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A significant portion of work carried out by law firms - either by fee earners themselves or else by support staff - is routine. Compliance checks to meet AML and KYC regulations, billing procedures and basic contract creation are all tasks which can be sped up using automated workflows. But what exactly are automated workflows and how can firms take advantage of these in order to improve their efficiency?
Law firms which operate at scale will invariably have workflow management processes in place, whereby routine tasks are carried out in a specific way, often involving a set of ordered actions which need to be completed by one or more staff members. For example, onboarding a new client will generally involve a number of different actions, including due diligence, adding them to the case management system, billing software, and possibly sharing their details with the marketing department to add the new client to the monthly email newsletter. An automated workflow system will use a digital solution (eg an app or other computer software) to complete or initiate many of these different actions, without the need for any human intervention. As such, an automated workflow can improve efficiency and free up the time of staff.
We have already considered how law firms can use automated workflows to help when taking on a new client. Other areas where practices can benefit from automation of their workflows include:
Drafting and reviewing contracts and other legal documents can take up a significant amount of time for lawyers. Many firms still rely on a bank of precedent (or template) documents which they individually tailor to each client. Each lawyer may have a slightly different approach when customising these templates and they are occasionally prone to making errors, such as failing to apply the correct date or missing out a particular clause, which can have a potentially catastrophic impact further down the line. Additionally, each precedent needs to be updated in light of any new legislation or relevant case law, which may fall to a PSL or subject matter expert.
If document drafting and review is left to a manual process each time, there is greater likelihood of mistakes creeping in. Meanwhile, an automated document workflow system can help lawyers to build custom contracts, guided by a set of questions which ensures that all relevant fields are included and updated, with no missing clauses or wrong dates etc. The system can also automatically prompt a PSL to review the documents on a regular basis, and apply any changes required in light of legal updates.
An increasing number of firms are implementing self service client portals. These provide more transparency for clients, allowing them to log in to their account and view the progress of a case or even gain access to certain simple documents and use them without requiring any intervention from their lawyer. A good example of the kind of template which can work well in a self service portal is a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
But although many clients will appreciate being able to serve themselves via a portal, this will not be appropriate in all cases. And although giving clients the tools to build their own basic legal documents can save fee earner time, firms need to differentiate themselves from legal technology companies, and ensure that their lawyers are providing sufficient one to one advice.
So, although automated workflows can help firms to be more efficient, accurate and collaborative, there is a limit beyond which the automation of lawyering becomes detrimental to both firm and client.
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