Poelmann van den Broek goes for Next Level Teamwork

Poelmann van den Broek’s law practice proves that technology can sometimes be an inhibiting factor in a law firm’s development. The renowned firm from Nijmegen (the Netherlands) was due for new premises. In relocating, a new cross-departmental way of working was to be decisive in how the firm would be organized. At the time, Arjan Stuij (Director) and his colleagues Tonny Kersten (ICT Manager) and Arno Bomer (Business Controller) couldn’t have foreseen that their plans would offer up a great benefit during the forthcoming pandemic.

From traditional working to cross-departmental working

Arjan Stuij

Arjan: “Poelmann van den Broek was a rather traditionally organized firm. All departments had their own physical area in our office in Nijmegen’s old city center. Cases were center-stage in all that we did, and of course, we wanted our focus to be the client. Due to the systems and processes in place at that time, we sometimes viewed cases through blinders and missed opportunities to improve our service provision to our clients through our firm’s other departments. We decided that this needed to change.”

Tonny: “At the time, we were working with the Aderant financial package and iManage as our DMS/case management package. This suited us when we made our decision long ago as to how we wanted to work. The IT was on premises at our firm, and we facilitated a Citrix workplace where colleagues could log in from anywhere and access their data and applications. Working from home was possible, although it took some effort and didn’t always create the user experience that we wanted to offer.”

More collaboration and more flexibility

Arjan: “When we relocated to our new premises, we ideally wanted to have the entire organization housed on one floor. We wanted to have colleagues and departments closer to each other and all mixed together, so we could find and help each other better. We therefore chose a layout with flexible workstations and enough modern meeting facilities and lots of spaces for one to 12 people where you can either fully concentrate or, conversely, make lots of “noise” when necessary. In other words, we didn’t want an open-plan office area with a limited number of cubicles surrounding it. In order to offer such freedom of movement inside and outside of the office, the ICT also needed to evolve along with us. We were still working quite a bit with fixed workstations, so obviously that had to change to a more “plug and play” experience, where you simply pick up your workstation and take it with you to where you need it.”

Tonny Kersten

Tonny: “We already drafted this entire plan prior to Covid. The ICT infrastructure that we were using started to be due for replacement, so we needed to make some decisions in this respect. Should we purchase new hardware and software again, or should we switch to cloud solutions? Purchasing our own new infrastructure would necessitate a major investment and would also mean that we would continue to have to manage all of this ourselves. That’s why we opted to accommodate as much data and as many applications as possible in the cloud.”

Costs are important, but not decisive.

Arjan: “Higher or lower costs were not decisive for us in this process. The most important thing was for us to choose something that was aligned with how we wanted to be organized as a firm. It was all right if this cost a bit more, as long as it would benefit our quality and services to our clients. We conducted an analysis of all the costs of the current environment and what complete replacement would cost. This was an important step in our selection process because by choosing web- and cloud-based applications, we also had to replace all the workplaces, for example. Ultimately, we succeeded in getting an improved, more flexible ICT system for lower total costs. The more flexible ICT system also offers us more opportunities for working securely wherever we want. This benefited us enormously during Covid because everyone could easily switch to working from home and we were also able to easily remain in contact with our clients.”

Arno Bomer

Arno: “An important step in our selection process was choosing the new Practice Management Software. After a number of demonstrations, we ultimately opted for Legalsense as our practice management software, as a replacement for Aderant. But then we still had to replace DMS, because the old iManage environment no longer met our requirements. In part due to its good integration with Legalsense and the fact that the package is entirely Office 365-based, we chose DMSforLegal by Epona.”

Tonny: “So we switched from a sales model with one-off costs to a licensing model with monthly costs for much of our software. The benefit of this is that you always have the latest software version, although you do need to make sure that changes in the software don’t unexpectedly impact your work processes. If a button moves from left to right in Outlook, this can be confusing for users, so we need to remain alert to this as administrators.”

Switching from iManage to DMSforLegal

Arno: “Another important requirement when we selected the new DMS, other than the software needing to be a cloud-based package, was that it had to be a recognizable and simple transaction for users. DMSforLegal was recognizable to our users because it was similar to how we used to work in the past in a number of aspects, but now with the advantages of good Office integrations and working in the cloud. The migration from iManage to DMSforLegal was very smooth. You noticed that this was par for the course for Epona’s consultants.”

Arjan: “There were some changes in the way we work and our ICT dependency. We always counted on the availability of our own ICT, but now we’ve imposed this responsibility on external parties. The most important dependencies are now our Internet connection and the availability of the cloud services themselves. That sounds suspenseful, but you have to realize that malfunctions and hacks can happen anywhere. Even when you keep your ICT inside your own walls. Except for now when something goes wrong, the full force of Microsoft will be there to help. ICT is not our core business, but it is that of our service providers. Now we need to above all ensure that employees get used to the new way of working and don’t go looking for workarounds that compromise security, for example. We don’t want to frustrate users, but security and continuity of the firm and our clients come first.

Future prospects

Arno: “In the short term, little has changed for clients. Thanks to the use of Office 365 services, though, we were suddenly able to have video conferences and remote meetings. Our next steps are therefore aimed at implementing more of this kind of technology to allow us to work together on projects. One idea, for example, is an extranet option via Teams, something we’re already prepared for with DMSforLegal and will be thinking about now with Epona.”

Tonny: “We’re now going to have to make the switch from a folder/file-oriented way of working to a search-oriented way of working. So, for example, when we want to retrieve information we won’t have to click through 100 files anymore but will simply be able to search by context. This will save lots of time and make information more easily findable when you’re searching outside of your own department.”

Arjan: “We are also seriously looking at options for automatic recording of billable hours, for example. This is already technically possible between DMSforLegal and Legalsense, but we also have to account for human behavior. You really want to trust that your colleagues will record their hours correctly and promptly, but it would be great if we could offer them some automated assistance with this. Clients demand transparency and want to know what they’re paying us for. So let’s make sure that we can offer this transparency.”

Would you like to find out how Epona can help your organization reach “Next Level Teamwork? If so, please contact us for personal advice for your organization.

Photos: Poelmann van den Broek