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IT director at Wilsons Solicitors Alasdair Patch talks change management with partners DMC Canotec – and how digitising is directing the firm’s future for the better. Going digital is the next big move transforming legal, and legal businesses are being driven to this end by opportunities in streamlining and improving document production and workflow – and a growing recognition of the cost of not changing.

The efficiencies created by reformatting document services (printing, scanning and copying) have provided a launchpad for firm-wide transformation at Salisbury based Wilsons Solicitors – and those efficiencies are being passed along to the client, says IT director Alasdair Patch.

The firm was able to wean itself off costly and paper and resource-intensive processes by embracing a ‘less paper’ concept, and consciously moving toward more agile, digitised information flows – but it could only get there by also involving people in the change project, says Patch. Wilsons’s less-paper transformation began with the move to new premises in 2012.

“We measured our ‘paper habits’ and estimated the growth and impact of our paper file storage – something that costs law firms an immense amount in terms of physical space.” In choosing to move its document services provision to DMC Canotec, Wilsons was embarking on a change project, building on the strategic work the firm and DMC Canotec had done already on scanning and document management integration with eCopy. “Moving our document services outside the firm means we haven’t had to increase our internal paper storage, a key aim of the project.

DMC Canotec helped the Wilsons team set up visits to other firms to learn from what they had achieved, and they were then able to work out how to create an optimal print world for everyone in the firm based on real-world use. After some fee earners calculated how much their time was worth per minute, and how long it would take to walk to and use the various shared devices, Patch and the team worked those numbers into the design and cost model successfully.

“And we’ve had absolutely no complaints,” he says. Part of the challenge of learning to share printers was overcoming the lack of understanding around printing costs, says Patch. “Most people see printers as a commodity item that requires a single outlay. But from a business perspective, it’s the maintenance, toner, print costs, IT costs, drivers, macros and so on.”

Many users also didn’t understand the connection between coloured printing and accurately recording where the business is incurring cost. “Fee earners understand how much we charge to clients, but they had little visibility of their own activity, be it photocopying or printing. Now they understand that it’s important not only to capture the cost but also, where appropriate, to pass cost onto the client.”

Part of the DMC Canotec project involved putting in place the controls and accountability to help people make informed decisions around these costs. That was an eye-opener, says Patch. “We’d never thought about it from the user’s side before. If a user understands a cost http://humanrightsfilmnetwork.org/accutane model, they pay far more attention to what they’re doing and why.” Rethinking printing from everyone’s perspective has played a large part in the firm’s overall document services strategy shift, he says. “By engaging with people in the change we’ve found out more about the issues they were facing when it came to generating, managing, distributing and storing documents in day-to-day work.”

“Moving our document services outside the firm means we haven’t had to increase our internal paper storage, a key aim of the project.

Alasdair Patch

IT Director, Wilsons

This has had wide-ranging impacts. How the firm handles change projects as a result of its document services review now leans toward a more inclusive approach.

“Talking to users at an early stage and getting their understanding – as to why the business is doing it and how – has been vital. If they feel they have had their say, and understand why it’s happening, the project works better, and the people are happier.” This has even impacted core business-critical change, such as a practice management system upgrade. “We’re using that process to include user groups and sessions as we did with print – it’s taught us a lot about change process.”

Wilsons is now very much a ‘digital-first’ firm, but that doesn’t mean there’s no paper left. “We’ve now got departments which are almost entirely electronic in their file keeping. We have that vision for the rest of the firm. But we’ve also learned that it doesn’t suit every area of our business. There are certain work and client types that still require paper documents.”

“We’ve got to be more agile to make sure we can deliver.” And the future will see an even more adaptable approach inside the firm. “We’re looking now into moving many departments into a fully electronic file. That has a lot of positive knock-on effects – it’s a reduction in print volume, less cost for the business, and also less cost for the client.” Providing the right information to clients, and doing it efficiently, means people can do their jobs more effectively.

Wilsons’ document services are now more agile and resilient, fee earners are more effective, and client service as a result is improved. Plus waste is down and paper isn’t taking up pricey office space. “Over the next few years, we’ll be making sure that every piece of technology in Wilsons is driven to provide absolute benefits across the whole business,” says Patch. That’s lasting change, driven by becoming a more digital business.


Case study originally published in the May 2015 Briefing supplement of Legal Practice Management magazine.


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