Read time: 14 minutes
In this episode, Helm360 Digital Producer, Shawn Read, and the firm’s Executive VP, Bim Dave, discuss the difficulties of managing data across disparate systems at law firms, how technology offers new solutions to ease these problems, and what law firms can do to stay on top of their data issues.
Bim Dave is Helm360’s Executive Vice President. With 15+ years in the legal industry, his keen understanding of how law firms and lawyers use technology has propelled Helm360 to the industry’s forefront. A technical expert with a penchant for developing solutions that improve business systems and user experience, Bim has a knack for bringing high quality IT architects and developers together to create innovative, useable solutions to the legal arena.
Shawn Read is Helm360’s Digital Producer. He has a hand in all aspects of Helm360’s digital media production, including videos, online advertising, and email marketing. His role includes working closely with company stakeholders to identify key storytelling moments, create original content. provide media coverage for Helm360’s many worldwide events.
Shawn: We’ve talked about user interface, UI and user experience. Can you give an example of how you would bridge the gap between disparate systems using a good user experience?
Bim: Sure. First, imagine the user experience is a layer in your firm’s legal tech experience. The user interface sits on top of it and a variety of systems sit underneath it.
Typically, a law firm selects the best-of-breed system for a particular business function. If I’m looking for a CRM system, then I’m going to look at various suppliers and choose the supplier I like best. I’ll end up with a CRM solution that ticks all the boxes in terms of the functional needs from a CRM perspective. I will also look into how the CRM will integrate with other aspects of the firm. For example, NetSuite can integrate with HubSpot, which is a system that automates marketing efforts. You can Learn More about the benefits of this here. I go through the same process for the document management system, practice management system, matter management dashboarding, and so forth.
Each of these decisions involves a different stakeholder, right? You could have somebody who’s really focused on the CRM and new business intake making decisions around the CRM but they’ll be completely disconnected from the finance stream or the practice management system. So, business systems selection is really an organizational decision. It’s important that you make these decisions with the big picture or firm blueprint in mind. You want to be saying: “This is how I want my organization to be run.”
So, business systems selection is really an organizational decision. It’s important that you make these decisions with the big picture or firm blueprint in mind. You want to be saying: “This is how I want my organization to be run.”
When we add technology to the mix, the key piece is how do we connect the dots between those best-of breed-systems.
For example, from a pure technology perspective, if you’re talking about point-to-point integrations between these business systems, that can come from anything, like a simple Microsoft SSIS integration. It could be at data level where you’re moving data from one system to another. This could feed into a warehouse which is then presented on dashboards. It could be physically moving information from one application to another using an API via Intapp, SSIS, or BizTalk. There are so many ways to automate that back-end process so that you enter data into one system and it fires off a request to another system then interacts with that system.
The general integration layer and how you think about integrations holistically is pretty challenging. You have to think about what happens at the point of clicking a button in application A, and how does that impact application B, C, D, E or in every other application.
You’ve got data living in one system that could be replicated in three different systems. How do you ensure that chain of events is well maintained and that the data quality is checked at each level? How do you report on issues around that data? How do you cleanse it right?
A lot of the challenges around data migration all tie back to data quality. If data is a little bit crappy in system A, then that’s going to flow through to all the other areas. Everything from lookup data to the actual master file could be replicated across the system. So, it’s really important to think strategically about how the systems are integrated.
The dashboarding piece is a big in terms of connecting the data element of various systems through mediums like data lakes. You’re throwing lots of data from different systems into one big data lake then leveraging a dashboarding solution like Power BI or Tableau or whatever, to bring those data elements together. You’re connecting at the system level. You’re taking the data out of those individual systems and reporting on it holistically.
Another use case is from a process perspective: How do you put a facade on top of that system layer to make the user experience holistically different and more streamlined?
Think about the experience of using a CRM system. Yes, you may have the best CRM system on the planet with all the bells and whistles, but it was built and delivered by the team that built your practice management system. If an end user needs to be responsible for the intake process, the user needs to be part of the development process to make the ensuing chain of data events happen successfully.
When we look at some of the challenges of this new distributed work model, our ability to access data and those systems becomes slightly more difficult. We’re in an environment where we need to access web links and applications from home and still have the same experience we did in the office. There are unpredictable elements, like connectivity, which challenge the ability to interact with these systems at the same speed.
