By Ginerva M. Saylor
Two new products with a clean look and feel aim to deliver big results. They promise to lead lawyers through each matter's life cycle in a step-by-step mode.
Being a lawyer means facing tension between wanting to take in new work quickly and wanting to choose only work that is ethically permissible and reaps the greatest professional rewards. This was as true for solicitors in Victorian London as it is for practitioners today. But today’s lawyers confront more compliance requirements and fiercer competition than ever before—and they have information about their current and past practices spread throughout multiple offices, formats and systems.
Products: New Business Intake and Conflicts Manager
Company: Interwoven, Inc.
The New Business Intake and Conflicts Manager tools are separately sold, stand-alone products, but both rest on the particular law firm’s individual work-flow processes. So, the first step to implementing these products is to visually map each step in how the firm requests and approves new work and investigates and manages potential conflicts. The work-flow process may be as simple or complex as the firm likes, and ideally would include all approvals and authorizations needed to advance to the next step. Once saved into the application, the work flow drives the user’s interaction with both the New Business Intake and Conflicts Manager tools.
Interwoven is not the only or even first vendor on the market with intake and conflicts management tools. However, three features make Interwoven’s offerings attractive.
To illustrate the benefits of Interwoven’s latest offerings, let’s run through how the New Business Intake product works.
For instance, describing a matter as a residential property purchase triggers requests for information germane to real estate, and indicating that a matter is highly confidential solicits information needed to establish an ethical wall. In this way, users confront only portions of the intake relevant to their matter and role in the process. Responses are automatically saved when users move to the next field—a nice touch that protects against losing work if the system crashes or the user forgets to save before closing.
Submitting the new business request then triggers the next step in the work flow. Typically, for lawyers this will mean receiving an e-mailed link to a conflicts report. This link brings lawyers to another clean screen with three nice features.
After reviewing reports, lawyers may send matters to the next stage (for example, to a conflicts committee or practice section leader), using a nifty little feature to flag problem hits. Should the lawyer reject the matter, the intake information is stored in the database. When the lawyer (or other final “gatekeeper”) instead approves a matter, a code triggers the next step in the file-opening process and sends information to other relevant integrated applications, such as accounting, a contact relationship manager, and the document management and records systems. Thus, a firm that has integrated all of these systems could find its intake and new file-opening procedures significantly streamlined. It would also find the potential for error greatly reduced by real-time searching and eliminating redundant manual data entry.
The conflicts search functionality has a lot going for it, too. Conflicts clerks can easily review all outstanding requests and search one matter while others are running in the background. Conflicts clerks are notified when searches are complete and when new searches are requested. What is more, users set for themselves when they want to be notified of different kinds of events (for instance, immediately or at specific times of day).
Searchers can add terms, set up relationships, add information from outside sources (such as a party list from another firm), and go online for outside information. Again, links can be used to drill for more information on any hits and clean the “noise” from reports before sending them to requesting lawyers or a conflicts committee. In addition to searching the U.S. Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control Specially Designated Nationals list, the tool automatically searches the New Business Intake database for any last-minute potential conflicts.
At first blush, these products may be more likely to attract larger firms, which have more clients and potential conflicts to track as well as bigger technology budgets. However, while Interwoven had yet to finalize pricing as of this writing, it anticipated
special pricing options for smaller firms. Some also may be wary of Interwoven’s second quarter 2006 release date, shying away from being the first on the block to buy these new products. (Others may be comforted by word of seven installations of the base product in the United States and Canada.)
But ultimately, the biggest drawback for some firms may be that they just have not yet done the groundwork to draw full value from these tools. These products clearly work best in environments where intake and conflicts policies and procedures have been thought out and fine-tuned. For those who have invested in laying the foundation, though, taking a good look at the New Business Intake and Conflicts Manager tools may be well worth the time.