The legal industry has always been more vulnerable than others to force majeure events or even silly accidents. Janitors have accidentally unplugged servers, causing entire firms to shut down for hours or even days. Natural disasters have put a strain on certain law firms’ abilities to continue operating. However, in those previous situations, the impact was short-term and local in nature. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the issue on a national and global scale over the course of more than a year. Though law firms took far longer to start up remote operations, one benefit of the pandemic has been that it forced the legal industry to do something it has been unwilling to do for decades – embrace cutting-edge technology. As a result, lawyers, staff, and even clients have seen first-hand the upsides to technology, remote access, and more. As the world emerges from the pandemic, there are five steps PI and Med-Mal law firms must take post-COVID-19 to ensure continued success.
Realize modern technologies are secure
Lawyers do have an ethical obligation to ensure the security of client data. However, this doesn’t mean that technology is the enemy. In fact, most of the technologies available to the legal industry come with higher levels of security than a law firm’s IT department could ever hope to offer. For example, Microsoft’s cloud is not only redundant and backed up across numerous locations in the US, but the security of the system is also monitored 24/7 by an army of cybersecurity professionals – many of whom have worked or will go on to work in maintaining the security of government systems. In fact, companies like Microsoft provide services to local, state, and federal governments, which should put your worries about client data security to rest. Additionally, many are HIPAA/HITECH certified and/or ISO 27001 (cybersecurity) certified or have other cybersecurity certifications.
Implement modern technology
Any law firm that has survived the global pandemic has been forced to utilize some form of technology beyond email and calendaring systems. As a result, everyone at the firm will have learned it is possible to do a large part of the job from outside the office and perform effectively (in many cases, more effectively). These technologies, such as cloud-based case management systems, can do much more than get your firm through tough times. Many systems come with built-in project management tools, workflows, and collaboration modules which will significantly increase the efficiency of your team and their ability to interact with clients seamlessly. Many also have client and third-party portals so that you can exchange information with clients, experts, and vendors instantly, without incurring the cost and time delay of couriers or the postal system. Such systems can allow you to handle important issues from anywhere, such as while waiting in court for your appearance. Most importantly, they can also insulate you from future disruptions – such as fires, floods, and hurricanes – by allowing your firm to switch to remote operations immediately with minimal disruption to the practice.
Embrace project management principles
In large firms and in-house environments, “legal project management” is perhaps the hottest topic in the firm, matter, and client management. Essentially, legal project managers take project management principles from the business world and adapt them to fit the legal world. This involves important steps such as clear and prompt communication with everyone involved, setting clear expectations that everyone understands, creating workflows for routine or repeated processes, tracking deliverables and turnaround time, monitoring utilization, and keeping track of all the moving parts, among other tasks.
It may sound like this isn’t a good fit for a PI or Med-Mal law firm, but it is. In fact, because such firms operate on contingency fee arrangements, they are perhaps the most in need of this type of organization. Treat each case as a project. Determine the client’s desired outcome (quick settlement, large settlement, or their day in court) and set clear expectations. Create timelines based on firm experience that can be communicated to the client (how long the whole process takes, milestones and when to expect completion thereof, etc.) and use them to guide internal deadlines as well. Establish the same process for handling the various aspects of a case, break it down into tasks and create groups of tasks (“workflows”). For example, whenever it is time to request medical records, create a workflow of tasks that starts with filling out HIPAA forms and goes through regularly scheduled follow ups with the medical providers until the records are received. In short order, you will begin to see massive rewards: cases will be more well organized, the processing time will decrease, and client satisfaction will increase, just to name a few.
Adopt remote and flexible working policies
People like remote work and flexible working arrangements, and there are numerous studies to prove it. Better yet, there are numerous benefits to PI and Med-Mal law firms that offer such arrangements:
- Employees that benefit from such arrangements are happier and more likely to have higher levels of engagement with their work. Meaning they will become more productive and do an even better job for you and your clients.
- Adopting these policies (along with the tech and procedures to implement them) will make the life of your lawyers much easier. For example, lawyers who get stuck in court or are otherwise delayed can access all of their files, communicate with the team and keep working from anywhere.
- Employees who have children or family commitments will take fewer full days off to deal with family issues because they can carry the office with them in a backpack.
- Getting settled with remote working will enable your firm to the benefits offered by geographical diversity and legal support providers.
Consider geographical diversity and legal support services
A geographically diverse team and legal support services can help your law firm operate beyond the constraints of the typical workday. Building on all the previous steps, taking advantage of having team members in different time zones or legal support services companies operating at different times can give your firm the ability to operate up to 24 hours per day without increases to overhead. For a firm operating on a contingency fee, being able to process cases around the clock will radically reduce case timelines and subsequent carrying costs associated. The quicker you get paid, the better off your firm is. It’s a win-win.