Legal Workflow - how legal and financial services technology can help save your sanity...
Professionals are increasingly facing up to doing business digitally, given the government’s digital by default policy, lawyers making increasing use of practice management systems and financial advisers coming to terms with ‘FinTech’. It would be unfortunate though if each part of the chain works in its own silo, creating data that sits only in their database and for no one else working on connected matters.
It doesn’t have to be this way, as software applications can be integrated so that effectively data collected by one firm can, with appropriate controls, be transferred to databases held by a connected party. This becomes even more interesting when firms offer online services to their clients.
Let us suppose that Frank, a tech-savvy financial adviser, has just had a meeting with Chris and Clara, the clients. Frank eschewed paper forms in favour of recording key facts and attitudes to risk in a software program, inputted in Frank’s state of the art tablet. This software will not just record the data, but is capable of running “What if?” scenarios, illustrating very clearly to Chris and Clara the impact on their capital and disposable income of various planned and unplanned life events and their timing.
So far, so good, and Chris and Clara are very impressed. However, in the course of the conversation, Frank realises that Chris and Clara have made Wills, but they are out of date and deficient and they haven’t made Lasting Powers of Attorney. Frank knows an excellent niche law firm specialising in these services and he knows that the personalities involved will be a perfect match for his clients, so he recommends them and Chris and Clara are keen to meet the lawyer, Lucy.
Frank’s had a good time with the clients, but he’s now running late for his next appointment, so he gives Chris and Clara Lucy’s business card and suggests that they call her to make an appointment. Chris and Clara look a little crestfallen and Clara asks whether they will have to go through everything with Lucy again, having just spent an hour or two bringing Frank up to speed. Frank doesn’t want to spoil the good relationship, so offers to fill Lucy in first and she will be in touch. This satisfies Chris and Clara, but Frank knows he has a long evening ahead of him.
Over at Lucy’s firm, they receive an email from Frank overnight, setting out an admirable amount of information. Lucy is pleased to receive the referral and the level of detail supplied, but she now needs to organise getting all of that data into her firm’s practice management system. She passes this onto her hard-pressed PA, who does the necessary, albeit only after processing some other urgent enquiries, so Lucy has in the meantime to make some manual notes before calling Chris and Clara.
Lucy has a great conversation with Chris and Clara and offers to review their present Wills by uploading them to her firm’s secure web portal, or simply sending copies to her if they prefer. This subsequently happens, Lucy produces advice and recommendations and, with the consent of Chris and Clara, copy this to Frank to keep him in the picture.
Ultimately, Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney for Property and Financial Affairs and Health and Welfare are prepared for Chris and Clara, together with additional LPAs for Property and Financial Affairs in respect of their family business. This has been aided by an online diagnostic tool provided by Lucy’s firm, which enabled Chris and Clara to input all the details necessary through a guided process. It flagged up areas of particular concern that needed attention in advising and drafting, albeit the firm’s case management system produced automatically first drafts of the Wills and LPAs.
Upon completion, Lucy made sure that Frank was apprised of the key facts and solutions, again with the consent of Chris and Clara.
These operations were each in their own right effective and efficient and Chris and Clara were mightily impressed, but Lucy and Frank had to paddle hard at times under the serene surface of the water. It would have been a lot easier and more profitable if they had joined up their IT systems. This is nowadays entirely possible by means of software integrations.
How to improve the example with less stress
It would be wonderful if we all worked from the same software application and even database, as there would be no need to integrate disparate systems, but this is unlikely to happen, for a variety of mostly commercial reasons. Fortunately, most software companies now publish an ‘API’ (Application Programming Interface for those who want to impress at their pub quiz), which provide technical instructions for other software applications to interface with the company’s own software. This means that data produced in one software application can be ‘mapped’ to data held in another application and routines can be created for sending this data from one application to the other, either deliberately or automatically.
Rewinding the processes that Frank and Lucy undertook, with the benefit of integrated software applications, Chris and Clara would have provided the initial facts in a secure online environment, Frank would have filled in the gaps, the referral to Lucy would have been made at the touch of a button. Lucy would have advised Chris and Clara and her software would not only have produced the draft documents, but would also have reported simultaneously to Chris, Clara and Frank, in appropriate forms for each of them.
The professionals in this happier ending get much more time with the client and in thinking, due to repetitive processes being automated, as they should be. Is this possible now? Absolutely. Why aren’t we all benefiting? In the words of economist William Gibson, “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”
Article originally published in May 2017 on LawSkills.co.uk