Magazine Button

Morgan Lewis streamlines investment fund reporting with OutSystems

Josh Rosenzweig, Senior Director of Digital Transformation and User Experience, tells us how global law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius has leveraged OutSystems to transform legal service delivery to create consistent client experience, enhance efficiency, transparency and UX for lawyers and clients alike.

Josh Rosenzweig, Senior Director of Digital Transformation and User Experience, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius

Global law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP has a longstanding commitment to innovation. The firm’s Knowledge Management and Practice Services team works alongside lawyers and clients to implement sophisticated digital business solutions.

One such solution is the firm’s new ‘AdviserDash’ portal, which digitally transforms a registered fund’s SEC-regulated 15(c) advisory contract review process. The application automates the distribution and collection of an annual renewal questionnaire, making it easier to identify year-over-year changes and analyze investment advisers’ key data metrics.

Challenge: Transform legal service delivery with user experience design

Morgan Lewis is a global law firm with 31 offices in the United States, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. With more than 2,200 lawyers and specialists, the firm provides comprehensive corporate, transactional, litigation and regulatory services to numerous industries. The firm takes great pride in providing consistent, exceptional client service to global clients.

Named the most innovative law firm by BTI Consulting Group in 2018, the firm established a User Experience (UX) Design team that same year. The team is now an integral part of Morgan Lewis’s Knowledge Management and Practice Services team. This cross-functional group delivers customized internal and client-facing solutions that enhance the firm’s legal services.

Josh Rosenzweig, Senior Director of Digital Transformation and User Experience, joined Morgan Lewis in 2018 to explore new opportunities for collaboration and implement new product and service ideas.

The firm’s UX Design team went in search of technologies to support user-centric design and rapid, iterative development, with a particular focus on fast, efficient and flexible UX design. Those criteria led to OutSystems, a leading modern application platform with high productivity, connected and AI-assisted tools to help developers rapidly build and deploy a full range of applications anywhere the organization requires.

“We were looking for a platform that would allow us to quickly spin up apps, get feedback from users, and make improvements on the fly, while at the same time delivering enterprise-grade security and scalability,” said Rosenzweig.

Solution: Collaborating with lawyers to improve mutual fund advisory contract reviews

Throughout 2019 the UX Design team incorporated OutSystems into its innovation approach.

“We have a remit to experiment with the firm’s practices,” said Rosenzweig. “For us, the exciting thing about OutSystems is the ability to focus less on coding and more on human-centric design. It perfectly complements our lean start-up, agile and iterative approach.”

Although the team delivered a facial recognition demonstrator app and an innovation portfolio management app for internal use, it wasn’t until a challenging project for the firm’s investment management practice in April 2020 that the firm unleashed the full power of rapid iterative development.

Tim Levin, a Morgan Lewis Partner and Leader of the Investment Management Practice, identified an opportunity to streamline the annual mutual fund advisory agreement renewal process that the practice manages for many clients. The old process was highly manual, and no off-the-shelf software was available to streamline the information collection, curation and collaboration.

“Historically, the process relied on manually composed emails and attached Word document questionnaires to collect information from investment advisers,” said Rosenzweig. “Apart from the inefficient manual process, there was limited traceability and little ability to customize or leverage past work. To scale this service to more clients, we needed to reimagine the workflows and at the same time dramatically improve the user experience for lawyers, investment advisers and our registered fund clients.”

The initial brief was little more than a single-page flow diagram, but the UX Design team quickly worked alongside the lawyers to turn that into a design concept with wireframes and prototypes. Following a few workshops with the investment management practice, Rosenzweig’s team and Truewind were ready to start development. 

Results: AdviserDash – a first-to-market cloud-based solution for SEC 15(c) reviews 

Morgan Lewis joined forces with a team from Truewind, including an enterprise architect, a lead developer and three developers. Development took place over four months between April and August 2020 in a series of short sprints.

Commenting on the speed of development, Rosenzweig said: “The OutSystems platform helps us reuse development among our projects to better streamline our client-driven solutions and allow us to focus more of our time on human-centered design. We intentionally designed the solution around the needs of our largest and most complex registered funds client.” 

Morgan Lewis went live with AdviserDash with two clients in August 2020 and over the next five months, continued to add enhancements based on feedback from the client and investment advisers.

“The feedback has been tremendous,” said Rosenzweig. “Comments like ‘Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?’ tell us that we’ve hit the mark. We’re now able to scale and industrialize the 15(c) data collection and report assembly process. We’ve made the process easier and more efficient for our clients, investment advisers and trustees, as well as for our lawyers.”

