Unlocking the benefits of practice and case management tools

The outlook for the legal sector in 2016 is heavily focused on technological advancement, yet many firms are underusing systems they already have in-house. An audit of law firms outside the UK top 100 has revealed that most are not making full use of the features of their existing practice and case management solutions, which could help them improve efficiency and maintain competitiveness in a fast-moving marketplace.

Advances in technology have meant a lot of traditional jobs have been automated to help increase productivity and efficiency. The legal sector is no different. Yet with 52% of firms fearful of integrating emerging technologies, the pace of change in the sector is slow.

When questioned on their top five priorities for 2016, 94% of firms put improving their use of technology at the top of their list. A Neochange and Capensys survey found that “firms with the highest rate of technology adoption billed 25% more in the last year”. Increasingly, higher levels of technology adoption to streamline operations are a must to maintain firms’ competitive advantage.

This article presents the findings of research revealing the extent of the underuse of practice and case management software and provides some recommendations for law firms to get the best from their solutions.

The usage survey

Tikit, provider of the Partner for Windows (P4W) practice and case management solution to the legal market, surveyed 75 UK firms in October 2015 to find out which features of their practice and case management solutions they were using and, more importantly, not using. As expected, some core business modules are widely used but many features are underutilised. In some cases, this may because a particular module is not right for the business.

However, many modules are underused simply because the firm does not know they even exist or because it has not taken the opportunity to deploy them. While this survey was carried out among firms using the P4W solution, the findings are broadly applicable to all law firms using practice and case management solutions.

Getting the most out of practice and case management software is crucial to streamlining firms’ operations. The survey revealed the full extent of the underutilisation of functionality in a number of areas.

Time saving

There are many features in practice and case management solutions that are designed to streamline a firm’s efficiency. As time saving and efficiency are so closely linked to a firm’s profitability, using technology to speed up repetitive processes should be a key focus in 2016. The survey revealed that time-saving functionality is underutilised by many firms. Only 35% have tuned into the benefits of integrated dictation features to save time, with just 32% using the automated archiving feature.

Compliance

Compliance is process-heavy and time-consuming, with 33% of law firms citing it as their main concern. Anti-money laundering (AML) rules are one of the biggest compliance issues. Yet the usage survey revealed that only 25% of firms are using electronic identity verification features that could help with the identity and authentication aspects of compliance. Instead of streamlining the processes of identification, mitigating the risk associated with taking on new clients, firms are wasting time and increasing risk by checking identity documents manually when effective solutions can offer a one-click identity check.

Compliance officers for legal practice (COLPs) and for finance and administration (COFAs) play a key part in ensuring compliance and managing risk in most firms. Firms need an easy-to-use monitoring system to help COLPs and COFAs do their job. Just over half of firms said they were using the compliance modules provided as part of their system. Presumably in the remaining firms, this critical data is being stored on separate spreadsheets or different systems. Yet one of the key benefits of an integrated system is that these features are built in.

Law firms are not using the full system capabilities to their advantage when it comes to compliance. The result is less than optimum productivity in the face of an unnecessarily large administrative burden.

Case management

With 64% of firms making innovations in their case management systems in 2016, it is a great time to assess how technology is working for your firm. Core case management usage rates are high – 97% of respondents are keeping track of their business using reporting features that provide management information and KPI stats. And 85% of firms are already using time-recording features built into their document production systems and 57% are automatically converting documents to PDF before sending them out.

Tools that require some element of customisation, such as automated billing tools that work best when tailored to each organisation, see lower usage (12%). Yet time invested in deploying these bespoke tools will result in massive improvements in productivity that are too often not being realised.

Legal aid

Public funding from the Legal Aid Agency helps more than two million people deal with their legal problems every year and many firms rely on this stream of income. Yet legal aid is an area that is constantly changing.

The changes to legal aid funding are perhaps most high profile. The UK government has undertaken hefty cuts to the legal aid system, with another £220m planned each year by 2018. And in late January 2016, the Independent reported that Justice Secretary Michael Gove “had decided not to go ahead with the plan, which was drawn up by his predecessor Chris Grayling”.

A joint statement made by the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association noted: “The Lord Chancellor indicated that the suspension was a reflection of the negotiations and goodwill established over the summer, which he would like to see continue as a consequence of his proposal.” This may have created a temporary stoppage on deeper funding cuts, but what is evident is that legal practices must still continue to find way for greater efficiencies and sustainability.

Not all firms do legal aid work, but those who do can see real benefits from using practice and case management solutions tailored to their areas of work. Almost half (49%) of law firms carrying out civil legal aid work are using functionality tailored to civil legal aid, but only a quarter (24%) of law firms carrying out CDS and Crown Court legal aid work have switched on to the benefits of using features tailored to their sector.

Maximising value

It is important to implement a platform that is intuitive for your firm and has all the features you need. It is equally vital to get a proper understanding of everything your solution can do for you. Investment in training pays dividends – tailored training that it is bespoke to your firm’s requirements and delivered onsite adds real value to investment in practice and case management software.

Regardless of the solution your firm is using, it is more than likely that you are not using it to its maximum potential and extracting full value from it. A one-time investment in maximising your solution will more than be repaid in efficiencies and savings. In today’s competitive environment, it is imperative to ensure that every fee-earner is aware of the functionality available to improve businesses processes and make technology work to keep your firm ahead of the pack.

Tips to get the most from your practice and case management solution

1. When selecting a solution, ensure it is comprehensive, flexible, and easy to use.

2. Audit the features offered by your practice and case management solution – what is being used, what is not being used and why?

3. Identify any barriers to using features that could deliver value and plan to address them with training and mentoring.

4. Consider carefully who would get the most from training on the practice and case management solution. Don’t forget that ‘super user’ from accounts who always ends up showing the partners how to use the system.

5. Scalability is key – if you have implemented a system that can grow with your business, it is vital to maximise the features it offers when the firm does change and grow.

Tikit is one of the world’s largest and most established providers of technology solutions and services to legal and professional service firms, and is part of BT Group.