New Design Thinking for Law Firms’ Digital Mail and Records Operations

By Michael Herzog posted 01-20-2022 11:02

  

What is Design Thinking?

At its core, design thinking is a human-centered process for creative problem solving that encourages organizations to keep a focus on the key stakeholders the current problem involves. If implemented correctly, design thinking leads to more innovation, better products, services, and internal processes.

When an issue arises that requires a solution, a top question should always be, “What’s the actual human perspective behind this solution?” Design thinking defines the creative process for non-creatives and creatives alike by using a systems approach.

System Thinking:

  • Ask the right questions to solve any problem and properly identify the underlying challenges.
  • Visualize and organize information effectively to foster creative collaboration.
  • Involve the necessary stakeholders who the problems affect.

Why do Law Firms Need Design Thinking?

Law firms find themselves facing unique challenges due to the pandemic. Work from home, hybrid work situations, and return to office planning and implementation are disrupting operations in ways that just were not a consideration before the COVID-19 pandemic. Not to mention, ever-evolving security threats and the complex nature of information governance. The costs and inefficiencies that permeate from paper records rooms and offsite storage are problems that can be solved with a design thinking mindset. The value proposition of office space is a driving force of change, but while some firms are right sizing for a smaller real estate footprint, others must contend with new challenges from growth.

Design thinking processes can benefit law firms as they prepare to tackle these issues in a dynamic business environment that is unprecedented in the history of modern law firms. Law firms need to start asking the right kind of questions, involve the people directly affected, and create innovative solutions that address the following topics:

  • Work From Home
    • How can internal office operations or contracted facilities management process daily mail more efficiently and securely by re-designing the mailroom to become a digital mailroom?
  • Office Restack, Consolidation, and Expansion
    • How can law firms eliminate the paper footprint and need of physical records rooms?
    • How can law firms eliminate costs and put a stop to the flow of physical records into offsite storage?
  • Security
    • What are actionable steps law firms can take to reduce the risk of evolving security threats targeting law firms and their sensitive documents?
    • How can the process of mail distribution and records storage become more efficient and secure?
  • Adapt to Change
    • The COVID-19 pandemic affected all businesses. What solutions can law firms put in place that will have an immediate impact and enduring value to address environmental and systemic threats?

Applying Design Thinking to a Specific Problem:  Paper-based Mail and Records

As we roll into the new year, many firms are still being held back by one thing: paper, and this includes the mailrooms and postal mail. Current solutions to deliver daily mail were rapidly cobbled together and they have allowed law firms to get by during the COVID-19 pandemic, but as presently constructed, they are not long-term solutions, because they were never designed to be. It is important to acknowledge the heroic efforts that were put in place while understanding those were stop-gap measures that urgently need a permanent, more durable, and more efficient workflow. For many firms, the ringing of a new year is a wakeup call to fix this problem, but digitizing daily mail is a different sort of problem for law firms and that’s where design thinking helps.

Legal mail items contain sensitive client information. The quick fix has been scan-to-email, but this method involves high-security risks that puts the law firm and the client’s information at risk. A best practice Digital Mailroom operation negates risk completely by delivering mail directly to the digital management system (DMS) where sensitive client information can be properly filed according to the law firm’s information governance policies. A best practice Digital Records Room operates in a similar fashion by building a digitization project for scanning large volumes of physical records and storing them in the DMS.

These best practices focus on eliminating a law firms paper footprint by reducing costs and inefficiencies. The results are essential digital workflows that are better by design. Law firms not only save on unnecessary costs, but also create the ability to keep attorneys and staff productive no matter if they are work from home, in a hybrid work environment, or working in office.

Not only are these problems capable of being solved—they already have been. DocSolid’s Airmail2 Digital Mail + Records completely transforms a law firm’s paper-centric mail and records into digital operations that support work from home and return to office strategies.

The Airmail2 software provides law firms with digital delivery of sensitive and time-dependent mail and file requests with digital delivery into the DMS, allowing firms to distribute information fast and securely.

Client Requirements

In design thinking, identifying the key stakeholders is the first step in being able to properly create innovative solutions for them. For Digital Mailrooms, the key stakeholders who most need a robust solution are attorneys, mailroom operators, and records managers.

Attorneys: Mail Notifications

From the perspective of attorneys and legal administrative assistants, the most critical element of digital mail is the inbound email message that confirms when new mail gets delivered to them digitally into the document management system. This email message needs to be fast, informative, and immediately actionable when necessary.

Airmail2 notifications include a secure link to the digital document, a thumbnail image, and information about the mail item that enables recipients to make decisions and take next steps, including whether the physical mail needs to be kept for legal record keeping purposes. Attorneys always have the option to flag any physical mail item they want kept, but it is getting rare for that to be required by a government entity or the courts.

The mail notification message is multi-purpose:

  • It has import to the addressee
  • It represents a task to the practice team
  • It is a step forward in the efficiency of handing-off paper

 

The simple and quick alert of incoming mail should contain enough information to triage and accurately file the digital document. This better facilitates any further work on the related matter. Delivery of digital mail is faster because it eliminates all worker location constraints that are the result of handling physical mail manually. For example, a law firm spending $3,000 per month to pay for courier drivers to deliver physical mail to attorneys working at home fails to compare, of course. Speed wins.

 

Mailroom operators:  Simplicity and Reliability

From the mailroom perspective, this work is thankless drudgery, so they need help with repetitive portions of this time sensitive task. The Airmail2 software enables quick labeling of each item based on information visible on the envelope. Everything else is pre-configured according to routing rules in the software.  

Scanning and quality control can be done separately to batch the work with simple checklists. When the operator is done, they need to verify the delivery status, image quality and page counts. That mail delivery session is then closed, and the operator starts the next one. If needed, they can easily go back to retrieve and fix a mail item. Paper handling is constrained within a few feet of the front door rather than travelling further inside the building. Or worse, travelling miles further outside the building. Most importantly, the documents get to their intended recipients fast.

Records Managers: Integration with the Matter File

For Records Managers, the requirements are to clear the clutter and capture the true documents as early as possible in the digital matter file. As mentioned, the requirement to retain a physical document are rare— once and done is the name of the game for records and retention compliance. With permission to shred after scan and with reasonable quality controls, Mailroom and Information Governance (IG) staff can focus on efficiency: careful identification and training on naming conventions and any exceptions to the firm’s scan and shred policy.

Requirements will include the ability to direct the images to the best places possible in the DMS. A person knowledgeable about the document types will need to intervene, but this does not always have to be the legal secretary. If standards can be put in place over time for repetitive doc types, everyone is more efficient.

Conclusion:

Law firms have unique requirements and no two are exactly alike, but this is the reason why design thinking is the smart way to achieve your goals. DocSolid uses the principles of design thinking to develop the Airmail2 Digital Mailroom and Digital Records Room software and supplies. These are proven solutions with certified DMS integrations for iManage and NetDocuments. Are you looking to adopt a best practice because your law firm needs to deploy a mission critical Paper2Digital Transformation like this? DocSolid Design is leading the way.


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