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Is your law firm still using paper files?

by WardBlawg on June 13, 2019

Contribution from Alex Hutchinson, Legal Sector Director at Efficient Law Firm, explaining how law firms can move away from using paper files and use technology to transform their business. 

OK, so jut for a bit of background – I spend my time helping Law Firms with Paper-Lite and Digital Transformation projects. The initial goals of our projects are to reduce print, paper volumes and the numerous associated costs – but really, we are doing more than this. We are helping firms move forward, use technology to their advantage, improve the productivity of their people and client experiences, but more importantly we are helping them become the Law Firm they know they should be. One they are proud of, which has a place in the future. Sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s true.

The benefits…. too long to list, but you know most of these anyway! Understanding why you should take on a paper-lite project is not the issue, it’s the how and when.

I always have initial conversations with prospective clients before we take on any project. One of the big challenges, is what feels like, the sheer enormity of the task ahead. So where do you start with such a large task, and where do you fit in trying to move away from using paper files when everyone is busy generating billable hours and delivering the work?

THIS POST

The purpose of this post is to try and provide some insight into what we have learned, allowing you to take a breath, see some of the challenges you might face (and how to avoid some pitfalls). You can then decide if you want to start a journey to a more Paper-Lite Law Firm. Note the word “journey”, this is a transition from a manual Paper Based way of working to a more balanced Digital Law Firm which is more efficient, profitable, compliant, lower risk and better positioned to attract and retain the right people (or clients). We are not talking about the extremities of a 100% paper free firm, or never seeing sight of a single sheet of paper again. (although I know many firms who would love this to be the case!). Paper-Lite is absolutely possible but it is about finding the right balance for your firm and you people. It takes a little time, but make sure you do things in the right order and you’ll stand a much better chance.

IT IS A JOURNEY

OK so if you want to stop using Paper-Files, you need to accept something you probably already know. There is no quick fix and it’s likely to be part of an overall transition across your firm, which will require the development of an existing software or the implementation of something new.

I mention this as I regularly speak with firms who start this journey by looking for solutions.

TOP TIP: Looking for a solution is not the place to start.

Do not start your journey by looking for a silver bullet or a solution. Firstly, you must understand your requirements and what you need from any potential solution. There is far more to this section, but for now just hear this… stop looking at solutions, accept this is a journey and something which is achieved over time.

It’s normally frustration around this topic which leads to people looking for a fix straight away. Looking at solutions first is high risk, time expensive (as it rarely delivers a return on this time invested up front) and more importantly it’s draining of energy and resource (and probably the main reason most projects grind to a halt!)

Yes it’s true “you don’t know, what you don’t know” BUT you will have time later to see what your existing provider (or new providers) can offer once you know what you need. This enables you to see straight through any “bells and whistles” which are not relevant, and quickly identify anything you didn’t know, which will benefit and fit your firm.

SPEAK TO YOUR PEOPLE

In order to understand what you need from a solution, what is right for your firm and your people, you first need to understand your requirements. If you do not invest time in this upfront you will become a rabbit in headlights. You know the feeling; you decide to get a few suppliers in to see what’s possible… EVERYTHING is possible, but not all of it is relevant to you! So now where do you go!

You see a couple more suppliers and the same applies. They tell you about how they have helped similar firms, who are now much more efficient and billing so many more hours… yet still you do not move forward.

There is a reason you do not move forward with this. This is because your gut feeling is not right. You know that something doesn’t feel right. The reality is simple. You have not taken the time to fully understand your requirements as a firm and the needs of your people, so you’re reluctant to invest in software or development without feeling confident it will meet your needs.

This is not procrastination – this is your gut telling you not to move forward… FOR GOOD REASON, so give yourself a break.

The reality is, you need to take a step back. Stop looking for solutions too early in the process and accept you are going to need to invest some time in mapping your requirements and speaking to your people.

TIME AND RESOURCE

Now here is the difficult one (and to be honest, the reason we are in business). The reality is that larger firms have more internal resource available (and technology support) within their firm to take on a project like this… and they still find it difficult!

There are still a number of larger firms who buy software to help them reduce print and paper volumes. They use it in one small area and that’s it… it’s an additional cost to the firm, but they never really optimise it or realise the true benefits available – so you are not alone.

