The approach firms take to the management and development of business processes varies but, broadly speaking, it is possible to distinguish between two types of approach:
- Business process improvement within business support functions; and
- Business process improvement within the execution of legal services.
Business support functions
Business process improvement within business support functions involves optimising those ‘back office’ business processes that support the management and efficient operation of the firm. This allows the firm to be more efficient, make the correct decisions more quickly (for instance around strategy, people and clients) and to execute those decisions more effectively. It also allows the firm to make the right choices as to what resources to use to execute those processes (human and technological) and to source those in the most appropriate, flexible and efficient way.
Execution of legal services
Business process improvement within the execution of legal services involves optimising the business processes that directly support the delivery of the firm’s legal services. These are the activities that support the execution of a matter, for example low-level legal services, due diligence, document reviews, organising signings, communications, and so on. This starts to bring other contributors into the transaction (including Legal Service Outsourcing (LSO) providers) and requires new skills to be applied to the management of a transaction (for example, project management skills). It is about law firms developing a deep understanding of the legal processes in their practice so that they can be better managed and, where appropriate, improved. It also involves lawyer-driven business processes such as matter opening, time recording, billing and debtor management. Optimising these processes makes the execution of a transaction more efficient, allowing the firm to pass on those efficiencies to the client, protecting or growing its market share, or to retain margins.
Look beyond legal, the legal sector does have specific nuances that make it unique, but it is a myth that the core business processes in a law firm are so different that they can function only with specialist legal sector software platforms or outsourcing providers. While some excellent products do exist that are specifically tailored to legal services, it may be that other solutions that have been proven in other professional services (or other business sectors) are as good or even better to a particular firm’s particular needs. ‘Best practice’ precedents from outside the legal sector can and should be incorporated into the firm’s thinking, especially given the degree to which many firms perceive these changes to be moving into uncharted waters. For any chance of success, though, an environment needs to be created that allows the topic of business process alignment, integration and optimisation to be approached in a holistic way.