8 minute read 2 Apr 2019
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Why ‘triage’ has become one of the most powerful words in the legal dictionary


EY Americas

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

8 minute read 2 Apr 2019
Related topics Law Tax Managed Services

Capturing the foundational data that helps improve performance, evolve the legal operating model and make the function AI ready.

We all know how crucial triage is in a medical environment. Intuitively we know it makes sense to ensure that the most critical cases are seen quickly and efficiently. Most business functions have applied triage based processes for years, decades. Sales to direct the right opportunities to the most relevant sales people. HR to allocate the appropriate resource to a particular case. IT to direct enquires to the right technician. This should be no surprise. In French ‘triage’ literally means to sort or to categorise. What function would not want to sort and categorise its incoming work to ensure that it is handled by the right person, at the right time and at the right price?

1. The power of triage

  • We use triage extensively in EY Law. When we help deliver managed services to our customers it is important that we know:
  • Who the instruction came from
  • What business unit they are in
  • What the work type is
  • What the urgency of the work is
  • Whether the instruction is complete
  • When we received the instruction
  • Who we allocated it to (EY Law, In-house team or third party legal provider?)
  • What its current status is
  • How long each stage of the work took, etc.

This is the foundational data layer upon which all our real time and trend data is built. We cannot run our services effectively, or constantly improve our services to customers, reduce costs and improve quality without the data and insights it provides.

This is why ‘triage’ is one the most powerful words in the In-house dictionary. It is the foundational layer that drives not only a game-changing data strategy but the entire legal operating model; because it helps determine where work is coming from, what work should be done by whom and whether it should be done internally or externally.

Given how easy it is to implement an effective instruction management and triage process it is surprising how few In-house teams have the systems (not spreadsheets!) and real-time dashboards in place to cover this key part of the legal support process. The data it provides helps to allocate work effectively and answer what, in reality, are fundamental questions; how many matters do we have live today, who is handling them, what is their status? These answers should be readily available.

In this context legal is no different from any other function in a business. If you ask a Finance Director equivalent questions they can answer immediately; what is your net cash position, what is the rolling three-month profit forecast and how does it compare with budget, how is your capital expenditure tracking against forecast? If you ask a Sales Director what the sales pipeline looks like they can show you the number of opportunities in the pipeline, who is handing them and what the status is.

2. The direct and indirect benefits of triage

A well-constructed instruction management and triage process has many benefits:

2.1.    Consistent and easy to use gateway to Legal

For both users of In-house legal services (the business) and legal team members, a well-constructed triage process makes life easier. For lawyers it provides consistency, complete instructions and it helps manage the influx of work. For business users, who are used to working in this way with other functions, it provides a quick and easy gateway through which to access legal support. Whenever we deploy our technology invariably the In-house legal team response is the same – ‘why didn’t we do this before?’ The business response is usually, ‘about time’.

2.2.    The right people doing the right work

Triage takes care that the right work is undertaken by the right people, at the right time and at the right price. Because triage captures the data automatically In-house departments soon start re-allocating work. By allocating the work properly, In-house morale increases because the team is working on more challenging matters. Net costs reduce because expensive, hourly billing, third party law firms are replaced by a combination of In-house team members and fixed priced managed services providers like EY Law handling the volume day-to-day work.

2.3.    Resource management and planning

In-house legal leaders often share with us their frustration about being unable to make the internal business case for more team members. They may or may not need more people. Whether they do or do not, the real-time and trend data that instruction management and triage provides is exactly the information needed to make a detailed analysis so that an evidence based case can be established. We have seen In-house use our data to change the mix of work they do. This has either avoided the need for more people or, typically, reduce the actual number of new team members required.

2.4.  Creating a Target Operating Model (TOM)

There is, rightly, a lot of talk across the In-house community about evolving legal operating models and the need to make decisions within a strategic framework rather than just fire-fighting and implementing tactical solutions. Legal leaders recognize that they need a target operating model that they can work towards. Yes, the TOM evolves over time. It should. But there needs to be a broad direction of travel and a plan. One of the key inputs into establishing a TOM is an understanding of the work the function is handling. Which brings us all the way back to the power of instruction management and triage.

2.5.  The foundational layer for a legal data strategy

The potential impact that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will have on markets, business models and company functions (sales, HR, legal etc.) is covered daily in the media. The impact is unknown. However, irrespective of the potential of AI, it is clear that machine learning, analytics and smart assistants are driving change now. Indeed, many of these tools are AI enablers. But, to use existing technology effectively, let alone AI, it is critical that In-house legal has a clear data strategy. A clear understanding of what core data it should routinely and accurately collect from its internal and external teams. Only with this in place will a function be AI ready. At the core of any legal data strategy is instruction management and triage because it is the start of the entire process.

2.6.  Management of third party law firms

One of the most effective ways to manage third party legal providers is to have accurate and transparent performance and quality data. With the right data an In-house team can move work, quickly, to the best internal and/or external providers. The diagram below reflects the model we recommend when In-house deploy our technology (many customers select EY Law as one of their managed service providers): 

Graphic: Triage diagram

4. Law firms beware

We have never seen an In-house function that is not busy. But are its team members working on the right matters? Is the right work being done In-house and the right work being sent externally? Is the function being smart rather than just busy? Instruction management and triage provide an easy to deploy answer. An answer which also makes the function technology and AI enabled because of the foundational data layer it automatically creates. And law firms should beware. Triage does not just help internal In-house effectiveness. Once In-house has mastered triage it will totally transform its relationship with external providers of legal services because it drives transparency. In-house will know what work it has sent to a firm, when it sent it, and how long the firm took to do it when compared with internal and/or competitor law firms. When this inevitable shift happens, the legal providers that can prove their efficiency and effectiveness with transparent and tangible measures, such as quality, speed, proactivity and cost, will win out over their more opaque traditional counterparts. This is a world that we at EY Law look forward to! 


A triage approach to data establishes a foundational layer that drives not only a game-changing data strategy but the entire legal operating model.

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EY Americas

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

Related topics Law Tax Managed Services