27 July 2021

What Are Legal Workflows & Why Should They Be Automated?

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Legal workflow automation gives in-house lawyers the ability to create, enhance and embed best practice principles into their processes to facilitate consistent, collaborative, accountable and high quality service delivery each time. In this article we discuss legal workflows and explore why and how they should be automated to accelerate response times and keep up with the increased pace of business.

What are legal workflows?

The term ‘workflow’ refers to the process of completing a task and can be illustrated as a series of steps that explain the task actions from beginning to end. Having clear, predetermined, and structured workflows is particularly advantageous for legal professionals and can help to organise the complicated processes and protocols that often involve numerous internal and external parties.

Fun fact: The origins of workflows can be traced back to Henry Gantt, the person responsible for Gantt charts!

An example of a legal workflow is the process of briefing external counsel which routinely involve the law firm clearing potential conflicts before the client provides the full, detailed, and reviewable brief. Here, establishing a clear and structured workflow can be highly manual and time-consuming, especially if multiple law firms are involved and the client is conducting a competitive request for proposal (RFP) process. Add in multiple internal approval requirements  – which are quite common across corporate and government legal departments – and the workflow complexities escalate. However, as we shall discuss further below, the in-house team can achieve effective process governance and control using process mapping and workflow automation.

What is legal workflow automation

56% of UK law firms are prioritising investment in process automation technologies.

Legal workflow automation refers to using software to streamline the creation, approval and management of legal work or matters. In essence, legal workflow automation involves using technology to automate a process and create a repeatable, structured workflow. There are many areas workflow automation can be used in legal practice, such as legal intake, triage, matter management, briefing law firms, regulatory compliance, managing spend, RFPs, and more. Automating these processes enables legal professionals to work more efficiently, save time and reduce operational costs, whilst keeping up with the increased pace and volume of business.

Additional benefits of workflow automation include:

  • Optimising processes by eliminating inefficiencies of manual input
  • The ability to scale legal service delivery both internally & externally
  • Collaborative and agile processes
  • Minimising errors and reducing risks
  • Data collection and reporting
  • Opportunities to learn, iterate and continuously improve over time

Workflow automation can reduce the time and cost of completing processes by 20% – 45%

A great place to start with workflow automation is to identify high volume, repetitive, manual, and time-consuming tasks. For example, using technology to automate the receipt, approval, and delegation of legal requests from internal clients during intake and triage is an excellent opportunity to create standardised, consistent, and accountable workflows that help to assign legal matters to their right level of priority. Instead of taking a generic or standard form and using it for all matter types, look for LegalTech that can customise the requisites on forms for each type of work to ensure the legal team receives sufficient information to undertake and complete the task every time.

More advanced workflow automation can take this a step further by autonomously configuring tasks in the correct order, delegating to the right person, capturing and reporting on the key data points, and even generating a document simply by the creation or update of a matter. This process can also be coded to automatically notify relevant parties by email or SMS, whilst simultaneously briefing a law firm to complete key aspects of the matter and confirming the fees.

Get started with process mapping 

In our infographic: Reduce Legal Spend Using Process & Technology, we identified that the most significant financial losses through processes are in the way law firms are engaged and their ‘scope of work’ are managed. For this reason, mapping your own internal and external processes that incorporate pre-engagement and post-engagement activities would be a valuable exercise. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated and can be completed using post-it notes, whiteboards or virtual mapping tools such as Mural. At Lawcadia we routinely use these options inter-changeably.

Once you have an understanding of your processes, there is an opportunity to identify areas of leakage, explore ideas for improvement, and then look to technology solutions to embed these processes into ways of working. Some legal technology providers also have best-practice legal workflows available ‘off-the-shelf’ which can be a great starting point.

Conclusion

In summary, the increasing pace of business and competition in industry requires in-house legal teams to receive, respond and resolve matters, or deliver solutions to the relevant parties accurately and in a timely manner every time. As such, automating workflows are one way in which in-house legal teams can achieve consistency by creating standardised and accountable processes that ensure the timely delivery of high quality services each time.

Whitepaper: The rise of RegTech.

If you’ve ever wondered what ‘RegTech‘ is and what it means for the in-house legal function, then our whitepaper “The Rise of RegTech” is a great place to start.  In this whitepaper, we explore the growth of RegTech in industry and how it can be used by in-house legal teams to enhance specific functioning areas of an organisation’s operations.

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