Those kinds of things have an impact. If it takes a user an extra three or four minutes to generate a report that could have taken 10 seconds in the office, then that user experience is not sufficient. It’s likely the user will go in a different direction, i.e. delegate the task to somebody else or just not do it at all. And ultimately this can lead to a bad decision-making because they’re not using up-to-date data.
More and more I see technologies like chatbot solutions trying to bridge the gap and create a simple, holistic user experience. With a chatbot, it becomes a conversation. The chatbot is intelligent enough to take your inputs to various systems – it could be you know, seven or eight different systems in the background – initiate an action and deliver content back in real time. In the meantime, you carry on with your own productivity (writing your contracts, working on a case, etc.). You don’t have to go into another experience. The chatbot is a friendly assistant that’s connected to all these different elements and is easily accessible.
We’re definitely starting to see a trend in law firms looking at this kind of technology to help them bring efficiencies to the remote work model.
We’re definitely starting to see a trend in law firms looking at this kind of technology to help them bring efficiencies to the remote work model. Think about scenarios like onboarding new employees. This a great problem that can be solved using technology like chatbots. The chatbot can take the end user on a journey to answer questions related to the firm. Anything from IT information to HR information, financial stuff that’s out there, etc. It’s like templating the firm’s knowledge base so all the questions that are repeatedly asked by every new hire, all those assets, are put into a bot learning experience. The bot answers those questions reducing pressure on your IT help desk and allowing your HR team stays focused on more important things. It removes a lot of obstacles inherent in the remote work landscape and all that learning comes a lot easier.
Think about onboarding from a new technology perspective. You could have a seasoned lawyer coming in with experience using Aderant. Your firm uses a different technology provider like Thomson Reuters. Both do the same business functions and processes but the forms and user experience are different. There’s a learning curve associated with that. Chatbot technology can mitigate that curve.
Another great use case we’re focused on is bringing that chatbot element to an existing piece of technology through things like e-learning, customized video learning guides, etc. Using our consulting and product experience to build those assets so they can be delivered as you embed the help element from an application alongside the user experience, which again, dramatically not only helps new employees but even existing employees who are adopting a new product.
Shawn: How close do you think we are to a solution like that today?
Bim: We have a couple of 3E examples within our conversation today. Normally we help customers adopt by helping them test the product end-to-end. As part of that exercise, we build a suite of custom test cases which are step-by-step instructions on how to use every process in their 3E system. We deliver those user guides through the chatbot channels. The user can go to any process within 3E and Termi, our chatbot, will ask “How can I can help you? Do you want a video training guide on how to do this or do you want to see a step-by-step instruction?”.
The key is not only showing standard product documentation, but also a specific guide that’s relevant to the user. Every 3E firm does some level of customization to forms for example or certain business processes. Using the chatbot technology allows help to be delivered in real time alongside the action, i.e., filling out a form, that’s relevant to the user.
Another interesting scenario centers around a client’s distributed workforce. Their employee directory contains key information about each individual. They want to quickly access this information to better serve their clients. For instance, if a potential client calls and English is not their first language, the firm wants to know if there’s a lawyer on staff who can communicate with them in their preferred language. In the past, this would involve a lot of time and a lot of manual searching through the directory. With Termi it’s a simple question: “Who speaks French/German/Spanish in the firm?” Termi does the search and delivers the appropriate contact card allowing the client to be served quickly and thoughtfully.
Shawn: This is really interesting. It clarifies what Termi can do. It can do that for wider bodies of knowledge beyond just who speaks of specific language, correct?
Bim: Yes. And I think the other important piece here is the customer relationship piece. For example, being able to connect the dots between onboarding a new customer and getting all the data points needed regarding that customer at your fingertips in a meaningful way.
Another use cases which comes up quite a bit is checking for conflicts. For instance, I’ve got an email from a prospect. Maybe we’ve done some work for this prospect before but I don’t know. They’re new to me. Being able to tie into data in Outlook or a dashboard which gives information from the CRM about the prospect is a huge time saver. I click on the email and the Termi dashboard on the right hand side gives me relationship information. I can know who they are at their firm, any contact information we have, and notes somebody else leaves about the prospect. The technology allows me to go beyond delivering legal service and legal advice. It helps build a relationship.
