UK: How To Save Time And Cut Costs: Technology Is The Key To Survival

Last Updated: 24 March 2009

In the current challenging economic environment, it is vital to improve practice efficiencies and reduce costs. New technology is key to achieving these aims and awareness of the latest developments in legal technology is more important now than ever before.

There are a range of technological applications and solutions available for the legal market. This article will discuss some of the options available to law firms and will provide case studies on how these services have benefitted real firms.

As technology develops, it is imperative that law firms keep up with the changing times. Gone are the days of box files and ring binders full of paper work stacked on endless shelves, and cluttered offices filled with filing cabinets. Case management systems are the quickest and easiest way to keep on top of the documentation for legal cases.

The legal technology market is expanding and there are now a wide range of case management systems available. Many case management products on the market are compatible with all areas of law, with applications for Convey, Crime, Matrimonial, General, Personal Injury, Probate, Wills, amongst others. Some legal software suppliers also offer online case tracking and hosting or outsourced services.

These case management applications allow any documentation associated with a particular case to be filed electronically in one central database. Any specific documents associated with a file can be searched for and found within seconds saving time trawling through paper work, improving efficiency, and reducing the need for high numbers of administrative staff. These systems also allow workflows for large number of cases to be stored in one easily accessible place.

Email as an environment is becoming increasingly popular and even the most luddite of fee earners are inevitably working in MS Outlook". One software provider, DPS Software, have developed Outlook Office. This system integrates incoming and outgoing emails against cases with no user intervention. This versatile software combines case management, phone, digital dictation, task, web and text messaging with a full power document assembly engine that allows emails, letters and documents to be assembled against cases quickly and easily.

Naomi Mehmet & Partners are a firm of legal advisers and advocates, serving a wide base of private clients, corporate clients and foreign investors across a broad range of industries within Northern Cyprus and abroad. Since the firm's work is almost entirely email-based, DPS Outlook Office fitted seamlessly with their existing working practices as it is embedded directly into MS Outlook".

Commenting on the Outlook Office System, Naomi Mehmet said "We have strong reasons for wanting to advance the firm's efficiency. One of the main reasons for choosing this software was to improve efficiency when processing the purchase of a property. The time taken from offer to completion on a Cyprus property can take as long as three years and there is a lot to manage including the changing laws and 'right to buy' documents for foreigners buying on the Island."

She added, "Once our documents and workflows were loaded into the system and the initial development work was completed, DPS staff visited Cyprus to install the programs and train us. Throughout the whole process, DPS ensured the transition was as smooth as possible and now we have improved our efficiency tenfold."

The implementation of a fully integrated accounts system is a vital part of streamlining case management. Accounts that are associated with a particular file can be attached to a case and stored electronically. Many software suppliers offer combined case management and accounting packages, including DPS Software.

Cashier Accounts from DPS Software meets and exceeds the requirements prescribed by the Law Society, the Legal Services Commission (LSC) and LEXCEL, with reports that comprehensively cover all standards bodies. Reports are produced and delivered by email or printout through the system both quickly and easily.

As a module of DPS' One Office solution, the Cashier system is built around a single database model meaning that data can be shared throughout a business with ease. When Cashier is installed as a module of Case Management, any transaction entered into Cashier by a member of the accounts department is immediately reflected in all areas of the system, including the fee earner desktop. This aspect of the system is ideal in so far as any accounting transaction that has affected the case (credit limit exceeded, WIP limit approached) is immediately apparent to fee earners.

Fendom Dawson & Partners are a multi-disciplined, multi-office practice based in Buckinghamshire. Specialising in Probate and Trust work, Fendom Dawson pride themselves on the amount of referrals they receive and the high quality of their work. They took the decision to implement DPS OneOffice solution for both case management and accounts to ensure that this work ethic was not only sustained but improved upon.

While they had a legal accounts system already implemented in the firm, the lack of automation for simple replicated tasks meant that there was great room for improvement, and acquiring a legal specific case management program was the first step.

Rachel Stafford, Managing Partner at Fendom Dawson commented, "Fendom Dawson is moving into a new era and the introduction of the DPS system is the first phase in modernising the practice through the use of integrated IT systems across the firm. The technology that exists in today's environment is fantastic and allows the firm to take on more work without the added cost of employing and training new staff. We can now get the most out of our existing staff and improve the service we offer our clients."

Once a case management system has been implemented in a firm, the next step is to maintain the system with the latest updates and security checks. The recent weather conditions across the country have damaged homes and destroyed businesses. Faced with these conditions, businesses need to ensure that measures are in place to ensure that flooding and other such disasters do not effect their working practices.

Hosting and Outsourced services are offered by many legal software suppliers. These services protect a firm's IT infrastructure by carrying out maintenance and system updates off site, allowing users to carry on working as normal, safe in the knowledge that their hardware and software is taken care of.

A Hosted service means that software which is traditionally run from a desktop PC is run over the internet in virtually the same fashion. All that is required is broadband internet access to a data centre ‐ other than that, users go about their work in exactly the same way.

Hosting ensures that software is kept up to date, with the host carrying the burden of keeping hardware performance checked and maintained. In addition, the need for IT staff and expertise is removed to the hosting provider. This allows firms to capitalise on not only a wider variety of software, but also more advanced versions of hardware. This proves beneficial to firms, as they can use the same software as much larger competitors offering high levels of client service without the major upfront costs.

One hosted DPS client, Malcom Dodds, commented: "Hosting guarantees a trouble free software system. I no longer have any networking problems and I have not had to call on engineers since I went hosted. This has saved me a considerable amount of money, time, and lowered my blood pressure to acceptable levels!"

He added, "Updates were becoming a problem with crime as the LSC introduced contract changes on a regular basis and I was having to install all these on the computer on my network, but these are now dealt with by DPS."

The world of technology is an ever-changing and fast paced environment. In order for law firms to survive, they have to keep up with developments in IT systems. The number of case management and accounting systems on the market and the services provided by the companies that offer these solutions are becoming more accessible to lawyers. Lawyers are shaking the stuffy image and implementing advanced IT systems that speed up their working practices and cut costs.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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