First things first – getting the basics right

I am excited to be writing this, my first blog, for Today’s Media.

I qualified in 1996, and left private practice in 2012 to co-found The CS Partnership.  The CS Partnership is a consultancy for law firms founded by ex-lawyers who wanted to help the profession deal with the modernisation it was facing.  I am still a property lawyer through and through but I am going to be writing from a Legal Engineer’s perspective.

What is a Legal Engineer? I asked Chat GPT to give me a definition – because I know what I do, but I wondered how A.I. would define it.  The answer I received was as follows:

“A legal engineer is a professional who combines expertise in law with skills in technology, data science and automation to improve legal processes, service, and outcomes. They streamline legal operations, enhance compliance, manage risks, and provide more efficient and effective legal solutions.”

I liked the answer so much that I actually sent it to my mother, since she tells me from time to time that I can always get “A Proper Job” if it all goes wrong!

I understand why she still worries.  The world is changing so much, we didn’t use words such as Legal Engineer, process mapping, change management, systemisation, automation back in 2012 or earlier.  They are phrases that we are only recently using as a matter of course.  What we started doing in practice and for our clients (and still do), is to look at the basics of change to concentrate on getting them right first.

A great example is to work out what you are having to repeatedly correct.  Let’s say your initial client engagement letter refers to enclosures which need to be signed by the client where clearly indicated, and then returned to you.  Your clients call you on nearly all new matters because they can never find the area “clearly indicated” on the enclosures.  Why? Because nobody has ever drafted the enclosures to include said signature blocks, and nobody has ever thought to add these.

Everyone has these types of examples, because everyone gets used to using workarounds, or alternatively the people who have to make the alterations time and again don’t explain what changes they need.   Where they do tell someone, the issue may not be deemed important and isn’t dealt with, or possibly the software providers charge too much to correct documents and workflows. It may well also become “easier” to crack on with the next job on your to-do list than pause and deal with it in that moment.

But if you constantly delete the same thing from a letter; always have to add your chosen phrasing into a document using copy and paste; have to press endless return keys to skip past sections in case management systems because they “don’t work”– make a note, screenshot what you keep being presented with, and get them changed.  Your working days will start to be smoother, and the teams won’t be as frustrated with being busy for busy’s sake.

Every department I have visited over the past 12 years (and all the ones I worked in prior that) has their own examples of these issues.  I was once assured in a big property firm that I didn’t need to start with this basic a review, because the firm knew what they were doing.  Nevertheless, I asked for just two sample letters from their system so I could take a look.

The first was their engagement letter, and the second was a letter of their choice.  In their engagement letter, the name of their practice on the first page had a spelling error in it, that admin staff corrected on every matter (or didn’t?).  The second letter provided was a basic two line letter (I am guessing they thought it was innocuous), explaining that since the client had purchased their property without the benefit of a Santander mortgage, a certain fee that had been collected by them wasn’t needed and the money was therefore being returned to the client at the close of the transaction.  When I asked them why they hadn’t set their case management system up to ensure that fee only dropped into the completion statement if the client WAS obtaining a Santander mortgage, my query was met with silence.

Getting the basics right will save you a lot of effort.  It’s the equivalent of spring clearing everything and taking rubbish to the tip and the charity shops.  It isn’t fun, but once it is done you feel a ridiculous sense of pride, and it makes everything much smoother for the teams.  Plus you can tell your family members that you have started legal engineering – although I can’t promise any of them will be impressed!#

Sarah Keegan is a qualified Solicitor, Legal Project Manager, and Co-Founder of The CS Partnership.  You can contact her at sarah.keegan@thecspartnership.com or on www.thecspartnership.com.

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