The final piece of this is general efficiency. We’re so focused on the financial impact on our business today, especially in this post COVID world. The need and desire to have proactive reporting, getting trend data showing impact on the financials in terms of cases being tried and being able to make that so easy to obtained and gather. To make it so you no longer have to go to various systems to collate data. Eliminating the time you need to interact with those different systems and bring it all into one hub so you’re getting your answers and actions done in a much more streamlined way.
This moves the user experience away from a tightly controlled system with lots of clicking. We focus on can Termi understand what you’re asking for, yes or no? If not, let’s train it a little bit more. The machine learning aspect is so powerful. It can learn different ways of asking the question. Then, how do we tie that back to a data element or workflow or an action or report, etc., and deliver that back to the end user?
Ultimately that’s the key. If you can do that, then you eliminate the need for a long onboarding process or heavy hand holding in terms of teaching job functions. You move from “how do we practice law,” and “how do we deliver the best customer experience” to “how do I get the information to do that”.
That’s the exciting development from a user experience perspective. To really connect the dots between those various best-of-breed systems and see the user experience evolve.
That’s the exciting development from a user experience perspective. To really connect the dots between those various best-of-breed systems and see the user experience evolve. It becomes sticky because you’re no longer needing to teach somebody how to do something. All those things can be solved just by asking the bot
Shawn: Do you have any tips for people on how they can manage these disparate systems better than they might be doing right now?
Bim: Yes. There are a couple of key takeaways. Number one when you think about integrations, the core thing you are integrating is the data. It’s really important that you manage, maintain, and understand that level of quality of data, not just at the source, but also as it flows through to different systems. So big emphasis on data quality. From what we’ve seen, that can be challenging depending on the type of system that you have.
Identifying data stewards is always a good thing to do. Make sure each module or area is really looked after by a data steward and that they have ultimate responsibility for change and monitoring data quality. There’s a whole heap of interesting things we can talk about in terms of tools that can help with this.
In addition, make sure you select the right framework to move your data. It’s really important to make sure you examine your integration framework when you’re defining your firm’s blueprint. Document all interaction points. If you’re working with legacy products, ascertain how the integration needs to interface with that product in order for it to pull/push data. We see customers with 10-year-old products that don’t have any kind of API, for example.
Really thinking through the architecture is a key driver in terms of choosing the right technology solution. You need a sophisticated way of communicating to all of these different systems. You need to make sure your integration framework can talk to not only internal on-prem solutions, but also to API’s that might live in the cloud. Consideration for authentication mechanisms with regard to the endpoints you’re dealing with all flow into your integrating systems’ success.
Shawn: I really like the idea of data stewards. Would you say a data steward would be for each data lake, or is that a smaller, more granular subset?
Bim: This is a good question. It’s more relevant if you define them by business area. When you segment the data this way, you get a look at the data across multiple systems. You need to have a data steward that’s responsible. A simple example is client data. Your client data is potentially living in your CRM system and your practice management system. There’s a data steward for client matter data and they are responsible for that data across all those systems. They make sure the mapping is done correctly between the systems, that it’s fed into the integration framework correctly and that there’s a mechanism in place to validate the data in all those different systems.
This keeps someone focused on specific areas, which means you’ve got a higher chance of success that data quality remains to a high standard across the board. You’ve also got people looking at exceptions. So, where there’s anomalies in data, you’ve got the right framework and systems in place to detect them and do something with it.
There’s a whole heap of things to consider when it comes to data that’s quite exciting. You start with getting your data quality in check, but what you can learn from your data is a whole different ballgame, right? So, we’re just scratching the surface of what a high-quality system and the data living within it can deliver. Going through the exercise of getting your data quality checks in place gives you visibility of all of the different crossover points and potential connection points. Right now, we’re talking about integrating systems but when you integrate data between those systems to form the big picture, that’s the most powerful thing you can do with the data. Ultimately, it leads to business decisions being made that connect those dots between the data.
Shawn: Good. It’s a really interesting point. Thank you very much for this conversation, it’s been really fascinating.
Bim: It’s been a really good conversation. Glad to be talking with you today and look forward to the next month.
Want to know more about how Termi can unite your best-of-breed systems? Interested in getting help bringing your data quality up to speed? Contact us! We’re happy to help.