Legal documents are a reflection of a law firm’s brand, reputation, experience and success. But creating high-quality, accurate and consistent documents, can be time consuming for staff – both lawyers and secretarial staff alike.
Many firms rely on manual processes, which can lead to inconsistent layouts and frustrating formatting issues. Reusing old documents can also easily lead to branding inconsistencies, security concerns and out-of-date or inaccurate information being used.
To give staff more time to focus on higher-value work, and ensure a firm’s legal documents are consistent and of the highest quality, law firms need solutions that are quick and easy to use with minimal training requirements, as London based Wedlake Bell has realised after implementing BigHand Document Creation.
Founded in 1790, Wedlake Bell has 70 partners supported by over 250 lawyers and support staff, operating across four practices: private client, business services, real estate and dispute resolution. A long-standing BigHand user for its legal Workflow Management technology, when the firm’s managing partner sought a better process for managing its document templates, BigHand’s Document Creation software presented the ideal solution.
As David Hymers, Head of IT, Wedlake Bell, explains, “We were previously using another system for managing our templates. They were automated to a fashion, but there were issues around the automation, plus the speed and ease of use, particularly with regard to the creation of engagement letters.”
Engagement letters are critical for law firms; laying out the terms of engagement for each piece of work for every client. Hymers expands: “Depending on the team or the type of matter – i.e. one that is contentious or non-contentious, for example – the engagement letter would change. Some paragraphs would only be relevant for certain matters. We found that our lawyers were having to open up the letter template manually, remove all the paragraphs that weren’t relevant to the matter they were due to work on, or tweak specific variables such as rates etc. Generally, it would take about 30-45 minutes to do a first draft of the engagement letter. Over the course of the week, considering we might create 10s, if not 100s of letters every week, that’s a lot of lost time.”
While the incumbent template system had fulfilled its initial purpose of enabling Wedlake Bell to start using Office365, the firm had already started looking at alternative solutions. Hymers adds: “As soon as we took a demo from BigHand, that our managing partner attended, we were blown away by the functionality it offered. We also knew from previous experience of working with BigHand that we would get all the support we needed to ensure the software was properly configured and aided full user adoption.”
Sandra Pawley, IT Business Engagement Specialist at Wedlake Bell took the lead on the implementation, working with the firm’s users and BigHand consultants to understand existing processes and how these could be improved and automated with the new Document Creation platform.
“We identified that our users had to go to multiple different places – for example a page on the company intranet where everyone’s charge rate was listed – to manually create the engagement letter,” she explains. “We had the idea of building that into the automation, which BigHand was easily customisable to do, so now you can type a fee earner’s name into the template and it will automatically pull in their rate from our practice management system.
“We also enhanced individual and specific ways of working, such as how footers might be populated. BigHand was extremely responsive and easy to work with on all aspects of the implementation.”
Indeed, it wasn’t just the engagement letter template that was automated. Every template that Wedlake Bell used was added to BigHand Document Creation, including accounts forms, memos and compliment slips. BigHand also added additional, new templates, such as a court template for witness statements. The team also reviewed every template as it was added to BigHand to see how it might be improved.
As Hymers comments: “Anything that is started from scratch and not from the knowledge bank is now done within BigHand. We have a better process for all templates; each one has been improved in some way. All existing users and new users are trained to do everything through BigHand with the result that our average time for generating engagement letters can now be as little as 5 minutes!”
With BigHand fully rolled out across Wedlake Bell, the team’s focus changed from ensuring adoption to canvassing user feedback for continuous improvement.
“Actually, user feedback – especially from lawyers – has been quiet, which we take as a positive sign!,” says Pawley. “It is a strong indicator of how good the user adoption has been and how user-friendly the solution is.”
That said, the firm’s secretarial team has identified specific areas of functionality that have further enhanced overall efficiency and productivity, such as creating a standardised file naming format and a default file save location, so users would know exactly where a document should be saved and / or how to easily search for it.
“The solution is also very dynamic,” adds Pawley. “It works out what to help you with based upon what you’re previously stated – i.e. if you select one of the main courts from the drop down list, Bighand will automatically filter the next list and only give you relevant sub-divisions. The intelligence behind the coding is fantastic and has given us a level of sophistication and automation that we didn’t have before.”
In addition, the template wizard within BigHand offers ‘quick fill’ functionality that allows users to save their wizard answers to re-use at a later date. It’s easy to create a new version of an existing document, or use text from one document to create another for additional time-saving.
Hymers agrees: “All the little efficiency savings BigHand brings add up to make a significant difference,” he says. “Our secretaries love it and it’s enabling our lawyers to be more self-sufficient so the whole team can focus on the more value-added work.”
Looking forward, Wedlake Bell has ambitions to expand the content bank within BigHand Document Creation, adding the facility for specific clauses and paragraphs to be pulled into a document automatically for further efficiency gains.
Commenting on the implementation process, both Hymers and Pawley emphasised the expertise of the BigHand team. “As a lawyer by training, our lead consultant knew how lawyers work. He was able to understand the processes I was bringing to him, and develop the templates in a way that would ensure their intuitive use and ease of adoption for our users. Indeed, he was able to understand what we needed even when we couldn’t always articulate it,” Pawley says.
Hymers concludes: “This is our third time of implementing one of the BigHand portfolio solutions, and every time their expertise and knowledge impresses me.”