Legal awards: Time is money, prize goes to firm saving both

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Simpson & Marwick given Millar and Bryce Innovation Award for creatively marrying technology and best practice, writes David Lee

INNOVATION is often a hard-fought category in the Scottish Legal Awards and this year was no exception. The winner, Simpson & Marwick, demonstrated not only a genuinely innovative approach to improving working practices, but also saved substantial time and money as a result.

The Millar and Bryce Innovation Award was the most popular in this year’s programme, with Dundas & Wilson highly commended for its new legal services unit, launched in May 2012 and designed to give clients better value from legal advisers. Judges think the unit shows great promise for the future. However, the winner demonstrates “a genuine technological breakthrough for the legal community” – new bespoke software and business practices which have resulted in the reduction of the average life cycle of cases.

Katie Carmichael, an associate with Simpson & Marwick and manager of its systemisation team, explains: “We set up the systemisation team two years ago to handle high-volume, lower-value litigated claims more efficiently for our clients. Clients demand a high level of service, whether for a high-value Court of Session case or a low-value claim in the Sheriff Court. We wanted to provide a consistent high-quality service which was cost-effective for clients and worked well for the business.”

The project was founded on the premise that the life cycle and cost of cases were inextricably linked and that a long-running case meant costs incurred could sometimes be higher than the damages paid. The new approach involved analysing each stage of a case and designing the most efficient processes to enable Simpson & Marwick’s legally-trained staff to devise quick and appropriate strategies for resolution.

Adele Summers, Simpson & Marwick’s systems manager, says: “From the early stages of the project, legal and IT teams have worked closely to ensure the systems developed directly support and drive the new business model.”

Development of software has taken place in-house and has been continuously monitored to ensure anticipated outcomes are met. Summers says: “The resounding success of the systemisation model is a testament to the collaborative approach used.”

Cases were compared before and after the systemisation team was set up. There was improved performance across all claim types handled in the year following the team’s inception, compared with claims from the year before it was established – a 66 per cent reduction in the average case life cycle and a 24 per cent reduction in average claimant costs

“Cases are settling more quickly and costs to insurer clients have been reduced – while damages are remaining at the same level, so we are not just paying more to settle quickly,” says Carmichael. “We are securing the same results, but crucially, more quickly and at less cost to the client.”

The initial success means Simpson & Marwick is expanding the systemisation service.

The hard evidence of success chimes with the two previous winners of the innovation award – Millar & Bryce with its land referencing service in 2012 and Russel & Aitken’s home movies to help sell residential properties in 2011.

The runner-up in this year’s innovation category, Dundas & Wilson, took comfort from its win in the new Barr Printers Trainee Firm of the Year award. The firm’s learning and professional development manager, Collette Bartlett, says the award reflects the significance of the way trainees are welcomed into the profession – and the specific commitment of Dundas & Wilson to bringing through its young people. Trainees, she says, are looking beyond the two-year traineeship to grasp the broader learning opportunities – to be “highly-skilled and well-equipped to get good positions when they qualify – especially important in the current market”.

Bartlett says D&W looks to combine best practice in legal education with a learning and development strategy to support its overall business objectives by creating young solicitors who can better serve clients through innovation.

D&W trainees have benefited from their own virtual learning environment since last November, allowing them access to important information at their fingertips and encouraging peer-to-peer learning. They also have access to future training programmes two or three months in advance to enable them to plan client work around their training – and work under a junior lawyer development programme, which runs for four years and better aligns the traineeship with future development.

“We are delighted to be recognised for putting the right structures in place to ensure that we continue to develop a sustainable group of newly-qualified solicitors who can contribute to the business,” Bartlett concludes.

Another new award – the Law Society of Scotland’s In-House Legal Team of the Year – was shared between Standard Life and Scottish Water.

Judges recognised the very different work done by the two teams and gave a joint award. Tom Axford, head of legal at Scottish Water, thinks that strong testimonials from partners had impressed the judges, as well as the wide variety of work completed by his ten-strong team, including a project in Qatar and significant operations involving renewables.

“I think we have flexibility and responsiveness – and an understanding of the business and its needs and priorities,” says Axford.

The Standard Life team was praised for its growth in 2012 and ability to handle very challenging caseloads. Malcolm Wood, group company secretary and general counsel, says: “Our group legal team thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of meeting the awards submission criteria. The in-house legal team is a great resource to Standard Life, so it’s good to see their excellence recognised by the judges and our peers in this way.”