Ensuring compliance has always been critical for law firms, but in recent years the challenge has exacerbated since the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) move away from a rules-based approach towards a high-level outcomes-focussed regulation to govern the Code of Conduct of legal services providers. The approach is entirely valid in sentiment – it outlines the ethical standards that the SRA expects of law practitioners in the outcomes they deliver to their clients – the issue for law firms is that the Code of Conduct is open to interpretation.
Consequently, without the aid of technology and document management-related processes, Winter Scott was finding that compliance efforts were resulting in ever-increasing volume of paper. The firm was stringently complying with the regulation, but generating the necessary audit trails was tedious, time consuming and man-power intensive.
The firm works with a number of very large insurance companies across Europe and practically all its clients use email and document management systems. “We recognised the need for such a solution and our clients were unanimous in their recommendation of iManage Work,” Sophie-Jane Hunt, Managing Partner at Winter Scott LLP highlighted. “The insurance sector too is highly regulated and so we felt confident that iManage Work would be appropriate for the legal environment as well.”
To supplement the recommendation, Winter Scott also evaluated various other email and document management solutions on the market. Hunt elaborated, “We met Ascertus as part of our wider investigation of solutions and system implementers. Very quickly we realised that the Ascertus-iManage Work combination was the only offering that guaranteed minimal disruption to the business. This was due to the customisability of iManage Work and Ascertus’ extensive experience of delivering the system to legal organisations.”
The requirements of Winter Scott were not like that of most law firms. Due to the firm’s focus area of law, all processes cannot be turned into workflow. “This was the clincher for us,” Hunt added. “Most other systems required us to change our way of working to accommodate the email and document management system. The Ascertus-iManage Work offering was flexible enough to be adapted to our working environment.”
The Business Benefits
The Ascertus tailored solution meets the specific and unique requirements of a shipping litigation practice and is structured simplistically to support the firm’s information management needs. Users access the system from within Outlook, which is similar to how emails and documents were managed by fee earners previously. Now they simply ‘send and file’ emails, which saves the correspondence into the right matter folder in iManage Work. Or they save documents directly to the matter file in the document management system from within Outlook.
System adoption has been no problem at all. Even those fee earners who were slightly opposed to technology adoption prior to implementation, today are avid users of the system. This is down to the simplicity of the Ascertus solution combined with the intuitive usability of iManage Work. Fee earners are easily able to locate records and information as documents can be related to each other – for e.g. a Word document and PDF can be linked. The solution facilitates full text searches similar to Google across the firm’s document repository as well as providing contextual search tools, which users find extremely helpful.
Ascertus has tightly integrated iManage Work with Linetime, Winter Scott’s practice management system, which is used by the firm for time recording and accounts management. Duplication of data is now minimised and there is a single and secure version of the truth across the organisation. iManage Work pulls matter information from Linetime and automatically profiles the appropriate folders.
Compliance is now embedded into the day to day operation of the firm and is no longer a laborious and separate task. Winter Scott is able to provide clear audit trails to demonstrate compliance of data and information management processes to the SRA. The system shows the various touchpoints for documents. In fact, the firm is now capable of generating reports almost on-demand, should there be such a need.
“The Ascertus solution is enabling the entire firm to work in a similar way, within the confines of our area of law. We now have a solid foundation to our business operation,” Hunt added.
Perhaps the most business critical benefit of the Ascertus solution to Winter Scott is that data security is significantly enhanced, protecting the firm against potential breaches such as social engineering, phishing and ransomware attacks that are fast becoming commonplace. Documents and emails stored within iManage Work are ‘owned’ by the system. Users do not have direct access to those files and can only access that data with a legitimate login to the application. Documents are encrypted within the file store based on their sensitivity. Similarly, data ‘in transit’ – i.e. when moving across the Internet or within the corporate Local Area Network – is also encrypted. Consequently, without both an iManage Work login ID and password and the encryption key to decrypt the files, attackers cannot access, amend or change the files within the system. In fact, if there is ever an attempt to download a large number of files, the system will instantly alert designated members in the firm of the activity.
Like with any technology system adoption, the project is never finite. Rather it’s an evolutionary process. Such an approach enables organisations to gain the most benefit from the technology and optimise their return on investment. Winter Scott imbibes this attitude wholeheartedly.
The firm is already exploring complimentary technologies like Content Crawler, a tool that converts all image-based documents in the document management system into text-searchable PDFs. Often, PDFs created from scanning documents are not indexable. Therefore, while they may be stored in the firm’s document management system, they aren’t searchable and so cannot be found or reused. Content Crawler applies an optical character recognition (OCR) process to the scanned image file, and the resultant PDF+Text file version can be indexed and search for, based on key words appearing in the content.
Since the iManage Work system deployment the productivity gains to users at the firm have substantially increased.
“Ultimately”, concluded Hunt, “the aim of technology adoption for us is the ability to deliver the best possible client care. Fool-proof compliance, data security and fee earner productivity are all key components of it. We have reached a critical size as a business, and require the aid the technology so that we remain focussed on our core task of providing good legal advice to our clients. We are excited about the progress we are making.”