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How legal tech can stop your firm running your life

SME and boutique owners should take a deep dive into their processes and look for more efficient ways to run day-to-day operations to avoid their firm running their life, said this legal tech executive.

user iconLauren Croft 07 July 2022 NewLaw
David Atherton-Cooper
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David Atherton-Cooper is a legal software solutions manager at LexisNexis. Speaking recently on an episode of LawTech Talks, produced in partnership with LexisNexis Pacific, Mr Atherton-Cooper spoke about the various symptoms of whether one is running their firm or if it’s running them — and how legal tech can play a role in efficiency.

Post-pandemic, firms have experienced a number of daily practice management challenges, such as keeping track of their caseload, reducing reliance on paper and managing staff engagement — all of which can be managed easier with the help of legal tech, according to Mr Atherton-Cooper.

“There remains a big challenge day to day of how do I keep track of what everyone’s meant to be doing. So, having some sort of technology system where you can quickly and easily assign tasks, or check what’s due, check what’s coming over the horizon. Firms, ever since I started working in the legal space, have always had a key dates diary somewhere in the practice where they can track who’s meant to be at court,” he explained.


“Well, that’s expanding now, and it’s not just who’s meant to be at court, but who’s in the office, who’s out of the office, who’s working on what, when does it all need to be delivered by. And firms have to comply with their undertakings as much as their client’s expectations. It’s a fundamental requirement. Being able to manage the people’s engagement is really the hard one. Tech can assist, but it can’t force change.”

To that extent, Mr Atherton-Cooper said one of the main lessons he’s learnt in his 25 years of working with legal tech is that for law firms, “change has to come within the practice”.

“The technology can help. It’s a wonderful enabler and all the new tools that the technology brings are great, but you still need people to talk to people and encourage them to change the ways they work. So, maintaining the engagement can be as simple as a daily email, a Teams meeting, inviting people into the office for a face-to-face get-together, or it can be alerts being sent through to track various activities. But at the end of the day, it’s about maintaining contact. The technology really helps with that as best in a lot of different ways,” he said.

“As dull as it sounds, I need to be able to see numbers on a page, facts and figures that say what was our throughput last week, how much WIP did we generate, how many bills did we send out and what we get received. The basic economics of a law firm haven’t changed, but getting that sort of information in front of all the right people without having to wait for someone in accounts to run a series of reports. Have your system automated so that the reports are emailed to the right people on a Monday morning and a Thursday morning, for example. Improve the efficiency around because you’re not waiting for someone to do a job before you can start making decisions.”

In terms of deciphering whether one is running their own firm or if it’s running them, Mr Atherton-Cooper said there are a number of “symptoms” to be on the lookout for.

“There are times when I know that I’m just so busy doing the day-to-day, that I get that feeling that I’ve missed something. That may not be anything too important, but that sense of I’m just too busy right now is a brilliant indicator that really the business is running you and you’re not running your business. If you get to the end of the day and you realise you’ve not actually had 10 minutes to go and grab a coffee, that’s another indicator. It’s for more time that partners tell me or directors tell me that they can spend looking at the overall performance of the firm or comparing the results of different departments, that’s working on the business and making it better,” he said.

“The more time they spend working actual client matters and solving problems that potentially the more junior lawyers ought to be solving for clients, that’s working in the business in the thicker things. A lot of practitioners that I talk to love to be in the thick of things, because that’s what being a lawyer is all about. You are analysing, understanding, and solving problems for clients. Everyone gets a kick out of that. But if you’re doing that to the exclusion of stepping back and looking at, for example, do we send out a satisfaction survey to every client at the completion of each matter? What were the results? What are the clients telling us about the service they’re experiencing? If you don’t have time to be doing that, then your business is running you. You’re not running your business.”

To combat this, firm owners can take a deeper look at their processes and procedures — and start to question whether the way their firm is currently running can be done more efficiently.

“One symptom of the business running you and not you running your business is if there’s one way for one partner and a different way for another. There’ll be good reasons in those partners’ heads as to why the processes are different, but there may be opportunities to actually, for example, come at it again. Having talked to a couple of clients to say, well, what would be a better process, so that we are not spending all our time scrutinising every single bill, and yet get high-quality invoices out of the door. You can do that for any of the processes that go on, whether they’re legal processes mandated from outside, so we can’t really change them, or whether they’re the way we work,” Mr Atherton-Cooper added.

“Those are things you can change. The technology can help by embodying those processes. So, every practice management system has a way of drafting a bill, but probably has several different ways, because they usually these tools are pretty flexible. So, have a look at how yours is currently implemented and focus on that word currently. There may be ways to change the processes that you’ve been stuck with for quite a while and get them to change going forward.”

 The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with David Atherton-Cooper, click below:


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