A year ago, national law firm DWF overhauled its business model and introduced a range of new client services, including a centralised legal support centre with paralegals working on everything from e-disclosure to bundling. DWF director Julia Williams explains how this paralegal hub is transforming the way it undertakes litigation, and the financial and practical rewards it is reaping.
DWF’s Legal Support Centre (LSC) operates as a centrally located and managed core service provider to the business nationally.
Skilled paralegals provide expert quality support on repeat, process-driven tasks delivering chargeable work efficiently and in a cost-effective manner to consistently high standards, using a wide range of technological platforms.
In the 12 months leading up to the launch of the LSC, we found a clear appetite and demand for paralegal support across the commercial services division nationally on volume, process and automated tasks of a chargeable nature.
We identified a clear need to ensure that work was being carried out at the appropriate level of fee-earner, and that truly specialist work could be completed by people at the correct level of seniority, providing them with the time they needed to focus precisely on more complex, higher value legal work, sector specialisms and client relationships, and freeing such teams from carrying out more routine, time-consuming tasks.
The LSC is part of our strategy to ‘to deliver legal services differently’, providing a flexible model that allows DWF to respond to change as the legal market dictates.
Collaboration is key – this is about working closely with our clients and providing the services that they want, meeting and surpassing their expectations on work produced.
In terms of litigation, support is offered across the board, from assistance with trial preparation and bundling, to e-disclosure tasks and voluminous document collation and review exercises. Our paralegals can assist our commercial, specialist and insured litigation teams with more standardised processes and procedures, including instructing agents, preparing witness statements, and drafting proceedings, allowing specialist lawyers to focus their time on the more complex aspects of litigation.
For the LSC to continue supporting complex legal work across the firm nationally, we plan to create a clear brand identity, based upon simple and consistent methods of delivering work aligned with a comprehensive people progression structure.
We are ensuring that we recognise and nurture emerging talent in our people early on, so we can retain the right people with the right attitudes to engage with our clients. The LSC will pave the way for career progression through supporting alternative routes to qualification, changing the perception of paralegal work and enabling the LSC to become a development ground for future trainees alongside those making the conscious decision to work as a career paralegal.
We also see technology as the key driver in shaping how the model will evolve. DWF is investing in advanced tech solutions to support repeat process-driven work, and we anticipate that the model will operate as a mix of technically sound, legally trained and IT-savvy individuals delivering processes efficiently and cost-effectively.
Fee earners are, in fact, our core clients. They instruct the LSC to carry out work in the first instance, and retain responsibility for final sign-off. The instructing fee-earner remains in charge of the matter throughout its time with the LSC, maintaining constant visibility.
The use of clear process maps setting out the basic legal process ensures that work is conducted as per the instructing fee-earner’s expectations, and incorporates clear escalation points for a matter to be referred back to the instructing fee-earner should a question or issue arise.
The use of clear process maps setting out the basic legal process ensures that consistency is achieved across the board in terms of the work produced. Workflows have been designed with clear escalation points embedded (see above).
Workflows are supported by standard operating procedures, enabling consistency for the team across both training and application. The result is a seamless flow of work from one team to the next, with transparent lines of communication so all parties fully understand the expectations upon them and the work to be produced.
DWF is moving away from enterprise technology to software and applications that are easy to programme and develop, where users retain the ability to configure the technology themselves. One example of this has been our firm-wide move to DWF Draft, our document automation software that produces entire suites of legal documents in considerably less time than it takes to complete manually. This enables us to ensure consistency in approach, reduce risk and save time and money.
In terms of litigation, we are fluent in a number of e-disclosure platforms, offering choice and cost savings to meet specific client requirements.
Our litigation teams benefit from immediate internal legal assistance for large and time-consuming tasks, such as trial prep & bundling and voluminous disclosure exercises. The days of having insufficient team resource at a more junior level to support such tasks – and having to stretch across the firm for extra resource who may not have the time to properly commit to a task from start to finish – are long gone.
A clear return time is always specified at the outset, carefully based around the scope of the job, ensuring that a legally sound response is provided efficiently and cost-effectively. In turn, this ensures quality of service, produces consistently high-level results and maintains team motivation, enabling us to play on an individual’s strengths by ensuring work is carried out by the right people at the right level.
From a financial perspective, instructing the LSC to support on such tasks minimises the risk of using in-house resource that may actually have less time to help than anticipated. This in turn greatly assists those teams with the ongoing challenge of keeping costs down and improving their own gross margins.
It’s also about ensuring that individuals have a sufficient volume of work appropriate to their skill level to keep them busy and engaged throughout the day, rather than hiring an individual for just one team which may experience a quieter period – in essence, it is about using available resource most effectively.
Julia Williams is a director and National Head of Consumer Credit and Asset Finance Sector. She manages the commercial division of DWF’s Legal Support Centre.