Transforming the Law Firm Workforce with Robotics Process Automation
February 21, 2020
By Amanda Ammerman, CPA
The demand for legal finance and administrative professionals has never been stronger, and the costs of attracting, training and retaining these highly sought-after individuals continues to skyrocket. The profession continues to evolve with increasing emphasis on regulatory matters, internal controls and data analytics—areas where professionals should focus their energy. Yet, these expensive and highly skilled workers often perform mundane, repetitive tasks which robotics could perform easily. The digital transformation of finance and legal operations has liberated professionals to focus on higher-value activities. It evolves continuously as organizations introduce, test and deploy new technologies. Introducing robotics process automation (RPA) can benefit a firm by redirecting human capital to higher level activities and thus conserving its financial capital by having a bot perform less ‘intellectually demanding’ tasks.
The cost-related benefits of outsourcing these services have diminished in recent years due to rising labor costs in markets such as India, Brazil and the Philippines. Presently there is strong global demand for these skill sets, resulting in high turnover rates and, consequently, organizations spend a great deal of time and money recruiting and training new workers. Rather than outsourcing the manual, repetitive, and mundane tasks that make up a process, forward-thinking firms are employing robotics to automate them. Since outsourcing lower-level tasks is no longer as cost effective as it once was, professional service firms are turning to RPA.
The first phase of an RPA project is to determine which activities are suitable for automation. Where are people spending significant time on ‘non-value-add’ activities? Tasks that employees find tedious yet require clear and exact manual steps are the best tasks for RPA to perform. RPA can be used in more facets of the day-to-day tasks than a finance department might initially anticipate. Often, a firm’s existing applications don’t ‘talk’ effectively to each other. This is a common problem that RPA can help solve. Billing and invoicing -- tedious and time-consuming tasks -- can be automated by integrating the billing system fully with the time entry system.
A bot can quickly compile data for audits and other compliance testing, whereas it would take a human hours or days to collect the same data. Law and other professional service firms which are considering a new hire should also contemplate using RPA. Instead of hiring additional personnel, the firm may be able to redirect routine tasks from existing employees and automate them. Importantly, the goal of RPA is to optimize the workforce and technology already in place rather than to ‘rip out and replace’ current technology. Users may not even be aware that their existing business applications already have embedded automation capabilities which can automate processes without significant additional investment in new software.
The major benefit of automating a full ‘end-to-end’ business process is that companies often realize a significant return on any investment within a relatively short period of time. The primary RPA focus has been on the elimination of manual tasks and streamlining of existing processes. Beyond the obvious benefit of cutting costs or repurposing human capital, it is also important to ensure that you understand what you ultimately want to achieve. For example; am I focused on:
- Improving controls?
- Standardizing processes across groups and locations?
- Increasing scale and productivity?
Each of these questions factors into a firm’s decision on which processes to choose and how quickly to automate them. It is important to ask the right questions and, at a minimum, to work with a partner who understands your particular firm, its clients and precisely how RPA can automate routine tasks from finance, operations and all departments so that your professionals maximize their contributions to your firm.