Is investing in technology for legal request workflows worth it? That was the question posed by a recent webinar from Law.com. Three in-house experts who regularly deal with high volumes of legal requests — as many as thousands per month — reflected on how they optimized their workflows to save time, reduce risk, and plan for future needs.
The panel featured insights from Justin Pan, Legal Program Manager at Cloudflare, Dylan Tonti, Legal Operations Lead at Instacart, Erica Wist, Law Enforcement Response Associate at Lime, and John Sanchez, Senior Director, Product Strategy at DISCO.
All panelists agreed that small improvements in efficiency can make a big difference when dealing with large volumes of requests. Tonti, who has dealt with thousands of requests per month, simply couldn’t feasibly scale headcount to accommodate those large fluctuations, and began searching for ways to streamline workflows instead. “One minute saved [per request] is about 16 hours over the whole month,” he said. “So if you save five minutes, you've now saved basically two whole work weeks for an employee.”
Sanchez pointed out that most legal departments start with manual processes, which work until they don’t work anymore — whether that’s due to volume or a key stakeholder departing with their unique knowledge. Manual processes, especially those with multiple intake channels, also carry the risk of having requests fall through the cracks, and there can be huge, expensive consequences for missing a deadline — for example, a default judgment or police seizing a team’s hard drives, and scrambling to find a way for that team to then do their jobs. Not to mention, as Pan pointed out, if you are retrieving requests on paper from a mailroom, there are potential privacy risks.
Tonti noted that not only do manual processes carry the risk of missing important information, there’s also the risk of duplicating work — i.e., if two people email the same request to outside counsel. He stressed the importance of clear, centralized communication to see what everyone is working on.
A better request process
When aiming to refine his company’s legal request intake, Pan had three goals:
1) Reducing risk
2) A more sustainable automated workflow
3) Providing an environment that anyone can work in, including remote employees
He decided on two major points of entry for requests: a portal that allowed intake from attorneys and courts that uploaded data into their platform, and registered agents that had modern APIs to automate intake and upload it into the system. Here, APIs enable communication between systems directly to save time. He also appreciated being able to add customized fields to the intake form to be able to deter “spammers” and make them do work upfront so their team can respond quickly.
Wist also makes use of a separate dashboard for law enforcement and government officials to be able to validate their credentials. After the information is submitted — including the metadata, which Wist says halves the time her team spends on a request — the requests can be assigned out based on country or based on a workload percentage — i.e., one lawyer will get 80% and another will get 20%. (Tonti agreed that the biggest time save for his team was automating the metadata processing.)
Wist does note that changing to an automated system required changing internal document management and retention policies, which was a significant amount of work on the front end. However, making these changes resulted in overall less reliance on their IT department for requests. “I know they're thankful every day they don't get tickets from us,” she joked.
Tonti’s process now looks like this: a computer receives the document, knows where it’s supposed to go, and routes it to that person. It’s automatically assigned and visible in an interface where everyone can see it. Additionally, because people have different working preferences, there is some duplication (for example, the file is automatically added to a Google Drive, and everyone on the team gets an email) which he is okay with. “You can find ways to make it so everyone can work in their preferred space, but at the same time communicate all in one centralized location as those tools communicate with one another,” he says.
Final thoughts on automating requests
“The world does not need another tracker on a spreadsheet,” said Tonti. “That will not scale as your company grows.
Wist noted that as people come and go every year, having one central location where she can track what was responded to, what the response was, etc. is helpful (and useful for training new hires, as well.) She also emphasized not forgetting the human element in all of these processes — talking to your team and finding out what will make their lives easier.
Pan’s advice was to keep an eye toward the future. “I know there are short-term fixes, but items you’re building for the future are going to be better for your company down the line,” he said. He advised having data and analytical metrics, time studies, budget requests, and determining future KPIs to allow companies to leapfrog their competitors at a much faster pace.