Morgan Lewis started onboarding more investment advisers to AdviserDash in January 2021. Investment management firms are keen to adopt and appreciate more modern, robust and efficient ways to address this crucial governance and compliance requirement. 

Key features and advantages of AdviserDash include:

  • Administration portal: Used by lawyers to distribute, monitor and review reporting questionnaires. The portal has eliminated manual emails and Word documents from the data-collection process, delivering traceability, SLA monitoring and transparent progress tracking.
  • Digital questionnaire: Used by investment advisers to input annual responses. The modern web experience helps distributed teams prepare responses collaboratively and efficiently, with progress tracking and time-saving features built-in.
  • Consistent client experience: Used by registered funds to maintain relationships among trusts, funds and investment advisers. The digital questionnaire provides a standard format to make it easier for trustees to focus on what’s changed since the previous response, a vast improvement compared to wading through lengthy Word documents to find crucial details.

Outlook

Morgan Lewis expects to use the same design-centric approach to address numerous client-facing needs. Morgan Lewis’s rapid results and clear return on investment provide increasing confidence to drive more experiments, helping in the firm’s mission to enhance efficiency, transparency, and UX for lawyers and clients alike.

“We’ve established a proven, scalable approach for digital innovation that combines our user experience design proficiency with the agility of the OutSystems platform and our successful partnership with Truewind,” said Rosenzweig.

Intelligent CIO asked Josh Rosenzweig further questions to find out more.

The AdvisorDash Portal makes it easier to automate the distribution and collection of an annual renewal questionnaire. Why was it so important for your company to automate this process?

I think it was really our attorneys in our investment management practice that identified that the process was pretty disconnected and cumbersome for all the stakeholders involved. Not only did we get their buy-in to start to think about developing an application and platform that could change the way their work is done, it was really about collaborating with them side by side, to think about what the challenges are that everybody in this kind of ecosystem or process are experiencing.

So it was the attorneys that actually helped us to understand and frame some of the challenges that these different stakeholders in the process had and it was really my team that helped them visualise that story.

For the attorneys and our clients, which are large registered fund complexes, the process was very manual – to prepare and distribute Word documents that were sometimes 80 pages long. They had to track these questionnaires and responses by email, through Excel documents and this was a very labor intensive process. This was just to get the questionnaires to the people that needed to fill them out.

So that was one aspect of the process but it was also for the investment advisors who are not necessarily our clients, but are the ones that are completing the questionnaire for our clients, and we really saw an opportunity to enhance that experience for them. They are getting these 80 page documents, sometimes they get multiples from different registered fund complexes that are investment advisors too.

For them, it’s very time consuming. A lot of times they are asking for the same information but in different ways, so they’re having to copy and paste a lot of information back and forth between different documents and making sure that they’ve answered all those questions.

I equate it to the process of completing your tax return every year but for a lot of these investment advisors they’re having to do it sometimes every quarter, over and over and over again.

We really wanted to focus on how we could improve that experience for them in what inevitably is not the easiest to use process of filling out this information on a quarterly basis.

Then the final stakeholder is really the trustees of these fund complexes and they’re the ones that are responsible for reviewing the questionnaires and reviewing them for completeness: making decisions about which investment advisors should be renewed or terminated on an annual basis, and for them it was very difficult to identify changes year over year.

They’re looking at these large Word documents, that sometimes have various formatting issues, different colours, different size fonts and then they’re having to look back and see from previous responses what information has changed and that was very difficult for them.

The key for the attorneys is that our investment management practice was to start identifying solutions that could improve transparency for everybody involved in the process, provide an optimal user experience for everyone involved and then enhance that overall workflow so that the entire process worked as seamlessly as possible. I think we got to accomplish that.

Why did you choose OutSystems?

We’ve been on our OutSystems journey for about three years now. When we first started looking into the concept of low code we were really looking at it from the perspective of a very specific client use case – the client had come to us asking us to potentially solve a problem that they were having using technology. We were looking at ways in which we could do that very rapidly because the time frame was looking like a matter of months. We started investigating the tools that are out there that could allow us to do rapid application development. We started looking at various things from no code to low code.

But for us, the goal was to again focus on rapid application development that could help ‘innovator differentiate’ the delivery of our legal services – that was really the goal. And we needed a secure platform that could do that because we’re dealing with, at times, confidential information. There was a high degree of business involvement so we needed a tool that not just the programmers could use but our attorneys could understand, and that our business professionals and design professionals could understand too.

