SmartAdvocate has been automating law offices for over 17 years. Creating the functions required for paralegals and attorneys to maximize their firm’s abilities has provided us with first-hand knowledge of automation. While new trends look towards Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in the next few years, SmartAdvocate recognizes automation as the necessary foundation to integrate all office functions and information, and as the building blocks for more complex technologies.
Law firms that fail to utilize automation and its functionalities are falling behind the curve. It is crucial to analyze your firm’s position, to improve your bottom line, maximize the time of your staff, and elevate your clients’ experience with your services.
What is Automation in the Law Office?
What does “law office automation” mean these days and why is it garnering so much attention again? For nearly two decades now, law firm automation has meant data management, information transfer, communication, and all the related tasks, done accurately and efficiently, so firms can focus on the functions that truly add value for clients.
Dennis Kennedy – a prominent commentator on legal automation– has described automation as delegating the work best done by computers to computers. He pointed to document assembly for interrogatories as one of the first processes that should be automated.¹ This framework still holds today: when you need a standard document, do you use a typewriter and create it from scratch, or an automated template and fill in a few blanks?
Consider the creation of a standard pleading that your firm files case after case. You can have a staff member pull up a past pleading and use it as a template, filling in the blanks in your word processing program. But how long does it take a staff member to look up and insert that information, versus using an automated procedure to input merge codes to import information from the file? While most attorneys and law firm managers recognize that automation can save the firm time and effort, many have not yet internalized the most important point: for many processes, automation is not just faster, it substantially reduces the risk of human error.
More recently, much of the discussion in legal tech circles is around automation in the form of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) technologies, which mimic the human ability to interact with information and make decisions. Many law firms have adopted simple AI tools to manage citations in briefs or assess evolving risks in a contract, while nearly half of all law firms have used or tested AI applications.² This is exciting news, as the legal sector has generally lagged behind other professional services sectors on technology adoption – but it is critical that firms understand and optimize the foundations of automation in their practice before embracing more complex technologies at its fringes.
The most frequent rationale for automation is to save time, but how much time does it save? And, what does that time saved mean for your firm? It is easy to underestimate the value of the time saved because common tasks that can be automated do not take long to accomplish manually. For example, sending an email to a client with a court date may only take a minute or two, in addition to the time it takes to switch gears, pull up contact information, and switch gears again. While those few minutes likely do not seem critical, when you multiply them by the number of short, informational emails you send out across the course of a day, or a case, or a year, the minutes add up.
Consider the difference between merging information into a document and filling in blanks in a template. It may take a $30/hour paralegal 20 minutes to look up information and type it into a template, but it takes only two minutes to merge that information into the same document. It may not sound like much, but how many pleadings does a busy paralegal generate during a pay period? If they are creating even just five or six pleadings each day, nearly ¼ of their salary is paying for wasted time. Even with only one pleading per day, that is $45 per week or over $2,000 a year that could be saved by using a good document management system – and that is just one document type and one employee. You can make this type of calculation for any task that can be automated.
Imagine a system in which routine emails are auto generated, all repetitive pleadings are created through near instantaneous merge functions, and scanned documents automatically attach themselves to the appropriate case files. You do not need to imagine this; you simply need to choose to implement it.
For a plaintiffs’ firm, investing less time to accomplish the same result means a higher return on investment. It also means the ability to handle more cases without increasing staffing or the hours each staff member contributes. For a defense firm, it means greater cost efficiency, which plays an important role in client satisfaction and retention. For litigation firms on both sides of the aisle, it means that attorneys and paralegals have more time to devote to the work that truly requires their skills, no longer spending their days on busy work. A few of the core ways in which automation can save time for your law firm include:
Every manual operation is an opportunity for error, and the more times a task is repeated, the greater the opportunity for error. With good staff, of course, these errors are kept to a minimum. Unfortunately, mistakes do happen, and the consequences can be serious.
Automation has the ability to guarantee the completion of menial tasks with no error, and with the ability to set triggers for when these tasks are completed. Some examples of increased accuracy through automation include:
Increased Client Satisfaction
Attorney-client relationships differ for plaintiffs’ and defense firms but are equally critical to the success of your firm. Client satisfaction impacts your practice in many ways, including:
Client satisfaction means positive engagement and growth for your firm. Your clients’ experience can be efficiently increased via automation in the following ways:
In addition, the increased efficiency reduces hourly billings for tasks that do not require attorney attention. This frees up time to work on higher level tasks and reduces the likelihood of billing challenges. Many corporate clients are carefully screening their bills and pushing outside counsel to operate more efficiently.
In June 2020, LegalTech News acknowledged the many well-known advantages of document automation and cited the prediction that by 2023 a full 33% of in-house legal departments will retain a legal technology expert whose main role will support the automation of in-house workflows.³ The legal industry is further along the curve with regard to document automation and assembly solutions. Reducing risk, errors, and the amount of time spent on legal document creation, automating documents is also a cost saver. In other words, if you have not yet integrated document assembly tools, you’re already behind the curve.
The days of piecemeal assembly of law office technology are gone. A case management system that integrates with existing tools such as email and Microsoft Word further increases efficiency and minimizes the opportunity for error. It ensures that all of your information relating to a case or client is stored in one place, easily retrievable, and entirely consistent.
When looking into the next few years, and with more plaintiffs’ and defense firms taking advantage of the efficiencies and safeguards offered by automation, a firm lagging in this area is at a significant competitive disadvantage.
While many firms are specifically seeking out separate software to automate workflows, communications, document assembly, and other aspects of the litigation process, the real answer may be an integrated case management platform. In this arena, the SmartAdvocate system offers:
If you are ready to maximize efficiency within your law office, reduce your costs of operation, cut down on the opportunity for error, and provide better, more consistent client service, then it is time to learn more about the SmartAdvocate case and document management system.
Initially designed for personal injury and mass tort litigation practices, SmartAdvocate is an incredibly powerful, entirely web-based, and fully integrated case management system, now used by a wide range of litigation firms. SmartAdvocate was created by attorneys who know the challenges that legal professionals face, therefore it is tailored with the understanding of how to best allow firms to completely manage their cases, no matter how extensive.
With the functionalities to efficiently communicate, store, track, manage, and classify case information, SmartAdvocate will enhance the overall productivity and profitability of your firm. With continual releases, your firm will increasingly become more robust in its operations when integrated with SmartAdvocate.
Learn how your firm can benefit from the customizable features and implementation process offered by SmartAdvocate today.
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² International Legal Technology Association (ILTA), Technology Survey 2019.