Best Practice - A Truly Integrated Solution
With the acceptance of "Open Architecture" by software publishers, dissimilar applications, published by different companies, can be made to work together. In the past, if a law firm wanted an integrated solution specific to the law firm environment, it would have to rely on one vendor to provide a "suite" of applications. Even though these suites provide many of the needed functionalities, the individual modules are not as robust as a specific application designed to accomplish a specific task. Let us look at the different modules that comprise the integrated legal practice.
First and foremost is contact management. Every call made or received and every written communication produced is for or about some entity, whether it be a person or company. A single, unified location where all contacts can be found is essential. Historically, this Information was found in a number of locations such as a file, or on a Rolodex card, or found within a stack of rubber-banded business cards, or, as is often the case, resided in the memory of one of the firm's staff members. These contacts may have also have appeared in a number of different databases throughout the firm such as a word processing merge file, the firm's billing system, a staff member's personal information manager (PIM) or as part of a conflict database, etc. In many instances where the contact was found in a number of locations, each instance usually did not contain the same information such as current address, contact name and/or telephone numbers. A unified and widely accessible contact database would not only increase efficiency, but also enhance client development.
Another important module is file management. For the most part, firm personnel rely on hard copy information found in files to perform day-to-day tasks. When a client calls regarding a matter, the solicitor must find the file and have it in hand in order to discuss details. If the file is not available, the client must be called sometime in the future once the file has been located. If file information can be "brought up" on the solicitor's computer desktop, the solicitor appears knowledgeable and efficient and, therefore, becomes more profitable. The electronic file should contain all communications, including documents, records of phone calls, electronic correspondence such as e-mail and facsimile, and all diary and task assignments.
A third element of the integrated law office is document assembly or automation. Too many lawyers are still reinventing the wheel when it comes to document creation. Copying from another document is helpful but is dependent upon locating that other document. Sometimes this is difficult if not downright impossible. If each solicitor and the firm had a library of standard documents or clauses that could be easily incorporated into new work, the solicitor and the firm would again improve efficiency and profitability.
A fourth element is document management. Solicitors’ past work product is a valuable resource. Solicitors should be able to research their past work and the work of others in the firm in a manner similar to performing a Lexis or AUSLII search. Solicitors could then be paid by the clients not for the number of hours the solicitor works on behalf of the client, but for the degree of the solicitor's knowledge and expertise. The solicitor is then able to work on additional matters, thus increasing revenues within the same time span. Many times documents in process are difficult to find in a computer system or are actually lost. This reduces efficiency and actually costs the firm money in lost time and revenues. A document management system ensures that all documents are accessible and retrievable regardless of authorship.
A diary that incorporates both appointments and tasks is another important element. A solicitor should also have available a method of diarising not only appointments, but reminders concerning files, including court-imposed deadlines on litigation matters, and the like. Most solicitors maintain a personal diary. Some also use a notebook to keep track of their "to do's". This function should be available on the solicitor's computer desktop and be shareable and viewable by the entire firm. The firm also maintains a "firm diary." Entries made into an individual solicitor's diary should appear on the firm diary, and entries made in the firm diary involving firm solicitors should appear on those solicitors’ personal diaries. Overseas, malpractice carriers usually require an automated system for the primary firm calendar, with other systems as backups. They give Amicus Attorney users a 10% to 20% discount on premiums as it keeps them out of trouble.
Lastly, solicitors should be given a tool to provide for real contemporaneous timekeeping. It has been well documented that contemporaneous timekeeping can easily increase billable hours by as much as 10%. In most firms, each solicitor manually records time on some form which is then used as the basis of input by some other staff member, usually a secretary or clerk. This redundancy increases firm operating expenses. Each timekeeper’s computer should have a time entry module providing the solicitor with the ability to easily enter time into the system. If you want to see how much money Amicus Attorney can make you, click here.
This is the Integrated Legal Practice: A technologically driven means of conducting business where information is easily found, where the firm can work smarter and not harder, and where many of the functions that were traditionally performed manually, can be automated, freeing you to do more well paid legal work. This integrated desktop can actually change the way the firm operates, creating a more efficient, collaborative environment, improving the workplace for all members of the firm. Such an "infostructure" is the absolute minimum platform you need to make it all worthwhile.