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How the Right Organisation and Technology Can Optimize New Business Intake

Terry CoanHow to take NBI strategies to the next level by simplifying back-office processes

Law firms, like many other companies today, are constantly investigating ways to do more with less. Quality legal work is a must but reducing extraneous spend is almost always on executives’ minds. Many firms are already taking steps toward cost optimization by increasing efficiencies and better aligning their back office processes for greater profitability. 

One way to accomplish these goals is by improving processes from the very start of a client relationship. New business intake (NBI) timelines are often long and inefficient and can directly lead to lost business. By updating this process and incorporating new technologies, law firms can boost growth, lower risk and get new clients aboard quickly while still ensuring they align with strategic and financial firm objectives. 

Of course, that is all easier said than done for many firms. Finding the right balance between speed and proper conflict clearance can be very challenging. Many firms may have what seem to be reasonable processes in place but still see new business bogged down by layers of manual approvals. 

In a world where law firms must work quickly, yet provide the highest level of value to their clients, the new business intake process should mirror that high standard. So what are the main roadblocks when it comes to bringing in new clients? Several main issues often interfere: 

4 Key NBI Issues to Avoid

  1. Loss of Valuable Time: Manually reviewing conflicts reports requires a substantial amount of lawyers’ time.  When lawyers face competing internal priorities, the review process is often put on hold and delayed. As a firm grows or expands across borders, this manual review process becomes even more time-consuming and complicated.
  2. Interdepartmental Barriers: While checking and avoiding conflicts are a big part of NBI, looking at business processes from a cross-functional perspective is also a must. Devoting too much time to resolving conflicts may cause firms to miss possible financial risks associated with the matter. In order to address both financial and marketing considerations, two core elements of an effective NBI process, firms need to balance their attention.
  3. Mismatched Strategic Direction: Choosing client work that matches the firm’s overall strategy and legal specialties must be a priority. Firms that lack a consistent approach to evaluating new opportunities end up wasting valuable time and energy sorting through opportunities that don’t match the firm’s strategic direction.
  4. Business Intelligence Roadblocks: Serious risks can occur when a firm’s NBI functions are decentralized, with disparate lines of business making strategic decisions without consulting their colleagues. Avoid these risks by breaking down silos, centralizing data repositories, and establishing all-company procedures. This will ultimately help firms speed up their NBI process in a safe and efficient way. 

Avoid Early Risks

In order to stay ahead of the competition and avoid the common hurdles of inefficient new client intake, firms must objectively audit their own processes and identify areas that can be improved. The result should be a strategy that quickly identifies and resolves potential conflicts, mitigates any risk involved and properly chooses which matters to pursue. Below are a few initial tips for creating a better intake process: 

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Create an Open Relationship. It is important to establish healthy relationships with potential clients from day one. Knowing your client is crucial for law firms to properly carry out due diligence around areas such as anti-money laundering, credit worthiness and industry type codes. Regular and open communication lines will help ensure any difficult issues are discussed early on.  

Comply With Conflict Obligations. It’s vital to explore any potential risks from an ethical or reputational perspective that a potential client may pose to the firm. For example, if a law firm’s partner sits on the board of a potential client, the client should not be pursued. 

Remain Ethically Accountable. Evaluating potential competing interests with the client should also be part of NBI processes. A firm’s reputation can face serious risks if they take on a client with opposing viewpoints. 

Control Risks Before Problems Arise. Risks are reduced when firms make decisions based on comprehensive and accurate information. This is only possible when the risk management department supervises an independent review and analysis for each potential client. 

Coordinate with Broader Strategic Business Goals. When choosing new work, firms should select clients with a matter portfolio that supports strategic and financial goals, as they’ll ultimately help drive the firm’s overall reputation and marketing strategy forward.

5 Steps to Creating An Efficient Process

Although a NBI assessment is ultimately shaped by a firm’s individual objectives and preferences, there are several key steps to take in order to objectively craft a more efficient process:

  1. Identify flaws, fixes for your firm’s current intake processes. This is best done with an all-inclusive audit that examines processes from both the technical and business side. To better understand your priorities, discuss and weigh your top objectives. Attention to detail is crucial! For this process to be successful, every component, including policies, procedures, reporting, staff resources and use of technology needs to be reviewed.
  2. Determine the average time it takes to open a new matter. Gain a complete understanding of how long it takes to begin a new client relationship. If it is taking more than a couple of days, it could be due to a number of inefficiencies, including a too linear review process, or an approval sitting in someone’s inbox. Knowing your most common timing issues will help identify where improvements can be made.
  3. Choose your platform wisely. Take advantage of today’s technology by implementing a standard software platform across the firm. Whether they are out-of-the box or customized solutions, incorporating technology into the NBI process brings automation to the firm, which in turn brings benefits like the consistent capture of information and erasing of redundant efforts. Altogether, this step reduces risk for the firm and gives attorneys valuable time back.
  4. Implement and test your platform. This step can be the “beta” stage for your newly programmed NBI system. Be sure to take a systematic approach to building upstream and downstream integrations within the software. Take the time to fully test data migrations, data integrations, workflow approvals and notifications after you’ve populated metadata.
  5. Get Executive Buy-In. Programs like this often struggle without executive promotion. Supportive, engaged leaders are necessary for firms looking to improve business processes. Internal leaders must teach employees the correct ways to input information by developing and delivering context-based training sessions fit for both lawyers and support staff. This training ensures everyone has an understanding of how an automated NBI process supports the firm’s strategic business objectives. 

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Elevating your NBI process won’t be achieved overnight. The business inception landscape is always changing and while you should give yourself a pat on the back for the improved efficiency initiatives accomplished thus far, continue to look for more opportunities to improve your approach. Teamwork and constant communication across functional areas including risk management, finance, and marketing as well as with the firm’s partners can help you cross the finish line and further improve processes.

Terry Coan is a senior director for HBR Consulting and leads the firm’s Information Governance and Risk Management Practice. In his engagements with over 30 Am Law 200 firms, he has developed information governance programs, conducted assessments of existing programs against professionally accepted practices, and has designed and implemented technologies to improve business process. 
 

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