Business process management, or BPM, is a well-established practice and solution category in the general enterprise technology market. The human-centric capabilities of BPM—as opposed to back-end, technical process and integration automation—are of particular interest to law firms as they seek ways to improve their work efficiency, resource utilization and client satisfaction. The emergence and maturity of matter management-oriented solutions in the BPM market has brought a wealth of options to law firms.
While firms have used process reengineering and automation before, these previous efforts have been generally focused on single processes, practice areas or offices. In contrast, the emerging BPM trend has firms looking at how they can realize efficiency and quality benefits – and corresponding cost savings and revenue optimization—by considering processes on a firm-wide basis. With concepts borrowed from corporate management practices, such as collaboration, shared services and outsourcing, law firms are taking process innovation seriously.
Our ongoing research in law firm operations clearly supports the view of enterprise BPM as a critical core function for optimal law firm operations management and risk mitigation.
Importantly, as firms look at their full collection of operational processes, they are thinking beyond the systems that support the discrete parts of the processes. Instead, they are looking for how the processes should optimally flow, and how the broader collection of systems (and system users) can support them. Rather than have the processes dictated by the systems, they are looking for ways that the process can function independently from system limitations, and align with the systems supporting the process. As case in point, our 2013 survey on the topic of workflow and automation found that upwards of 50% of firms will be “upgrading” their existing New Business Intake (“NBI”) systems (Fig.1).
At the highest level, law firm process improvement is about improving visibility into the many work streams that comprise the overall firm-wide business—whether the process involves client work, business development, time and billing, financial accounting, or firm administration. Firms are working on a wide range of BPM opportunities. These include, for example:
- New business intake (NBI)
- New matter conflict clearance
- Alternative fee arrangement approval
- New project initiation
- Matter management docketing
- Intellectual property filing and prosecution
- Agreement drafting / approval
- Expense reporting, approval and disbursement
- Meeting room requests
- IT requests
- HR Onboarding, Lateral Hire, and Termination
Over the last few years, our research and advisory work with leading law firms has identified a growing trend in the interest firms are taking in enterprise process management. In 2011, a benchmarking study we conducted of AmLaw200 law firm CIO’s and IT Directors found that 36% of firms reported process automation as a very important or high priority focus area. By 2013, that number had nearly doubled to 70%. The most important drivers (see Fig.2) focus on core objectives, such as increased productivity (91%), improved quality of processes (82%) and better process consistency and standardization (72%).