See what law practices will need from their IT in the future

Written by:

Lars Houmann, CTO, Abakion »

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Abakion invited a number of Denmark’s biggest law practices to an IT inspiration meeting in order to get an understanding of lawyers’ ambitions for their IT, both now and in the future.

The practices who attended are at the forefront of technological developments, and they have very specific requirements and challenges on the IT front, especially in the areas of time registration, invoicing and reporting. You can read about them here.

Several of the big law practices came to take part in the day’s conversation, which took place at Vibenshuset in Copenhagen.

The practices attending included Bech-Bruun, Bruun og Hjejle, Dahl, Kammeradvokaten, Kirk Larsen, Ascanius, Plesner and others.

The day had a future-focused theme revolving around internal and external document sharing, invoice control and the question of whether the complex processes of time registration, invoicing and reporting can be stepped up a gear.

Topics that we find to loom large in everyday legal work.

The session was kicked off by representatives from Microsoft, who attended for two reasons: to present the improvements in the April release of Dynamics 365, and to hear about the challenges facing the legal industry so that they could take them into account.

The move to client-dictated reporting

When representatives of the various law firms took the floor, one thing there was consensus on was that the invoicing process still takes up a lot of time – even in companies that have already automated the process.

There is still too much manual work involved in invoicing. And that’s despite the big legal practices having kept up with technological developments and having stepped up the process long ago.

Systems usually cannot support all the special requirements that come with a client contract, because they lack the necessary agility.

Indeed, more lawyers are finding that clients are making more and more stipulations regarding invoicing and reporting, including pricing and discount structures and various kinds of tiered discount. All of which can be hard to handle in the system.

The challenge therefore arises because these things often have to be managed manually.

For the same reason, one of the things often requested by law practices is a more dynamic system with greater flexibility and the ability to edit and adjust time entries, specifications etc. as you go along.

One reason for this is that a standard for how invoices should look can no longer be produced just like that.

This leaves lawyers needing agile systems if they are to succeed in automating their invoicing processes while also accommodating their clients’ IT systems and reporting requirements. The prevailing consensus was that it is therefore not possible to use a single system-wide method.

Several different methods must be used in order to meet all of the many requirements set by clients.

So, as an organization, you may well want to improve efficiency by standardizing your processes and incorporating the best possible flow and uniformity into the system. As long as you need to accommodate clients’ downstream systems, however, lawyers’ systems must be able to span the whole spectrum.

After all, the competitive parameter for any law practice involves the ability to deliver an overall package to the client.

Errors and discrepancies in time registrations

The Achilles heel for lawyers is often associated with time registration. This became clear at the meeting.

Time registration has to be quick and easy. But it also has to be correct and thorough if it is not to require corrective action.

In a busy working day, when things are often done in a rush, people make misregistrations and entries that make sense to the person making them, but not always to others within or without the organization.

This is a problem.

It takes up too much time at the other end, when the entries are to be used for invoicing and reporting.

It is inefficient – and it is a behavioural challenge that must be taken into account.

It places demands on the workflows that help the lawyers to find misregistrations as early as possible in the process. Because, if the time registration is correct and meets client requirements generally, the lawyers can concentrate on the legal work – which is both what they want to be doing, and what they are best at.

It is therefore important for everyone to be aware of the issues.

But the qualitative assessment of when a case is or is not ready for billing is not just a matter of introducing some internal workflows within the organization. It also involves getting to a place where you can build the screening process into the system so as to minimize time wasted on billing.

A digital learning toolbox, please

At the present time, then, we are dealing with both processes and systems that only partly support the desired behaviour.

The way we currently understand time registration must therefore be challenged.

It is also about making it easy for staff to pass on the information they have, when they have it, when it is available and can add value in the process going forward. A plea was therefore also made for a digital workflow capable of moving the process on rather than stopping it.

Examples of such information could be: who is the correct invoice recipient? When should the client be invoiced? What discount should be given? When is the budget about to be exceeded?

A system capable of driving such an invoicing workflow is high on law practices’ wishlists as a way of making follow-up as efficient as possible.

So, the question is whether an automated invoicing process is likely to be achieved.

There was general agreement among the law firms that it is. But it requires us to think out of the box and take the behavioural aspect into account.

The law practice solution of the future

In order to support the best possible invoicing process, time registration, invoicing and reporting should be thought of as a single journey.

Currently, though, there are too many disrupting factors impairing efficiency in the desired workflow.

Some law practices have set about automating the process to the extent possible – but there is still room for improvement. The efficiency of the invoicing process is related to the need to be able to meet client requirements while also having systems supporting the desired invoicing flow.

Whether machine learning, cognitive services and AI will in future be able to step in and meet law practices’ needs on the basis of the things lawyers do, only time will tell.

In the meantime, you can read about Abakion Legal, a solution built for law firms and based on the latest versions of Microsoft Dynamics 365 and SharePoint.