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With intensified competition and increased workloads, on the one hand, and transformed technology on the other, it’s imperative that law firms do not leave the business-critical area of conflict management to chance.
Leaving checks to the notes and memory of individual lawyers is neither reliable nor scalable. For one thing, staff changes leave gaps in the collective memory, and historical information is crucial to effective conflict management.
Until recently, systems provided only very basic functionality – essentially a base of records (originally held on index cards), which legal staff were then trained to check at various points. Early commercial systems being quite simple, many law firms built their own on Office applications, such as spreadsheets. And a lack of system integration capabilities meant that law firms were ultimately dependent on manual conflict checking of those records.
So what has changed? How can today’s systems fully automate conflict management?
- Transformed system integration capabilities – Until recently, systems could not talk to each other, and legal staff had to deal with multiple data siloes across the firm when carrying out business-critical tasks, such as conflict checks.- Single source of truth – When there is no connectivity between systems, data needs to be input into systems multiple times, which can lead to some systems getting missed when information is updated. The result is multiple versions of information that can lead to costly errors.- Business process management – Today’s platforms and systems offer sophisticated workflow, form and data integration capabilities, automating and transforming business processes.- Borrowing from best practices elsewhere – The law profession is now in a strong position to borrow from all the good practices of other fields, notably accountancy, which now features regular employee checks and signed disclosure documents.
If you’re planning to invest in a system or platform, here is a checklist of conflict management capabilities to look out for:
- System integration – The ability to interoperate with other business systems, including customer relationship management, human resources and billing, is crucial for effective conflict management. Conflict searches should cover all cases previously handled and ideally extend to all email accounts and calendars to carry out thorough checks at all times.- Full-text searching – We’ve come a long way since card indexes, and today’s legal practitioners need to conduct searches on people and organizations, including staff and external stakeholders – in any field on any system – to carry out robust conflict management. Searches should include any previous names and addresses, aliases and spelling variations, as well as employment histories and personal interests.- Single source of truth – Firms should have connectivity between systems to avoid duplicate data entries and a centralized view of data from all core business systems; this solution should be able to easily scale as the firm grows. The single source of truth should also denote the relationship of individuals and organizations that have relationships with the firm and accommodate all parties connected to cases.- Flexible workflows – These should be customizable on an ongoing basis to meet the specific and changing needs of your law firm, providing personalized dashboards and automated tracking of conflict management and other core processes. The system should be able to route potential conflicts to the appropriate person or department for resolution.- Real-time reporting capabilities – These should provide an audit trail of the checking process and highlight any conflicts.- Ease of use – Any system is only as good as the information that goes into it, so it needs to be intuitive, flexible, and easy to learn and use.
- Robust and automated conflict management will improve confidence in case handling by not leaving conflict checking to chance and detecting issues in a timely and thorough manner.- Conflict checks need to be integrated with all the law firm’s systems and processes.- Automated processes will deliver productivity improvements, giving your staff more time to interpret the conflicts your systems detect and decide on the most appropriate course of action.
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