Onward Homes Ltd is a leading provider of quality, affordable homes for rent and sale in the Northwest. They own and manage over 35,000 homes right across the region, the majority of which is social housing, and offer support to those who are vulnerable, ensuring they have a roof over their heads and are treated fairly.
We spoke to Head of Legal Services, Catherine Phillips, who manages the in-house legal team, which comprises of 13 people, who support the wider business totaling approximately 950 employees. The team is responsible for a wide variety of legal matters within the business, some of which include conveyancing, contracts, housing management, landlord and tenant matters and more.
“The long-term aim for the in-house legal team was to remove the reliance on network drives where the legal materials sat previously and use a system which can help us more efficiently manage our workload and reduce the amount of work we were having to outsource to external solicitors. Regarding the wider business, it has huge ambitions, having recently undergone refinancing, to continue growing and making a positive difference to the communities we serve. From an operational standpoint, we are advocates of flexible and hybrid working - naturally which has had more emphasis since the pandemic.”
“When I joined the business, there wasn’t a case management system and as the team grew and the volume and variety of work increased, we decided it was time to put a system in place. It had been a while since I had gone through the process of procuring a case management solution and I was surprised at how much additional capability is now available and the potential of the system. We wanted a system that would allow us to develop workflows to automate the process heavy tasks and reduce the amount of outsourced work.
"We also wanted to report and analyse performance to understand where we spend most of our time and effort and, given the team has nearly doubled in size over the year, demonstrate we’re being more productive with the additional resource we now have. The reporting and analysis are also needed to monitor and compare the work we outsource to our legal framework, which is a significant cost to the business, and the services we provide in-house.
"The purpose of the case management system is to make the legal services measurable, manageable, transparent and automated where possible.”
“Once we’ve completed the training on the new system and started to develop the system to work the way we want it, we will see some great benefits. Firstly, choosing the Access Legal hosted service alongside the case management system has meant there is very little or no additional work for our own in-house IT function as all the updates and maintenance for the system sits with Access Legal. Secondly, the browser-based system supports the wider business objectives of implementing a hybrid way of working with the legal team able to access the case management system securely anytime and anywhere. Further to this, as a supervisor of a team, the case management system allows me to see what work people are doing, supports communication and, if there’s an unexpected absence, pick up workload from others quickly and easily even when working remotely.
"The new case management system will allow us to better review and manage spend within the team. Previously, there were disparate budgets sitting in different areas of the business which made it very difficult to control whereas now I’m the central budget holder with a system which allows me to identify where money is going and whether we’re getting value for that spend. Being able to automate certain areas of work such as disrepair, which is big challenge across the housing sector, means a huge amount of work can be kept in-house rather than having to pass to an external solicitor, saving a lot of money. In addition to disrepair, our future plans are for other outsourced areas such as right-to-buy conveyancing, which historically we never worked on, to be actioned us.”
“It wasn’t just about cost; we needed a system which had the capabilities to support our short and long-term aspirations. We were impressed with the demonstrations and functionality. We attend Access Legal’s product webinar sessions and it’s great to be part of a wider community of users.”
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