Manager at Aderant

In many law firms case management technology has been traditionally perceived as a workflow solution almost exclusively for the high-volume and low-margin category of legal work.  The law firms that take on this type of case typically find much of the work to be routine – setting appointments, filing forms and scheduling court appearances.

In this category of law, case management enables the firms to establish task lists and templates to manage the process.  These firms manage hundreds of cases simultaneously and keeping track of all the steps would be nearly impossible without a case management system.

“Clients today are far more focused on value and predictability in legal budgets… expect more information, and not just legal information…”

This view point has enabled firms in these practice areas, to develop highly efficient and profitable processes.  However, it’s also prevented firms focused on other practice areas from examining or benefiting from modern technology and comprehensive case management.

It’s time to rethink case management.

Market Changes and Technological Advances

The quintessential argument against case management is that legal work isn’t like making widgets.  The practice of law is based on expertise and knowledge and it would be difficult to place a structure or system around what a fee earner does on a day-to-day basis.

While we agree some elements of law are indeed different, when viewed holistically, there are also many similarities.  For example, we find most fee earners, regardless of practice area, usually engage in tasks along the following lines:

  • send engagement letters
  • file documents with courts
  • establish service level agreements (SLAs) with clients
  • are asked for client facing reports on status and budget
  • need to better understand costs and time to price competitively

These are classic examples of legal processes that are generally similar, well documented, and therefore can be automated. However, it’s not just about what the technology can do, but what clients are demanding because of these new possibilities.

Clients today are far more focused on value and predictability in legal budgets.  Clients expect more information, and not just legal information, but also financial data with respect to legal budgets. As a result, it’s imperative the entire process from pricing to reporting becomes more transparent and agile.

Technology has enabled new sources of competition, which is also reshaping client expectations.  For example, some legal work is being shipped to outsourcers and other lower cost centers.  This has brought efficient legal project management, the sort that case management can facilitate, to the forefront.

Eight Myths of Case Management 

All this is prompting senior legal leaders to re-evaluate technology and how it can augment a law firm’s capacity for greater efficiency through innovation and process improvement.   As such, we’ve observed law firms often re-visit and dispel common myths in the process of assessing technology options.  The most common myths – and the realities – follow below.

Myth #1: Case management is too expensive.

Case management is an investment in the future of the law firm that drives down the cost of matters and pays returns in the form of more efficient service delivery. Clients, competitors and new market entrants are all investing in technology so the reality is, firms cannot afford not to invest.  Chances are, the chosen case management system will be the system of record over the long run – often for 10 years or even more.

Myth #2:  Case management is too complex to use.

This myth is not without merit because in the past it’s largely been true.  Yet, modern case management is engineered to be easy-to-use and puts new capabilities into the hands of non-technical law firm staff and fee earners.  For example, where in the past building workflows required technical skills, a fee earner today can model their own without any IT support.

Myth #3:  Case management software is clunky.

Clunky isn’t an elegant adjective, but it’s clearly earned a place in the legal software lexicon.  However, the legal technology community has really gotten its collective arms around the concept of user experience, or UX.

Modern software both looks and feels new – and the interfaces are sleek and intuitive. This matters because it eliminates a key barrier to adoption: no fee earner wants to use clunky software and they no longer have to do so.

Myth #4:  Fee earners don’t have time to learn technology.
In previous years, enterprise legal systems required extensive training and classroom time to get up and running.  This is no longer true.

The usability of every day devices, like smart phones and tablets have increased user expectations and ushered a trend called the consumerization of business software.  This means software today is designed to work from the outset with the same ease as you’d expect in unwrapping a new phone and turning it on.

Learning to use modern legal technology won’t take nearly as long as you might think and we often find staff and fee earners can be using modern case management software in a matter of hours.

Myth #5:  It’s not broken, don’t fix it.

The intense competition in the market is real.  It’s coming from other firms, alternative legal service providers and even from clients themselves.  Things might not be broken at this very moment, but the market is sending very clear signals it is evolving.  Maintaining client satisfaction is going to become increasingly difficult in the status quo.

Myth #6:  Most case management solutions are not adaptable.

Previously case management solutions were rigid and law firms force-fit their processes within the limitations of the software.  Modern solutions integrate seamlessly with tools fee earners are already using including email and electronic calendars.  Case management systems of today are designed to be flexible to fit a law firm’s process and work how you work.

Myth #7:  Mobile access on case management is problematic.

In the past, mobility was an afterthought – a feature or extra software module bolted on after a software product was already developed.  With web-based case management systems, mobility is a core concept baked into the foundation of the software.  It provides increasingly mobile fee-earners with the same depth and breadth of functionality on a tablet that they’ve come to expect on a desktop.

Myth #8: Case management is only for commodity legal work.

Market pressures for greater transparency and efficiency are redefining how law firms can use case management. Clients have higher expectations of their law firm partners and leaders can see the value automation can provide in meeting those expectations and reducing the risk of failing to meet an SLA.  Case management augments a fee earner’s capabilities and enables them to become more efficient as a fee earner.

The Benefits of Modern Case Management

Case management might have grown up in commodity type legal work, but the efficient and agile abilities enabled by technology are clearly applicable to other practice areas.  Technology that fosters efficient process reduces the risk of forgetting or missing tasks, provides a better understanding of the law business and that leads to more satisfied clients which drives higher profitability.

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