A key component in the successful delivery of strategy
For North Carolina-based law firm Ward and Smith, leveraging innovative technology to increase efficiency is instrumental to their continued operational success. The full-service firm traces its roots to a practice founded in 1895 and is now staffed with nearly 100 lawyers across 30 practice areas. The firm relies on Thomson Reuters® HighQ—the connected, automated workplace collaboration solution—to provide clients with greater insight and enable easier sharing and cooperation between lawyers and clients.
When Ward and Smith first implemented HighQ in 2017, its principal focus was to create extranets for clients as portals through which they could review, comment on, and sign documents; view key docket or court dates; and access billing information. Charles Collins, Information Technology Director at Ward and Smith explains, “Through HighQ, clients are empowered to be involved without having to ask one of the lawyers. They access a self-service resource right there, any time, day or night. It’s a way of streamlining engagement without incurring any additional costs or taking time on the phone.”
Then in 2020, the firm added the intranet element of HighQ to replace its previous intranet platform. Ward and Smith launched “The Hive,” a central hub for all internal information, hosting everything from overtime requests and benefits selection processes to the firm’s Twitter feed and lighter internal communications called “The Buzz.” Each department and practice team has its own channels for sharing and collaboration, and there are specific sections where team members can access the latest updates on new laws or other important developments.
After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the firm also started to use HighQ in new and dynamic ways to develop issue-specific microsites. For example, it created areas within HighQ to help clients deal with issues arising under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), part of the U.S. COVID-19 relief program. It also developed more tools to help clients remotely provide information to their legal teams and automate processes and tasks in areas such as trusts and estates work. “Users know that they can go into HighQ and access all the up-to-date data they need at their fingertips. It’s become our one-stop shop for everything we do as a firm,” says Collins.
The power of synchronization
Underpinning all of this strategic data accessibility is the iSheets module of HighQ. “iSheets is just so powerful because it provides the means to share information with clients and get information from them,” says Collins. “We can bring all of this data into HighQ iSheets, and everything else then flows from that: Workflow systems, dashboards, tasks, docket events, and document versions, among other things.”
Collins explains that Ward and Smith uses HighQ Appliance which pulls information out of the firm’s database environment into HighQ, synchronizing data with iSheets. iSheets then populates other modules such as Tasks and Calendars, updating the intranet and client extranets automatically as appropriate.
In the same way, information added directly into iSheets is synched into other HighQ modules, and information added directly into those modules is automatically synched back to iSheets. As a result, data flow is seamless, creating a joined-up solution that is always up to date in real time and accessible from any device. This streamlined process automation is one of the major benefits for the firm.
Key information is displayed in dashboards that are very popular with the firm’s clients — especially those with multiple matters underway concurrently. Dashboards provide visibility over their entire portfolio, while enabling them to drill down into specific areas to view more in-depth information straight from the dashboard interface.
One example of where all this proves particularly useful is in litigation management, where the firm has several large clients with value dashboards that can show them — at a glance — details of all their work, based on type of matter, status, key court dates, billable time, and so on. “They can track it all on a global scale,” says Collins.
Such successes should pave the way for greater adoption of HighQ for project management and transaction management in the future — areas where there is growing interest and burgeoning activity to embed the solution.
Generating buy-in from lawyers and clients
User engagement is critical to capitalize on the potential of HighQ. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered new ways of thinking about how to connect with clients and colleagues in a remote environment and HighQ began to be fully embraced. Collins says it was a lightbulb moment. Lawyers are now engaging in what sites should look like and how they should be structured to meet clients’ needs. They have even started to take over the management and maintenance of iSheets and client extranets.
“Once we had a couple of use case examples up and running, people started to realize how powerful this could be, and we’ve started to see more work come out of it in terms of where and how it can be used,” says Collins. “The ease of use of HighQ is one of its strongest suits for us. It’s so simple to manage, and maintenance is so intuitive that we can hand it over to individual users within the firm, and they can make it their own without the need for the IT team to get involved. It’s not tech-heavy.”
As well as getting lawyers more closely involved, the firm is also encouraging clients to have more input into what they would like from their extranets. This is a win-win: clients have more ownership over what their sites contain and the firm gains deeper insight into how best to deliver what they want. Depending on requirements, Ward and Smith have developed a suite of templates that can be adjusted to suit individual clients, but it can also start from scratch to create customized extranets, too.
“HighQ has a huge amount of potential. You can customize it to your needs and build something unique for clients,” says Collins.
When clients want quality work delivered faster and lawyers want to find ways to work smarter, you have to leverage technology like HighQ.”
The ability to save time while adding value is best exemplified by the creation of the firm’s “PPP Forgiveness Maximizer Package.” Using HighQ, Ward and Smith was able to reduce the time it took for the team’s lawyers to analyze a client’s information by automating much of the work on that project. That meant that when time was tight and clients needed guidance to help them make decisions quickly, the firm could provide them with high-quality results rapidly and for a low, fixed cost. “Last spring, during a time of great stress, HighQ helped our firm guide, reassure, and be of tremendous service to our clients,” Collins stated.
Smooth-running installation and migration
HighQ was easy to install and runs so intuitively that the firm required very little support to get it up and running. Migrating to a new intranet was a prime example. The firm was able to rebuild its new intranet within HighQ in just three days, even though it involved a complete re-design as well as adding in new features that were newly available through the solution. The end result was a spectacular success. “It’s been so well received,” Collins says. “Training has been impacted and shortened because now we tell everyone, ‘That’s on the Hive. Just search the Hive for that information.’”
“Because HighQ is so easy and intuitive, during the implementation process we relied on Thomson Reuters more for in-depth best practice discussions than for hands-on help. We’d brainstorm with them what we wanted to do, they got really excited about it and helped us identify the best way forward.”
Looking ahead, Ward and Smith plans to roll out HighQ Document Automation powered by Contract Express, and to look at ways to deploy the artificial intelligence (AI) functionality that HighQ offers. “For us, HighQ is a value-adding service — we use it as a selling point to clients and it has been successful for us in that way,” says Collins. “As more and more clients use it, that’s the win for us, as it justifies the investment in the technology.”
The firm had a clear strategic plan in view: to give clients better visibility over their legal work and empower them to interact and engage in it, all in real time, remotely, and cost effectively. It also wanted to harness innovation to deliver excellent service more effectively.
HighQ could deliver the high-quality extranets the firm wanted to create for clients and allowed the firm to streamline data synchronization and information sharing, automate processes, and create a dynamic intranet. It meets all the firm’s needs within one solution.
- Intuitive and easy to use without specialist IT expertise
- Saves time via automation, helping lawyers work smarter and deliver cost benefits to clients
- Increases client engagement by providing self-service data access
- All the firm’s information is in one place, up to date in real time, and accessible from anywhere