Industry analysis from Tikit: Enabling access
This article was also featured as an industry analysis piece in the October 2016 issue of LPM. To read the issue in full, download LPM.
Legal businesses’ capacity to conduct legal aid has significantly diminished in recent years due to government spending cuts. Essex firm Fisher Jones Greenwood (FJG), however, has refused to let its commitment to access to justice falter. FJG’s head of IT, Peter Carr, says his firm is devoted to providing legal advice to those of modest means, and continues to offer high-quality services to clients who couldn’t otherwise afford it.
“We’re one of the few firms in the region that can still offer cost-effective legal aid support, and the reason we’ve been able to do that is because we’ve automated our dayto-day processes.”
Without government funding, FJG’s key problem in providing legal aid to clients who fell out of scope was that it couldn’t commit the time and personnel needed to turn out documents on an ad hoc basis in a costefficient manner. The firm’s management decided that it needed to automate its processes as much as possible to improve efficiencies, reduce costs and to pass on the savings to its clients. FJG consequently adopted Tikit’s Partner for Windows (P4W) case and practice management software.
Carr says that creating automated workflow in the firm has made the business significantly more efficient. “Forms are produced automatically, and information is pushed to, and captured from, the client and stored in our database automatically – we also have an SMS service that automatically sends out reminders of appointments or court appearances. All of this saves a great deal of time and money.”
This level of automation, according to Carr, enables FJG’s fee earners to push work like data capture and verification down to paralegals and trainees – improving efficiency by freeing up fee earners’ time to focus on critical legal decisions and maintain a high-quality legal aid client service. This has the added benefit of making the firm’s business support staff feel more included in the process and creating an excellent teamwork ethic.
“Before we introduced automation into the firm, we’d have to charge roughly £175 an hour for private work, which isn’t sustainable for a legal aid client – but now we can get that down to a discounted fixed fee package.”
Automating the firm’s processes has also been vital in maintaining and improving client service in legal aid – as well broadly across the firm.
“The client feels engaged because they’re having regular contact with the firm - not necessarily face to face or over the phone, but through automated emails and text messaging that keeps them informed,” says Carr.
Having all the client’s information on a centralised database also improves client perception – allowing other fee earners or secretaries to access the details of a particular case and liaise with the client if they’ve asked for an update.
Managing client expectations and providing a top-rate client service is essential to FJG, and Carr says that it would have been impossible to maintain that standard in legal aid had it not been for the workflow wizardry of P4W. The firm has since been recognised by the Law Society for its efforts in providing access to justice for all, having been shortlisted for this year’s Law Society excellence awards in the category of excellence in technology.
Built to spec
Carr says that his firm chose Tikit P4W because it was “by far the best” case and practice management software for working effectively across all sectors. “FJG has large conveyancing and commercial departments and we needed a practice management system that would cater for all areas and be able to administer legal aid. Tikit P4W also has a powerful scripting and document production engine, which we liked, as well as unlimited customisation that we could apply to the database.” He adds that the P4W database used by FJG has been so customised to the firm’s needs that moving away from Tikit would likely be economically unviable – indicating the committment the firm has made.
But the key reason FJG adopted Tikit P4W, says Carr, is that the software is designed with legal aid in mind.
“P4W is fully compliant with legal aid regulations and allows you to set up any civil or criminal case, record time, post disbursements and expenses, draft and finalise claims and bulk upload to LAA online – it’s made the whole process much easier.”
FJG, a firm committed to high-quality client service, has also been particularly impressed with the support service offered by Tikit. Carr says Tikit has been a very supportive business, with excellent training services, and which is constantly striving to help its customers and, more importantly, improve its product based on what its customers have said. “If there is an element of the software that doesn’t make sense or that we can’t get to work, or we think ‘it would be really good if it had this’, we can suggest it to Tikit, and within three or four months that will probably pull through to a live release – it’s an everevolving system.”
While access to legal aid is increasingly limited, and consequently many legal aid-specialist firms have disappeared, FJG has used technology effectively to improve efficiencies and reduce costs – enabling it not only to provide a legal aid service but also to offer award-winning high-quality client service. Carr says that this wouldn’t have been possible without P4W, which proved well suited to the firm’s legal aid process needs.