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Streamlining Law Office Digital Workflow
Law Technology News
Technology should help a law office function like a well-oiled machine. Yet frequently, often due to weak workflow practices, a law office operates more like an '01 Pontiac Aztek with a slipping transmission than a Formula One racecar.
While that might be an exaggeration, many law offices could operate much more efficiently if only greater attention was paid to the way technologies such as email, calendar and scheduling applications, and electronic documents were used by attorneys and staff. By streamlining the digital workflow — intelligently routing and tracking of information based on predefined organizational policies — a law office can achieve benefits in efficiency, performance, and service.
A workflow is like a relay race. When the starting pistol fires, the first runner sprints toward the next runner to pass the baton. The second runner then dashes to the third racer to complete another hand-off. The process continues until the final runner on the team crosses the finish line.
Law offices with poor digital workflow practices suffer under several burdens, such as an over-reliance on paper documents, poor team collaboration, tasks falling in the cracks, inefficient document management, spotty status tracking, missed deadlines, work duplication, and subpar time management.
Promising to fix all of these ills are workflow automation vendors with products that aim to integrate content and work tasks into a cohesive entity, providing vital information when and where it's needed. Once an office's digital workflow is automated, information flows through the organization without delay or misdirection so that tasks can be completed in a fraction of the time it would take manually.
Workflow automation products shouldn't be confused with project management tools, which are designed to organize resources and schedules for the on-time completion of specific initiatives. While projects are temporary , and project management software is usually focused on milestones, benchmarks and completion dates, workflow automation is all about managing everyday processes and routines.
WORKFLOW AUTOMATION PRODUCTS
A quick Google search reveals there's no shortage of workflow automation software. Literally scores of companies, of all types and sizes, offer some type of software designed to help offices collaborate more effectively. Product quality varies widely, however, with many offerings providing little more value than a slew of basic email routing capabilities. Yet an abundance of features is also no guarantee that a workflow automation product is suitable for law office use. Many of the tools targeted at general businesses fail to address a law office's unique needs, particularly in areas such as time management and billing.
With so many workflow automation tools to choose from it can be hard to zero-in on acceptable products for law offices. To help you cut through the clutter, here's a look at several packages that come closest to meeting the needs and preferences of lawyers and their staff.
HP Autonomy: HP Autonomy Workflow Manager provides many modeling and business process simulation capabilities that can be easily adapted to law office use. The product also offers rule-based routing, intelligent electronic forms, real-time business activity monitoring, secure connectivity to other business systems and support for digital signatures. Users can access their workflow tools in several ways, including via Web, Outlook, and mobile device interfaces.
Strengths: Intuitive drag-and-drop design; minimal training required; automatically generates audit trails; multi-platform support.
BP Logix: The company's Process Director is designed to help users manage an array of critical law office business processes. The rules-based workflow system is a component within BP Logix's overall business process management offering, which is designed to automate an organization's existing processes without changing the way users perform their tasks. The approach is designed to appeal to lawyers reluctant to change their current working methods to accommodate a workflow solution.
Strengths: Web-based interface; plain language configuration; integrates with existing user directories, such as Active Directory and LDAP.
Claromentis: The firm's Legal Workflow Management Automation Software aims to help law offices manage the capture and processing of forms-based information. Notification and alert features ensure that all participants within the workflow are informed of changes via automatic e-mail or instant messages. An integrated information-capture application records legal information efficiently, allowing users with the permissions to access the data for audit.
Strengths: Integrated form builder; reporting tool; multiple permission levels.
Dexco/Acumin: The Acumin Workflow Suite offers tools designed to model, automate, manage, and optimize key business processes. Documents, forms and tasks can be automatically routed under pre-defined business process rules designed and modeled directly in the system. The software doesn't require users to change their current working methods.
Strengths: Easily definable rules and conditions; integrates with existing user directories, such as Active Directory and LDAP.
HoudiniESQ: This product automatically triggers workflow document routing, notifications, and related tasks whenever an attorney or staff member performs a relevant action. Users can generate documents (Word or PDF), send emails, notify staff to important news, calendar events, create date- and time-based alerts and autofill fields.
Strengths: Highly customizable; Web-based interface.
iDatix: The company's Progression software allows law offices to convert any existing business process into a browser-based, Web-enabled application without resorting to programming or extensive development work. Web-based electronic forms that can be accessed, viewed, and completed anywhere on a wide range of devices.
Strengths: Easy to use and configure; close integration with existing accounting, human resources, enterprise resource planning, and other business software systems.
Legal Software Systems: The firm offers a basic process-based solution that automates client-matter intake, conflict checking and accounts payable check requests. Since all of the software's functions are based on previously entered information, nothing ever needs to be entered more than once.
Strengths: A simple and straightforward, no frills offering; integrates with the company's other law office software products, including financial and case management tools; custom routing; email notifications.
Perceptive Software: Perceptive Workflow that lets law offices create, manage, and modify simple and complex workflow processes via an intuitive interface. Flexible routing options allow users to control how and where information is delivered. Users can adapt and scale workflows to meet evolving business needs.
Strengths: Graphical workflow design interface; document routing rules can be created using ordinary language.
Versys: This vendor provides software that allows the intelligent routing and tracking of information based on predefined business rules. Graphical design tools and an intuitive, flexible architecture let users design and automate processes without resorting to programming, scripting, macros, HTML, or Java. Users can participate in workflow processes from anywhere they have Web access using any ActiveX-enabled browser, such as the Microsoft Internet Explorer.
Strengths: Intuitive graphical workflow design tools; powerful, flexible architecture; Web interface.
Freelance writer John Edwards is based in Arizona. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in Law Technology News.