Higgs & Sons Solicitors is an award-winning law firm in the Midlands area of England that employs approximately 200 people, including equity partners, salaried partners, and junior lawyers (associates and solicitors), and staff. A focus on partnership, balance, long-term relationships, reputation, and community have served as guiding principles for the firm since its founding 145 years ago. Adhering to these values across everything it does helps ensure the firm’s clients and people experience the difference Higgs & Sons offers.
Higgs & Sons has demonstrated a commitment to make strategic changes to be more innovative and adaptable to clients and market trends. Part of that commitment includes staying current technologically. Over the past four years, the firm implemented Aderant Expert as its PMS system, a cloud-based document management system, and other leading-edge systems to bring its technology suite up to where it needs to be.
Improving client matter inception processes
Glyn Morris, partner, and Adam Cutler, IT director, have been instrumental in these endeavors. Morris’s role at the firm has gravitated towards technology, strategy, and enabling improved client experiences and more profitable engagements. In comparison, Cutler focuses more on technology execution to maximize the lawyer and support experience. Both work together to determine how technology can be applied to solve complex business problems.
For example, the firm relied on a standalone custom solution Cutler had built to manage the firm’s new business intake and conflicts processes. While being a capable system, it was not integrated with the firm’s other software, which hindered efficiency and collaboration.
Choosing Intapp Open and Conflicts
In keeping with its modernization imperative, the firm wanted to implement a solution to automate and gain better control of new-client acquisition processes and make it easier for lawyers to follow risk and compliance procedures. After considering several options, Morris, Cutler, and Beverley Scriven, head of compliance, chose Intapp Open and Conflicts to meet these needs.
“We thought it would be beneficial to split out the client matter inception process from our core case management system,” Cutler says. “Plus, Intapp has a range of offerings that follow the same security model and integrate harmoniously with each other. We thought this was a reasonable way to introduce Intapp into our environment.”
Working with Wilson Allen
Intapp recommended Wilson Allen as the implementation partner for this project. Having completed the certification process to provide services for Intapp products and as a services partner to Aderant, Wilson Allen was a natural fit for this effort.
Wilson Allen kicked off the implementation by performing solution design and business analysis phases. During this solution design stage, Wilson Allen’s project team worked with Higgs & Sons to design the intake and conflicts processes so the two processes are connected. This way, when lawyers start the new business intake process, it triggers the conflicts process and prompts a series of approvals. Questions related to risk are built in to enforce the firm’s risk and compliance policies.
A third-party consultant created a custom integration solution for a different use at Higgs & Sons, which was repurposed to streamline the integration of Open and Conflicts directly to the firm’s Aderant Expert instance.
Dealing with changes in scope
Early in the project, Higgs & Sons had intended to merely replace its legacy system. However, as the project evolved, the firm wanted to build more and more automation into the process, which Wilson Allen’s team helped design.
Wilson Allen’s senior business consultant Mike Madden served as the primary lead on the project, and senior consultant Alastair Seddon served as the technical lead. “We must’ve shifted scope at least 10 or 15 times,” Cutler says. “Mike and Alastair offered excellent suggestions and creative thinking about how to make things happen.”
Morris echoes these sentiments: “When there’s been an issue, it’s always been a collegiate kind of approach, and we were able to work through it well. Plus, there were several times throughout the project when our people had to work on other things. Wilson Allen was amenable throughout the process, and ultimately it’s been a successful relationship.”
Getting users up to speed
Morris oversaw the change management processes to introduce the firm’s users to Open and Conflicts. First, he and the managing partner met with the firm’s heads of department. They demonstrated the system and presented the rationale behind why it was needed. Next, Scriven and a trainer on Cutler’s team ran sessions with lawyers and secretaries, including a dry walkthrough of the software. Finally, there were specialized training sessions and quick reference guides tailored to the needs of different departments and roles within the firm.
A critical success factor for the project was tangible support from the firm’s standards and ethics board. “The solution wasn’t released into a vacuum,” Morris says. “There was a real understanding as to why the solution was needed and how it benefitted clients.”
Realizing positive outcomes
Overall, the feedback Morris and Cutler have received has been positive. They’ve had regular check-ins with department heads and business heads, who have all commented on how smoothly the new processes have gone.
There are many more intake questions and there is more automation in the solution than what was initially planned. After working in a standalone system with limited visibility and control, the firm now has a centralized system and remote access to a much more rigorous process. When contemplating any regulatory audit of the firm, there is great peace of mind because there are risk questions embedded into the process, which bodes well for the firm’s risk profile for insurers.
“One of our biggest challenges previously was harnessing technology to ensure people do the right things around compliance and risk,” says Cutler. “But now it’s very intuitive, which I attribute more to the way our solution was designed than possibly the underlying technology.”
Morris adds, “If you’re of the mindset that you want lawyers to have to do as little administrative work as possible around risk and compliance, but do it really, really well, you’ve got to implement systems that handle most of the effort. We’ve accomplished that.”
Higgs & Sons is experiencing benefits resulting from integrating Open and Aderant Expert when it comes to maintenance of group structures and operation of client rates. For example, when opening a new client, if that client is part of an existing client group with special rates, those rates and group structures are fed back into Open and available to select from a dropdown menu. “That’s been a major benefit to us,” says Morris. “This way, we won’t start clients and matters in the wrong rate set and record time at the wrong values.”
Offering advice to peers
To derive the full value from a project like this, Morris and Cutler suggest that you speak with peers and suppliers – and get ready to roll your sleeves up.
“I’d strongly urge that you don’t treat it as a technology project. It’s a major business undertaking that needs proper resources, buy-in, and planning,” Cutler says. “It’s more of a cultural undertaking because it so deeply affects not just your internal people, but how you onboard new clients that might be with you for 10, 20, or 30 or more years.”
Morris concurs. “First and foremost, I’d start with implementing your PMS first, every day of the week,” he says. “And I would strongly advise people not to underestimate the impact of process change on your lawyers’ day-to-day work. Take the time to design the solution accordingly.”
Learn more about Wilson’s Client Development and Intake practice.