Artificial intelligence has taken the legal world by storm, with new AI-powered solutions being marketed to law firms every day. Many of these tools are targeted at improving law firm operations, and rightfully so—AI is particularly good at handling routine tasks that operate around a set of predefined rules.
AI isn’t just for admin, however. In a time when lawyers are under increasing pressure from clients to boost efficiency while streamlining workflows, automation is the key to doing more with less. New advancements in Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are helping lawyers do more billable work without hiring more people.
Finding a way to maximize billable hours has long been the holy grail of law firm life. Today, we’re one step closer to succeeding in the quest. Performing more billable work without adding resources might sound impossible. RPA is making the impossible possible.
RPA: An Overview
Anything with the word robot in the name still has the tendency to evoke Hollywood rise-of-the-machines imagery, but RPA is nothing to fear. RPA is a solution that uses technology to enable computer software (referred to as robots or bots) to perform routine tasks by interacting with your existing applications. The bots capture and interpret data, manipulate it, use it to perform a task, and convey the results to other digital systems.
RPA involves more than just automating processes. You can think of RPA as creating virtual workers to perform rule-based tasks. Currently, you’re likely paying paralegals and attorneys to perform highly repetitive, time-consuming tasks that could easily be performed by bots, when those people could be better used to perform higher-value, billable work. Robots aren’t here to replace lawyers. Rather, RPA can make lawyers better and more efficient at their jobs by freeing them up to focus on the most valuable parts of the job.
Boosting Billables with RPA
RPA is your key to streamlining your workflows to do more billable work without adding more billers. Think of the tasks you typically do as part of nearly every matter you work on. How many of those are routine, involving little high-level thought? Probably a lot of them (and they’re likely also quite time-consuming). A significant portion of legal work is rule-based. That doesn’t mean the tasks aren’t necessary or even important. It just means that these tasks don’t need to be performed by your staff, who could otherwise be performing more valuable billable work for your clients. By applying RPA to these routine tasks and freeing up your attorneys to focus on billable tasks, you can finally accomplish the ever-elusive goal of maximizing your billable hours.
Take basic legal research, for example. Tasks like this are prime candidates for RPA. While in certain instances legal research might require higher-level thought and analysis, a good portion of the research done on every case involves a paralegal or junior associate running regular keyword searches in research databases and compiling all the results in a handy file of PDFs for a more senior attorney to review. There’s no reason for billable workers to be performing that research. Bots can be programmed to run the exact same process and produce the same end product, only they can do the work overnight and have it ready for you in the morning. In the meantime, your paralegals and junior associates can focus on billable work that adds actual value to your case.
The same principle applies to any other casework that involves routine searches. Need to run public records searches on your opponent, witnesses, or even your own client? Program a bot to do it. Bots can also be used to compile the crucial data you need to make major strategy decisions in your case. Prior rulings by a judge, decisions in similar cases, or matters involving your opposing counsel can all be researched and isolated by programming a bot with a defined set of rules. Once you have the information, you and your team can focus on the important billable work of devising the best case strategy.
RPA also has obvious uses in discovery. A large element of document review involves identifying files by keywords, and there’s no reason for valuable billable workers to be spending their time running those searches. The ability to use bots to isolate documents from massive databases has endless applications, including creating witness files and preparing for depositions. Outside of the litigation context, law firms are also using RPA to perform routine tasks like generating contract templates and preparing other form documentation for a wide range of matters.
If you stop and think about your typical workflows, you’ll find that can be used to boost your billable hours in countless ways. Every matter requires tasks that can be thought of as low-hanging fruit—the things that need to be done but don’t require high-level thought or analysis. All those tasks are possible candidates for RPA and currently represent unbilled billable hours.
Continuing to use paralegals and associates to perform routine tasks is a waste of time and money. Every minute spent by billers on tasks that could be automated is a minute of billable time lost.
The demands of today’s legal market are such that you can’t afford to be losing those minutes. Clients want to pay for high-value work, and they want it to be done as efficiently as possible. With RPA, the seemingly impossible task of maximizing billable hours is now becoming a reality.
About the Author
Arup Das is CEO of Alphaserve Technologies, a global provider of IT services to the asset management industry, law firms, and a variety of other markets.