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For a Law Firm to Stand Out, Matter Intake Matters

January 18, 2024

legal ops manage requests manage matters law firms elm

While numerous law firm leaders understand that process efficiency and exceptional legal service delivery are crucial for their firm’s success, many still believe that legal expertise alone is sufficient for their firm’s prosperity.

In earlier decades, this belief may have been correct. Today, having excellent practitioners is table stakes, which makes excellent operations a powerful competitive advantage. Legal acumen cannot carry the day if clients lose confidence in their law firm’s ability to handle work.

Law firms face two operational challenges: client service delivery and business and administrative operations (i.e., business development, IT, HR, marketing, etc.). Roughly speaking, these correspond to what the firm provides clients and how the firm produces its output for clients.

This ‘what’ and ‘how’ come together operationally in a firm’s mechanism for managing requests, from initial intake to assignment and oversight, completing the work, and ultimately delivering the work product to the client. A comprehensive approach to all aspects of the ‘matter lifecycle’. Optimisation requires a standardised process that covers numerous areas:

  • Intake (clarifying the specifics of the request, e.g., deliverables, scope, deadlines, etc.)
  • Regulatory (e.g., conflict checks)
  • Resourcing (requesting support from other practice groups, administrative functions, and third-party vendors)
  • Determining the work involved in fulfilling the request
  • Management (including assigning and tracking tasks and areas of responsibility)
  • Communication and collaboration (both internally and with the client)
  • Delivery of work product and legal output
  • Oversight (e.g., providing stakeholders clear visibility into progress and status)

The last item bears particular emphasis. Tremendous business and strategic advantages come from insight into a firm’s activities. Gaining that insight requires that practice group leaders and managing partners have a mechanism to exercise centralised oversight, assess the volume and status of requests (both individually and across the firm), spot trends (both good and bad), and pinpoint potential risks that require a quick response. They must also glean information to inform business and strategic decisions and support continuous improvement of client service delivery.

The vital importance of effective law firm matter management is apparent in the operational challenges law firms face when they have yet to optimise their approach to legal intake and request management. Any of these challenges can directly — and negatively – affect client service delivery and client satisfaction. Common issues include:

  • The ‘air traffic control’ required when simultaneously receiving client requests and keeping track of everything that each one requires – clarification (e.g., of deadlines, scope, etc.) from the client, determination of which firm lawyers are suitable and available to work on the matter, etc.
  • Adapting to differences in how clients communicate requests and the level of detail and extent of information they provide
  • Tracking timekeepers’ work and promptly billing clients
  • Monitoring tasks, deadlines, resource assignments, and communications
  • Avoiding misunderstandings, errors, and delays due to cumbersome approaches to Internal and external communications and collaboration
  • Correctly allocating resources and tracking progress across various requests
  • Onboarding new clients quickly
  • Leveraging analytics and reporting tools to enable data-driven decisions and improvements
  • Meeting all the legal and regulatory requirements relevant to a particular matter

The challenges do not occur with request management systems that include a crucial set of components (a topic I addressed in a previous post). However, a law firm or practice group leader may not realise the full extent to which a robust legal intake and request management solution can improve client relations by redefining the delivery of client services and improving the speed and quality of the legal services that a firm provides. The matter processes enhanced by systematised legal intake and request management include:

  • Corporate (e.g., requests for entity formation, corporate governance advice, due diligence assistance, and mergers and acquisitions support)
  • Real Estate: (e.g., providing clients real-time status updates and a ‘self-service’ portal for requests for support on property transactions, title dispute resolution, zoning guidance, and property development projects)
  • Litigation (e.g., a client portal for dispute representation, pre-trial strategies, and trial preparation, plus a centralised mechanism for collaborating smoothly on discovery, monitoring case progress, and providing timely updates on negotiations)
  • Commercial Contracts: Initiate interactions on contracts, such as requests for drafting, reviewing, and negotiating agreements. Ensure favourable terms while minimising risk for clients. Manage Requests centralises contract oversight and commitments.

Other practice areas also benefit, such as intellectual property, employment, banking, regulatory compliance, and tax.

The impact of an intake and request management system is not limited to fee-earning teams. The impact of such systems permeates more broadly into a firm’s essential business and operational functions:

  • Marketing and Business Development
  • Proposal and Pitch Creation and Support
  • Client Due Diligence, Compliance, and Risk Management
  • Information Technology, Technical Support, and Information Security
  • Human Resourcesand Recruitment, Hiring and Staffing Strategy
  • Knowledge Management
  • Procurement, Vendor Selection, and Contract Review and Negotiation
  • Administrative Support

Indeed, it is difficult to name a department within a firm that will not see benefit from utilising an intake and request management system.

The skill, experience, judgment, and knowledge of a law firm’s practitioners will always be the foundation of the firm’s performance and longevity. But even the most skilled cannot compensate for the competitive consequences of poor operational efficiency and subpar client service delivery. Mastery of legal intake and request management allows firm lawyers to shine – and their firm to rise to the top.

For a law firm to prosper it requires more than excellent practitioners. It must also be excellent in matter intake and management. Otherwise, it will bear the consequences of poor operational efficiency and subpar client service delivery.

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