In the life cycle of a legal matter, little attention is typically paid to the intake process. In fact, many lawyers may be tempted to view intake as simply an administrative matter that someone else handles. In reality, the intake process is crucial to setting a matter up for success and plays a huge role in running an effective legal department.
Intake in the corporate world is a means for the corporation to request services from the legal department. The intake process is the requester’s first interaction with the legal team and forms the basis for the entire life cycle of the matter. As important as it is, however, legal departments have long struggled to streamline and perfect the operations of onboarding new matters.
While technology has revolutionized many aspects of legal practice, intake has largely eluded the attention of developers, leaving legal departments to rely on disparate processes like email, forms, tasks, checklists and phone calls, all handled by different teams or individuals. The result is an inefficient process that wastes valuable time and is prone to errors.
Problems with the Current State of Intake
Intake is crucial to the legal department’s relationship with the rest of the business, since it is the first touch point with employees who are seeking legal services. The typical corporate intake workflow involves receiving a legal service request submittal, gathering all the relevant information, conducting risk assessment, deciding whether to handle the matter in-house or refer it to outside counsel and then bringing all the information into your system.
While many companies may have designated forms to fill out in order to liaise with the legal department, often there is no organized process behind those forms. If no one is systematically collecting the data entered and channeling it through an effective intake process, the form is of little use for turning requests into actual matters.
Intake may also be the first point of contact for a new matter involving people from other parts of the organization. Unfortunately, intake often involves phone calls, emails, checklists and other time-consuming steps, meaning that the person requesting legal services might have to wait a long time before the next contact on the matter.
To truly streamline the intake process, your department needs technology that collects all the data elements involved into a more unified approach – with less redundant data entry and more reliable results when the stage is complete. By automating and centralizing the intake process, you will see a reduction in labor, increased accuracy and better collaboration within your company throughout the life cycle of a matter.
Overhauling the Intake Process
New matter intake is a complex process involving several moving pieces that must be considered before choosing the right intake solution. It is important to keep in mind what you want to achieve as you evaluate possible solutions.
The Goals of an Improved Intake Process: In order to improve the intake process, legal departments need to tackle three problems: reducing the amount of human labor involved, increasing accuracy and making information discretely accessible throughout the organization.
Traditional intake involves large amounts of high-cost labor to gather and analyze the data. By reducing the amount of manual work involved, departments can boost efficiency. Workflow automation can eliminate the numerous manual tasks traditionally part of the intake process.
Automation also increases the accuracy of information by eliminating mistakes attributable to human error and double data entry. Intake information must be available to the paralegals and attorneys who will ultimately be involved in the matter and to all the people who will be handling the management of the matter in the department.
The answer lies in connecting all involved parties so they can collaborate on the whole process. By unifying the information in a single platform that is accessible to everyone at your organization, you can ensure everyone is on the same page and always looking at the most current, accurate data at the same time from a single source.
Only when that happens can your department make an adequate, informed decision about whether to handle a matter in-house and how to move forward.
The Role of Automation in Transforming Legal Intake: Automating processes is integral to streamlining matter intake and solving the main problems caused by today’s disjointed intake processes. Intake tools are ripe for automation at several key stages.
By incorporating automation into each small step of the intake process, the larger operation becomes more efficient and interconnected, allowing information to flow from step to step and making that information available to everyone in the company. Advances in automation have led to the evolution of more sophisticated workflows and business tools that have direct applications to matter intake.
Automation starts with a customized intake form, which each department can tailor to the types of matters they typically handle. Automated forms eliminate the need for other departments or employees to pick up the phone and try to find the right person when they need legal services. Forms give them the autonomy to request services on their own and on their own time. The right solution will even allow a legal department to have multiple forms to handle different kinds of matters—for example, one form for a harassment claim and another for a termination dispute.
The intake platform should automatically schedule tasks and assign work that needs to be done during each of the next stages of the intake process. With responsibility clearly assigned and an accountability system in place, intake will move much more efficiently, with a far lower chance of anything falling through the cracks. If documents or forms are needed for any part of the intake process, document creation can similarly be automated.
Automation further allows the legal department to integrate the intake process with conflicts checks, if needed, and related outside services, such as service of process, which brings necessary information directly into the intake system, speeding up these steps and increasing their accuracy. All this adds up to time savings for your team and better service for the rest of your organization.
One of the chief purposes of the corporate legal department is to help decrease the company’s risk. By automating intake, the legal department has better and quicker access to issues that might pose a potential risk for the company.
An integrated intake platform creates a virtual experience that allows the legal department to manage requests in a meaningful way, rather than having them buried in long lists of potential matters that eventually get reviewed and processed. Workflow automation is the key to streamlining the intake process and a major differentiator to look for when choosing a matter intake solution.
For intake to be as effective as possible, you need to eliminate the piecemeal ways your department has been doing things in the past. With the proper workflow automation in place, you will reduce the amount of labor involved, increase your accuracy and have all the necessary information available to your entire organization to start a new matter.
With the help of automation and the right integrated platform, intake can be a seamless process that sets a matter up for success while improving the workflows of your entire organization and providing better service to your stakeholders.
Steve Stockstill is the product lead at AdvoLogix, he is responsible for the technical design, development and implementation of the company’s software product vision. He can be reached at email@example.com.