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System addicts

1 March 04

Providers of case management systems tell of new efforts to bring such systems within the means of smaller practices

Whilst the take-up of case management systems (CMS) has accelerated over the past two years within the Scottish legal profession, it is still very much the minority of firms that implement CMS software. Seen as “something for the bigger firms”, due to the perceived high cost both in terms of initial purchase and the subsequent internal cost of implementation, it has had little impact on the way that average high street firms go about their daily tasks. But in-house systems have been adopted successfully by a number of smaller practices, and new developments by way of web-based services are now making it possible for almost any size of firm to reap the benefits.

For a significant period of time, the preferred approach for those investing in CMS was the “best-of-breed” approach – buying the best practice management package and the best case management package in the marketplace and knitting them together. However with the advanced development of integrated packages, combining practice management and case management in one package, structured around a central database, that is no longer the case. In addition, the purchase of a “best-of-breed” system can be an expensive one, putting it out of reach of many high street practices.  

Integrated and enhanced

TFB plc’s integrated case management system has now been implemented in a number of practices across Scotland. Already enabling huge gains in productivity and efficiency, the continual development of case management technology ensures that in coming years firms will be enhancing processes and services in ways they never considered possible before. Some of the innovative facilities now available include publishing and retrieving information directly to and from the web, automatic SMS (short message service) text messaging and automatic alerts for (amongst many other issues) money laundering.

One high street firm which has chosen this route is Masson & Glennie of Peterhead. Partner Marjorie Sutherland is convinced of its merits: “The introduction and development of case management in our office has transformed my working life. When we decided as a firm to go down the case management road, none of us foresaw the speed at which our way of working would change so dramatically and so effectively. Our office is more up to date with client work than it has ever been. Such has been the effectiveness of our case management system, from a risk management point of view, that our staff are able to do work which previously would not have been possible for them to do, giving them greater job satisfaction.”

In many cases, firms are able to take on extra fee-earning capability without the added burden of support costs. The benefits are no longer restricted to any particular area of the practice, since case management can now be successfully implemented across a wide range of disciplines. This goes against the traditional view that case management is only applicable to disciplines that use standard documents, or take the “sausage factory” approach.

Allan Radlow, partner at McVey & Murricane in Glasgow, is another who believes that more firms should reconsider their attitude to CMS especially in the changing market for legal services. “It is paramount that we achieve economies of scale. There is a need to automate as much of your process as possible, no matter what type of work you are dealing with. This enables the fee earner more time with which to deal with the more difficult and complex legal issues.”

Firms need to identify a company with whom they can work in partnership, he adds – one that will assist in identifying specific needs and support the development of the changes. “We have such a relationship with TFB plc.”

Marjorie Sutherland recognises the amount of personal time at senior level which has to be input to get the best out of the system, but in her experience “even the most diehard operator of the dictating machine has been weaned off it onto the computer when they see how quickly and efficiently their work can be done”.

Targeting the smaller firm

Other initiatives are afoot to persuade small firms that case management capability can be achieved at less cost than in the past.

Suppliers like Solicitec, market leaders in case management technology in Scotland, concede that it is a very low proportion of their case management clients that can be classed as “small”. Firms of 1-4 partners constitute a large proportion of the Scottish legal profession and Solicitec therefore aim to make access to their technology easier and more affordable. The use of ASP (Application Service Provision) technology, which uses the Internet to supply services/technology to end users, is seen as the route for many firms to start enjoying the benefits of CMS without the need for large outlays.

Solicitec are able to offer their own applications (conveyancing, executry, debt recovery etc) to firms over the Internet. This means that firms do not need to install large servers or indeed have any specialist software installed on their PCs. Rather they access the system using a standard browser and pay for its use on a transactional basis; i.e. you pay for the service when you use it. Solicitec’s technology is being used as the underlying engine for several independent ventures of this nature both north and south of the border.

One such venture is Transact Direct (www.transactdirect.co.uk), a company that uses Solicitec’s Visualfiles technology to offer an end-to-end conveyancing CMS to the Scottish profession. The system  acts as a virtual deal room, in that the entire conveyancing transaction can be carried out by all relevant parties from within the parameters of the Transact Direct system. Analysts believe that this ASP market will soon involve several players and Solicitec is continually being approached by third parties with a view to using the Solicitec technology to drive their proposed solutions.

An outsourcing solution

Transact Direct is the brainchild of Peter Falconer, IT Director of conveyancing specialists PSM. “What’s different”, he explains, “is that we have built an e-conveyancing solution that allows a complete transaction to be conducted online and we have already demonstrated where we have users on both sides of the transaction that the efficiencies are substantial. We have also provided a more traditional service with all the functionality of the most complex system, available on a pay as you go basis.”

In effect the provision of the solution is completely outsourced and all that a firm need provide is internet-enabled PCs. Firms can run their cases in the system after a minimum amount of training without the need to tailor the system in any way. If a firm’s PCs can connect to the web and it has MS Office it can use the system.

Once sufficient users are operating the system in a given area, transactions can be conducted completely online within the system. All parties, whether solicitors, clients, surveyors, searchers or others authorised will be able to log in. Parties are prompted by email immediately something has happened on the case that needs their attention. For example, the search company will be prompted to make the searches and the results will be sent to the case file electronically – which will then activate the next event, and so on to completion.

Kyle Peddie, managing director of PSM says: “This technology is a major breakthrough and because no IT investment is required, smaller firms of solicitors or conveyancers have the chance to offer more advanced efficient and less costly conveyancing than even their biggest rivals with huge IT investments.”