Founded in 1790, Wedlake Bell has 70 partners supported by over 250 lawyers and support staff, operating across four practices: private client, business services, real estate and dispute resolution. A long-standing BigHand user for its legal Workflow Management technology, when the firm’s managing partner sought a better process for managing its document templates, BigHand’s Document Creation software presented the ideal solution.
As David Hymers, Head of IT, Wedlake Bell, explains, “We were previously using another system for managing our templates. They were automated to a fashion, but there were issues around the automation, plus the speed and ease of use, particularly with regard to the creation of engagement letters.”
Engagement letters are critical for law firms; laying out the terms of engagement for each piece of work for every client. Hymers expands: “Depending on the team or the type of matter – i.e. one that is contentious or non-contentious, for example – the engagement letter would change. Some paragraphs would only be relevant for certain matters. We found that our lawyers were having to open up the letter template manually, remove all the paragraphs that weren’t relevant to the matter they were due to work on, or tweak specific variables such as rates etc. Generally, it would take about 30-45 minutes to do a first draft of the engagement letter. Over the course of the week, considering we might create 10s, if not 100s of letters every week, that’s a lot of lost time.”
While the incumbent template system had fulfilled its initial purpose of enabling Wedlake Bell to start using Office365, the firm had already started looking at alternative solutions. Hymers adds: “As soon as we took a demo from BigHand, that our managing partner attended, we were blown away by the functionality it offered. We also knew from previous experience of working with BigHand that we would get all the support we needed to ensure the software was properly configured and aided full user adoption.”
Sandra Pawley, IT Business Engagement Specialist at Wedlake Bell took the lead on the implementation, working with the firm’s users and BigHand consultants to understand existing processes and how these could be improved and automated with the new Document Creation platform.
“We identified that our users had to go to multiple different places – for example a page on the company intranet where everyone’s charge rate was listed - to manually create the engagement letter,” she explains. “We had the idea of building that into the automation, which BigHand was easily customisable to do, so now you can type a fee earner’s name into the template and it will automatically pull in their rate from our practice management system.
“We also enhanced individual and specific ways of working, such as how footers might be populated. BigHand was extremely responsive and easy to work with on all aspects of the implementation.”
Indeed, it wasn’t just the engagement letter template that was automated. Every template that Wedlake Bell used was added to BigHand Document Creation, including accounts forms, memos and compliment slips. BigHand also added additional, new templates, such as a court template for witness statements. The team also reviewed every template as it was added to BigHand to see how it might be improved.
As Hymers comments: “Anything that is started from scratch and not from the knowledge bank is now done within BigHand. We have a better process for all templates; each one has been improved in some way. All existing users and new users are trained to do everything through BigHand with the result that our average time for generating engagement letters can now be as little as 5 minutes!”
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