Workflow automation is changing the way law firms deliver services and win business with their corporate clients.
For years, corporate clients have asked law firms, “What technology do you use?” Often, firms rattle off a list of software, some of which has very little to do with the matter at hand. In the past, this has sufficed; it has been more of a throw-away question on both sides.
In 2021, technology – specifically workflow automation – has advanced to a point where it can be readily tailored to a client’s specific needs on a matter. With that has come a shift in how business is won. It is no longer enough for a firm to say, “Yes, we use technology”; and over time categories of technology become so standard that if for example a Firm included “email” or “Microsoft Office Suite” in its’ response, that is clearly far off the mark of what today’s corporate client is after.
Clients expect to see that the firm has relevant technology already in place and is proficient with using it. And increasingly, this determines which firms win new business and which firms do not.
This isn’t the first shift law firms have encountered related to technology. Take document review, which is fundamentally a form of specialised workflow automation. Associates used to spend a significant number of billable hours sifting through boxes of individual paper documents. Now, using technology that reduces the manual effort required is table stakes.
If a firm bid on a case today and the proposal was to use associates to review each individual document, that firm wouldn’t stand a chance of winning the business. Using technology is faster and more accurate than those associates by themselves, and everyone knows it.
That’s not to say that successful workflow automation is just about technology. It’s the classic triad of people, process and technology that drives the best outcomes for clients. With document review, whilst the technology is better suited to do the heavy lifting, there’s also an attorney training the software’s algorithms in order for it to work properly.
The abundance of use cases for automation – both internal and external, customer facing ones – make the investment in workflow automation a smart one. Unlike a point solution that tackles one specific category of work, a workflow automation platform is flexible, covering a broad range of use cases that a client may need.
Beyond the raw efficiency gained through automation, a wealth of data also accrues. By analysing this data, firms can begin to see patterns and trends that enable them to be more proactive in delivering quality legal services. Firms can use that information to address other potential issues that are critical to a client’s business, becoming a valuable strategic business partner with an active role in the daily life of the corporate client.
In order to win business in this changing market, firms must rethink their approach to buying technology. Most firms are structured and conditioned for tactical buying: bring in the client first, which in turn provides the business case for buying the technology. That may be a reasonable approach for specialised point solutions, but firms that wait for a specific client win to implement workflow automation will be too late.
Firms must shift to strategic buying: master workflow automation today to win more clients tomorrow (and keep the ones they already have). Corporate clients often rely on firms to provide technology that is otherwise precluded by the corporation’s long procurement and budgeting processes.
To get started, firms should consider implementing workflow automation with an existing client engagement. Propose a plan to incorporate workflow automation into the matter. Be up-front that this technology is new to the firm and part of a strategic investment in improving service delivery. Clients will value the firm’s efforts and can provide critical feedback.
Most likely, the firm’s own internal processes are also ripe for automation, which will deliver return on investment as the firm builds proficiency among its own lawyers and staff. Pick one process to improve with automation – like the process for onboarding a new client – and then expand. It’s safer to start this way before there’s an urgent demand for workflow automation; it reduces stress and increases timeline flexibility to get it right.
That’s not to say a firm can’t pilot new technology with a new client, but the real advantage comes from having the technology already built and in place. When a firm can approach a potential client with a tangible solution that they can click on and demonstrate, it leaves little doubt in the client’s mind that the firm is the right one to take on the legal work.
With a growing client demand for technology, the firms that go all-in on workflow automation will win more business, and firms that don’t will be left behind. At that point, the business case will become even simpler: subtract the upfront costs of the technology from the total value of corporate clients lost.