What has workflow ever done for us?
Workflow originated in the manufacturing sector, where good processes are essential to the smooth running of a factory. But it applies equally well to a law firm. Just think about your own firm. Where is there a series of repeatable activities that happen every time a new client is signed up? or a new case is taken on? Or a new assignment is carried out?
“A workflow consists of an orchestrated and repeatable pattern of business activity enabled by the systematic organization of resources into processes that transform materials, provide services, or process information”.
Workflow in Law Firms
In some law firms, processes have been in place for decades. Even though they may no longer reflect the most efficient way of working today. It will often take a major change – perhaps a new practice management system, new people heading up a team or an ISO audit – to question why things are done this way. Who’s never heard someone say “but we’ve always done it this way”…
Creating processes appropriate to the way you do business
Looking at your processes do you find that:
- Manual and repetitive activities slow down your processes. Adding fuel to the unkind image clients have of the dusty old offices of law firms.
- Opportunities for cross-sell within the firm are missed because staff don’t know what other services the firm offers, let alone who to talk to about them. Negatively impacting the firm’s overall profitability.
- Compliance with policy management and insurance risk limits is difficult to manage and almost impossible to enforce. Exposing the firm to unnecessary risk. See our post here on how we’ve improved this for clients.
- The firm could unwittingly be caught out by strengthened money laundering regulations from Whitehall. See our post here on how we help mitigate this risk:
They say that knowledge is power, so let’s look at how you might assess your current processes.
You might follow a simple plan:
- Identify the process you want to focus on and clarify its primary objective.
- Call everyone involved in the process together. Sketch out a sequential definition. So, include what is carried out; how it is done; when, where and why each activity is necessary; and who does what.
- Look at how much time it takes each person involved. Work out how much it costs (cost of their time x time spent plus any additional costs involved).
- Note down anything that could be cut out of the process – either to save time or costs or where it’s not necessary. And what might be added to improve it.
- Ask where things sometimes “get stuck”, where errors tend to occur and where things are sometimes missed out.
Now you have a good view of the process and what’s involved.
Start to ask questions: “Why do we do that? Do we still need to do that? Is there a better way to achieve that?”
What does good workflow offer law firms?
If you’re using technology, or introducing technology into the firm, then a good workflow will help you to identify where you can improve efficiency, how you can make processes more responsive and how you can reduce errors.
- If documents and financial information could automatically be fed to the appropriate team, would that help improve budgeting and cash flow forecasting?
- Would setting an alert to notify a Partner of documents requiring authorisation reduce delays?
- Could automating of some of the important but manual and repetitive tasks reduce the current number of errors?
Does it deliver?
You’re now in a much better place to evaluate the new workflow to ensure that, in addition to its primary objective, it has:
- improved efficiency
- made it more responsive
- reduced the propensity for errors
- had a positive impact on time and/or costs.
Where can these principles and workflow be applied for law firms?
Below are some examples and benefits that our workflows have made for our clients:
- A reduction in the degree of risk the firm is exposed to by enforcing compliance with firm’s protocols
- The simplification and automation of processes such as introducing clients to other departments or teams for cross-sell purposes
- An improvement in budget management, bill payment and cash flow forecasts by single entry sharing of information across systems and ledgers
- Ensuring appropriate and correct information is included within client-facing documents and emails by automating document production rather than copying and pasting
- Reducing the possibility of missing key dates, budgeted time limits or actions by setting of action alerts.
Best of luck with your workflow journey and do contact us if we can assist you,
Martin Langan, Legal Workflow