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  • Paul Longhurst

Shiny Happy People- how law firms could benefit from an integrated HR system

People sat in a meeting with their laptops smiling

If yours was a manufacturing business, I would expect it to have great manufacturing software. If it was an airline, great ticket booking systems. So why is it that so few law firms seem to value their HR systems when they are in the business of selling their people’s time and expertise?

I have been involved in many PMS (Practice Management Systems) projects and always make a point of flagging up system integration as the heaviest load for an IT team that, especially with the move to cloud computing, may otherwise have a much smaller part to play in the process than was historically the case. However, alongside those systems which are directly related to the PMS (eg third party file opening, time capture and collections), the primary concern is often for integration with the DMS (Document Management System) and, where strategic to the business, case management. The CRM (Client Relationship Management system) will be next on the list although even this, which should be handling the firm’s client relationships, may be considered an island of information that can exist without integration.

All too often though, the HR system is the last to be considered and may be left out altogether, with the reasons frequently cited being that the HRS is too old or rudimentary or that the data it holds is hopelessly out of sync with the PMS so that linking the two together will create problems. If we are looking at this from a data perspective (which I think law firms are increasingly doing), then it is worth considering that the HRS holds data about a firm’s lawyers which are their most valuable resource. And if your HRS is not up to the job or its data is in poor shape, it is probably time to consider an upgrade, replacement or data cleansing exercise rather than isolating the HR system as addressing these issues can bring benefits in many ways.

The upshot of all this is that I would strongly advocate for the HRS to be considered towards the top of any list of systems to integrate with a new PMS. Case management has a strong claim here too, as such systems may hold the time or fixed fee details required for billing. CRM would also be high on my list as this should provide a feed into the PMS of the contact and prospect data used when opening new clients. Integration with the DMS is a given because of the need to create new client and matter workspaces and also for the benefit of storing engagement letters and bills directly into these workspaces. Having said that, however (and unlike HRS, case management and CRM systems where data generally flows to the PMS), data from the DMS is relatively unimportant to information concerning files, time, billing and accounting that is held in, and reported on, by the PMS.

When systems are integrated with the PMS in this way, it makes sense for their data to be considered the primary source for whatever it is they manage (eg people, cases or relationships) and fed into the PMS without alteration. This shifts the responsibility for the accuracy of data to these ‘feeder’ systems such that the HR team would now have to ensure that its HRS data is fit for purpose (whilst Marketing/BD has to ensure client data is current and practice groups need to ensure their case data is correct). This would require a change in approach for firms where systems (and sometimes teams) have previously operated independently of each other, but the prize is for consistent and increasingly more accurate data with reduced overheads for data entry. Shiny happy people holding hands, as Michael Stipe of REM would say.

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