The Search for the Self-Moving Case
Automation for Attorneys is here – and it’s making their practice faster and more rewarding
Despite the charismatic oral arguments you see on TV, we all know law is often a practice of paper-pushing and data-entry. Each step in the case cycle comes only from intensive activity from an attorney or staff member.
But legal technology is changing all of that.
We’re living through the time of rapid law firm automation. The changes we witness now with automation technology will radically transform the practice of law.
I want to pause for one second on that word: automation. ‘Automatic’ means ‘self-moving’ or ‘self-acting.’ Essentially we’re talking about cases that move themselves forward. For overworked attorneys and their staff, this is the Holy Grail of growth and productivity. And legal technology is making it possible.
We’re not talking about some litigating C-3PO here. The tools of legal automation are familiar, intuitive, and right at your fingertips.
Modern case management software has the power to automate lawyering in unprecedented ways. Some case management platforms have taken a conservative track, essentially putting the old filing cabinet into a computer. But newer solutions, like Filevine, explore the opportunities of automation to bring greater efficiency, productivity, and job satisfaction.
What does it look like? Automation happens in hundreds of small ways. Here are a few that arise in the life cycle of a standard case:
Perhaps the most delicate moment of your practice is intake: that stage between when a potential client first stumbles across your firm’s name and when they actually sign on with you. These potential clients will be most impressed with 24/7 availability and immediate responses. If they don’t get an answer from you right away, they’ll probably move on to someone else.
But increasingly, attorneys don’t want to keep their phones on 24/7. They don’t want to interrupt their sleep, their leisure, or their work on another case. That’s where automated intake comes to the rescue.
Beyond that, Filevine integrates with the virtual receptionist service Ringbird. With Ringbird, any potential client who calls can always reach a human being. And the information gathered in that call goes directly into your case file, ensuring a seamless onboarding process [Note: if Ringbird has their blogs up already, I wrote one called ‘perfecting the handoff’ that would link well here]. These can enter your system as unqualified leads, allowing you to research the case and see if it’s worth your time.
Building the Relationship
Lawyers can rest assured that for the foreseeable future they can’t be completely replaced by robots. That’s because a lot of their work is higher-order thought and relationship building. But even here, automation can be a tremendous help.
One of the biggest complaints clients have of their attorneys is that they don’t hear from them often enough. Automating your workflow means building in tasks and reminders to connect with specific clients at crucial times. This includes when they first express interest in your firm, as discussed above. But it also holds throughout the legal process.
For instance, if you’re a personal injury attorney and your client is going to her doctor, you can assign the task to follow up with her immediately afterward, texting her directly from her case file. The client might respond that she was referred to a specialist, and you can put in a new task to follow up on that appointment.
Attorneys who do this keep tabs on their clients and have a better idea of potential settlement numbers. And they also build better relationships. Their clients feel less worried and more confident that their attorney cares for them and is hard at work on their case.
Another great way that firm automation can help client relationship is through reports. Filevine user Ryan McKeen explains his use of the ‘Naughty List’ report. He regularly checks for every case that hasn’t been touched in 30 days. Though it’s easy for busy personal injury firms to let cases sit on the back burner, any case that’s made the Naughty List gets a follow-up task, pushing those legal teams to check in with their clients and ensure the work is moving forward.
Of course, all of this is made simpler through Filevine’s unique Text-to-Case-File feature. Clients love to text, but attorneys worry that if they don’t respond immediately (and in the process interrupt their flow), then the text can fall between the cracks. Filevine’s system moves this communication into the case file, ensuring that it’s recorded and answered by the legal team member with available time.
Building the Case
The mark of a modern legal case is collaboration. Legal work has become more cooperative — and more geographically disbursed. This is one of the main benefits of cloud-based case management software. And it’s also an area where automation can keep a team working smoothly together.
Clients of Filevine attorneys can send documents like accident or injury pictures directly into their case files through text or email. This cuts down on the time spent uploading into and organizing case files.
