There has not been a great deal of innovation with the technology used for law practice management. The bulk of case management and legal practice software development has simply seen closer integration of core systems, perhaps with improvements in the User Interface and reporting dashboards. The majority of legal software solutions have not evolved into something that delivers fundamental value and ROI – the focus has simply been on how existing technology is applied to law practice management.
Thankfully, this is now changing as more law firms understand the value that universal work platforms and business process management brings to the bottom line.
Lean BPM takes the integration of core functionality and practice management systems several steps forward, not least in terms of speed and agility, tied in with reducing the cost of case and practice management software.
First, let’s take a look at what you expect and hope to see in a law practice management system:
Summary and detailed information on all of your law cases, accessed via a central repository or database, which is also used to manage task and to-do lists, who did what and when, who needs to do what and by when, with built in alerts and notifications to escalate tasks before deadlines are met or missed.
In addition, you will hope to find a simple-to-use search facility, but one which only allows access to information based on authorization so client and firm information is protected. You will also hope to see a system which can handle conflicts of interest checking, and show you are in compliance with this and other regulatory and statutory requirements, creating a log and audit trail as cases are onboarded and proceed through your legal process systems.
The need to bill hours is a central pillar of law firm success which is ingrained in the profession. However, you need to be able to track time spent on client matters and document what was done, and by whom, in order to legitimately bill your clients and demonstrate work done in a simple-to-report fashion.
The time tracking functionality of a law firm practice platform should also be able to handle multiple billing scenarios, such as hourly, transactional, client-defined fee structures, and have them applied on a partner/associate individual basis, or be applied across the whole law firm.
Time tracking for billing is important, but then so is tracking time for Continuing Legal Education, or for the donation of pro bono time. Again, this needs to be tracked, and documented, to ensure compliance with oversight regulations and obligations.
Document Management – Digital Asset Management
Many documents used by law firms are standard in nature, and lend themselves to the creation of legal templates that can be amended to suit the individual client and case type.
The practice management system should be able to link to the appropriate word processing application, but also manage the document repository, including providing version control as a document evolves and is finalized. In addition, the platform should also maintain a log of who changed or created a document, including time and date-stamping the document, and upon document completion, manage the automated routing of the document or notification to the partner or associate in charge of the case.
Maintaining contacts in one location, and being to manage clients, staff, and third-party resources, as well as court and opposing party lawyer information is usually a complicated setup. A lot of time is wasted chasing down contact information, causing delays and impeding the orderly and efficient progress of case work, in particularly settlement and negotiation work.
Contact management also needs to do more than simply main a repository of contact information for people and firms. Monitoring and recording interactions with contacts is also vital, not only for billing purposes, but also for creating a record of communications by telephone, email, in person, and by electronic communication, such as email or Instant Messaging.
The work platform should also be able to handle callback reminders, and generate notifications to this effect, including escalation where they are at risk of missing a deadline.
Docketing & Calendaring
The system should be able to manage scheduling for lawyers and everyone else, including external parties. This calendar system should also allow everyone within the firm to view calendars in order to efficiently schedule meetings and hearings. At the same time, access to schedules should be automatically restricted, such that staff who view the schedule can only see the detail they are authorized to have access to.
Billing & Reporting
The ultimate purpose of all this work is to generate billing revenue, but this requires efficient management of the generation of client invoices, with links to the time tracking and accounting systems.
Reporting also takes up a great deal of non-productive time, however with the conversion of information to a digital work platform, creating and distributing reports becomes much faster.
Reports can be created on a recurring schedule, or on an ad-hoc basis, pulling information from the database and audit trail, demonstrating time billed, % billable hours, or any variation required of firm, department or individual billing performance.
By using role-based permissions, a report may be created and distributed to a range of recipients, but only that information the individual recipient is authorized to have access will be included in their report. This further secures client and firm information, adding additional layers of security while also tracking who has access to any report or information.
Enter Lean BPM and the Evolution of Law Firm Management Software
All of the aforementioned are features and functionality you ideally will see as core practice management systems, but the problem is that rarely are you going to find all of this functionality wrapped up in one package.
This means a lot of integration work to tie everything together, and the sacrifice of a lot of functionality you would like to see (automated reporting for instance).
The patchwork of tying different systems together also ramps up the cost of managing them, leading to overloaded IT departments or reliance on external consultants.
Lean BPM software is able to either:
(a) Deliver core legal practice management functionality under one roof; or
(b) Provide a record of assignment and integrate easily, quickly, and cheaply with existing legacy systems.
A Lean BPMS provides a single source of access and recording, acting as an overarching control over every aspect of law practice management, both the billable activities and the non-productive support that is essential.
Lean BPM is quick and costs a fraction of the price tag of a traditional Business Process Management (BPM) solution, because of the unique licensing model that applies.
For instance, anyone may have a HighGear user account to be notified of work, to be assigned work or to assign work. This does not carry a cost, however it provides the ability to access and gain visibility into the case and practice work being conducted.
Licensing is only required where an individual or work queue are assigned 6 or more tasks.
What this means in practice is that if you are simply assigning work, are the recipient of reports or have 5 or fewer open tasks at any one time, you do not need to be licensed, though you have access to the HighGear law firm practice management platform.
In addition, once any integration with other management systems is completed, there is no requirement for IT support (except to manage the server upon which it sits if this is an On-Premises deployment). Lean BPM provides a secure environment within which practice managers and partners can create and manage legal processes configured to how the firm operates. There is no requirement for specialist coding or development skills once the Lean BPMS is in operation: non-specialists can make changes to case management processes themselves, which allows for optimization of work at a speed never seen before.
HighGear deploys exceptionally fast too, and is available as an On-Premises solution or via the Cloud as a SaaS offering. The speed of the work platform in deployment is such, that there is no need to engage in time-consuming and costly consulting to map out existing processes, or to speculate on what they ought to be. Its speed and simplicity allow for the work and case management control to be established over a “burning platform” of legal practice in operation.
By directing the creation of work, and the management of reminders and case progress to the system, visibility emerges of what is actually going on within your law firm and how it operates. In turn, this allows you to establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and actually generate real-world data from firm activities, allowing you to now measure and improve legal processes and generating unparalleled visibility into case management and law practice performance (down to individual fee earner levels).