Thirsk Winton has come a long way in its approach to document and email management and adoption of...
Ascertus Limited delivers customised iManage Work in the cloud during pandemic, facilitating operational transformation through productivity and efficiency gains at Owen White
Owen White is a commercial law firm, based in the Thames Valley. The firm’s key practice areas include Corporate & Business, Franchising, Dispute Resolution, Property Disputes, Property Development, Property Joint Ventures, Commercial Property, Brand Protection, Employment and Corporate Restructuring & Insolvency.
The sudden lockdown following the global outbreak of Covid-19 triggered Owen White’s move to the cloud and a best practice approach to document and email management. Today over 25 lawyers are benefiting from significant productivity gains, contributing to broader business efficiency across the firm.
Lockdown brings manual, time intensive, document-related processes to a head
Owen White’s way of working includes a combination of electronic and paper-based processes and documentation. Like in many firms, the bulk of correspondence takes place via email, but equally there is a fair amount of paper-based documentation. Owen White was using network drives as the firm’s email and document storage solution.
Email management was challenging. Due to the volume of emails received on a daily basis, a vast amount of important case related information sat in lawyers’ Microsoft Outlook inboxes, and it was incumbent on the individual lawyers to save the emails onto the network drives in a timely manner. However, as every email saved to the network drive had to first be renamed, for time poor lawyers, it was a burdensome activity. Additionally, in the absence of a standardised approach to file naming and case folder management, lawyers named the files based on what worked for them individually. This made finding the right information on matters difficult for team members.
Archiving of records was a demanding activity. Post case completion, it’s standard practice at Owen White to print, file and box all the documents, for physical storage in the firm’s archiving centre. With case records split across emails, scanned documents and physical paper formats, archiving was a manual, time intensive activity. Where document scanning was required prior to archiving, the quality of scans and therefore their inclusion, was dependent on the individual undertaking the activity as well as the machine itself. For example, in property work, title plans, are in colour and sub-standard scans means that they can’t be archived.
Caroline Cowley, Director at Owen White, elaborates, “All aspects of the process – from email and document management to archiving – were time-consuming for all the people involved, including the Directors who had to physically review and sign off the boxes for physical storage in the archiving centre.”
Whilst many of these processes were far from ideal, in a wholly office-based environment they worked. When the nation went into lockdown due to the pandemic, this way of working brought to light its shortcomings.
Cowley elaborates, “Lawyers had to come in to the office to pick up files from the office and take them home to work on. But then, if anyone else needed the same files, they either had to go and physically collect them, or the person holding the file had to scan and then share. It simply wasn’t workable.”
In a distributed workforce environment, the lack of a central repository and electronic processes for information management, had a knock-on effect on matter file audits for compliance. With case-related documents spread across various locations, undertaking accurate and comprehensive file audits became tricky. These file audits have implications for Owen White from a professional indemnity insurance perspective, and so the firm had to go to great lengths to ensure that the audits were conducted to industry standards.
A thorough evaluation of the diverse types of solutions
An electronic, centralised and less-paper based approach to business operation became an obvious imperative. Owen White explored a variety of technology systems, including a case management system, before narrowing the search to best practice email and document management systems (DMS) and eventually iManage Work in the cloud.
Cowley explains, “We work with a number of other law firms, and we noticed that all the documents we received had a case reference number appearing at the bottom of the pages. So, we knew that they had some sort of filing system. But on exploring further we found that almost 90 percent of the firms we were working with were using iManage. This spoke volumes of the suitability of the product for law firms.”
On contacting iManage, the company suggested several implementation partners. Owen White selected Ascertus, following very thorough discussions with existing customers on Ascertus’ way of working, including the processes they follow, the quality of advice they offer, and so forth.
Cowley says, “Ascertus stood out above the rest across the entire selection process – from the quality of the sales presentation right through to the references we received from their existing customers.”
Cloud technology adoption a ‘no brainer’
Following consultation with Ascertus on the suitability of an on-premises iManage Work solution versus the cloud option, the latter was a no brainer. iManage Work in the cloud ensured the fastest route to deployment during the lockdown, alongside the long-term business benefits of being in the cloud. The firm would always be on the most current version of the DMS, benefiting from the latest product features and functionality. Once deployed, the firm would not require dedicated staff to manage the solution’s administration, maintenance and updates as these would be overseen by Ascertus and iManage.
Tracking to a tight timeline, Ascertus closely worked with Owen White to design and configure the DMS to meet the unique requirements of all the firm’s practice areas individually. For example, in-built into the folder structures in iManage are named folders ‘proceedings’ and ‘experts’ for the litigation team, whereas the property team has folders for ‘HoTs’ and ’Title’.
On the technical side, Ascertus liaised directly with the firm’s external IT team, and also integrated iManage Work with Owen White’s accounts system.
“We have worked with numerous law firms of all sizes, to implement iManage Work in the cloud, so we have a proven and well-oiled approach to implementation,” says Jon Wainwright, Sales Director at Ascertus. “Despite the lockdown, we were confident that we could meet Owen White’s stringent timeline. We recognised how important the solution was for the firm and the material difference it would make to Owen White’s operation at a time when across the board, organisations and people alike were going through a trying time.”
The success of any technology system depends on its adoption within the organisation.
Cowley comments, “The whole remote implementation process has been quick and painless. The Ascertus team took charge and actively drove the project across phases, right through to customised user training, to deliver the solution within the timescale that was agreed to, when we signed on the dotted line in the contract. Whilst we are still learning about the more advanced features of iManage Work, the solution is extremely intuitive, and we’ve had no problem transitioning to it.”
A game-changing solution
Today, Owen White has a single repository for emails and documents in structured, matter-specific workspaces and standardised file naming formats. Since implementation in April 2021, email management is no longer a time-consuming activity. With one mouse click, lawyers save important emails and documents from within their Outlook inboxes into the appropriate matter folders. Conveniently, when a group email is saved by an individual, all the other members are automatically alerted, avoiding content duplication in the DMS.
iManage Work is facilitating lawyer efficiency and seamless collaboration in the current hybrid work environment. Rather than emailing documents, lawyers simply share links to the information in the DMS, saving recipients the need to go looking for the document in the system. In the absence of an individual, other team members effortlessly step in to work on the matter as everyone in the department is working in the same way. With clear document versioning, the chances of working on old information is negligible.
All the issues pertaining to client-related audit of documentation have disappeared. Every record of correspondence and document in iManage has an audit trail. “As the Director responsible for compliance, I’m very assured and confident that all the case-related information is duly stored in iManage Work. Documents and pertinent emails aren’t sitting in people’s inboxes,” Cowley mentions.
Similarly, for all new cases, the process of post case completion archiving will be simple in the future. Unlike previously, with all the information now electronic, archiving will entail a few clicks of the mouse.
Owen White is benefiting from the DMS operationally too. Onboarding of new clients and matters is faster. When a new matter is opened in the accounts system, a workspace is automatically created in iManage Work.
All requests for approval – such as banking notifications, matter notices, holiday forms – are electronically forwarded to the relevant authorities for signing via a link from within iManage Work. Employees don’t need to physically present such requests, and there are no hold ups because individuals aren’t in the office at the same time.
Cowley concludes, “iManage is truly a game-changer for us. The efficiency it’s providing lawyers has freed up so much more time to enable us to focus on enhancing client service. This project has also put us on the path of a less-paper office. I recommend iManage and Ascertus to any law firm that is looking for a DMS. From our very first interaction with these organisations, our experience has been extremely positive.”