When considering workflows in a legal practice, processes not related to the delivery of legal services to clients are often overlooked. These processes can include business development, finance, HR and operations. The overheads associated with these functions are often seen as a direct cost to the business too, as they are (often) not revenue-generating or non-billable functions.
The processes to be completed as part of these business functions is where implementing workflow solutions into your practice will make the most direct impact on your bottom line. Costs associated with functions are often personnel costs, where an employee will be delegated the responsibility of contributing to or completing these processes. Implementing digital workflows can substantially reduce the personnel contributions to completing workflows in your legal practice or law firm, and is a great way to save time on non-billable activities. This will equate to direct cost savings, and a better bottom line through creating more time for billable task activities, with fewer personnel overheads.
Intangible benefits to implementing digital workflows include transparency over the status of processes and tasks, security, simple delegation and reassignment of tasks, and structured tasks and activity lists, meaning you will never have to “remember to do that” ever again.
The first thing to understand is “what is workflow?”
At the outset of an engagement, one of the first items that ServiceScaler consultants discuss with our customers is the difference between a business process and workflow.
Business Process: A business process is what needs to be done (e.g. employee leave request approval process) Workflow: A workflow is how we do what needs to be done (e.g. complete a leave request form and submit it for approval)
When planning for the implementation of digital workflow, it is important to understand the difference between the two.The business process itself is generally non-negotiable, it must be completed. There may be an opportunity to improve the business process, and these can be defined as considerations in a digital workflow project. The workflow, however, is entirely malleable, assuming it meets the requirements of the process. This creates the opportunity to improve and automate the workflow, without detrimentally impacting the process.
To define the workflow of a business process, ServiceScaler will generally use the “Workstep – Workstep Tasks” matrix.
A Workstep is the equivalent of a process stage, where the execution of a particular step of the process is assigned to either a person or a system to complete. Workstep Tasks are the tasks that need to be completed as part of the Workstep. Once the tasks are completed, the process can progress to the next Workstep.
When considering what can be automated, an analyst will look at the Worksteps and Workstep Tasks to determine what can be completed through a system (e.g. software) automatically, instead of a person. This is where process automation starts to take place. In the context of digital workflow, once a process is completed digitally, there is an opportunity for systems to handle Worksteps and Workstep Tasks automatically to drive forward business processes.
What processes should you consider applying a digital workflow system to first?
Generally, ServiceScaler tends to start with processes that, at some stage through the process, have you thinking to yourself – “It’s so frustrating that…”. That frustration is often related to lost or missing information or forgotten steps in the process, or a seemingly endless investment of time to complete tasks that should (or could) be automated.
Linking back to the previous example of leave requests, it can be frustrating to receive a leave request and not know who else will be on leave at that time without going to everyone else and asking. Going to the entire firm to find out who is on leave at a particular time is low-value work, particularly for a fee earner or partner, meaning it would be of high value to automate.
Other places to look for opportunities to apply digital workflow are related to any business process that is not revenue-generating, i.e., non-billable activities in the practice. Some examples of this might be things like stationery orders, invoice or expense approvals, recruitment processes, employee reviews, knowledge articles etc.
Once you have identified some business processes ripe for digital workflow and potential automation, you need to start documenting or defining the process. Accompanying this with the current workflow to complete this process will allow you to understand where the challenges in the process might exist and assist in determining the feasibility of creating the digital workflow.
Defining the workflow by documenting the business process, then defining the Worksteps and Workstep Tasks to complete the process is the easiest way to do it.
After defining the process and workflow, you will then need to determine the feasibility of creating digital workflows. The success of digital workflows is often related to the ability of your software systems to build and handle them.
To make a digital workflow work, you need to have systems that support moving a process forward with triggers and assigning tasks to systems or individuals.
A trigger might be as simple as “someone submits a form”. Once the form is submitted, what is the next Workstep in the process, and who or what is going to complete it? The system should route or create the next Workstep Task, and assign it to the system, individual or team that needs to complete it.
At ServiceScaler, we complete most of our digital workflow solutions using Microsoft 365 (or Office 365). While there are a few reasons for this, the main reasons are that is has the capability to capture data and information, trigger workflows, assign the next step in the process to either a person or a team, and is entirely integrated into other areas of the system.
Without an integrated system, moving the process forward will require moving data or actions between systems. This can break down the workflow, as it requires an operator to manually create data or tasks in another system to move the process forward. This is where consolidating systems and software becomes a very powerful asset to your organisation.
Once you have addressed the feasibility criteria and defined your processes and workflow, it’s time to start building your workflows into the system.
The technical side of the delivery can be difficult and might require some assistance, but simple workflows can be built using intuitive systems like Office 365 with Power Automate.
Start with a simple process you would like to convert to a digital workflow. Build the capability to complete the process manually (i.e. build the system to manually complete the process, end to end, completely digital). Complete the process manually using the digital process to ensure its integrity. Identify Workstep Tasks the system can handle. Some examples might be moving data to another field, updating the process stage, or assigning a task to a resource automatically based on its due date. Test the automated functions. Rinse and repeat for other business processes.
The results of the efforts are often apparent immediately after implementation. The more workflows you automate, the greater the results. Time saved on these tasks can now be allocated to revenue-generating (billable) work or generating more billable work. Practice support overheads should also be reduced, freeing up resource time, and potentially removing operating overheads from the firm.
We are a friendly team of software engineers that specialise in legal technology, and we can offer tailored solutions that meet your individual needs. Email us firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about what we can do for your firm.