Managing partner, Oshin Shahiean speaks at Legal Practice Management conference on the 20 March 2019 on the collaboration conundrum: law firms, clients and technology in collaboration.
I was delighted to be invited to join a panel discussion at the London Legal Practice Management conference on the Legal Information Technology Landscape, hosted by Metro Bank. As a London Immigration lawyer, it was great to be asked to speak on a topic that is not Brexit related. The session discussion at the Legal Practice Management conference is enticingly called:
The collaboration conundrum: is your law firm collaborating with clients as effectively as possible? What technology adds the most value to the client experience?
Kayli Olson, editor of Legal Practice Management, facilitates the panel discussion and Alan Cousins, practice director of law firm, Paris Smith, joins me on the panel. In 2018, Paris Smith celebrated its 200th anniversary as a legal services provider. OTS Solicitors have some way to go before celebrating a centenary, established in 2014 as a niche London Immigration legal practice, OTS Solicitors have rapidly grown into a leading UK Immigration and family law firm, recognised by awards and inclusion in the leading legal directory, Legal 500.
The invitation to join a panel on “what information technology adds the most value to the law client’s experience’’, and sponsored by the likes of Thomson Reuters, Tikit and Quiss technology, was an opportunity not to be missed.
Presented with the panel discussion topic of “the collaboration conundrum: is your law firm collaborating with clients as effectively as possible?” I cast my mind back to 2014 when OTS Solicitors first opened for business and reflected on how far we had come in five very hectic years of business and client growth and how our client relationships and technology have evolved over those five years.
As a business owner of a SME law firm the debate over whether SME law firms can compete in a tech equipped battle for clients is of immense interest to me, that and finding out from the latest Legal Practice Management research what technology will best improve client experience and case efficiency at OTS Solicitors. I see technological advances in case efficiency and client experience as tied intrinsically together and distinct. Take voice recognition, finance software packages and automaton of practice management systems. Those digital developments are the behind the scenes improvements, freeing staff time to spend on client contact and customer experience, whilst client portals and document sharing may be the obvious markers to clients of a digitally focussed efficient law firm.
Most SME law firms recognise the challenge of future proofing their law firms. SME law firms must continue to evolve in the near to mid-term in a changing digital workplace where all the emphasis is on flexibility of working to retain staff and to improve client experience whilst checking the advances of the on-line virtual office competition. Worryingly, with automation, digital flexibility and mobility of staff and clients comes security challenges, a key consideration for any law firm that is moving personal and confidential business information digitally to an international client base.
Many people in the services industry, including practice managers at law firms, assume that top London immigration solicitors or the best London divorce solicitors will always need face to face client input as it is said that some areas of law are just so complex or personal that use of technology reduces the client experience.
As the managing partner of a niche Immigration and family legal practice where clients need to talk about their often horrific experiences leading to their Asylum and Human Rights claim or the reasons for their marriage breakdown and why they believe their spouse has hidden assets there will always be a need for face to face lawyer input. Filling in an online form with progression through a case management system of computer-generated standardised client contact just does not meet a client’s needs for human contact and assurance that their lawyer is “on their case”.
Does that mean I am a Luddite? Certainly not. Even in the most personal and traumatic of individual cases a client and lawyer can work in collaboration using information technology. At OTS Solicitors, many of our individual immigration clients are based overseas and our family law clients are often busy professionals who do not want to battle across London to see their solicitor once they have made initial contact but who value and are happy to pay for the level of service they want. Information technology such as video conferencing, face time, e-mail, document and file sharing all play an invaluable part in the client experience, sometimes with the client not realising how reliant we are on information technology to provide the efficient service they rightly expect as all our emphasis is on the lawyer-client relationship.
Do I have a different viewpoint on the need for face-to-face lawyer input and the use of information technology for business clients? At OTS Solicitors, we specialise in business immigration and represent many companies in applying for and managing Sponsor Licences and employee visa applications as well advising entrepreneurs and innovators applying for Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent), Tier 1 (entrepreneur), Start-up and Innovator Visas. Many of our entrepreneur and Innovator business clients are start-up digital, tech and creative companies. It is fascinating to work in collaboration with them on their business plans to provide legal input for Immigration application purposes and thereafter to meet their company’s Employment and company law needs.
In my experience as a lawyer and as a managing partner, business clients demand speed, efficiency, and therefore technical collaboration from top London immigration solicitors. Rightly, as delays in securing a Sponsor Licence or an employee’s Tier 2 (General) Visa can cost a business money. However, some human resource directors and entrepreneurs want always want to call and talk a problem through with their trusted advisor.
In 2019, whether it is a business or personal law client, it is all about meeting the client demand and expectation to work in collaboration with their lawyer through use of information technology, case management systems and file sharing. For some clients, where OTS Solicitors provide a Sponsor Licence management service, we like to think that the information technology collaboration between client, solicitor and third party is spot on with OTS Solicitors being authorised users on the Home Office Sponsor Licence system for our business clients. For personal clients, whether they are from London or overseas, document and file sharing, can make a traumatic experience that much easier to cope with, even if the client does not always fully appreciate the extent of the use of behind the scenes virtual information technology.
As the managing partner of a Legal 500 law firm, I am increasingly asked: “Is e-mail dying and will every law firm have a client portal?”. In an age of e-mail security concerns, I suspect e-mail will die and client portals will become the norm over the next five to ten years. For OTS Solicitors, business clients that should be an easy transition but for personal Immigration and family law clients, especially for the busy entrepreneur, a client where English is a second language or a client who has limited technological skills, the text, WhatsApp or e-mail may remain their communication of choice.
Where does the future lie in terms of client and lawyer and third party collaboration? For me, the next focus is on third party collaboration. That is because the philosophy at OTS Solicitors has been to concentrate on the client and listen to their needs rather than impose blanket digital communication procedures on business and individual clients. That is the great benefit of being the manager of a SME law firm that is not hide bound by policy and that has a workforce of technically brilliant and commercially astute lawyers that have the flexibility to use information technology to the client’s benefit and at a level each individual client is comfortable with. The challenge is to get third parties up to speed, such as the court service, the Home Office and some of the overseas lawyers and third party organisations that we work with to establish that collaboration on online processing and documents is the way forward in a competitive market. That in turn will save third parties and government agencies money and improve efficiencies for the client.
To answer the question,
“The collaboration conundrum: is your law firm collaborating with clients as effectively as possible? What technology adds the most value to the client experience?”…
...no, we do not always use technology as collaboratively as our digital resources allow us to do so. I am rather proud of that, as I did not set up OTS Solicitors to process people but to listen to clients and meet their legal needs. Collaboration is all about working with someone, rather than dictating how you will work with them. May be, after all my love of and interest in technology to continuously develop and improve OTS Solicitors, I am old fashioned at heart, as I sometimes think that the best technology is the automation and digitalisation processes that our clients are not even aware of when they call and ask for our help. However, as soon as I meet a new tech entrepreneur who needs a Start-up Visa, my eyes light up with the thought of digital advances, so maybe I am not as old fashioned as I think.
How can OTS Solicitors help you or your business?
OTS Solicitors are a young company whose emphasise is on client experience, whether that is for an individual client requiring Immigration, Employment or family law advice or a business owner or entrepreneur. OTS Solicitors give commercial, cost effective, proactive advice tailored to your individual, personal and business needs rather than computer generated generic advice that does not answer your concerns.