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Legal intake

Why Legal Intake Can’t Be Solved With Forms

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In our conversations with legal operations teams, there is a common pain point that we frequently hear — namely, that their legal intake process is a mess. It’s easy to understand why. Handling incoming legal requests from all the different functions within the organization — in addition to all the varying outside parties — is a massive challenge. According to an ABA benchmark study, most firms have trouble completing even simple intake processes. Many corporate legal teams have an “ad hoc” intake process that is “slow, inefficient, and costly” according to legal services firm, Lumen Legal.

When surveyed about their performance in the ABA study, most participating firms reported they were “appalled.”

Which is understandable. Disorganized and slow intake systems result in legal processes that are by and large inefficient, inconsistent, and costly.

For obvious reasons, many legal ops teams are today in the process of restructuring their intake process. Many are doing this in a simple way: by implementing a series of forms for requesters to fill out. These forms ensure that the legal team has the details and tracking information necessary to properly process each request.

The problem is, using forms like this leads to many unintended consequences.

Generally, intake forms result in a bad user experience for requesters. Intake forms are often introduced within a legal portal populated with tens or hundreds of links, leaving the requester with the daunting task of finding the right form for their request even though they themselves possess limited knowledge of legal terminology. Once they get to the right form, they then need to fill it out correctly — once again with limited knowledge of why they’re being asked for that information.

Example of a form. Photo source: UXDesign.cc

The difficulties associated with intake forms often lead requestors to ask clarifying questions or worse yet, find a way around the process. This leads to emails being sent to legal inboxes or individuals, which typically create mounds of manual administrative work that the legal team needs to complete. What you end up with is a lot of frustrated people and a load of manual work on the legal team, essentially defeating the purpose of having a legal intake process in the first place.

The core issue with legal intake forms is they attempt to force each individual requestor — who could be completing a legal request or intake form for any number of different reasons — into something of a single process or path. This results in massive build-up, much like how highway merges always lead to traffic jams.

To solve a varied process, you need a dynamic solution. You need to think about the entire process from end-to-end, starting even before the request is made.

To deliver the truly ideal legal intake solution, here are the important considerations to remember:

Integrate Upstream

Example of contracts inside Salesforce. Photo source: AppExchange

Every legal request originates from some other process, whether it’s a contract that needs to be approved to close a sale, an employment agreement for a new hire, or an SOW to be approved from a vendor. To create a truly seamless legal intake solution, then, firms need to integrate directly into the process in question. For example, when a sales representative moves an opportunity to a contracts stage in the CRM, a contract request should automatically be kicked-off and routed to the appropriate legal team member. By integrating the legal intake process upstream, the legal team has more immediate awareness of the incoming request and can improve the experience for the business stakeholder at the same time.

Provide User Flexibility

Email request for standard NDA

Users are already exposed to too many forms, tools, and systems — each possessing their own interfaces — on a day-to-day basis. Rather than introducing yet another “front door” for users to submit legal requests through, think about how you can provide a flexible approach that allows users to use the existing tools they already have. Connect your legal intake process with email, chat, or other systems, and allow users to directly submit their requests (with all the relevant information) directly through those interfaces. This will make the user experience much more natural, improving overall business satisfaction.

Automate Routine Requests

Automated email response for standard NDA request

Not every request made to legal needs to be reviewed by a team member. You’re likely already looking at implementing knowledge management and self-service solutions to reduce the volume of incoming legal requests. In addition to that, add automation to your legal intake process to handle standard requests like NDAs, SOWs, or bill of sale documents. Doing so will reduce the overall load to your legal team and allow your team to focus on more important, higher-risk matters.

Intelligently Route Requests

Example of an intake request routed to a Slack channel

Today, even after standardizing legal request forms, once the request is submitted, the legal team still needs to review and route the request. Based on the type of incoming legal request, it should instead be automatically routed to the team in an intelligent way. This could look like an intelligent, adaptive workflow tool that auto-assigns the right team or individual for certain requests — or if the tool is unsure, sending the request to the team via an actionable email or chat notification. Ensuring that someone has taken ownership of the request will reduce turnaround time while minimizing administrative overhead of assigning legal requests.

Create a Single Source of Truth

Legal intake dashboard in Tonkean

Even with a varied legal intake process, all of the requests should ultimately flow into a single source of truth. This way, you can ensure that no request falls through the cracks and that you have the complete visibility you need to report on critical legal KPIs to continue improving your teams’ operations.

While working with legal operations teams from small to large businesses, Tonkean has created a legal intake solution that does all of the above, adapting to the unique systems, people, and processes of each organization. Leveraging robotic automation technology, legal ops teams can automate legal intake by connecting to their various sources of requests like email, chat, forms, or other systems. Each request is then intelligently routed to the right legal team member and tracked until that request is fully processed. Finally, a live report provides the legal team end-to-end visibility of the entire intake process.

The legal intake process is a critical junction in bridging business functions with legal teams. By providing a flexible legal intake process, legal operations teams can ensure that the legal team has all the details and tracking to process each request properly while providing the best experience for business stakeholders.

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