New Developments in New Business Intake

Posted by on Jan 2, 2014 in News & Opinions, Process Improvement

ILTA has recently published Mike Lowe’s white paper on New Business Intake, based on his recent engagements with top-tier firms.

You can read the full paper here, which includes a discussion of marketplace trends, the common NBI operating models, and an overview of the available technologies.  However, in case you are just interested in his recommendations, they are as follows:

  • Review your entire capability. A new technology will not be the magic bullet that fixes a broken NBI function. You need to look at all the interacting components that together build a capability: policy, process, technology and people. Configure the technology to fit your business, not vice-versa.
  • Avoid denial. Recognize the reality of how attorneys work while designing your capability. For example, in many cases, attorneys have started working on a matter prior to formal approval. If they do not have a place to enter their hours, that time might be lost. Provide a way to capture time immediately. Some firms have decoupled the provision of a client/matter number from approval of the matter, so attorneys receive a client/matter number immediately.
  • Have secretaries do the lion’s share of the data entry. Identify and communicate the few data elements that must be provided by the attorneys (e.g., deal structure details, related parties). Assume their secretaries will provide the rest. If it’s information you need, you’d better train secretaries on how to obtain it.
  • Keep your intake form simple.  As you launch your project with a cross-functional team, everyone will try to address their data collection needs through the intake process, resulting in a form that is too long, annoying to your attorneys and producing bad data. Use this project to first build some goodwill with your attorneys. Keep the optional questions to a minimum. As Ted Graham, Conflicts and Intake Manager at Brown Rudnick, points out, much of what clogs up intake forms is found by intake analysts anyway as part of their conflicts research.
  • Get a handle on your informal reviews and bring them into the formal process. Your attorneys are smart and motivated to get started. Undoubtedly, they have found ways to circumvent your formal process by obtaining informal approvals for proposed matters. This generates unnecessary redundancy when combined with the formal process, it creates additional challenges when rolling out improved processes, and it places new firm members who only know the formal process at a disadvantage.
  • Create risk-based alternative processes. When it comes to NBI, one size does not fit all. Although you should first improve the process that works for 80 percent of your matters, it is worth considering whether you should also develop processes for common exceptions. An analogy is how the U.S. assesses the risk of visitors seeking entry at the border. A small percentage of low-risk “trusted travelers” is allowed entry with minimal review. The rest are sent through the main process flow – they encounter an officer who assesses their risk and grants entry to the vast majority, sending the small number of potential risks for an additional review. Getting the lowest and highest risk individuals out of the main flow makes everything move more quickly. The same logic can be applied to your matters. Tailoring processes based on risk allows you to process low-risk matters quickly (e.g., an IP filing in a dozen countries should not go through the same process a dozen times) while focusing needed attention on the high-risk matters.
  • Support attorneys with analysis. Firms can differ in how much they centralize decision-making. However, for even the most decentralized firms, provide a core group of professional staff to support attorney decisions with analysis. Searching and data analysis are tasks done better and cheaper with trained staff. Attorneys don’t want raw data, they want recommendations.
  • Adopt a matter life cycle risk management and data collection approach. The first day of a matter should not be the only time you review its risk or collect information. Matter parties change, clients merge and matter descriptions can change dramatically. Firms do not do enough to identify clients or matters whose profiles have changed over time. This exposes the firm to risk and puts an undue burden on the intake process to collect all necessary information.