Legal Aid Alberta Improves Client, Case and Financial Management with Microsoft Dynamics® CRM Legal Aid Alberta (LAA) provides cost-effective services to 200,000 Albertans in need each year. These include those escaping domestic violence, youth, people living with mental illnesses, Aboriginals and immigrants. With an increasing demand for legal services, LAA needed to reevaluate its technology architecture to ensure its business processes were as efficient as possible. With the help of Microsoft Gold Certified Partner iomer internet solutions inc. and Microsoft Dynamics® CRM, LAA was able to streamline financial processes, improve case management and build a solid foundation for growth, all while realizing significant cost-savings every step of the way.
With over four decades in operation and more than 1,000 lawyers on its current roster, one of the greatest concerns for Legal Aid Alberta (LAA) is the increasing demand for legal aid services, driven by Alberta’s population growth, volatile economy and changing demographics. As demand for assistance increases, so too does the need for LAA to ensure that their business processes are as efficient as possible.
In 2007, the organization started to reevaluate its operations. The team worked in a static business model that hadn’t changed for decades and entirely centered around face-to-face interaction and paper-based record-keeping. In the fall of 2009, the provincial Justice Minister requested a formal review of the organization, with the goal of ensuring the LAA was effectively meeting its clients’ needs.
“Across the organization, there was no way to manage the client experience,” says Doug Boudreault, Director and CIO of LAA, adding that the business was so siloed that at each stage of the client experience the LAA team needed to be reintroduced to the client’s story and circumstances. “We weren’t sharing information.”
The organization also realized they faced significant inefficiencies with respect to how the team communicated with lawyers and managed financial processes. LAA was issuing purchase orders (called certificates) for clients to take to their lawyers, who would later use those certificates to invoice LAA for payment. The hurdle was that the certificate system wasn’t integrated with the organization’s accounting system, making it incredibly difficult to effectively manage finances.
“Up to 75 per cent of our dollars spent on an annual basis would go through our Legal Aid Management Application, which wasn’t integrated into our financial tracking system,” says Boudreault, adding that not many people knew how to operate the legacy system. “It was a huge financial risk. It was very difficult for us to understand outstanding liabilities and to be able to forecast our expenditures.”
LAA also faced another hurdle: Its business processes at the time weren’t widely understood throughout the organization.
“In a lot of cases, many of the business processes at LAA were in the minds of the people who worked there,” says Sam Jenkins, Director of Business Development and Marketing, iomer. “That is great when everybody continues to work there and nobody wins the lottery or retires – but there’s also a certain degree of risk when you rely too much on the capabilities of people.”
LAA needed a more centralized management environment that was reliable, flexible and intuitive for the team. The solution needed to improve client management and interactions with the organization’s roster of lawyers, as well as streamline the organization’s accounting processes to increase the accuracy of forecasting and ensure financial planning was on track.
To help update its client and lawyer relationship management processes, as well as its financial management system, LAA reviewed a range of software before determining that Microsoft Dynamics® CRM would be the best fit for its needs. Part of the reason for choosing Dynamics was because the organization was already using Microsoft products such as Microsoft® Office Professional 2007, Microsoft Office SharePoint® Server 2007, and Microsoft SQL Server® 2005 data management system. Also, the cost of upgrading its current custom-built system was prohibitive.
LAA chose to work with Microsoft Gold Certified partner iomer internet solutions inc., and initiated the process by doing a “proof of concept” to demonstrate just how effectively the Dynamics solution could replace LAA’s existing systems and meet its future requirements.
“We wanted to prove that the Dynamics tool could integrate well with the financial solution, and we wanted to give them an opportunity to play with the tool before we actually implemented it,” says Andrew Slessor, Director of iomer’s Solution Management Team.
The LAA team was more than happy with their first preview of the solution.
“I was blown away – absolutely blown away,” says Boudreault. “It exceeded my expectations by a thousand per cent. We were able to capture all our existing information elements – and that was before we started any of the customization.”
