In 2015, an article in The Atlantic asked why so many law firms seemed to be trapped in 1995. The author noted that, at that time, 'New technologies and increased competition are forcing the legal industry to slowly remake itself.' While change remained gradual in the years after that remark, the global coronavirus pandemic has compelled the legal industry to transform virtually overnight.Nina Gratrick, Head of IT Services at international law firm Watson Farley & Williams told me: 'I am seeing an unprecedented amount of activity and engagement with technology and at this time am looking to deliver a project that would have taken 12 months in 12 days. Although we talk about agile working, this shift is driving digital transformation in a way that we could not have anticipated.'As challenging as our current situation is, it's also an opportunity for lawyers and law firms to examine their processes and jettison those that are outdated, ineffective, time-wasting, and slow. I'm a Lean Six Sigma fan and practitioner, but you don't need a certification to start analyzing your processes and identifying areas for improvement and reinvention.Consider whether any of the following outdated processes are impeding your ability to continue serving your clients during this disruption'and beyond.
1. Going to an office to work.
Many law firms are stuck in an old paradigm: 'If you're not in the office, you're not working.' The traditional law firm culture assumes that lawyers who are at their desks are being productive and lawyers who aren't visible aren't working. This assumption misses the mark on both parts. Worse, this attitude alienates younger generations who understand that work can, in fact, happen anywhere, and simultaneously demeans more seasoned employees who believe they should have earned greater trust by now. While current shelter-in-place orders have forced a temporary cessation in this approach to legal work, the mindset underlying it persists.New process: Work from anywhere.Now that people around the world have been asked or ordered to stay home whenever possible, law firm leaders are confronted with the need to trust their staff to work remotely. With modern document management technology, you can access your documents and client files in the cloud and effectively serve your clients from home, on the road, or wherever else you happen to be. This process improvement won't just help law firms weather the coronavirus crisis; it will also help them adapt to the new generation of Millennials in the workforce.
2. Emailing memo-after-memo instead of picking up the phone
Where do we even start with this one? In recent years, lawyers have developed a tendency to overemphasize email in lieu of actual two-way conversation. Many also still work as if they're being paid by the word. This approach is inefficient for lawyers and clients alike. Clients do not want to read lengthy memos. They want concise answers to their real concerns'which may or may not be reflected in the question they asked.New process: Call or video chat and distill your message to an executive summary.These past few weeks there has been a tremendous upsurge in people connecting more effectively through both video chats and phone calls. Those conversations are an opportunity for lawyers to connect with their clients on a more human level and deepen their relationships. Just as importantly, lawyers can use those exchanges to drill down into the client's presenting question or concern. What's motivating the client to reach out? What do they need to know and understand? Instead of just answering the question the client asked, you can truly add value by understanding how they will use the information provided. Perhaps a one-paragraph executive summary that can form part of a board deck is more effective, instead of the nine-page opinion underlying your conclusion. If they want to know more, they'll ask.
3. Delegating rather than automating.
Many lawyers have grown so accustomed to working only in their offices that they've become overly reliant on a panoply of expensive, burdensome office amenities. They're used to high-volume printers and scanners, both operated by administrative assistants. Their offices have dual screens, bulky outdated computers, and an IT staff just down the hall who can help them troubleshoot issues. Your home office is almost certainly devoid of these resources. If you're now overwhelmed with menial tasks because you haven't automated those tasks, it's a sure sign that you're overdue to update both your technology and your processes.New process: Automate repetitive tasks. With tools like Litera Desktop that provide a unified platform for all document-related tasks, attorneys can automate aspects of legal document creation, proofreading, comparison, and more without needing to call on support staff or waste their own time. Frankly, automation isn't optional at this point. The result of all this economic upheaval and uncertainty is that some people aren't working at all, while others are trying to do twice as much with half the staff. In this climate, no one has time for slow, tedious, manual drudgery. It's been annoying all along, but now it's simply unsustainable. Automating repetitive tasks lets teams get more done faster so they can keep their business moving.
4. Real time, asynchronous collaboration
The old way of working on documents demanded that lawyers collaborate at the same time, often in the same physical space.New process: Collaborate asynchronously with documents in the cloud.With cloud-based documents and simple review and document comparison tools, colleagues can continue working collaboratively despite the physical and temporal separations they're experiencing. This also allows clients and lawyers to minimize their low-value check-in interactions and ensure that they're getting a higher value out of their conversations.
5. Signing paper documents.
The practice of law remains paper-driven, particularly when it comes to transactions. Lawyers typically shuffle boxes of papers, courier packets back and forth to collect physical signatures, and stay at the office into the wee hours trying to assemble complete closing books. Now, courts are shuttered and many firms that relied on paper have been unable to close their deals or make any meaningful forward progress.New process: Streamline transactions by digitizing closing books and using e-signatures.By removing the paper from transactions, there's no need for large-scale office equipment, face-to-face meetings, or signature packet deliveries. Digital transactions are what's enabled us to keep completing deals despite the disruption in our daily lives.Your processes dictate your results. Don't let outdated, inefficient processes limit your ability to work in these challenging times or hinder the outcomes you can achieve for your clients.