Meeting the voluminous demands of lawyers has turned into a 24 hour a day, seven day a week challenge for legal document services provider Law In Order. JAMES THOMSON reveals the innovations that have seen the firm thrive.
By James Thomson
Meeting the voluminous documentation demands of lawyers has turned into a 24 hour a day, seven day a week challenge for legal document services provider Law In Order. We reveal the innovations that has seen the firm thrive.
Julian McGrath (far right) likes to jokingly compare himself to Bill Gates, that famous failed Harvard student. “I’m a failed paralegal,” McGrath says. But “failed” might not the word.
In 1999, McGrath left his job as a paralegal at Sydney law firm Ebsworth & Ebsworth and started Law In Order, a document processing firm that provides copying, printing scanning services for the legal industry. Four years ago he was joined in the business by technology whiz Paul Gooderick (pictured on the left), who has overseen the company’s expansion into electronic document management.
Law In Order (LIO) is now one of the biggest companies in this niche sector, and its revenue has grown 80% in the last 12 months to an estimated $14 million (they would not divulge the true figure). But its rapid growth has not been without challenges, including running and staffing a 24-hour-a-day company, managing client expectations and innovating in a heavily commoditised sector.
While document processing sounds like a simple business, the resourcing model is relatively complex. LIO needs to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to service lawyers working through the night. It’s reasonably mundane work, yet accuracy and quality is critical.
The pressure to meet deadlines for clients is constant. And clients are hopeless at estimating the size of their jobs – a case with 300 documents often expands to contain 30,000 documents. “Often the thing that throws us is when we underestimate the size of a job, and typically that comes when our clients estimate the size of a job,” Gooderick says. “It’s not unusual for jobs to scale over 100 times the original estimate.”
Human resource remains the biggest challenge. “The biggest probably is staffing, particularly in this current market. People jump around a lot – we are essentially at the blue collar end of a white collar market,” McGrath says.
Particularly in the early days of the business, McGrath and Gooderick made a common mistake – they threw themselves into the business and expected employees to do the same. “My biggest issue was the burnout of staff due to the brutal nature of my management style,” McGrath jokes. “We were working 36 hours straight at times. Looking back that was a bit unreasonable.”
The company’s 186 staff – somewhat to McGrath’s and Gooderick’s amazement – remain quite loyal. The pair say that’s partly to do with their efforts to foster a sense of community within the business (cakes for people’s birthday’s, social committees, monthly drinks) and partly because of the fast-paced nature of the work involved. “It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement of a big job,” Gooderick says.
Despite the commoditised nature of LIO’s basic document processing services, McGrath and Gooderick have tried to innovate to keep themselves ahead of their competition (they say there are three “credible” competitors in the market). In the early days, the biggest innovation was having better copying machines than the competition. As the use of electronic documents has increased in the legal sector, the opportunities to improve LIO’s offering has increased.
Gooderick gives the example of a case that may involve half a million documents. Trawling through those documents might require a team of 50 people, which is fine for a large law firm, but difficult for a small or medium firm. Using clever IT solutions, LIO is able to reduce the workforce required from 50 to just eight. “Our services allow all those mid-tier firms and smaller firms to match it against the big boys,” McGrath says.
Increasing the level of connectivity between LIO and its clients also helps reduce churn. While large law firms usually have preferred document processing suppliers, smaller firms tend to spread their work around. Hooking them into the LIO system helps create loyalty. “One of our strategies has been to engage with the client electronically,” Gooderick says. “They become more dependent on our internal systems to do their own work.”
LIO’s latest innovation is near-duplicate technology, which helps the user identify similar documents in a larger set of documents. When a law firm is trying to review a set of two or three million documents, being able to quickly recognise that two or three thousand of the documents are the same or similar is a huge benefit. “It gives a whole lot of structure for data entry, document tagging and document review,” Gooderick says.
McGrath and Gooderick are expecting the electronic side of their business to surge in the coming months following the implantation of new guidelines in the Federal Court that will require most cases involving 500 and 3000 documents to be handled electronically, and all cases with over 3000 documents to be handled electronically. “It’s good news for us,” McGrath says.