“Never automate a bad process” is a rule-of-thumb that I’ve worked to for many years. The natural order should be:
- Then, and only then, Automate
This rule holds true for the most simple back-office task automation to the most complex, cutting-edge artificial intelligence venture.
Standardised processes, repeatable approaches and quality data are the essential foundations for many of the hot topics of Legal Technology, Innovation, Digital Transformation and Legal Ops.
Ultimately, we should be focusing on those areas of our firm that:
- Will make the biggest positive impact to our clients
- Will make the biggest positive impact to our firm
- Is actually achievable
Where to focus improvement and innovation efforts?
There are major elements of many legal services that require the expertise, presence and intervention by a highly experienced senior expert e.g. a Partner.
Some of these activities might include:
- Initial consultation, diagnosis and recommending a course of action
- Interpretation of intended meaning or implications
- Provision of advice
- Representation and negotiation
Despite what some Artificial Intelligence vendors will claim, these areas are still difficult to significantly automate or replicate with digital technology.
However, there are also many components of a legal service that should be much more repeatable and standardisable. Quite frankly, your client neither knows or cares how they get done as long as the outcome is achieved accurately and efficiently. These activities include:
- Gathering information and subsequent documentation
- Document creation and or compilation
- Execution of instructions to a defined standard
- Examining or analysing information or data in a structured way
- Determining and evaluating whether a defined condition has been met or not
- Planning, tracking and monitoring completion of a task or project
- Trouble shooting
- Interaction with third-parties
- Matter management and administration (including time-recording, WIP write-off, billing, client take-on, etc)
This second (and larger) list of activities consist of those that would most significantly and most readily benefit from simplification, standardisation, improvement and automation.
These activities are also those that most Partners and Fee Earners would happily have taken off their hands so that they can focus on providing better client service and making more of an impact with their skills and expertise (assuming their billable hours and compensation are not adversely impacted!). This has significant implications for buy-in to any change project and can make the difference between success and failure.
How to do it
The best way to identify these different components in a legal service is to spend some time with the people that actually do the work and systematically map out the process as a flowchart. There are simple techniques available to identify ‘client-touchpoints’ and those elements of the process where the client values senior, face-to-face involvement and those elements that are ‘invisible’ to the client (in the back and middle office of a law firm).
Focus on those process steps that fit into the second (rather than first) list and explore how those tasks and activities can be simplified, standardised, improved or automated.
If they can’t yet be automated, at least look at if they can be delivered by more junior (and hence more cost-effective) team members so that more senior individuals can be freed up to focus on more valuable activities.
The priority here is on making simple, meaningful change to get some momentum and “quick wins”. At the same time, you can be laying the foundations for subsequent more significant improvements.
It’s not as glamourous or exciting as Artificial Intelligence and Digital Transformation… but it works.