Workflows and automation can be good

As issue sponsor, Briefing spoke to Tony Klejnow Linetime's Managing Director about how workflows and automation can be good for just the kinds of firms who think it's not for them.

Workflows and process automation are only really useful for firms doing bulk work, conveyancers, PI factories and the like, right? Wrong, says Tony Klejnow, managing director at Linetime. Every kind of firm can benefit – in fact, firms doing the ‘unique’ work might benefit most of all.

Using workflows and process automation – fundamentally, using case management in the way it should be used – generates fantastically useful management information. This information can be used to both analyse what work you should be doing ie what’s profitable and what isn’t and to better price work – even occasional work.
“One of the major benefits to using one IT system to drive all your workflows is that you actually understand what was needed to accomplish the work,” Klejnow explains.

“This is particularly important now that clients are pushing more and more for fixed fees. If you under-price work, you lose money; if you over-price it, you don’t win the business. And unless you know what it costs to deliver the work, how can you price for it?”

And using workflows and automation lets you create benchmarks to judge future similar work by in the future. “When you come to quote for a piece of work later, you can look back at, say, five sample cases and look at the process behind it. You can look at how effective you were, how profitable you were, and use those facts as a model.” This works for ‘one-offwork almost as well, says Klejnow, because “even though someone might say it’s a unique piece of work, you will get another similar piece of work to that one day. And you can only have an open and informed conversation with your client about that future piece of work if it’s based on real prior experience.”

The key to making workflows function at their most efficient, Klejnow says, is holding all of a firm’s data in one place. This delivers one view of the truth around a firm’s work, he says: “If you’re keeping all your data inside the same IT system, you have all time recorded, and you have all the costs to hand because you have all your data in one place. You’re basing your decisions on real facts.”

Embedding workflows and turning manual work into processes also has an enormous potential effect on profitability, he says, because it can powerfully demonstrate whether you should do a piece of work, or even keep a client. “Measuring profitability comes from using your IT system to manage all your work flow, record all your activity, telephone notes, documents in and out, all your disbursements, to give you the true figure of what it costs to deliver a piece of work.

“If you look at the process and think you have fine-tuned it and you’re still losing money, you have to question why you’re doing it.”

Driving consistency

Though the world of workflows and automation belongs in some people’s minds to the personal injury and residential property businesses, firms that don’t conform to this model might in fact benefit more from process automation and workflows, says Klejnow. 

“A bulk conveyancer knows his process better than anyone because he knows the steps involved. But if you are doing irregular work there is almost more need to monitor what is going on. When you’re about to do a non-standard piece of work, how do you know what it will cost you to deliver?”

Almost every work area in a firm can benefit from workflows, he says, “even if you can’t drive it from start to finish through workflow”. Areas such as PI, conveyancing and debt recovery, for example, will deliver more benefit as they’re more repetitive, but adopting process automation and workflows delivers consistency to all kinds of work, which has two big upsides: compliance and quality control.

“If you don’t standardise, you don’t really give your client the consistent service they would expect,” Klejnow explains. “If you standardise everything, the client will get the same standard from you, whatever work you’re doing.” This doesn’t mean turning the firm into some robotic environment – generating consistency can be a background effect.

Improving on current processes

Just going through the process of analysing how a firm works in preparation for workflows can be hugely helpful before any automation is done, Klejnow says.

“It is about what the business needs and what it wants to do. IT is there to support and implement that, with its understanding of how systems work.

"Process re-engineering gets people to question what they’re doing, and ask ‘How can I do this better?’ Just because you do something a certain way and it works, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way of doing it.” 

Linetime has done a lot of work with growing, ambitious firms in the second hundred as well as a handful of top 100 firms, and law firms of all sizes, are wising up to the advantages of automation, he says.

“They know they have to go that way. Online case tracking for clients, for example, is enabled by the ability to manage case processes. At least one of our clients has gone on record to say that this has been instrumental to them in winning business. And a firm we’ve been talking to recently said when they’re tendering for blue-chip client work, if you can’t tick the box that says you can do online case tracking, you don’t get the work. And you need a case system behind online case tracking to have something to track.

“There’s a powerful, growing need to have automation and the need also to expose the information behind it and allow the client to interact with that information.”

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