As you build your case, you can establish automatic task flows. These can be standardized across case phases. But you can also create stand-alone task flows for certain kinds of cases. Whether it’s contacting witnesses, following up on medical reports, or any other set of tasks and deadlines, you can trigger an automated workflow.
Gathering information is often a long slog. But automation streamlines and clarifies the process. The team’s tasks are prioritized and explicit, with all the relevant case details there up front.
How each member gets notified of these tasks is up to them: they can receive reminders in daily digest emails or more urgent notifications can be pushed into text messages or Slack. They can also customize the way they’re notified about upcoming deadlines, depending on whether they need more or less intensive motivation to get their work finished.
Case management software can create a paperless practice. That means no extensive printing, copying, and hard-copy filing systems are necessary. And with electronic filing, you don’t even have to worry about submitting a physical brief.
But even with a digital practice, one time-drain is data entry. The best case management technology directly attacks the problem of duplicate entry. From the intake process through each interaction with members of the legal team, the goal is to ensure that the same pieces of information only need to be written once.
And sometimes, you don’t even need to write it once. The Filevine-integrated app Jot allows you to turn voice memos into written notes and documents, through a combination of machine and human transcription.
Filevine also helps with automatic document generation. Instead of recreating the same categories of documents over and over, keep your common templates on hand and let the tech pull information directly from the case file to fill them out.
Once they’ve been saved into Filevine, Microsoft Office documents are easy to edit. You don’t have to download, open, edit, save, and re-upload. With one click you can edit in place. The revised version is automatically saved into Filevine, eliminating the problems that happen when one team member forgets to upload their most recent draft.
One massive time-saver brought by cloud-based case management software is in finding documents. No more rifling through filing cabinets or memorizing complex file-naming routines — with Filevine you can add hashtags to make your files more searchable. You can also apply auto-hashtags to automatically tag cases that fit any specific criteria.
Automation can also help whenever you have forms for clients to sign. Rather than printing and mailing a form or needing to meet in person, you can text the form directly to your client. They can then e-sign with a selfie and text it right back, greatly speeding up the process.
Another area where automation can make huge strides is in firm management. These tools are often in demand by attorneys who dove deep into case law in school but received scant training on the actual work of running a law firm.
One great example is the automatic settlement calculator. When you receive new financial information about your client, Filevine updates your disbursal sheet in real-time. The calculator factors in medical reductions, and can show you and your client the results of various payment and reduction scenarios.
This kind of information is crucial in determining whether and when to settle a case, and when to keep fighting.
Another major part of the automated law firm is data analysis. Customize Filevine’s automatically-scheduled advanced reports for insight on any aspect of your firm. Monitor workflows to see how your team is performing. Learn how long cases are taking and whether you’ve got bottlenecks to address. Clarify marketing decisions, as you learn what’s driving clients and referrals your way. These can all be turned into compelling visual material through Filevine’s integration with Domo.
For an even deeper dive into your data, there’s Filevine Periscope. Periscope gives attorneys unprecedented access to their data. And it gives attorney insights in clear, visual graphics. With the right tools, your own data can give you regular feedback, and keep you steering in the right direction.
The Twilight of Paper-pushing
This list shows some possible uses of automation in the case management process. But more features are being released every month. To discover the latest releases, check out Filevine’s New Features Webinar — and keep watching for future updates.
It’s worth looking back and remembering that once upon a time, every copy of a document had to be painstakingly written out by an employee called a scrivener. This job was so mindless and dull that Herman Melville wrote one of literature’s most dismal stories about the job.
The scriveners lost their jobs to carbon paper and typewriters — and finally the Xerox machine was invented by an arthritic attorney. But the revolution we’re seeing today goes even deeper than replacing depressed scriveners with a copier. As we streamline and automate, we’re finding more ways a case — and an entire legal practice — can truly move itself forward.