Practice Management

What is legal workflow automation?

By April 11, 2020 June 11th, 2020 No Comments

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.

1. What is legal workflow?

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).

2. Process vs. automation vs. workflow

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:

  • Process refers to the act of defining a series of steps to reach a desired outcome or goal.
  • Automation is the use of technology to complete tasks.
  • Workflow brings process and automation together. Workflow takes a process, adds highly defined inputs and outputs and uses automation to complete the tasks on your behalf.

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.

Workflow:

  • A client fills out a form on the website which triggers a potential client record to be populated in the database.
  • Once a new record is created in the database, an email is automatically generated and emailed to the prospective client thanking them and letting them know someone from the first will be in touch with them shortly AND a task is created and assigned to the firm administrator to contact the potential client.
  • Firm administrator contacts the prospective client then completes the task, updating the potential client status to “initial consult scheduled” AND the system generates a merged fee agreement letter.

3. Benefits of workflow in a law firm

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:

  • Free up time to bill: Workflow can take over a lot of your administrative load freeing up more time for your attorneys to focus on billable work.
  • Clean database: It’s common to hear a law firm say their practice management database is a mess. If you’re using workflow, the system can keep records up to date so your staff doesn’t have to manually do it.
  • Make your small law firm feel big: Building out your process into a workflow software will increase your staff efficiency, allowing you to accomplish more with less staff.
  • Speed up onboarding staff: If you use workflow correctly, staff will be walked through different processes and prompted to enter important information. This means less training up front for new hires because your staff has less to remember or be trained on.

4. Areas workflow can be used in 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:

Intake

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.

Matter

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.

Billing

Using workflow to manage the pre-bill process and collections can help dramatically improve cash flow.

Pre-bills

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

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.

7. How to implement workflow software

For most, as soon as you pick a workflow tool, you want to get started right away.

If you can, I suggest taking a slower approach to implementing your new process automation tool. If you’re implementing a new practice management software that includes workflow tools, get into the software first before you start designing workflows.

By delaying your workflow implementation, you’re able to better understand how the new software works. Many firms that jump right into implementing workflow by designing their workflow process around how their previous software worked, which in turn makes the workflow effective.

Also, I recommend building your workflow out in pieces. Start small, use what you’ve built for a few weeks and continue to build from there. It’s common for a flow to sound good during implementation but isn’t practical once you begin using it. If you build your workflow out in pieces, it’s easier to tweak these changes as they come up.

Finally, if you’re new to workflow, work with a legal consultant. There are many in the industry that have spent their careers helping law firms implement workflows and can guide you through designing the right workflow for your firm’s processes.

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