READ MORE FROM LIZ LAMAR REGARDING THE IMPORTANCE OF BUSINESS PROCESS EVALUATION
Nothing describes the default industry like the old adage, “The only constant is change.” As default firms struggle to keep up with an ever-evolving legal landscape, it is this change that has come to define the practice of foreclosure law. From new judicial and servicer requirements to shifts in the rule of law, firms must be nimble and ready to adapt their processes in order to conform to the new world of default practice.
The Way It Was
For many years and until recently, the mainstay of the default process was the timeline. While servicers remained interested in seeing quality legal work from their law firms, lawyers were consistently “graded” on their ability to meet and exceed established timelines for processing a foreclosure. The higher their score, the more likely a firm was to receive referrals from servicers. A firm’s score was an indication of its health and performance. Servicers rarely got involved in how a law firm processed its foreclosures, primarily auditing only firms whose performance was of concern. The devices used to file and move a foreclosure case forward were left to the attorneys, paralegals and law firm management. The firms could, therefore, focus their energies on court requirements, interpreting the law and practicing accordingly, and servicers had little to say about the process itself. That is, until now.
The Current State of Affairs
It is no secret that within the past five years, the legal landscape of the default industry has changed dramatically. Law firms have witnessed significant changes in the rule of law accompanied by an increase in judicial and servicer requirements. It is not uncommon for judges or courts to establish their own arbitrary rules, forcing lawyers and paralegals to incorporate these changes into their already established foreclosure processes and workflow. Servicers, who are under scrutiny by GSE’s, judicial courts and the court of public opinion, have also established their own set of rules dictating the way default firms should move foreclosure cases. Not only have they set new process requirements, they have also made changes to existing processes and documents.
Additionally, servicers now closely monitor the progress of an action and expect timely reporting of each milestone step. Many also require that firms provide them with a “living file,” a copy of the entire foreclosure file as it moves through the process. As a result, lawyers and paralegals have had to learn to adapt and negotiate the expectations that come with these new servicer requirements. It seems we have witnessed a shift in the way law firms are evaluated. It is no longer just timeline driven. Rather, other components, such as quality and process, have come to the forefront.
Navigating this New World
So, what does this all mean for default firms in light of their internal processes? At its most basic level, it means firms must now go back to the drawing board. They must evaluate the soundness of their existing internal processes and consider what changes need to be made in order to accommodate new servicer and court requirements. Along with these considerations come questions of money and profit, efficiency and what makes the most business sense. How are these requirements achieved in the most cost-effective manner and how do we keep track of them? How much does it cost to implement these process changes? The implications are far-reaching, and the only way for firms to survive is to review their current internal processes and find creative ways to improve them. After all, law firms, too, must pay their bills and realize the greatest possible profits.
As business process improvement methodologies evolve within service-related industries, law firms can now draw from these tools to incorporate requirements mandated by courts and clients into their workflows while remaining profitable. Over time, lawyers and administrators have become more cognizant of the law firm as a business. Thus, through the use of Lean, Six Sigma and Process Reengineering, firms are now able to increase profits by eliminating waste and by improving effectiveness. By analyzing their current processes and reengineering them to make them more efficient, lawyers are able to accomplish more at a lower cost while producing quality legal work.
Just as the job of law firm management has exploded in that they must now find the balance between achieving what is required of them and achieving it as efficiently as possible, so has the job of the lawyer and paralegal. Remembering which judge requires what in which county can be extremely challenging, not to mention, a recipe for disaster. Legal staff are overwhelmed with trying to keep track of the frequent changes. They are often faced with having to choose between completing a task in a timely fashion or triple-checking their work to confirm they’ve complied with judicial and servicer requirements. This quality control component negatively impacts efficiency and workflow, leaving administrators with the task of implementing processes that prevent errors and that provide 100% auto-inspection.
One of the greatest challenges faced by law firm managers today is finding the right solutions to “error-proof” work so that valuable resources are not wasted in correcting mistakes as a result of defects. This can be achieved in two ways: by having sound processes in place and by having the technology that supports those processes. These two elements go hand in hand. Good automation that supports your process helps to eliminate human error, and law firms are well served by ensuring that their operations incorporate both elements.
There is no question that recent times have seen significant changes for the default industry. It continues to be an area of scrutiny, not just for courts and for servicers, but also for default law firms. As a result of the microscopic analysis the industry has undergone, servicers have begun to evaluate law firms differently. Whereas, a firm’s ability to meet and exceed timelines was once the most important factor in judging performance, servicers are now equally as focused on the process default firms undertake to complete a foreclosure action. Thus, servicers, like courts, have adopted new process and document requirements. In order to incorporate these new requirements into their current workflow and remain profitable, firms who wish to survive must review, evaluate and make the necessary strategic improvements to their processes.
As business process improvement methodologies continue to evolve within service-related industries such as law, more lawyers and administrators are applying tools like Lean, Six Sigma and Process Reengineering to their everyday operations. Not only does this lead to firms taking a “closer look” at how they do things, it encourages positive change, makes them lean and improves their bottom line.
In this new default world, lawyers and paralegals struggle to keep up with changes, thus making their jobs tremendously challenging and inefficient. Through the implementation of sound processes and the right technology, law firms can now take a mistake-proof approach to eliminate human error and rework. They are now able to focus on adapting to change and doing more at a lower cost. Lawyers are learning that as the default industry continues to evolve and as more is required of their firms, it is they who must find creative ways to remain flexible and change with the times.