The solution integrated Dynamics, SharePoint, SQL Server, and Microsoft Great Plains® accounting software to manage the client experience across the enterprise. Client management, lawyer management and case management are now supported by the new architecture. Planning started in January 2010, the pilot was launched in Edmonton in April 6, 2010, and the full province-wide roll-out was executed in March 2011.
“The agility and speed that we were able to move at was just absolutely astounding,” says Boudreault, adding that each staff member only required a half day of technical training on the new technology.
LAA is realizing a host of benefits as a result of its investment in Dynamics CRM. The team was able to automate and streamline its client and lawyer communication, as well as its accounting systems, to enable them to make important business decisions more confidently, help drive greater efficiency and, in turn, greater client service.
By implementing Dynamics CRM, LAA was able to benefit from significant cost-savings.
“When I looked at the cost of doing a rebuild, and going custom again, that had a huge price tag,” says Boudreault. “We also knew what it would cost to implement a tier one shrink-wrap application. Out of the gate, going with Microsoft’s CRM solution helped us save $1 million in licenses, as well as achieve a 50 per cent implementation cost advantage. But most importantly, we now have a cost-effective, agile application architecture that truly supports our unique business model.”
The iomer team facilitated rapid deployment and a quick implementation process, but because of Dynamics CRM’s out-of the-box capabilities, iomer also delivered increased controls to LAA’s power users. Today LAA benefits from increased control over their system, which substantially reduces operational costs.
“By adopting Dynamics CRM as a platform, Legal Aid Alberta is in control of their business rules and business processes; Microsoft’s toolset gives power to the business users, while still maintaining the correct level of oversight and governance,” says Jenkins.
Improved financial management
LAA not only saved costs on implementation, they actually created much more efficient and accountable financial processes. In the past, the LAA would issue a certificate for the client to take to his or her lawyer, so the lawyer could invoice the LAA for his or her work. In the absence of a solution that was integrated into its accounting software, the LAA risked losing track of certificates and couldn’t forecast for upcoming expenditures.
Boudreault said the new, online billing system and electronic funds transfer system has been incredibly successful.
“The solution reduced the complexity of doing business with us significantly. Before it used to be all paper-based and now it’s all online,” says Boudreault, adding that they aren’t using paper cheques much anymore. “It was so successful we ran into a cash flow problem because lawyers were billing us quicker – which is evidence of the efficiency gained.”
With the new technology architecture, the LAA now has a much more efficient way of matching up lawyers with clients in need.
“In our old process for appointing, we had a clerk who would get a file, pick up the phone, dial a lawyer from the list, and hopefully talk to somebody and ask them if they want to take on the file. It was a very manually intensive process,” says Boudreault.
The new process scans for a lawyer in the area who practices the applicable type of law, puts the available lawyers in a ranked order of who hasn’t had an LAA certificate offered to them recently and then sends the invite out by e-mail.
The lawyer then gets all the details of the case and can accept it via e-mail. The certificate is also now immediately delivered by e-mail. This efficiency also translates over to the service provided to clients, who can now easily receive more up-to-date information on the status of their file in person, over the phone and via e-mail. Even better, the LAA team has a continuum of data on the case at their disposal at all times because everything is tracked digitally.
“We can now manage the client experience from beginning to end and throughout the organization,” says Boudreault. “We could never to do that before.”
Foundation for future growth
Because of the agility of the LAA’s new technology architecture, the organization has big plans for expansion.
“We can now add on different services in just a couple of weeks and we can respond to changes almost instantly. We can turn the tap up or down depending on our budget constraints, and we can react to situations that occur in light speed compared to other technologies,” says Boudreault.
Next phase implementation will include roll out to more offices, including the Youth Criminal Defense Office, Family Law Office and Central Alberta Law Office. The team also plans to explore expansion of existing services, such as enabling presence awareness for staff collaboration and client management, roster lawyer availability, so they will not be contacted if their caseload is too heavy or they are on vacation, as well as texting clients to update them on their case status.
Reprinted from http://www.microsoft.com/casestudies/Microsoft-Dynamics-CRM/Legal-Aid-Alberta/Legal-Aid-Alberta-Improves-Client-Case-and-Financial-Management-with-Microsoft-Dynamics-CRM/4000011027