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What will be the biggest challenges facing the legal industry in 2021 and beyond?

There’s no denying that 2020 was a challenging year for everyone; law firms included.  If we had been asked to predict what 2020 had in store, ‘global pandemic’ would not have been the response! Thankfully, although there has been many comparisons between the financial impact of Covid-19 and the 2008 crash, it’s not looking as severe. Having said that, the biggest challenge ahead for the legal sector is ensuring sustainable and profitable growth. “Doing more with less” is the mantra.

There’s also the continued trend of new types of legal service and new forms of delivery of legal services. Firms need to be razor sharp about managing their clients’ experience. Clients’ expectations about service and experience are continually rising. They expect an overall experience to be supported by technology that eases communication, offers time-saving benefits and so on. We’re not just talking client portals and the move away from the traditional meeting in a commercial office space but immediate responses to emails and queries, flexibility, transparency and so on.

Investing in technology that supports the client experience is not the only challenge. Firms need to be looking right across the business. Cyber security is high on everyone’s agenda for 2021 and beyond. That’s a given. But what else? Working out what’s the right technology to invest in is the question. I would say just think about how automation and off-shore resourcing completely transformed manufacturing. That’s happening now with service delivery. The parallels are DevOps, RPA, SaaS solutions – and a vast array of other innovations we’re seeing in the tech market. Firms have some real thinking to do on this one.

How might technology be utilised to address these challenges?

In terms of “Doing more with less”, automation is key. Automation drives down costs and increases productivity. It’s a no brainer. Especially if you are looking at a hire-freeze – how can you increase output? You need tech to increase that output for you. It may be automation tools that free up costly IT resources or tools that take on legal and paralegal tasks but whatever it is, it needs consideration now.

As for customer experience, there’s the obvious stuff like video conferencing, paperless billing and client portals. What I would add to that is embedding technology into the back office and legal processes so that the overall customer experience is slick. Robotic Process Automation has been a winner in this area.   There are bots out there that assist everything from client communications to case handling to billing to compliance. The added bonus is that having bots handle some of the mundane tasks frees up your employees to focus on client relationships.

What emerging technologies should law firms have on their radars?

Technology wise, right now the world is an amazing place – there is so much innovation going on. It’s really exciting. Without a doubt, everyone needs to be paying attention to the Multiparty Systems (MPS) space such as blockchain, distributed ledger, distributed database, tokenization and so on. For Law Firms? I would say you need to look towards AI, Machine learning, RPA and workflow automation. AI still has a way to go but what is out there now is RPA plus Intelligent Automation (IA). It’s a combination of RPA and AI technologies. This really is an opportunity to drive improvements without having to run a major IT project. Also, it’s an easy technology to introduce because the benefits are so obvious to a firm’s workforce. We’re not talking about ripping out existing technology or applications – it’s about software doing the repetitive tasks your employees do (and often hate doing!)  – only better. What the future holds is this combination of human workers and bots  – the bots handling processes such as service ticketing, document processing (including customer forms and applications), contact center operations, order processing, data allocation and reporting, and customer data management, data validation and checks – with humans doing the stuff that humans are truly great at – creating plans and strategies, building relationships – any task that requires creativity or ingenuity or intervention. Interviewing people – there’s another one – what we’re doing now. The human element.

Tell us about your new product you are launching at WM Promus and its importance to the sector in 2021?

We’ve been super busy throughout 2020. We’re always asking ourselves questions like “how can we make this better for our clients?” “How can we simplify this?” And all those questions led us to thinking about the benefits we could bring to clients through RPA as a service. We’ve been creating bots for years and our clients love the increased productivity, the accuracy, work running 24/7 – all the great stuff RPA gives you. What we wanted to do for them was deliver the additional benefits of SaaS. The ease of use, the increased scalability, reduced time to ROI, even lower costs – all the pluses of SaaS. So that’s what we’ve been up to. On top of our usual activities, building various automation and RPA solutions, we built our own RPA SaaS solution. It’s called DIgiAssist. We trialled it earlier in the year and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. For Legal firms, well for anyone actually, it means easy access to RPA with no headaches.  We see it as an ideal boarding point for firms who want to start benefitting from RPA but don’t want to commit to managing new technology or who want to manage their investment in a different way. I think the best way to picture it is like outsourcing a task. Who wouldn’t be happy to outsource processes like invoicing, sanctions checking, new matter requests, email processing, – and a whole lot of other processes – if it meant reduced costs and increased accuracy and productivity? Essentially, you get the tasks done but you don’t worry about the ‘how’. You do maintain a level of control though through DigiAssist’s portal. You can see what’s been processed, when, how long it took, what it is costing you and even what else you could get your DigiAssist bots to do for you.

At WM Promus you state that ‘one tool does not fit all’. Please explain why?

WM Promus partners with leading technology vendors. We showcase their solutions at events, we deliver implementations on behalf of those partners and we contribute to their community forums. Some of those vendors compete with each other but, for us, it’s not about one ‘BEST’ tool or ‘BEST’ vendor. However, there will be a tool or technology solution that best meets YOUR needs. We will continue to do as we have always done, work with the best technology solutions but remain vendor agnostic. That’s because working with our clients means taking account of everything – not just the technical aspects of a tool or the licensing costs but other things. What support are they looking for? What’s their internal skill set? What’s the current strategy? What’s available marketplace –wise? There’s lot to consider. We trust our partners and we love working with sophisticated tools but key to what we do is remain vendor agnostic. We don’t believe that one tool suits all.

How are client expectations and customer service being influenced by consumers’ experience of other products and services outside of the legal sector? How can law firms learn from this?

That’s an interesting question. Client experience was in my list of law firm challenges for 2021, which we just spoke about. The reason client’s expect more from law firms is that they’ve become used to consuming products and services offered by organisations that have been innovating and investing in customer experience. Your clients know what technology-backed service improvement feels like. Typically, it feels good. It feels fast and efficient and seamless. They’re comfortable with chat bots. They like easy access to reports of what they bought and when; to be able to track and trace their transactions. They want to communicate easily with whoever is providing the service. Law firm clients aren’t necessarily comparing you to other firms, the bar is being set by their experience of great service across the board.   So law firms need to look outside the sector not just at their own competition.

Finally, what are WM Promus’ plans for the next year as we look to come out of the pandemic?

We’re currently growing in size. Covid-19 really brought home to many of our clients the need for technologies that would support business continuity. For some clients, having RPA in place was critical. The thing about bots is that they are immune to the upheavals that affect people. Covid means nothing to a bot! Not only will a bot process data far far more quickly than a human ever could they can run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. As well as being incredibly efficient at processing data, they are accurate. On top of that, bots can scale up or down as demand fluctuates. 2020 was a busy year for us delivering RPA solutions and it’s continuing into 2021. There’s a particular culture here at WM Promus. We love technology. But part of that is because we believe you can improve people’s lives through technology. So that’s what’s in store for us. Improvement through technology!

by Eileen O`Mahony, General Manager at WM Promus

15th June 2021

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