Staying on top of the intake, distribution, and storage of legal documents can be a major pain point for corporate legal departments. Depending on the size of the business, just a handful of service of process (SOP) documents each day result in hundreds or even thousands annually. Regardless of industry and type of legal action, these documents require fast action. That’s why having a process to prioritize, route, and maintain these documents is critical.
What to consider when evaluating your SOP
Your process should be agile and customizable, because what may have worked five years ago could now be inefficient or outdated.
As a result, it’s important to periodically review and evaluate your SOP , and we’ve outlined seven key questions to serve as a framework as you think about ways to potentially improve your process.
1: If you’re paying excess SOP fees, are they a penalty or are you getting true value for your spend?
Most commercial registered agents charge what has become known as excess SOP fees to organizations with a high volume of SOP. These are fees that you’re paying over and above the representation fees for your registered agent. Historically, the perception for most customers is that this is a penalty. However, it’s important that you understand that you’re paying for a service, and instead, what you should really be asking of yourself about your registered agent is—what am I getting in exchange for my excess SOP spend?
The answer should be about additional value-added features, specifically:
- Do they deliver SOP documents in a way that’s useful to us immediately and in the long term?
- Do they make it easier for us to address problems or risks that we have in our SOP workflow?
If you answer no to those questions, you might not be getting the full value from your current registered agent.
2: Does your process put documents directly in the hands of those who have responsibility to take action?
Many of the people we’ve talked to have answered no. There are other parts of organizations that play a role in managing SOP and litigation that are not represented at the beginning of the process, which begs the question—how are you getting documents to those individuals? Common answers include sending SOP via email or printing out SOP and physically walking it over to an individual’s desk.
However, these manual processes are inefficient. One of the things that a powerful SOP delivery tool can do is provide data-driven routing rules, which means SOP is delivered immediately, automatically, and electronically to the right set of individuals.
For example, if your company receives a wage garnishment, it would go right to HR or payroll. Alternatively, if it’s SOP about a breach of a warranty or a personal injury case, it would go right to the risk team involved. With data driven routing rules, you don’t have to think about manually sending an email; instead, the system can dynamically alert those individuals from the start.
3: What controls do you have in place to ensure all documents are accounted for and handled in a timely fashion?
First, you want to understand how you’re being notified when new SOP comes in. Obviously, time is critical when SOP is involved. Almost every SOP document is a ticking clock and you want maximum time to address it. So what you want to look for is real-time electronic notifications that allow you immediately access to the document. You want to make sure that there’s no delay built in just because of the process that occurs before you get the document.
Beyond that, look at things like whether you have line of sight into who has taken responsibility for each document, perhaps through a summary view. Most often, there’s an acknowledgement mechanism that indicates this, and ideally, the information is in a scheduled or automated report too, so you’re alerted to when there’s an issue.
For organizations that need a more nuanced approach to tracking the work related to each document, maybe a simple acknowledgment feature is not substantial enough. In that case, a system for assigning specific tasks to one or many people, then being able to track the completion of those, is useful.
When for what you get in return for excess SOP charges or other fees, these are things to keep in mind.
4: Do you have a central system of record where all SOP documents are collected and managed?
Many companies don’t have a centralized system of record for SOP documents, which can present a challenge if there are multiple registered agents using different processes.
The benefit of having a central repository is that you have a shared tool allowing multiple individuals to collaborate. You can standardize data elements and also access controls to make sure that only the right individuals see select SOP cases.
Going back to the earlier example of wage garnishment cases going directly to an HR or payroll group, their view within an SOP tool can be limited to those cases alone, or any others that are their responsibility.
5: Can you easily locate specific documents based on your current document storage solution?
In a technical sense, a filing cabinet in your basement is a central repository. It’s just not a very effective one. Instead, what’s helpful is a solution that allows you to search the content of the documents quickly. Some questions to consider:
- Does the repository give us the ability to get through documents quickly?
- How easy is it to search that repository?
- How much organization is available to us?
- Can we control who has access to documents?
For example, if you want to find every document that has a specific individual’s name in it, you want to have a repository that doesn’t require you to open 1,000 PDFs and search them each manually. You want something that has the robust capability of being able to scan the range of documents quickly.
In addition to the content of a document, it’s important to be able to search by the metadata related to that document. When registered agents handle the intake of SOP on your behalf, they’re going to collect a certain set of data. That set of data should be the information you need to uniquely identify a single document or a group of related documents.
Lastly, you want to make sure that while making it easy for people to find the documents they need, you can also control who can access those documents. While you may not need to restrict access to documents now, you may need to in the future, and as a result, you want to make sure that your repository solution provides those capabilities.
6: Can you aggregate your data for an overview of your SOP profile or to identify trends?
In a traditional SOP delivery tool, you most likely have a screen of documents that are not really organized in any meaningful fashion. Maybe it’s the most recently served documents flowing to the top of your group of documents.
But as your company grows, you might want to consider what ability you have to analyze trends. You might want to look at questions like:
- Are we getting more SOP this year than the year before?
- Are we dealing with more of certain types of cases?
- Are we getting more subpoenas than we have in the past?
- Are there certain trouble areas, such as entities or jurisdictions, where there’s a much greater volume of SOP versus other areas?
A powerful SOP reporting tool will allow you to design reports that focus on the information that’s critical to your organization to see those trends.
Additionally, something else to consider is the ability to schedule reports to alert you to these trends. The peace of mind of having reports generated automatically that land in your inbox giving you insight into specific information, rather than having to manually retrieve it from the platform, is incredibly valuable.
7: Can you connect your SOP data and documents with other applications that rely on the same content within your organization?
Having a central place where all SOP data comes through is useful. Having that data connect to other downstream systems is even more powerful.
This is particularly true in today’s world, where SOP casts a broader net than just litigation, including things like garnishments and other types of SOP that aren’t handled by the legal department.
As a result, you may want your SOP system to be able to plug into things like:
- Matter management
- Claims management
An automated system should be connected, so that everything is pushed as far into your workflow as possible, before anyone has to take manual steps.
Ideally, if you’re able to integrate your SOP documents with a downstream system, you would have the ability to define which SOP documents you want to move to which systems. Instead of flowing everything through, having the ability to parse out and control which documents come through is crucial. You’ll want a system that helps you reduce the noise, giving you a focused view of what you want to see, when you want to see it, and helps you reduce redundant manual processes.
If after asking reviewing these questions and evaluating your process, you realize that there are gaps in your current process, you should work to address and update your processes accordingly. Also be sure to make plans to reevaluate the process again in a year or two, as needs may change over time.
Want to learn more about SOP or registered agents in general? View our recorded webinar “Service of Process Health Check: 7 Key Questions”. See all of our upcoming webinars here.