In today’s world, technological advancement is proceeding at a whirlwind pace. Every day, there’s a new AI-powered solution on the market that promises to change the way law firms do business. While some of these products are ultimately nothing more than empty hype, many of these new technologies can make a real difference when it comes to helping law firms do more with less.

RPA in the legal landdscape

Robotic process automation is the use of technology to enable computer software commonly called robots or bots to perform routine tasks by accessing existing applications to capture and interpret data, manipulate it, use it to process a transaction and report the results to other digital systems. RPA isn’t simply about automating processes, but rather about creating virtual workers that can perform highly repetitive, time-consuming, rule-based tasks.

Many business functions, particularly on the administrative side, are routine tasks that don’t require specialized skills or high-level analysis. Nonetheless, employees are paid large sums of money to spend their days doing little more than clicking a mouse to accomplish them. This is not a good use of either time or resources. By implementing RPA, law firms can allow bots to take over the performance of these operational tasks, freeing up employees to handle higher-value work and boosting firms’ overall efficiency.

One of the latest advancements to offer real benefits for law firm efficiency and spending is robotic process automation or RPA. While the name may sound daunting to some, RPA is nothing to fear. In fact, it’s something that law firms should be embracing. By automating routine processes, law firms can achieve the seemingly impossible goal of performing more billable work without hiring more people. RPA isn’t just a way of cutting costs, but also a largely untapped avenue for law firm growth.

Leveraging Robotic Process Automation in the legal industry

“Doing more with less” is one way in which RPA can increase efficiency. It can be operationalised in terms of an improved proportion between the cost and the value of the large amount of bureaucratic processes that are inherently involved in law. With outcomes of this kind, automation is likely to become a ‘must’ and not merely a (good) option for an efficient legal industry of the future.

As you probably know, RPA is generally applicable to rule-based, repetitive processes that are as uniform as possible, i.e., that have few exceptions. Processes with these traits are amenable to automation, irrespective of industry sector or business size. But let us see what this means when we focus on the legal industry in particular.

CiGen emphasises that processes in the law area like those mentioned above together with support functions in the legal industry, functions like finance or HR, for example can greatly assist law firms of all sizes. We list just a few of them.

1. Robot assistants can be used to structure huge amounts of data, which can consequently be accessed with a lot less effort from the part of rational human minds. Particularly in the law system based on the doctrine of judicial precedent, like the system at work in Australia and New Zealand, searching through huge databases of precedents and coming up with relevant analogues is crucial. But this is also extremely time consuming and rather tedious, and hence error-prone.

Software robots can speed up the work and improve accuracy of findings. According to UiPath, bots’ role in this case is that of “super-smart consultants”, while the RPA platform is an effective e-discovery instrument. This has at least two other important positive consequences that we list next.

2. The human capital of law firms, that is, the law clerks’ bright critical minds, are freed up to focus on what they, and only they, can do: reason well! Job satisfaction is thus greatly improved. According to social scientists, this boosts performance of human services workers. So here is the improved cost/value ratio of implementing robotic process automation in the legal industry in all its glory.

Law Firm Use Cases

The purpose of RPA is to help law firms create efficiencies and do more work with fewer people. Every firm regularly performs many necessary but routine tasks that are accomplished simply by following a set of prescribed rules. These kinds of tasks are excellent candidates for RPA.

Consider invoicing, for example. It’s a necessary part of business at every firm, but the process is incredibly routine. At most firms, the invoicing process involves having a person (who is likely paid a decent salary) access the system each day, find the current bills, PDF them and send them to the proper recipients. As the volume of invoices increases, firms usually hire additional staff to help process them.

Invoicing is the perfect example of a structured task that a bot can handle just as well as a human. In the case of invoicing, the bot is nothing more than a computer program that runs in the middle of the night, following the same set of steps a human would take to generate bills. The significant difference is that, when RPA is applied, the bills are ready in the morning for the responsible employee to review and send out, without requiring any employee labor in their preparation. Automating the process cuts out half the manual work and frees up hours of invaluable time that employees can instead devote to high-value work.

The same is true for other routine, structured commodity tasks that are defined by a set of rules. Think of these as the low-hanging fruit of the law firm. Similar examples include new client or matter intake, as well as employee onboarding and offboarding. Each of these tasks involves a predefined set of steps that must be accomplished in a routine matter. Bots can easily be assigned these tasks while law firm staff focus on more important tasks.

RPA’s usefulness isn’t limited to administrative operations. It can also be applied to more case-oriented work like basic legal research. Today, a good portion of legal research consists of a paralegal performing keyword searches in a designated database, collecting the results, converting them to PDF and delivering them to the overseeing attorney. That exact process can easily be automated and handled by a bot. The bot can simply be programmed to look for designated terms in the middle of the night, collect the relevant results, organize them as PDFs into a folder and deliver them to the assigned associate before he or she arrives in the morning. Using RPA frees paralegals up to instead focus on more high-value billable work.

The preceding examples are by no means exhaustive. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of tasks that law firms perform daily that could greatly benefit from automation.