Legal workflow: disparate today and cohesive tomorrow

Do you know how many different technology systems your firm uses? Five? Ten? One large law firm conducted a recent audit and discovered more than two hundred distinct systems in use. It’s easy to dismiss this as the inevitable result of the complex work law firms perform.  From legal research to pricing, matter and business management, the conventional wisdom has been that each of these functions requires its own tech solution. Over the years, firms have stitched together workflow systems from these discrete solutions.  However, the question remains as to whether those systems on their own are up to today’s challenges.

Managing your legal workflow

Today’s successful firms know that cohesion, communication and simplicity are critical. They are seeking workflow tools that offer not only the depth that individual firm functions require, but also provide functionality that enables a unified view of all the firm’s activities. Existing workflow solutions do a good job of providing frameworks that aim to support pricing, analytics and project management functions. However, they fail to connect these functions to the practice of law.

The current legal workflow landscape is comprised of several disparate systems designed to support specific functions. Legal research, knowledge management and legal know-how solutions are melded together (often by in-house technology departments) to support paralegals, associates and partners in their daily work. Meanwhile, leadership, strategy and financial functions rely on legal project management (LPM), matter management and business management solutions in their efforts to piece together a coherent picture of lawyer, matter and firm performance. At the end of the day, this collection of various systems leaves the firm functioning but not necessarily uniformly or at its optimal level.

The truth is that all these facets of the firm are connected. Firm-level financial and matter performance depends on partners’ ability to understand the matters in their book of business. That understanding requires effective task delegation and accurate matter tracking. The associates working matters need tools to manage their tasks and access to matter-related firm precedent and expertise. Client relationships and outcomes can be impacted by gaps between any of these firm functions. And with more competition than ever before, a dissatisfied client has a myriad of choices outside of your firm.

A win-win proposition

One of the greatest misconceptions is that the evolution of the legal industry only benefits clients—that a focus on systems, efficiency and profitability is anathema to lawyers. In fact, given the right support systems, lawyers often find their schedules freed of administrative tasks, leaving them more time for the practice of law. By leveraging collaborative knowledge management, project management, budgeting and business tools, the entire firm can benefit. While lawyers are more effective and efficient, partners gain greater visibility into the tasks and matters they oversee enabling them to grow their books of business and better communicate with clients. Finally, managing partners and the C-suite gain insight into analytics that reveal everything from matter to firm-level efficiency and profitability.

There is no denying that legal work is complex. Its complexity is often what excites legal professionals, but the systems that support the work should simplify workflows. New technologies offer a tremendous opportunity for smart firms to refine their methods for managing their legal workflows. Through concerted effort, firms who who marry the business of law and the practice of law will thrive.

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