Get your money's worth

Richard Brockbank

What are your lawyers doing to make it easier to work with them and your in-house IT systems and help take the strain out of litigation work?

Firm's fee rates reflect many factors, including overheads. You should no longer expect to pay, directly or indirectly, for people doing work in inefficient ways. Cost-conscious firms have been investing in PCs for their fee earners with software support systems that help reduce their costs and make your pound go further.

Are the firms you use up-to-date? Watch out for tell-tale signs such as the following:

-retyping of documents received from third parties such as counsel – they should be emailed or on disk;

-manual marking up of documents to show drafting changes – redlining software is efficient and much quicker;

-limited use of precedents – some firms still don't use precedents as much as they might;

-delays in faxes getting to or from you – faxes can be sent from and often to an individual's PC;

-evidence of manual calculations – usually much better done by spreadsheet;

-insufficient use of diagrams and charts that are easy to produce on a PC;

-too much time being spent on analysing complex pleadings – specialist software can be used to display linked clauses from each pleading in their own window;

-difficulty in providing you with management reports;

-a reluctance to talk to you about IT matters.

The biggest cost in litigation is often when expensive fee earners' time is being charged for the mechanics of discovery.

Most advanced firms now have software in place to help deal more efficiently with the routine aspects of document handling and listing during the discovery process.

Using such software much of what was previously fee earner work can now be delegated to secretaries or paralegals and managed by the lawyers who can then address the issues.

In document-heavy cases the arguments for databases are clear. Analysis of the information in document and image databases can now be done with a wide range of powerful and easy to use end-user reporting tools, text search tools, image viewers (with annotation facilities) and other aids, all available at reasonable prices.

A frequent issue for discussion with your team in litigation is when to spend money whether it be on an expert, for example, on counsel or on further research. Such investments are usually made because, overall, you expect to benefit from the investment as the case progresses. The same principles apply to investing in computerising a case.

Above all, as the greatest benefits will come from teamwork, you should encourage your team to suggest how, by working in conjunction with your IT systems, they can reduce their costs to you, increase the value to you of the work they do and generally help to provide you with a better service.

If you don't feel that the

partners and fee earners have the right attitudes, perhaps it is time to take another look at the competition.

And while you are at it, take another look at yourself. Does your own approach to IT enable and encourage the best teamwork with your lawyers?

Richard Brockbank is a solicitor and managing director of Oxford Law and Computing, suppliers of the Openlaw range of litigation and case management software.