Though the two are quite different organisations in theory, Julia Salasky, CEO of legal lifecycle management platform business Legl, says the motivation to modernise legal processes started with her earlier crowdfunding initiative CrowdJustice. “At CrowdJustice we worked with hundreds of law firms and, for many, crowdfunded matters were the only ones where they were paid digitally and compliantly.”
Salasky notes that many law firms rely on manual payments processes, a cause for change in many areas of legal business: “If a secretary is out of the office at lunchtime and you depend on them to take a payment over the phone, you might not get paid for six months. And things like not receiving a pdf invoice for months after purchasing something is incomprehensible in other spheres of life.”
Having delved into the world of digital payment tools to address this, Salasky says she began exploring ways simple digital tools could improve the lifecycle of legal matters, highlighting many issues that are still prevalent at firms today.
Change of direction
Of course, there has been a strong undercurrent pulling firms towards digitalisation and automation of processes in recent years – and Salasky says the pandemic did indeed force firms to adopt more digitalised processes. However, she adds that firms have not gone as far as they could, or should, when it comes to improving the client experience of them.
Industry expectations have evolved to include more digital and instantaneous interactions: “Technology is so prevalent in people’s lives now – it’s very jarring to approach a law firm and not have a similar experience. We’re seeing it consistently across the sector and we have to manage expectations when we talk to investors from outside of legal – the level of manual processes in law firms is very foreign to most other industries.”
“Technology is so prevalent in people’s lives now – it’s very jarring to approach a law firm and not have a similar experience. We’re seeing it consistently across the sector and we have to manage expectations when we talk to investors from outside of legal – the level of manual processes in law firms is very foreign to most other industries.”
Julia Salasky, CEO, Legl
Specifically, Salasky says, firms can still adopt a more digitalised, joined-up matter lifecycle that will support managing high-volume areas of legal practice, and help firms understand their clients. “There’s a lot of opportunity to make clients more ‘knowable’. That means understanding who your clients are from a compliance perspective, but also understanding their behaviour patterns: how often they engage with the firm; what opportunities exist for providing more services.
“Law firms rightly focus a lot on their substantive work and legal matters as the focal point of everything they do. But putting additional focus on the management of client lifecycles can also unlock a better understanding of the client base – and clients are a law firm’s biggest asset,” she adds.
She gives an example of the “tactical” slip-ups that can result from a more manual approach. “We often see that firms will try to engage with the same client in the same capacity twice within a three-month period, because they haven’t realised they’ve already tried to engage with them recently. That has a remarkably negative impact on the perception of the firm.”
Risk and automation
Yet, starting a conversation around automating processes and instituting workflows can face obstacles, Salasky says. “‘Workflow’ is a scary term for a lot of people, because you don’t necessarily think about what you’re doing day-to-day as a workflow. What we offer takes the technical thought out of that process,” she explains – Legl’s platform consists of pre-built ‘building blocks’ of workflows that firms have flexibility to develop themselves.
“‘Workflow’ is a scary term for a lot of people, because you don’t necessarily think about what you’re doing day-to-day as a workflow. What we offer takes the technical thought out of that process.”
Julia Salasky, CEO, Legl
But, once the human hurdles are overcome, creating workflows has benefits for both client experience and efficiency and consistency across a firm. “If you’re performing a similar process but it’s spread across multiple people, across emails – some in-person, some filed in paper format – it’ll be far more efficient to automate that workflow. Arguably, any repetitive task can be automated, and perhaps ought to be – doing so creates a single source of truth that can be digitised, which generates auditability and leads to less risk,” Salasky adds.
Indeed, the risk-related benefits of a more automated lifecycle have big implications for compliance – something which, in recent months, has just become more pressing than ever due to sanctions on Russia.
“Not only does relying on manual processes potentially mean delayed payments, but there’s a lot of potential for risk as well. You’re much more exposed to human error when you have to check 20,000 individual items on sanctions lists,” she explains.
This last point is also perhaps a surprisingly human one – the impact of ‘tedious’ tasks on people’s state of mind. Given the hugely challenging ‘war for talent’ raging, she says, anything to help firms retain their people should be embraced. “Lawyers don’t like doing tasks that they can’t bill for, so developing a modern, tech-forward approach to administrative business processes is surely of value to firms from a talent retention perspective.”
And, in the post-pandemic world, a legal workflow platform can also help firms to expand geographically, she adds – as integration with decentralised, digital solutions will support standardised processes across offices. “This approach means you can expand your customer base as well as your employee base, because you don’t need everyone working in the office doing manual tasks. We have even seen firms use platforms like Legl to develop a more regional or national focus,” she concludes.