I thought I’d only be abroad for a year, but instead ended up being away for 11 years! And while those years seem to have flown by in many ways, I don’t think the legal industry, by and large, has changed much in terms of using technology to enable the business of law. Of course, there are some firms that are really lighting the way, but many that I speak with are still taking tentative steps into the minefield of understanding what’s happening in their support teams. It’s often considered a black hole.
To give this context, 11 years ago as a Team Co-ordinator at a law firm, my team had a 1:6 secretary to lawyer ratio and tasks were sent to a group email for us to try to manage. Tasks were lost every now and then, on someone’s handwritten to-do list (the lawyer having given a verbal instruction only), and you could never be proactive in managing the volume of work for the secretarial team. It was impossible to know exactly the volume of work in the queue, or who was doing what. This is still the case for many support teams, and I’m surprised by that!
Prior to joining BigHand, I worked at an outsourcing company where the focus was on enhancing back-office processes and ensuring that the correctly skilled people were completing tasks appropriate to their skill set and cost. But I always understood that legal workflow technology had to underpin this. Now I’m getting to see more than ever that technology plays a hugely important role in moving towards the business of law and firms without it are missing a trick! You can enhance processes and have highly skilled people, but if you can’t see what they are doing or how they are working, how can you measure it and ensure you made the right decisions? And if you have work instructions given manually (email, post-it note, verbally), how do you limit risk and improve efficiency?
My focus at BigHand is on Workflow Management, which allows work to be automatically routed to the right support staff at the right cost to the firm, and monitored throughout the process. Output reports can also be used by management for visibility of key metrics like work type, volume, capacity, and staff utilisation to allow firms to make data-driven decisions around staffing, training, and performance.
We’re all hearing that hybrid working is going to be the new normal, so perhaps now more than ever, having sight of task delegation and how teams are working (and as a team member being able to effectively manage your many tasks coming at you) is imperative. Without this visibility, you have no true way of knowing if you need to recruit, if you need to change a process, if you need to develop a training module… I could go on!
Of course, as everyone knows no two law firms are exactly the same but the main reasons, we hear for why firms don’t want to consider deploying legal workflow software to help lawyers and support teams alike are a) culturally it’s not for us – people don’t like change, b) we don’t know where to start, and c) we use email and it works fine. My simple responses: a) the pandemic has shown us that people can adapt to situations far better and quicker than we thought possible, b) you need to see what you want to change, and c) how do you know and what would be the impact of a business-critical email task being missed?
Fundamentally, if you expect to have a world-class support function, you need to give them the skills, the tools, and the workflow technology to become one. And of course, you need information (AKA data) to truly understand the demands placed on those support teams so that they can be supported and empowered to deliver world-class service for your clients.