Automation: small steps to supercharging business processes

In the past year, just two out of five employees believe that their law firm had innovated in some way, according to recent research from The Briefing. This recognition of firms’ shortcomings related to the adoption of technology—or lack of adoption—provides insight into the dilemma facing law firms and legal departments today.

How do you keep pace with the rapid advances in legal technology? How can you safeguard your business against pressures from agile, digital-first startups? How do you supercharge your business processes? Does innovation require heavy investments in IT?

Before chasing after the latest, most expensive technology fads for answers, it’s important to focus on what’s motivating the desire for change. A common pain-point for many legal teams is sometimes a lack of predictably, consistency and transparency when running legal matters with their clients. What we hear most commonly is that organisations want to be more efficient and cut costs, while delivering enhanced client service.

Automation - inside post

The good news is, by taking small steps toward automating manual processes, you can quickly realise process efficiencies. For example, you can automate large document review workflows, automatically assign project tasks and deadlines, automate document and contract assembly, send documents for e-signature, trigger email alerts and communications, all while driving efficiency and a better client experience. Those efficiency gains can be passed on to clients, which helps you to stay competitive and win new business.

Once you're using automation and project management tools to run your matters, you can capture analytics and gain valuable insight into what's working and what can still be optimised further to drive continuous improvement of processes in ways that have never been possible before. This keeps driving the innovation, quality, consistency and transparency of your legal service delivery.

Law firms are necessarily risk averse, but an obsession in risk aversion also can be indulged in process automation. By discovering the process output by staff, and establishing the highest value automation opportunities, the benefits can be huge—automating mundane administrative work so that employees can focus on tasks that are more valuable to the business, both from a profit-making point of view and professional development standpoint.

Understanding and documenting a process requires skill and can be a daunting, complicated process itself. Rather than focusing on entire workflows, start by automating the small, repeatable tasks. Automation is not a big bang, it’s an evolution, and firms will find that taking small steps can generate value that lasts and grows.

As processes inevitably evolve, the roles supporting those processes also need to develop. As we've spoken about many times before at HighQ, legal engineers have a big role to play here. Interestingly, research from The Law Society found that while an increasing number of tasks had been automated across all roles in large law firms year after year, automation actually decreased in non-fee-earning staff in small law firms over the same time period. This would suggest that those support staff are the facilitators of technical innovation—the process managers.

But that’s a topic for another day. What’s most important is to start taking small steps toward cutting costs, engaging clients in new ways, and managing projects more effectively by automating the tasks that impede efficiency and innovation. Only then can you supercharge your processes and begin to invest resources for the future rather than the past.

Tom MacDonald

Product Manager at HighQ
Tom is responsible for the Project and Process area of product development at HighQ. He has over 10 years experience working in legal publishing and software development, most recently working at LexisNexis as Product Owner for Workflows. Tom is a qualified Scrum Master and Prince2 Practitioner. He has a degree in English Literature.