Firms aim to increase business aptitude

Lawyers adding project management technology, in-house customer service extras to improve client experience and retain business

Gowlings lawyers Jack Yong and Owen Jones discuss the firm’s new innovative technology program to increase transparency and efficiency for clients and lawyers | Photo: Rob Kruyt

Facing a legal battle is rarely a pleasant experience.

But entering into a case without knowing the timeline, potential pitfalls and what the process is going to cost makes court actions even more stressful for businesses and individuals.

An international law firm with an office in Vancouver is trying to change that.

Gowlings is rolling out a new system that seeks to boost transparency, predictability and efficiency for clients and lawyers.

Gowlings Practical is a project management system with software synched with the firm’s docket and finance program.

“As the lawyers do their dockets, all the information comes into our project management tool so the lawyer can open up a dashboard and see exactly where they are in real time,” said Rick Kathuria, Gowlings’ national director of project management and legal logistics.

The system involves four stages: defining the client’s objectives; planning the case; monitoring it; and reviewing the outcome.

It’s harnessed to a budget goal and timeline and then notifies lawyers if and when potential obstacles arise so they can advise their clients and make adjustments.

“One of our goals with Gowlings Practical is that there are no surprises,” Kathuria told Business in Vancouver.

The system is now used by roughly 200 of the firm’s 700 lawyers. Training sessions are ongoing. Kathuria said the motivation to apply modern project management theory and technology to law was obvious.

“Our clients our asking a lot more for predictability.”

Kathuria added that clients today want to know costs, timelines and personnel decisions.

“People started saying, ‘You know what? I get a budget from every other department. Why don’t I get budgets from legal?’”

Colin Scarlett, an executive vice-president at Colliers International in Vancouver, has visited law firms in 16 major cities around the world in the last two years, developing an expertise on the needs of firms when it comes to space and logistics.

He told BIV that law firms around the world are increasingly looking for ways to operate as astute, responsive businesses, rather than solely as practitioners of law.

Competition among law firms is on the rise, and customer service is key, he said. “Law firms are acting like business people more than they ever have in the history of law.”

For instance, the firm of Addleshaw Goddard in London, England, hired the head of customer service from the Ritz-Carlton to consult on how to offer better in-house service to its clients, Scarlett said.

“Instead of having a receptionist, they have a concierge. And then they also have a client lounge area, food and beverage and free Wi-Fi. If you’re finished with your meeting and you have a three-hour gap … they’re making it really comfortable for their clients to be in the space between their meetings.”

He also pointed to DWF, another British firm, which is using Net Promoter System (NPS) – a service that has customers rate, out of 10, the likelihood they’d recommend the service or company to others.

NPS measures advocacy by sorting customers into promoters, passives or detractors. The companies or individual service providers are then scored on a scale of (plus or minus) 100 and can try to improve and turn customers into promoters with a closed feedback loop.

“Net Promoter allows DWF to go in and measure their service level and compare it with other international brands,” Scarlett said. “That’s really powerful. Clearly, you know which lawyer is going to give you the best service. It’s a perfect way to attract and retain clients.”

At Gowlings, Kathuria said lawyers were concerned that the project management system would eat into their time.

“But by doing it this way, with this methodology, you’re actually saving yourself time because you’re getting a happier client at the end. When the lawyers see that, they become a lot more receptive to it.”

He said the case templates are derived from the typical kinds of cases the firm handles and are guided by best practices, precedents and routine. Depending on the case, it takes about an hour to input the details into the templates. Kathuria said the firm would be making a version of the program available to clients by the end of the year so they could directly monitor the process.