In a recent article, we examined how law firms stand to win a lot more business if they shift to a proactive, strategic approach to using technology. Some technologies, like eDiscovery and virtual data rooms, are already table stakes. Clients continue to demand greater efficiency that is tailored to their needs, and increasingly, they expect law firms to bring new tools to the table. In this market, law firms that use workflow automation tools to meet these demands will outperform firms that don’t.
As children we are told that slow and steady wins the race. As adults, we see many firms that appear to be succeeding by continuing to work in large part as they always have. When it comes to workflow automation, firms are still in the early stages of the technology adoption lifecycle.
Early adopters have made the shift into strategic buying, understanding how that generates value today and where it will increase over time. They have a head start on capturing low-hanging fruit and gaining the critical experience required to position themselves as best-in-class, with the tools, case studies and teams to prove it. These early adopters are already winning new clients and deepening existing relationships by embedding workflow-driven services in their client operations.
It’s more than operational improvement and efficiency gains though; workflow automation also unlocks a way to gather structured, usable data to better serve clients. Much of that today goes uncaptured or sits in a binder on a partner’s bookshelf. If firms shift, however, and use underpinning technology to deliver services and track relevant data, they can leverage this information to become more proactive, strategic advisors. This also capitalises on the value of centralised knowledge and processes over individual efforts, enabling the firm to ensure continuity of service regardless of which lawyers are instructed over time.
The return on investment for workflow automation is straightforward. Efficiency gains will save time and administrative work, enabling lawyers to focus more on higher value strategic work. With a scaling platform environment, each subsequent workflow delivers further return on investment, while costs and time to implement decrease over time as firms develop repeatable workflows.
So where are the early adopters starting? Some focus on time-consuming internal processes, improving the nature of work for attorneys and staff by removing cumbersome, low value (often non-billable) tasks and activities from their plates. Others start with a cornerstone client, improving service delivery while keeping the cost to the client low. This is especially valuable for corporate clients, who continue to face pressure to reduce outside legal spend, allowing them to showcase their participation as a pilot client in measurable cost savings.
For example, some firms have reduced client response times by 50 to 60 percent, allowing them to offer fixed or capped fee arrangements with the certainty that they can deliver to the right margins. While some firms will see this is as a risk to billable hours, others recognise the long-term win: clients will be more willing to tap the innovative firm for additional work because they trust them to deliver the best services at the most competitive price by leveraging technology.
When a technology is in the early stages of the adoption curve, there is still time to become an early adopter, setting the firm apart from the competition and reaping significant financial savings. For firms that aren’t culturally ready to become early adopters, steps such as optimising existing technology or documenting current processes can still be taken to prepare for implementation with the early majority, gaining some competitive advantage.
Apart from the law firms that end up at the tail end of the curve, a great deal of competitive advantage awaits, depending on when and how firms embrace workflow automation. Aesop’s fable only contemplated a hare that was cheeky, overly confident, and not willing to put in the work. Firms that move quickly on workflow automation and actually use it will rewrite the moral of the story.