Tuesday, August 21, 2007

ILTA Conference Report, Day 2, Session 3: Improving Operations Through Matter Life Cycle Management

Dan Safran, Project Leadership Associates, Inc.

PLAI is the largest group of legal-focused technology and business consultants in the U.S.

"Matter lifecycle" is a paradigm that helps us understand how lawyers work.

There are four aspects to the cycle:

Matter Creation (prospecting, opening files, receipt of client records);
Matter Management (the bulk of time: manage client, matter relationships);
Matter Closure (declare, catalog records, Q & A etc.); and,
Matter Archival (safe destruction on expiration, monitoring dates).

Each of these areas ties to and is driven by records management, document management, knowledge management, litigation responsiveness, and litigation prepardness.

Question for the session is, "How do we add value through technology?" Dan provided a hypothetical framework for identifying and implementing improvements to the matter lifecycle business processes. Unfortunately, his presentation was fairly short on specifics (I understand that a firm partner who was going to present on actual changes made was going to be the co-presenter, but had canceled.).

Dan claimed that the potential business benefits of matter management include:
  • Improve profits;
  • Acquire / retain clients;
  • Reduce risk;
  • Improve quality of life;
  • Boost speed;
  • Improve efficiency;
  • Improve quality of life;
  • Enhance legal skills; and,
  • Reduce costs.
To work on matter management:

  • Gather requirements;
  • Look at pain points;
  • Develop hypotheses; and,
  • Test them.
Identify requirements through learning the business side of how your lawyers work. Not enough technology professionals really try to understand the business of the firm. Evaluate practice group operations, identify time-intensive activities, and establish what the client demands are. Evaluators should know which practices or groups generate the most revenues and profits. Document project requirements.

To find pain points, figure out who owns different aspects of the matter lifecycle.

What do people hate doing? What wastes lawyer time? What makes lawyers work after hours?Which processes are only partially automated, which technologies are disliked by lawyers or staff, which technologies does the firm not have.

Next identify issues and propose solutions. For instance, every function should have an "owner,"; or, lawyers haven't received enough training in a certain type of activity. Start with statistics or metrics to show the problem, because you'll need to identify how to fix it and how much it will cost.

What kinds of projects are practical opportunities to improve matter lifecycle management?

Practice-by-practice: securities document support, litigation docket, litigation support alignment, client / matter practice dashboards.
Enterprise-wide: matter centricity, DMS, Records Management, email, litigation preparedness.
Both: docket or schedule management; enterprise search; case management.

Lawyers are living in email. Firms need to control email and the documents lawyers work on. Large or medium firms should build resources that are focused on and support practice groups.

IT people can add a lot of value by evaluating business strategy and understanding business processes in the firm. Benchmark time, cost, value, quality, or risk, measure at the beginning, and then measure at the back end to see the improvement. Get a lot of feedback.

I asked for some examples of changes to the intake process. Dan said that big firms might want to set financial limits, practice areas, or target certain types of clients to improve profitability. An efficiency sell might draw on a metric for how fast a matter is opened. There also may be risk mitigation opportunities in the matter opening process (a business or credit check).

Sell efficiency generally through framing as a quality of life issue. You can also sell efficiency through discussion of reducing the nonbillable portion of the work, as by leveraging the administrative staff better.

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