How does a team of eight attorneys and just five support staff manage a legal caseload serving 26,000 people in 70 developments and 12,600 public housing units across Boston, Massachusetts? One might assume the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) would require a goliath sized legal team to manage its constantly growing legal caseload, however the opposite is the true for the BHA, which also happens to be New England’s largest public housing authority.
Rather employing additional attorneys and administrative support staff to handle its growing workload, the acting General Counsel of the BHA at the time, opted to invest in legal practice management software to do the job.
A move that Wilber Commodore, an employee of the BHA, says continues to pay itself forward today.
According to Mr. Commodore, the BHA’s legal department uses the system to create and store records for all of its non-transactional matters, including litigation cases, subpoenas, requests for public records and requests from throughout the BHA for legal advice. In other words, information on every action related to a matter goes straight into the electronic file, along with all relevant documents.
“We have a record of everything that comes through us,” says Mr. Commodore. Whether someone needs to know the status of a current matter, retrieve historical information or report on productivity in the legal department, that information is readily available.”
By storing all cases and their associated files electronically, the BHA legal team is not only able to work faster, but thanks to the technology, the legal department put an innovative approach in place to better manage lease enforcement cases that arise when public housing authority tenants haven’t paid their rent. In addition, the system provides templates for several forms used in BHA proceedings and automatically pulls the data needed to complete those forms from the database. This time savings, says Mr. Commodore, helps keep overhead costs down.
“A paralegal can manage this process, generating the documents for the attorney, who just has to review and sign them,” Commodore says. This efficiency gain allows the department to handle an increasing number of cases without adding more attorneys.”
According to Mr. Commodore, on top of recalling important case-related information instantly, the legal practice management software is also automated with the BHA’s calendar of court appearances which comes in particularly handy when an administrative question related to a court appearance or case inquiry arises.
“If we get a call from someone in the Housing Authority — such as the administrator — who wants to know the status of the case, we can retrieve that information easily from the calendar case notes,” says Ms. Commodore.
The BHA legal department, he adds, uses a similar approach when fielding requests for public records and keeping track of that information.
“Once we open a case and put the information in, we can generate the form letters we need,” he says.
In essence, whenever a request for a record comes through, members of the BHA staff can simply attach an electronic copy of those records to the file, so the department has a full history of the request and the BHA’s response.
As an added bonus, outside of the legal department, members of the BHA’s grievance and appeals also benefit by using the technology to manage its hearings. This is important if and when a tenant is about to lose housing in the public housing program, or when the BHA determines an applicant ineligible for assistance.
Today, the BHA runs like a well-oiled machine and members of the legal team and additional BHA staff members are able to work more efficiently and effectively. Most importantly, however, the BHA continues to keep a tight lid on overhead costs and, in doing so, is able to improve the service it provides to the residents of Boston.