The traditionally conservative, paper-driven legal profession in South Africa is embracing bespoke document management systems and automated processing in an effort to boost productivity, increase efficiencies and elevate client service.

This trend is driven by the growing affordability and accessibility of high-end document management and intelligent automation solutions.

That’s according to Shane Byren, chief business development officer at FCTEC, who says that forward-thinking legal practices are taking up digitisation and automation in their drive to reduce the costs of printing, managing, sharing and storing the massive volumes of paper they process every day.

In so doing, they are able to maximise billable hours while offering a better client service.

Managing the paper deluge

Says Byren: “Ask any lawyer, and they will tell you that they are swamped by paperwork. Each new client or case generates reams of paper to be processed, stored and managed – physical contracts, forms, due diligence, conveyance documentation and much more. This paperwork needs to be stored in a manner that is compliant with laws such as the Protection of Personal Information Act (PoPIA).

“Yet it also needs to be accessible to be shared within the practice and with clients, banks, other legal firms, courts and other parties. Not only do most legal practices spend a fortune on ink, toner, courier services and document storage as a result of the flood of paper they face each day, paperwork also slows them down and costs them the loss of potentially billable hours.

“However, this picture is starting to change because of the maturity of cloud-based document management platforms, along with a growing acceptance of digital documents and processes in the legal sector. Courts, for example, are accepting digital versions of documents in legal proceedings but with certain underlying requirements.”

Today, legal practices can choose from a range of electronic document management, intelligent data capture and workflow management solutions that enable them to capture, distribute, manage and archive documents in secure, structured, searchable and legally compliant electronic repositories. Documents can be accessed within seconds and shared via a seamless user interface, says Byren.

Driving cost savings through automation

VZLR, a Level 1 B-BBEE law firm, is one example of a legal practice that has achieved significant payback from implementing intelligent document management solutions.

The practice worked closely with FCTEC to implement Ephesoft’s intelligent capture and classification platform to streamline document management – the first legal firm in South Africa to deploy such an advanced intelligent automation solution.

This solution is tightly integrated with robotic process automation (RPA) software as well as the GhostPractice practice management suite. It is also built on Ephesoft’s AI and machine learning technology. This provides VZLR with a complete solution for filing incoming and outgoing correspondence, and storing it as a searchable document in an electronic repository.

VZLR’s RPA bot can ingest documents from scanners, copiers and email, and file it in the correct client or case folder with a click of the button. In addition, VZLR has taught its bot to identify and cost each billable item automatically in the GhostPractice billing module.

The solution uses optical character recognition (OCR) to pick up information such as the client or case reference and document type to file each document with more accuracy than a human with 10 years’ experience, says Wihann Joubert, VZLR director and partner. Other benefits come from removing human error from the equation and speeding up turnaround times for processing documents.

“Implementation of the document management and RPA solution has already enabled us to achieve significant savings on paper, printing, transportation and manual processing,” says Joubert. “We expect this saving to increase dramatically as we use the bot for more applications and processes.”

Byren says: “We’re excited to see that the pace of digitisation is starting to pick up in the legal sector in South Africa. While the benefits to each legal firm that adopts document management systems and intelligent automation are significant, the power of the technology will multiply as more firms get on board and collaborate using modern platforms rather than paper.”