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Case study

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner

Supporting Pro Bono Legal Assistance in the Community

International full-service law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (BCLP) has a significant presence on the global legal stage. Employing some 1,400 lawyers across 30 offices in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, it advises almost a third of the FTSE 100 and 40% of Fortune 500 companies in areas such as M&A, real estate, financial services, litigation, and corporate risk. Alongside providing legal advice to some of the world’s leading blue-chip businesses and fast-growing companies, the firm has an extensive corporate responsibility (CR) program committed to community engagement, charitable giving, fundraising, volunteering, and pro bono work. In 2020, one of BCLP’s pro bono projects was given a major boost to its viability when it moved its file management system online, using Thomson Reuters HighQ—the connected workplace collaboration solution—to do so.

For almost 15 years, the firm has been running a weekly community pro bono legal advice clinic in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, in partnership with local charity St. Hilda’s East and LawWorks, a charity committed to enabling access to justice through free legal advice. Known as the “Sonali Gardens Legal Advice Service” after the community center in which it is held, the drop-in clinic provides preliminary advice on a wide range of issues, from housing and welfare benefits to employment issues and consumer claims. A roster of around 30–40 volunteers from BCLP, plus a dedicated welfare benefits specialist, have been serving the needs of around 130 residents a year, supported by St. Hilda’s East staff and law students, from nearby Queen Mary University of London, in admin roles. But, in March 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic brought an end to face-to­face contact, the clinic was forced to shut its doors. A new solution was needed.

Overcoming Barriers

Shifting to a virtual clinic soon became the obvious answer, as organizations all over the world were scrambling to transition to a remote working environment. However, there were several significant barriers to overcome. One was the awareness that many residents may have limited or no access to smartphones or computers to enable them to participate in the clinic virtually. It was important to make the clinic as inclusive as possible, so BCLP Head of Corporate Responsibility Alison Klarfeld, who oversees the initiative, called in the firm’s IT department to help make the service accessible. A landline and toll-free number was set up so it could operate remotely.

The second major hurdle was that all of the clinic’s files were stored in hard copy, so a sophisticated yet simple online file management system would be required. “Before the pandemic, sometimes clients would turn up with a bag of documents that needed to be photocopied, so client files would by default be paper files that needed to be signed in and out, and communication about file status would happen over email,” explains Klarfeld. “It was pretty unwieldy and old-fashioned.”

Klarfeld approached the firm’s head of IT for advice. BCLP had already been using HighQ successfully for file sharing and corporate deal rooms since implementing it five years earlier, and the number of use-cases was continually expanding. In addition, “I knew that the HighQ team had kindly agreed to provide a free database for one of our pro bono clients a few years ago,” says Klarfeld. “We got in touch with them to see if they’d be willing to help us develop a file management system for the clinic on a pro bono basis and they said they’d be delighted to help!”

Vital Support for Change Management

After Klarfeld had discussed the purpose of the platform with the firm’s HighQ client success manager, BCLP was able to create an online system that is user-friendly, fit for purpose, and most importantly, stores all client information and documentation in a safe and secure way. The solution needed to deliver functionality in three key areas: intake, notification, and file management. The solution uses the iSheets module to capture client and case information, the Workflow module to automate the creation of new client files in the Files module, and the Files module itself for subsequent case and document management. In this way, the whole process has become simpler and smoother.

“There was a lot of work to do and a lot of logistics to work out, and we couldn’t have done it without the HighQ team—their support has been invaluable,” says Klarfeld. “Our client success manager understood exactly what we wanted to do, how it would be used, and how it would work, even down to the look and branding of the whole thing. She was also great at providing us with wiki pages, training notes, and how-to guides.”

“We were concerned with getting the solution up and running quickly and making it as straightforward as possible to use, so we are only utilizing some of the more basic functionality of HighQ, although it has much more to offer. There is scope to add in more HighQ capabilities further down the line such as document automation.”

After four months of work, the online file management system was ready to go live, and the clinic itself was able to re-open after a year of closure in March 2021. BCLP has had only positive feedback about the platform: All users have found it easy to use, and the clinic will not be returning to a paper-based filing system.

“It’s been great working with the HighQ team to build this customized platform so that we could move away from our old system of paper files and reopen the service as a virtual clinic,” says Klarfeld. “The BCLP volunteer advisers and reception staff from our community partner St. Hilda’s East have all adapted easily to the new system, and we are once again able to provide essential legal advice to the residents of Tower Hamlets.”

BRYAN CAVE LEIGHTON PAISNER (BCLP)

BCLP traces its origins back to 1873, and today it serves the energy, financial services, food/agribusiness, real estate/ infrastructure, technology and sports, hospitality, and retail sectors around the world.

BUSINESS CHALLENGES

The Covid-19 pandemic forced a drop-in pro bono legal advice clinic run by BCLP in east London to close its doors. The firm needed to take the initiative online. So that the clinic could re-open virtually, a suitable digital file management system was required to run alongside it.

WHY HIGHQ?

The firm was already using HighQ in various ways for client work, and knew that the HighQ team had been involved in pro bono initiatives before. The HighQ team was keen to get involved on a pro bono basis and was instrumental in helping to design and build the new solution.

BENEFITS

• Simple and straightforward to use

• Reduces reliance on paper by digitizing systems

• Potential to implement more sophisticated functionality as required

• Supportive, proactive assistance from HighQ

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