What if I told you about a technology that would relieve 50% of the administrative burden from your job…would you be interested in hearing what I had to say?
Of course you would!
And that’s why many in the legal tech community have become fascinated by workflow technology. For many attorneys, finding tools to free up more time to bill is essential to growing their practice. Based on a recent report, law offices surveyed responded that they spent 40% of their time on administrative or manual tasks.
In this article, I will introduce you to workflow, explaining what workflow is, some of its benefits and the different workflow tools available in legal practice management software.
If we go back to the basics, workflow itself is defined as the sequence of industrial, administrative, or other processes through which a piece of work passes from initiation to completion (thanks Google).
Process, automation and workflow are terms you’ll hear people refer to as synonyms or married together such as “workflow automation” or “process automation”.
In my opinion, the three terms refer to different things:
For example, if you’re trying to improve your client intake, here’s how each term would be defined:
Process: A prospective client contacts the website > someone from the firm contacts the prospective client > an initial consultation is scheduled > an attorney meets with the prospective client
Automation: A webform populates a database, a personalized email is created and sent from information stored in the database and a document is automatically generated based on information stored in the database.
For many law firms, workflow can be a game-changer by creating structure and efficiencies within their practice.
Although the list is long, here are some of the most important benefits workflow can bring to a law firm:
Workflow can be used in any area of your practice that requires administrative work but the majority of the legal practice management programs will focus on automating one of three areas:
74% of all legal consumers visit a law firm’s website to first take action. This means if your firm has a high volume of website form submissions you need a process for managing your pipeline.
Today, many firms receive an automated email from their website’s form tool with the prospective client’s information, but that doesn’t get the information into your practice management software to begin managing the intake process.
These days, many legal practice management software have workflow tools to help you manage your intake.
This includes sending personalized response emails out once someone contacts the firm, scheduling follow-up tasks, merging new client agreement documents or keeping the status of the potential client updated.
If your firm deals with a high volume of matters, such as an insurance defense or personal injury firm, workflow can be used to help you juggle all the balls in the air.
On a matter, you can use workflow to do things such as schedule follow-up tasks if a member of your staff hasn’t touched a matter within a certain number of days, automatically email updates to clients or generate/email medical records requests for you with the click of a button.
Using workflow to manage the pre-bill process and collections can help dramatically improve cash flow.
For pre-bills, workflow can flow the pre-bill through an electronic approval process. If your firm requires the associate then responsible attorney to review a pre-bill before posting it, the workflow can move the bill from one person’s approval list to the next, before finally updating the status once all the approvals are completed. Your billing team can then receive a notification that the bill is ready to post and send out.
Collections is another pain point for a lot of law firms. It requires the staff to constantly manually send out reminders to your clients. With workflow, you can have reminders automatically sent out to your client once a bill is overdue and continue sending the emails until the balance if paid off.
In the last section, I discussed the practical uses for workflow in a law firm. In this next section, I’ll discuss the technology offered within many legal practice management applications.
The first type of workflow I am going to discuss is calendaring workflow. This type of workflow is for task management and calendar appointments.
If you work with a team, there is a good chance that you assign tasks to different staff members at different stages of a case.
Think about when you open a new case. If you don’t have activity workflow, you either:
This can be automated using a calendaring workflow within a practice management software.
Some legal practice management programs will let you create a prebuilt lists of tasks and then quickly assign them out.
Other programs will automatically assign tasks to different staff members you’ve designed once a matter is open..
Or finally, programs will give you a list of tasks and let you fill in the staff you want to complete the task.
This is helpful to any firm, but especially firms that have a high volume of cases, new potential clients contacting the firm or if you have a high staff to attorney ratio on your team.
Similar to tasks, many firms have a set of internal deadlines or meetings they want to schedule once a new case is opened or reaches a certain stage.
For many firms, this requires a paralegal or assistant to manually calculate relative dates based on a certain deadline. It’s time consuming and error prone.
Many legal practice management software programs have a feature built in to solve this problem.
The technical term for this feature is chain calendar events. These are all appointments with relative dates based on a trigger date such as “date of trial.”
This isn’t to be confused with a scheduling order designed by the courts but rather, a list of internal deadlines.
Automated workflow expands beyond activities and allows you to flowchart your processes into software automation. This type of workflow will keep your case status up to date and offer your staff different options based on the process you’ve defined for that stage of a case.
Your process for opening a new matter might look like:
Throughout this process, your system could use workflow to take the burden off your staff by automatically merging the engagement letter, sending out an emailed retainer bill to the client and even opening the matter file in your system.
With workflow, the software will bring you down the path you set up and automate certain tasks, but your staff will still be required to prompt the software to move to the next stage by marking tasks as complete or clicking on the next step.
Advanced automated workflow is like having a robot assistant.
The difference between automated workflow and advanced automated workflow is in advanced automated workflow, your staff doesn’t have to click a button to make something happen.
Advanced automated workflow can be triggered by creation of a record, updates to a records or queries.
Your possibilities become endless with advanced automated workflow, but it does require the most set up.