Further than Paperless? How about Email-less?

Published On: April 16, 2024

This blog looks at good processes and tech implementation as a safer alternative to email.

Is it as simple as it sounds? Being email-less, or even just emailing less!

A study was done in 2022 showing that Lawyers spend an average of 66% of their time writing and responding to emails. This is a significant proportion of the working day, considering email was only ever meant to be a communication tool to help efficiency. It seems that email has turned into an information delivery system for everything, with lawyers’ inboxes overflowing with tasks and information from all areas. They have emails from clients, colleagues, accounts queries and invoices, you name it, there is an email for it somewhere taking up space and perhaps not even being acknowledged.

Take it a step further, and we see that the email format itself is not as secure as many believe. Emails can be intercepted and re-sent from an address by cybercriminals. Email servers and accounts can be hacked and sensitive information stolen. Cybercriminals can even send an email from what appears to be a legitimate address from the firm and make the email look identical to one that would be sent from a member of the firm’s staff. If the firm then uses emails to request payments are made, this can result in funds being sent out incorrectly which can be catastrophic, especially when dealing with client monies.

The question is always, “wouldn’t it be easier to just send an email?”

My answer would be “with good processes and tech implementation it is faster, safer and easier than emailing.”

So how do we get to this utopia of being email-less?

The answer lies in the software and implementing processes to ensure efficiency and safety.

The main point of communication for any lawyer is with the client and with any related parties to the client’s matter. This means that from the very beginning when setting up the case, communication with the client is crucial. The instant reaction is to revert to email to gather all that information, including the ID for AML. The best approach would be to utilise case management software for this process. Many systems in 2024 have the option of a client portal, which can link the client to their case. The client can then login to the matter using their own set username and password and upload the necessary documents for ID and AML so the firm can then take the AML and conflict checks to the next stage. There are even AML providers which integrate with new software and the client does all their own uploading and the provider verifies everything before it even gets to the firm.

Once the case is open and work has started, any updates can be added by the lawyer to the portal, which will automatically notify the client. This is particularly useful when the client needs to see updated documentation related to their case. Some client portals even give the option for the client to digitally sign documents, thus allowing the case to progress.

The more the portal is used, the less email traffic there is, keeping inboxes clear and ensuring that all communication is kept on-system and secure.

As well as client communication, there is internal communication between fee earners, secretaries and accounts staff discussing all things that surround the cases, amongst other administrative points. Case work and updates should reduce significantly if the case management software is utilised fully. For example, if there is a conveyancing matter, using workflows on the case and updating the key dates and stages will reduce the need for update emails to be sent, especially if this is in conjunction with the client portal which is used to keep the client apprised of the matter’s progress. Workflows and matter progression features can be used in all areas of law, they just need to be calibrated/configured before they are used.

Accounts can also be very email heavy and is a high-risk area too, considering it deals with large sums of money including client money. One way to avoid risk is to ensure the firm utilises a built-in slip/chit/requisition system within the case management system. It’s a module which allows all accounts requests to go through the CMS and be assigned to accounts to action. If the policy within the firm states that no accounts transaction will be actioned via email, then it ensures no request email can be intercepted and changed, therefore lessening the risk of monies being sent incorrectly. Not only that but each request is saved to the appropriate client file creating an audit trail that can be followed by the auditors. Further to the immediate speed gain and risk reduction, it also helps with SRA Accounts Rule compliance. Most slip systems have built in authorisation stages, ensuring that only authorised people within the firm can approve requests before the payments are set up. Again, lowering risk.

Outside of client related transactions, there are usually many emails sent regarding firm overheads. Where invoices are not sent directly to the accounts department, they are often emailed for payment. A common process is that the senior partner/director is sent the invoice by the supplier, this is then forwarded to accounts via email. All the usual issues arise in this example, more time emailing and less secure. So what options are there? The first process change would be for the accounts department to become the registered account with the supplier and have direct access to their web account and access the invoices from there. By doing this, no emails are sent at all, and the invoice can be downloaded as required. The second option is to have a secure, central location for administrative documentation such as invoices. This can be either on the secure server where all company documents are held, within the case management system in an admin area or within a document sharing portal like MS SharePoint. A good system would be that all invoices that are received and are due for payment are stored within a central folder for unpaid invoices. This is marked for accounts attention only and the department checks it regularly for new items. As they are actioned, they can be moved out to their respective paid folders for the supplier. By implementing this system, the need for administrative emails relating to overheads is drastically reduced.

These are just some of the areas that can be used to begin to reduce email traffic and start working more efficiently. It’s worth investing in good software and then making the most of its time saving features and automated aspects.

Less emails means greater efficiencies and all-around safer working/communication. Go further than paperless, go email-less!

At The Law Factory, we have a wealth of experience in legal accounts software and accounts.

If your current accounts software doesn’t include a portal, please look at Lawslip, our digital slip system which is used by a number of our existing clients.

Alex Simons MAAT
Outsourced Accounts & new Business Manager
The Law Factory LLP