Summary: There’s more than pure technology to help drive costs out of legal work. Here are a couple I have recently studied and feel confident they work:
There was a time, not so long ago. Law firm clients, especially those on retainers or simply long-term relationships, submitted bills for their time doing legal work. There would be a reconciliation of course, what was billable time spent doing. But then something changed. A new word crept into the lexicon of those client’s accounts payable people. That word was…. DISCOUNT.
Discount you say? Would you ask your doctor for a discount while you were being operated on? Would you demand to see a published rate card from your dentist before (or even after) he did a root canal? A discount? Never have so many been so surprised by such a simple word.
History as I understand it
Way back in 1977, a case regarding legal advertising was brought to the Supreme Court which you can read all about at Bates V State Bar of Arizona. In it’s finding the court found:
The Court emphasized the benefits of the information that flows to consumers through advertising, positing that lawyer advertising would make legal services more accessible to the general public and improve the overall administration of justice.
So began the beginning of legal services marketing. And just like any other business that attempts to be disruptive, nimble attorneys felt that they could offer other attorney’s clients the same quality of work at a lower cost. Like a virtual snowball rolling down the hill, getting larger and larger. Suddenly there were attorneys doing television commercials, pictures painted on bus stops, and equally as sudden, price adjustments were being demanded. This required changes in workflow within the law firms.
Enter technology. To a very great degree, technology proved to be a way for law firms large and small, to be responsive, compliant and be able to take costs out of the business, thus lowering the billable rates, while keeping margins high. This worked pretty well, but it varied by practice.
Moving paper documents and legal work files from expensively priced square footage inside the office was the first step. Typically it was simply a relocation to a secure offsite warehouse. In the event a file was needed, it could be recovered rather quickly. But space, although cheaper in a warehouse, can get very expensive especially in cases involving class actions or mass torts.
Enter the paper-to-digital movement. Realizing you can store volumes and volumes of copies of legal records on a computer hard drive accomplished two things. It made it easier to access, and virtually eliminated the costs of remote storage. Data storage has, and continues to decrease in cost. A 2 terabyte hard disk drive once cost $1,000 dollars, now costs about a hundred.
Backing up data also became easier, and remote cloning of local drives became the norm. The adoption of mobile devices with secure access, meant it was no longer necessary to chase pieces of paper before heading to court or a client meeting. Simply pull the record up on your tablet, even your smart phone. and all that legal work is at your fingertips.
Yet there were still people – always the highest cost of doing business – that darn human capital. While it was easy to outsource IT support, telephone support, etc., there was still people overhead. Remember this is quite practice specific, so let’s focus on personal injury matters.
There are two workflow components to this topic aside from the actual client and the actual defendant. The first is collecting ALL the medical records associated with a personal injury litigation. This is not nearly as simple as it seems. Realize that the plaintiff likely doesn’t recall everything that took place at the time of the alleged injury.
Depending on age, they may have forgotten earlier injuries or accidents which may have been present at the time of the incident you are litigating. Even the brightest, youngest individual probably cannot describe what was going on behind them. Or how it may have aggravated a long-forgotten sports injury.
This is incredibly important when that same plaintiff has to respond to information uncovered by the defense during a deposition. You have a billable staff, highly-trained, on the payroll, and otherwise actively working on firm matters. Why spend their valuable time chasing hospitals, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists, and more? Why have them make copies of paper to help connect the dots of the matter? The fact is, they should be doing billable legal work.
The answer is: It is a waste of money and a useless waste of billable resources. This is especially true in pro-bono cases, where the court can limit the amounts recoverable (passable) in the event the case is lost by the plaintiff’s counsel. A better alternative is to consider a Medical Record Retrieval specialist. Not only do they usually have the process down to a science, but the best ones will host those records in a secure cloud. Now privileged records can be viewed securely, downloaded and retrieved by only those authorized in the firm. All while the admins and paralegals are doing billable legal work.
What happens next often creates equally unnecessary costs. Using the example above, if the attorney does matter to capture all of the medical records, is he/she trained to review them? Can they honestly prepare a summary of the findings? Is anyone in the law firm prepared to look for glaring omissions in the patient’s records? Of course not.
So what happens next? More often that not, the attorney will reach out to a doctor friend or someone the firm has used before. It’s likely someone the firm has known for a long time, and odds are high that he/she is probably a retired physician. After all, who better than, should it come to it, a trained physician to present expert witness testimony?
Well, as it turns out, quite a lot of people. I’ve become acquainted with a group of people who’s life’s work has been about reading patient charts. They understand the intricacies of illnesses, and act as an advocate for the patient. You may know them as Legal Nurse Consultants. Beyond their usual nursing training, they go far beyond to earn credentials which not only provide them with the necessary skills to review patient records. They are further trained to move the legal work and case along much, much faster than waiting for a retired physician to finish the back 9.
Summary: The prosperity that was once enjoyed by many personal injury, mass tort and class action attorneys has been trimmed a bit. It’s simply not enough to do a good job, and ensure compliance with state and legal rules. It is mandatory that you continuously look for ways to reduce costs, keep clients happy, and close cases quickly. The above provides suggested ways to accomplish these actions.
What do you think? Please share your feedback. You can also see where I prepared for this post at http://www.recordrs.com and http://www.splegalnurse.com. They provided me with a lot of solid information.
As always, feedback on my post is welcome, and if you found my musing of any value, please like, share and re-tweet. As always, Thank You for reading what I think.