How to Use Technology to Deliver the Legal Services People Want
Having spent two days last week at the CISI Financial Planning Conference, on Tuesday Andy was at a meeting with a different focus...
Osprey Approach is the name of the back office software used by our legal team, and we gathered at the illustrious Law Society’s Hall in Chancery Lane for an update on the latest changes in the software, and to raise any questions we had about how to make best use of it.
Craig Matthews, CEO of Pracctice Ltd, the firm behind the Osprey brand, introduced his team and then took us through a quick history of computing developments, and what we might expect in the future. He pointed out that in 1995 a laptop machine cost the equivalent of £5,000 today and had less than a quarter of the power of a modern smartphone. Nowadays, a competent laptop can be bought for less than £800, yet many office workers are still using 10-year old machines. He encouraged us to think of money spent on IT as an investment, not a cost, and that it was an outlay that would soon pay for itself.
Software moves on as working practices change
The same is true in the field of software. It’s over 10 years now since Windows 7 was introduced, yet many PCs still run on this creaking operating system. Even Windows 10, the current standard for business PCs, is over 4 years old and has moved on significantly during its lifetime. Craig recommended that we view our IT as equivalent to investing in plant and machinery. Regular reviews and upgrades are essential to stay ahead of the game.
This assertion became more relevant when Craig went on to discuss how home working, wireless, mobile and BYOD – bring your own device – have risen in prominence as networks and connectivity have improved, and especially with the vast improvement in mobile data speeds. The step to 4G made a big difference to the usability of mobile devices, and the rollout of 5G networks that is happening across the UK will bring another minor revolution in working practices. Indeed, Craig questioned whether the days of the internal server were numbered, given the availability of fast mobile data and the rise in cloud-based services.
Craig summarised by reminding us that technology is the conduit for legal knowledge and expertise, facilitating both the sourcing of information to be able to advise, and the delivery of it to the customer. Great systems are essential to enable this to happen.
All of this resonated with our own thinking at Chesterton House, as we have continued to review and replace outdated hardware and upgrade our software solutions to be able to deliver great services to our clients.
Speak, your PC is listening!
Dave Dingle and Tony Hill of Osprey then took us through some of the developments within the Osprey software. They pointed out that giants such as Netflix and Amazon overcame the problem of delivering their content via multiple browsers by creating their own apps, and Osprey have gone down a similar route by introducing a range of downloadable apps covering different uses of the system. As users who find ourselves switching between Internet Explorer and Google Chrome when using the software this is a welcome development, and should ensure a more consistent experience across the platform.
An interesting feature is the work being done on Artificial Intelligence (AI). For Osprey, this primarily means being able to carry out functions within the software by voice control, with an Alexa-like facility that will recognise commands. For many users this may seem like a distraction when most are quite happy with a keyboard and mouse, but as usage moves to mobile, with solicitors able to use the system whilst on the move, it’s good to know that work is being done at this stage. We look forward to a conversation with our legal virtual assistant about the current case!
Speeding up the signing process
Two features that are perhaps more relevant to users today include electronic signing of documents, and a client portal. The latter provides the facility to share documents and files with clients in a secure area, with the potential to provide a full correspondence history. This will be great for conveyancing clients, for example, who can log in to see what the current position is with their transaction, collect and return important documents, and communicate with their solicitor quickly and securely.
Electronic signatures are now recognised as being legally valid for many forms of agreement, and the ability to receive a document by email or client portal, review it, sign and return it within minutes must be something of great attraction to lawyers and their clients. We’ll be investigating this feature to see how we can incorporate it into our systems.
After a coffee break, Dave took us through the accounting features of the Osprey software, and the ability to raise online requisitions, automated bank reconciliations, and accounting reports, among other things. Our accounting team and cashiers already make use of some of these features so this was a helpful reminder.
The system also contains useful logs that enable solicitors to carry out their daily work. These include the recording of Oaths, a minor but important transaction for lawyers, a register of documents held for clients such as Wills or documents of title, and a Complaints log (hopefully unused!), and a register of introductions to third parties, something that they are required to record. Having all this information in one easily accessible place makes a lot of sense and ensures consistency.
Social media or essential media?
Our next speaker, Alex Hempton-Smith, helped shine a light on the complex world of social media. After a whistle-stop tour of the different social media networks, Alex explained the increasing penetration that the major platforms are achieving, and the value for law firms in communicating with their clients using Facebook and LinkedIn in particular. The average age of Facebook users is now 40, and this is a channel that no enterprise can afford to ignore. He explained some of the important functions of these platforms, and gave us lots of ideas for how to improve our social media efforts.
It’s clear that there remains a gulf between those professional people who see social media as a frivolous activity for young people, and those who enjoy being able to keep in touch with key people in their lives in an easy, focused way. The gap is closing between these two positions, and if law firms are to compete in the future they will need to be seen as modern, accessible and, above all, human. Indeed, one of the characteristics of the onward march of technology is that people don’t know who to trust, and they crave a personal relationship with the people who provide them with products and services. Getting this balance right will be crucial for successful firms in the future.
Alex also referred to the need for firms to ensure that their websites are modern and up to date. People tend not to trust sites with old content, and if your last blog post or news item was over a year ago then you’re not helping your image.
Staying within the law for lawyers
We live in a regulated world, and websites also need to be compliant. Alex referred to a recent survey by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) which found that 10% of firms didn’t have a website or their site was not working, and 25% were not compliant in some way. New regulations about publishing prices for legal work were not being followed, and important information such as how to complain was being ignored.
Alex’s talk gave us a helpful overview of this important subject, with lots of useful tips. After lunch, the meeting broke up into individual advice sessions with members of the Osprey team on hand to assist with individual queries. I was able to pose some more detailed questions about the inner workings of the software and how to make best use of it, and these will be reflected in changes that we can make to our own systems as a result.
We'll keep on improving
One thing that became very clear is that law firms need to continue to evolve, both in their use of technology as a back-office tool to increase efficiency and accountability, but also in their client facing activities. In these days when people expect to be able to book a table at their favourite restaurant online, to receive text updates from their garage when their car is in for service, and to research and organise their holidays in depth using their mobile phone, they will not continue to maintain relationships with their legal adviser if they have to do so using cartridge paper and quill pens.
Today’s session helped to provide lots more ideas and information about how to deliver a great service to clients using technology, and we’ll be making some changes to our processes to continue to improve them over the period to come.