We needed that fast turnaround time and the ability to frequently update applications as things were going because we’re dealing with a lot of innovative ways of doing work and so sometimes we may go down a particular path and decide that needs to be changed. We needed to think about that differently.

So we looked at a variety of applications and platforms that would do this but it was really that OutSystems checked all those boxes for us. I think the real differentiator is OutSystems is an enterprise tool. There are a lot of tools out there that tend to be more on the small business side, even a lot of the low code tools don’t give you all the security or all the customization.

But being an enterprise tool it allowed us to facilitate that rapid development and also for us the user experience was incredibly important, and when we looked at even the enterprise tools in this space it was really OutSystems that not only had come out of the box, but was a very user-friendly experience that allowed us to do our own customization and really define what we wanted our user experience to be for both internal and external users that we have on our applications.

I think what is most interesting and promising about OutSystems is everybody’s using it in a different way. There are some clients of theirs that are using it as their full tech stack, others are using it to modernise legacy systems, and then there’s some customers like us that are using it for innovation and rapid development.

So I think it was the flexibility of the platform especially when we started on this journey – in the beginning we weren’t really sure exactly how we were going to use it. We were able to mould the platform to fit our culture and our overall goals and objectives.

So there was an ability to focus less on coding and more on human centric design?

I think we made a decision early on to leverage one of the OutSystems development partners to help us with the development process because with any of these kind of low code platform tools you could obviously go through training to learn how to build an application on the platform. I think to really scale it you need that expertise that understands how the platform is built and how to best utilise the tools and the toolkits within that platform to get there.

And so, we started working with one of OutSystems’ development partners, a company called Truewind and they really helped us to create a vision for what we wanted to do. We looked at potentially hiring developers, converting our more high code developers into this low code environment. But I think we realised that the value of using one of those partners to take the heavy hand in the development process, and work with our team in a way that is more focused on user experience and user design and change the way we were thinking about doing development.

A lot of times it’s more about this agile process where you’re doing requirements gathering and you’re doing sprints and continually iterating and we do that, but I think what we changed was, how we start those projects. We spend, I would say, anywhere from 60% to 70% of our time thinking about the end-user experience – the design, the flows and building out very high-fidelity wireframes and prototypes before we actually even start coding anything.

So the focus shifts from trying to think about the overall kind of technology plan and more about the user journey plan and how we want the user to experience these applications. And that’s added some additional benefits for us in terms of how we leverage the platform. We’ve decided to focus on a subset of use cases that we think are a best-fit for this platform.

We’re not trying to use OutSystems for everything that we do within the firm. We have a very sophisticated and large application team within our IT group that focuses on more enterprise tools, core systems and really helping to modernise the business. We use OutSystems in a very discreet way to think about how we can again, innovate and differentiate the delivery of those legal services.

We’ve focused on thinking about those core use cases and identifying key components that we can reuse across multiple applications that solve that use case or subsets of those use cases. So, for example, with AdvisorDash the focus is really on collecting information and building out questionnaires and surveys to collect that information and we identify pretty early on, in collaboration with our partners, that those kind of core elements could actually be used across other applications and other use cases in which our attorneys need to collect information from our clients and from other external stakeholders.

What we’ve done is to start to build out almost like a family tree or a hierarchy of these applications where we have the patriarch or matriarch application which would be AdvisorDash and then we can actually visualise and see how those components are being used across other applications that solve that use case.

In many cases we’re using 50% to up to 80% of the kind of core components and code from that original application in new applications, and that’s helped to stabilise the overall environment because we’re making changes across the entire application and those changes also enhance those other applications. It also increases the speed in which we can develop things. A source application may take anywhere from a month to four months to build but those subsequent applications we can spin out in sometimes a week, two weeks or four weeks.

So you think the low code approach is the way to go for the future?

I think it’s a part of it. I think there’s still a place for what we consider high code development – so more of that customization for very specific things that need to be done on the enterprise level. I think low code is a tool in that toolkit to identify areas in which individuals can help a business move forward. And I think there’s a place for no code too. It’s really about thinking when you’re looking at the entire kind of tech stack and toolkit that you have: how are you using those tools to advance the goals of the organisation? For us we found a really good opportunity to use OutSystems again to focus more on that kind of innovation arm, that R&D arm, to test out some of these solutions that we can make quick changes to and then decide, does it need to be scaled up to more of that high code area, or do we need to offset some components to get there? But I think it has opened up some interesting doors for us.

Click below to share this article

Browse our latest issue

Magazine Cover

View Magazine Archive