At a time when firms need to move forward if they are not going to be left behind, fast-growing west country law firm Everys outlines the benefits of integrating case and practice management systems since going live with SOS Connect last year. SOS is a Legal Futures
West Country-based Everys Solicitors has started to reap the rewards of integrating case and practice management since going live with SOS Connect from Bath-based Solicitors Own Software (SOS). Managing partner James Griffin says: “We have already increased capacity across most departments and are working smarter. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of efficiency benefits, improved service to clients, including on-line services, and improving our competitiveness.”
Last summer Everys selected SOS Connect to replace an IRIS system as part of a £500,000 investment in new IT, communications and telephony systems. Everys, is a well-established family firm with 63 lawyers whose slogan is “legal expertise for everyone”. Established 250 years ago, the firm has a very progressive outlook, recently opening branches as diverse as Dubai and the new livestock centre at junction 24 on the M5, as well as having eight offices across East Devon and in Taunton, Somerset.
SOS Connect was chosen after an in-depth evaluation of the legal software marketplace. Mr Griffin says: “When I took over as managing partner in 2008, I realised there was room for improvement in our use of technology for case management and the integration with the accounts, to streamline performance. The need to become more competitive was also spurred on by the changes in the legal services world that the Legal Services Act would bring.”
SOS Connect was chosen to replace the previous IRIS/Videss system, introduce case management for the first time and be the vehicle for providing a consistent, standardised, multi-disciplinary service from all offices.
Claire Lovett, head of residential property, acted as the full-time project manager for the three to four-month implementation, which kicked off in late summer 2009. This was the largest project of its type undertaken by the firm and it decided to take a ‘big bang’ approach to going live, rather than an phased implementation. “SOS aided our understanding of the size of the project and their experience was very useful in helping us to plan and manage the project and in pre-warning us of the likely pitfalls. I acted as a single helpdesk point for people to turn to with queries and SOS provided me with excellent hand-holding support.”
Case management technology was new to many at the firm and the plan was to roll out common business processes, a reasonable level of case management (for later customisation and tweaking), as well as the accounts, and switch off the old system on the go-live date.
Training turned out to be the one area that with hindsight would have been handled differently. As James Griffin says: “I should have placed a greater emphasis on training. It’s not that the new SOS system is complex, in fact it is highly intuitive and people were picking up the system quickly, but when you switch over you are immediately operational on the new system and training on the job is not something you want to be doing. We spotted a training need and asked SOS for immediate help over a weekend. On Monday morning I had the four extra trainers I needed and I was very pleased with the response from SOS.”
Part of the training issue was due to the different levels of experience within the firm of using case management systems. However, as Claire Lovett further explains: “Even with hindsight we wouldn’t have done anything very differently. Of course we had the option to move the go-live date, but we bit the bullet on the day and knew there would be a bit of pain, but it was definitely the right decision. It was tough for the firm to make such a big investment at a time of economic recession and we didn’t want to lose the momentum or enthusiasm of everyone for the new SOS system or delay the anticipated benefits.”
Everys made use of SOS data conversion services to transfer and translate the data from the Iris system onto SOS Connect and the new system went live, on time, in November 2009. It was also on budget, save for extra training costs. The benefits started to emerge quickly. “We saw the benefits in up-to-date accounts and real-time client information pretty quickly,” says Mr Griffin. ”Most departments are reporting that they have got to grips with the system and finding that their capacity has been increased. We have got the case management basics live and now each department is working on adapting the workflows to their specific operations and rolling them out as standard processes at the multiple sites. The automation of many of the probate and estate account processes for private clients is due to go live imminently.”
Offering clients certainty of costs has always been a guiding principle at Everys and with the automated time recording and full integration of client cases with the accounts, the firm is able to monitor the relationship between fixed fees and actual costs incurred, and keep an eye on profitability. Standardisation of business processes across the whole multi-site practice is another major advantage of the new system. Claire Lovett comments: “SOS Connect has helped us to put in place really clear procedures for everyone to follow. This enables us to maintain the advantage of operating multiple offices and providing services in the community while retaining control and enormous flexibility in terms of cover. I can instantly see from the centralised system what is happening, everywhere.”
The new system enables the firm to ensure that during holiday or sickness times a lawyer in a different office can pick up on a case and continue to serve the client. Similarly lawyers have the freedom to work with their caseloads from any office and remotely. The system is streamlining operations and changing the way everyone works.
“Fee-earners and lawyers have great interaction with the system and the real-time integration is a great time-saver,” says Mr Griffin. “For example, a digitally dictated letter is integrated with time recording, the accounts and the case file so that when the secretary comes to type it up, the letter is automatically populated with the recipient’s details, greeting etc and the billing information is updated.”
He continues: “If you are not being proactive in today’s legal services landscape, then you will fall behind. As we move to a real-time operation with vastly improved management information, I am confident that SOS Connect will continue to support our goals of achieving a highly reliable, efficient and cost-effective service to clients. Next we are looking at providing clients with online access to track case progress and also in linking in our Dubai office, which we are expanding. We will continue to move forward as a progressive law firm.”