Back to the future – two back-office processes that technology can improve

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2 September 2010


John Marks of Canon (UK) highlights two key back-office process where smaller law firms can improve their efficiency – print management and automation. Canon (UK) is a Legal Futures Associate.

Marks: firms need to use IT to compete

The Legal Services Act has started to create greater competition amongst the smaller high street law firms. Decision makers within these firms must start addressing how they can become more efficient, in order to keep up with the big players such as the Co-op, who already have access to cheaper employee costs, sophisticated IT systems and benefit from economies of scale.

IT plays a key role in increasing business efficiency and a change in the way the systems are run can have a great impact on the efficiency of a firm. Below I have outlined two key back-office processes, print management and automation, which Canon looks to address with many of its customers in the legal sector:

Print management

It is surprising how many law firms, both large and small, still rely on separate hardware for printing, scanning and faxing, and have individual desktop printers for each member of staff.

Print management is a relatively new area for law firms and many are adverse to change, but yet the cost of inefficient printing can eat away at a firm’s revenue.

Many IT or office managers believe that any changes to the print network will require a complicated, time-consuming and costly upgrade of the IT network. However, this is not the case. To cut costs and increase efficiencies, law firms simply need to look at consolidating hardware into one or two central printers (ideally a multifunctional printer which will also allow users to fax and scan, therefore saving the need for separate devices for these functions as well).

Employees can then send print jobs to a central print queue and release the print from the most convenient device. An additional benefit is that if the printer does go down, employees can always access a different print hub, so that staff can ensure they are not wasting time managing print jams when they could be working on a case and billing work back to a client. 

This print technology can now be easily integrated into an existing IT network enabling the IT manager (or even office manager) to manage the print network centrally and administer it more easily. Crucially, new print solutions can integrate with existing technologies and with any future investments. It is important that the management of the print function is seen as less of an administrative burden and more as a real opportunity to contribute to a firm’s bottom line through more efficient processes and heightened staff productivity.

Automating common processes

There are many areas of a business which can be automated, but there are some which are much more time-consuming than others. Sorting through post is one of the more time-consuming processes which is costing firms time and money.

Due to the paper-based nature of law firms, they can receive a vast amount of post each day. Sorting through this post can take hours, even for smaller firms. Take, for example, Browne Jacobson, a law firm headquartered in Nottingham with 257 lawyers. The firm receives between 600 and 1,000 pieces of mail each day and the nine-member mailroom team spent a large proportion of their time opening, date stamping and sorting post into relevant pigeon holes for individual lawyers or offices.

Secretarial staff in each office also collected the post, sorted it and delivered, scanning to e-mail where necessary, before saving the generated PDF attachment into the existing document management system (DMS).

To save time and maximise efficiency, the firm implemented the eCopy solution from Canon which enabled the appropriate employees to save the scanned post directly into its DMS. Incoming post is opened and stacked along with a barcode sheet identifying the recipient of the mail and scanned as one batch using the eCopy system. The barcode sheet identifies the correct folder for the relevant lawyer within the DMS.

Individual mail items are split using separator sheets to ensure that each item, regardless of the number of pages, is saved as a unique PDF to enable ease of use. The electronic post can then be viewed by the lawyer or secretary and filed straight into the relevant matter file as appropriate.

The firm immediately saw a reduction in physical mail administration and delivery, saving time and maximising efficiency by streamlining processes. Most importantly, critical information is delivered faster, which means that staff can resolve queries more quickly. Automating scanning and classification of incoming mail also frees up time for strategic tasks and billable client work.

John Marks is vertical marketing manager, business services at Canon UK

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