We recently called for practitioners to write about the software and gadgets that they personally had found useful in their practice. Aaron Moore recalls the problems he had in managing a growing volume of debt collection cases and outlines the solution that he has found and now endorses.
I work at Belfast-based Cleaver Fulton Rankin, a market leading firm working in all areas of commercial law and boasting several large financial institutions as clients. I work predominantly in the litigation department there, and am mainly involved in services in debt recovery and debt management.
We did not have a bespoke case management system for debt recovery work because it was a growth area for this firm. Until December 2010, we would not have been dealing with the volumes of cases in this area that we now deal with. Simply put, the need was not there. As the debt recovery case-load has grown, the task of managing workflow and ensuring important deadlines are met has become challenging. In addition, engagement with the Northern Ireland courts system requires proficiency and perfect timing to ensure successful completion of cases and adherence to client Service Level Agreements.
The Cleaver Fulton Rankin team was relying on individual fee-earners to set diary reminders to remind themselves to complete tasks for each case, and to make sure they were meeting every individual goal under any Service Level Agreement. This was managed with Outlook calendar reminders but, as volumes increased, the method became unwieldy and, at times, unreliable. With differing demands in client SLAs, it was apparent that a solution was needed to ensure expectations were exceeded, and not dashed.
Each Cleaver Fulton Rankin client has different requirements and expectations, meaning that we needed a tool that enabled the creation of individually tailored workflow templates. We also wanted a system that we could develop over time with our own knowledge, without the need to constantly revert to the developer.
We evaluated several systems, including a web-based project management system, and a well-known bespoke case management system. With the recurring, process-driven aspect of our work, we found that simple project management was not sufficient for our needs. On the other hand, the legal case management solution was overly complicated, involving many features that we did not need, and with an upfront capital outlay.
The third alternative, and the option we chose was Planzai, a web-based workflow template and management system. We chose Planzai because of our ability to easily tailor it to suit each of our clients' needs. Furthermore it was inexpensive in comparison, and user friendly. As with any growth area, no one knows how long the work will last for and that was a factor in defining and limiting our requirements.
The system we have used allows a step-by-step case process to be tailored to the needs of each client, comprising tasks, deadlines, instructions and reminder settings for each type of process. The template is then activated for each new matter, automatically reminding the user as each task comes due. If I know that I have to issue a letter and that seven days after I want a response, I can set that task in Planzai and it reminds me, when those seven days are up, to check if I have received a response. If I have, I can progress it; if I haven't, I can chase it.
What do we need from the system that it doesn't currently offer and which would help us streamline case workflow management? The most important thing that I would like is the ability to count forward instead of backwards. In other words, if the next task is dependent on the first being completed the time scale for it being completed should change automatically once the first task is completed. This would save the user having to amend the end date and would prevent the user being prompted to complete a task before the prior task is complete.
Having the system in place has been a great help with staff training. If I want to bring a new fee-earner into the department, and train them up from scratch, I can show them how the system works and say, 'here's this case, activate that blueprint'. You can also give the fee-earner instructions, so as I create a blueprint, I can actually create instructions, by way of a drop down and say what tasks they need to complete to get to the next stage.
In summary, I and the rest of the Debt Recovery Team at the firm have found that Planzai has significantly reduced time and problems associated with manually managing case workflow and deadlines, without it requiring us to change our working practices.
Aaron Moore, is an Associate at Cleaver Fulton Rankin.