The reason I am saying this, is because I think it is very important to accept that people in smaller firms will most likely be generating work and fees. They will be delivering billable hours, and the remaining staff will be supporting them in the delivery of this work. This is the life blood of your business.

I think it is important to accept that a large % of SME Law Firms will not have the capability or resource in-house to deal with projects in this area. Maybe you know this, but hopefully it is refreshing to hear this from someone else.

OK great – but to do we start and where can we obtain the right advice?

Take a step back and think about the project as a whole. Are you of a size where you know you need to make these changes in order to move forward long-term? Do you feel as though your current ways of working are holding you back, costing you time, money and people (losing good people or clients). Do you want to feel the energy and kudos from being a more efficient / paper-lite law firm?

If you do. Then accept you will need some help. By help I mean impartial advice and resource to understand the needs of your people and your firm FIRST… before you do anything else. Also agree this is a journey, see this as a strategic project running alongside the day-to-day activities. A project which will be making weekly progress in the background and will raise its head at key stages and pull you forward as a firm.

The initial investigation is the most important part of a paper-lite project. It may take over 50% of the total project time but it needs to be done to reduce risk and more importantly, to engage your people.

I’m not saying this purely to promote our business either, you don’t need to work with me directly BUT I DO THINK YOU NEED SOMEONE ELSE to help you with this project. Someone who has a basic understanding of Law Firms, and the basics of how they operate, so they can speak with your people, understand what they need and why. Someone who is impartial and can speak freely, someone removed from any internal politics and someone who is not conflicted by which solution or outcome you need for your firm. This is key to success. You need someone in place who is acting on behalf of YOUR LAW FIRM – AS AN ENTITY.

NEXT STEPS

OK so there you have 3 things I’ve learned, which will hopefully help you. There is plenty more we could include, but I wanted to provide 3 key areas which should help you take a step back, and not feel defeated if you have not made the progress you desire in these areas.

Be realistic and cut yourself some slack. You can’t find solutions to problems if you don’t fully understand what they are first… well you can try but it’s much harder, more stressful and much higher risk.

Get together with your exec team and think about this together. If you are a Practice Manager (or a single individual) who has been tasked with this. Take something back to the Partners and say you need to build a team to help and feedback the strategy in line with the above and make sure everyone agrees. You can’t do this alone! It’s not a small project.

YES you can prioritise where to start and make some quick wins along the way (we always try to deliver some cost savings or efficiency to a clients as soon as possible to inject some energy into a project – as long as it doesn’t impact the overall strategy) but accept this is part of an overall journey, it will take some time but all you want to see if some steady progress.

Is this a journey you want to start? Is this something you believe is essential if you want to thrive, remain competitive and profitable long-term? If so, take some advice from the areas above and you’ll be setting off on a better foot than you may have done previously.

Thank you for reading. Hopefully this has been helpful.

Author: Alex Hutchinson – Legal Sector Director

I spend my time Helping Law Firms with Paper-Lite and Digital Transformation projects to improve the productivity of their people, and streamline working processes. Delivering results which increase capacity (billable hours), long term profitability, and create a more EFFICIENT LAW FIRM.

Find out more:

Feel free to view our website or take a look at the Project areas we cover. If you are looking to make progress in any of these areas then feel free to make contact. I am always keen to start conversations with potential clients to understand more about their challenges and discuss how we might help (no obligation).

Want to talk?

Connect with Alex on LinkedIn

Contact form – Arrange an initial phone call

You can also read more in Alex’s other contribution on our site: How law firms can increase efficiency (and profits) & why the answers lie with their PEOPLE, not (necessarily) suppliers

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WardBlawg

Legal Blogger at WardBlawg
+Gavin Ward is the founder of WardBlawg, Director of YouBlawg Limited and Operations Director at Moore Legal Technology Limited, specialising in helping law firms, lawyers and businesses grow their businesses online and aiming to help get great legal content published and shared across the web. Gavin created this law blog or ‘blawg’ to aim to contribute useful updates, thoughts and advice to help law firms, businesses and the legal profession in the UK and across the world succeed both online and offline.
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