RPA enhances rigour and compliance in legal sector

Legal industry commentators have been consistent in their views over the last couple of years – the legal sector is undergoing unprecedented transformation but is hampered by the traditions of working practices, business structure and commercial arrangements.

Despite the considerable strengths of top law firms, such as existing relationships, reputation and high-quality work from high-quality people, these might not be sufficient to defend against more nimble, technology-savvy and process-focused competitors from within and from those new to the legal sector.

One transformational tool that is getting increasing visibility in the legal sector is Robotic Process Automation, a recent technology getting more and more traction in other industries, and a sector of focus for Virtual Operations.

In the delivery of legal services there are elements of predictable, repeatable work that can be undertaken whatever the matter type or practice area. Even in highly specialist practice areas there will be elements of matter management (e.g. file opening, interim and final billing, client reporting) and legal process (e.g. due diligence, searches, e-disclosure) that can be delivered more routinely and are therefore candidates for process automation.

Taking some typical activities from the management of a legal matter, Virtual Operations has identified a number of areas where process automation generates improvement:

  • Automatically receive and review new instructions; access disparate systems and populate them with the necessary data.
  • Assess the parameters of a case and estimate the number of hours to complete.
  • Offload repetitive and routine matter management tasks.
  • Auto-populate Ministry of Justice forms ensuring accuracy and consistency throughout the life of a case.
  • Provide alerts about upcoming case deadlines, WIP thresholds and fixed fee breaches.
  • Provide operational agility by managing variations in demand without the need to recruit or release people.
  • Evenly spread client billing over the month and year by responding to clients’ terms of business, and undertake billing activity based on programmable triggers.
  • Connect directly to client systems and processes with low risk and low cost.

While the business case is usually based on direct benefits (such as FTE reductions), the indirect benefits are where the real liberating impact of process automation can be felt:

  • Cost management: reduce manual work in support functions allows choice of direct cost reduction in headcount or redirect employees to higher value activities.
  • Time management: reduce routine tasks in legal processes to provide fee earners with more capacity for true legal work, business development, supervision and so on.
  • Risk management: apply automation to monitor WIP; and identify regulatory and policy compliance issues.
  • Financial management: apply automation at various points in the working capital cycle to improve cash flow, reduce lock-in and reduce debt.
  • Straight-through-processing: connect with client systems and processes for improving value to client, market differentiation, reducing fixed fee overruns.
  • Low start-up costs and quick return on investment, typically within 3-6 months.

In an increasing buyers’ market with intense downward pricing pressure there will be continued prominence given to commoditising as much legal and support work as possible. The legal sector is at a stage that other industries have found themselves in over recent years, with the potential to take advantage of a low-risk and liberating technology.

“the legal industry is on the verge of becoming a true knowledge industry with automation of routine tasks…”

Ray Kurzweil
Law Tech Futures

“…more modern and efficient deployment of talent and systems not only reduces personnel costs but more importantly increases productivity”

Jordon Furlong
The New World of Legal Work

“..legal businesses need to think more imaginatively about how they resource the bottom of the pyramid and how they make money from (it)”

Richard Susskind
Forbes Magazine