Your clients live and work digitally today. They want to communicate online and would like to know what their chances are before the first meeting; or how high the sums are that are being negotiated. Above all, “legal tech” companies are already satisfying these needs. At first glance, they seem to be threatening the legal business.
But instead of getting discouraged by the changes, you can take advantage of them. You can digitize your own office and later automate it. After all, many processes can already be mapped in such a way that hardly any human labor is required. It also means you can take on more clients in the same amount of time and even grow your business.
1. Decision on digitization & communication in the team
As a sole attorney, you have it a little easier with the first step. The advantages of digitization only have to be convincing for you personally. But if you work with several partners, you have to agree on plans and measures together.
There are many reasons that speak for the digitization of law firms. Above all, they have to remain competitive and fit into the everyday life of clients and employees – and this is digital.
In previous blog posts, we have already discussed what digitization means in a company and the advantages and disadvantages of digitization.
Legal tech companies as role models
The tech startups are already geared towards the needs of the modern customer without exception. They don’t cling to old structures just because they’ve worked for a long time. Instead, they consider how the latest technology can benefit the customer and how lucrative business models can be developed from it. This creates useful, easily accessible services for everyone.
Examples are websites that check whether traffic tickets really have to be paid. Or whether a plane ticket will be refunded. These companies also offer the automatic creation of contracts, the search for the right specialist lawyer or suggestions for arbitrating a legal dispute. These are all everyday problems that your clients want resolved quickly without having to go to an office.
Project start signal in the team
If you have made the decision in your law firm to tackle digitization now, communicate this clearly to your team. Be assertive, but plan the change so that the whole team is involved. Everyone should be able to contribute their thoughts.
You can schedule a kick-off meeting to get everyone on board. There you develop a project team, allow coordination on measures, or you can eliminate uncertainties with the help of workshops. In addition, law firm employees who are already familiar with the processes of digitization can be promoted.
2. Audit of your current processes
Three stages of digitization
Holger Esseling (Managing Director of Michgehl & Partner GmbH) divided the state of digitization of a law firm into three stages in 2017: hybrid operation, digitization and finally automation.
Most law firms will still work in hybrid mode, i.e. use both digital documents and those in paper form. If the office has been fully digitized, it becomes a paperless office. At the last stage, recurring processes run without human intervention.
Inventory in your office
Where are they standing? Are you in hybrid mode and want to move forward now? If you want to do that, you should look at your rules and workflows. Not all of them have to be transferred one-to-one to the computer. It is better to think in advance which processes need to be optimized. So there is only one overall change and therefore less work.
The inventory continues: What is already digital in your company? What else is happening analogously? How can these steps be digitized? Would this result in added value for the law firm and client? What is the competition doing? What methods are used in other industries? How does communication work internally and externally? Is it possible from anywhere? How would you like to change the processes yourself as a client or employee?
3. Digitize documents and create IT infrastructure
In order to move from a hybrid state to a digital company, all paper documents should be abolished if possible. From now on you can manage contracts, offers etc. as a file. Old files can be scanned. The files should be organized on the computer just as well as in the folders on the shelf, if not better.
Also record all contact details of clients and business partners in a digital system. This requires sufficient computing power and the right software. Also, make sure that high-speed Internet is available and keep your data secure. It is understandable that this risk acts as a deterrent. So get in touch with your IT department or a service provider to clarify any security issues.
4. New communication channels for all contacts
Introduce new digital communication tools. Many people shy away from hiring a lawyer because they fear the bureaucracy. They also believe that the exchange takes a long time and that they have to answer difficult questions. As a result, the client loses his rights, and often money, and you lose an order.
5. Use text modules and law firm software
If you want to simplify the processes for you and your clients, make sure you have the following option: key data only have to be entered in a digital form. A finished document is created. It is compiled from different building blocks, “cloze texts” and calculations.
You can also use software within your law firm that automates processes. For example, there are programs for document storage and management, for research, company organization, communication, accounting and for training new colleagues. The processes of cases can be provided with notes and files. Documents can be assigned to appointments or people.
A customized CMS is suitable for many of these purposes. However, there is also specialized law firm software designed for your typical workflows. Such programs contain, for example, dictation solutions so that no notes are taken during an appointment.
6. Automate standard cases
Many companies are already using automatisms that do not forward entered data to employees, but evaluate them themselves. The artificial intelligences behind it then carry out the appropriate action themselves. For example, you send a message or create a new file. The more frequently a certain case occurs, the more it becomes standard and improved by the AI.
More time for the essentials
If you use this technique correctly, a lot of work is saved. You do not want to change this work so much or give it away so cheaply? Then you should know that the competition is already doing it successfully. Because when the repetitive, light processes are automated, your attorneys can take care of the bigger, more unique cases. There is also more time for building personal relationships with clients.
Benefit from machine precision
Computers have the advantage that they work more precisely than we humans. You don’t miss anything. Provided that all relevant data has been entered. For example, we will soon be able to rely on data from the on-board computers of (self-driving) cars when an accident occurs. They are clearer than witness statements in an exceptional situation. The result can still be further processed and laid out by you.
7. Advance digitization yourself
This brings us to the last point: develop your own visions to advance the digitization of your industry. If you catch recurring problems early, you can commission an expansion of the programs. Or create software yourself. Free developers are also available for projects of this type.
Bring your employees into the process here as well. It gives you the chance to really make a difference. Many new business areas will also open up for your law firm. You shouldn’t be afraid of failure: Every great innovation must first be tested. Therefore, rely on prototypes and test groups, agile project management and the exchange of experiences in your industry.
Since digitization does not stop at law firms, you should be prepared. If you decide to go the paperless office path, you can simplify your administration and communication. Documents create themselves, so to speak. In the meantime, you can focus on more complex cases. In addition, new business areas are emerging, such as easily accessible legal services online.