How Kilpatrick Townsend Innovated to Handle PPP Loan Applications, Help Fund Small Businesses

Editor's Note: Kilpatrick Townsend's story is featured in an on-demand webinar series covering how the Relativity community has innovated to tackle challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. We encourage you to take a look at all of these fascinating and inspiring stories.

Earlier this year, the federal government launched the Paycheck Protection Program to aid small businesses dealing with economic losses as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. The program provides these businesses loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA) to keep their workforce employed during the pandemic.

Similar to most financial institutions participating in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), our client knew they would be facing extraordinary demand for these loans. While our client typically processed around 100 SBA loans each year, they expected to receive and need to process more than a 1,000 PPP loans over a two-to-four-week period. Understandably, our client realized they needed to look for outside help in order to participate meaningfully in the program and assist with small business relief efforts.

Understanding the Problem

When the client approached us with this dilemma, our LitSmart E-Discovery team was brought in to assess the challenge and develop a workflow to manage the loan applications. Fulfilling the human element was simple; we used our team of experienced contractors managed by our team attorneys to strategize on the solution.

The technology solution, however, was not as straightforward. We knew Relativity could be utilized in unique ways and had done so in multiple projects previously. But the sheer scope of this project and its time constraints required us to think beyond anything we had done previously. We needed to create a completely unique customized database and workflow. The ability to create all sorts of tagging, searching, and customized reporting out of Relativity made it the obvious choice for the following reasons:

  • Review hundreds of applications a day
  • Tag and track all of the supporting documentation
  • Grant access to the client for final approval
  • Provide the detailed daily reporting on status, applicants and loan amounts the client required

Time was of the essence because no one was sure how long the second round of funding would last and there was a requirement that loans be funded within a certain period.

Bringing in the Team of Experts

With the assistance of the client’s commercial loan department and our firm’s business and finance team, we created a standardized supplemental loan application that each borrower would need to complete and return. We created customized fields in Relativity that were populated by an original online application; we then exported those field values into the standardized supplemental application files, which we sent via DocuSign. After reviewing several options, we determined that DocuSign would be the most efficient tool for the applicants to review and sign the loan documents and attach any supporting documentation needed to process their application. This electronic signing process greatly reduced the amount of time it took to receive the completed application from borrowers. As it turns out, this was a very significant decision because we discovered that most borrowers did not have scanners and scan applications on mobile phones have varying degrees of quality.

Once these applicants had a real live person (a member of our team) to contact via this process of exchanging documents, they had all sorts of questions as they anxiously awaited approval. Some of these questions we were able to answer; some we had to pass along to our client. While we did not initially expect to receive so many direct communications, we were again able to track the hundreds of email and telephone communications with the applicants, our responses, and any feedback we received from the client. Tracking that back-and-forth became a critical piece of the approval process.

When reviewing the loan applications and supporting documentation, we needed a way to efficiently review tens of thousands of pages when only a few specific pieces of information were actually critical. So, we created persistent highlight sets in Relativity to draw the eyes of the review team to specific areas of the document for review. We also created a tagging layout which essentially acted as a checklist for each application, ensuring each required supporting document was present. We were then able to quickly segregate loan applications with the same problems (e.g., missing articles of organization, inconsistent loan amount requests, missing SSNs or EINs), and reach out to those borrowers to supplement their application packet or correct inconsistencies.

Another challenge we had to overcome was developing a workflow for our team to countersign a final disbursement request attached to each loan application. Based on our experience using Relativity as a review tool, we realized we could electronically sign and date the disbursement request using the image redaction tool in Relativity. Using the redaction tool saved a tremendous amount of time, and each day, we were able to create “productions” of loan applications to send to the client directly from Relativity.

Other than using DocuSign to send the applications to the borrowers, we were able to run the entire application management and review process in Relativity, enabling us to meet the intense time restraints we were facing.

Assessing the Results

Relativity tools, searches, and functionality allowed our team to track the loans throughout the review process. At any time, we were able to determine what stage a particular loan application was in. We were also able to create and send customized daily reports to the client showing the status of all loan applications, which applications were complete, and which were not (and why). This ended up being critical for our management of the project and our firm’s own internal progress statistics and related billing.

For our part, we were able to create searches for the various workflows and perform quality control review on issues that were especially concerning to the client. For instance, as part of the application, the borrower needed to complete a closing certification to verify they were eligible for the loan. It was of the utmost importance that no loan be approved for a borrower who was not eligible per this certification. We were able to create a template for this purpose in DocuSign; if the borrower was not eligible, a phrase would be generated on the table of contents page to alert the review team. A quality control review search based on this specific phrasing was created to ensure that no application was approved until a valid certification was received.

To date, the team has reviewed over 1,200 loan applications, with nearly 900 of these applications being initially reviewed during the week of April 27, 2020. Our work has led to the funding of well over 1,000 small businesses during this time of financial uncertainty for so many small businesses. While we have continued to follow up on lingering outstanding issues with individual applicants, the all-consuming efforts of April and May have subsided. Certainly we are all ready for this pandemic to pass and life to return to normalcy, but we are ready and able to jump in to assist if additional funding needs arise.

Taking the Lessons Learned

From this project, the biggest lesson learned is to know the areas where mistakes can be made and have backup plans in place to address these mistakes. There was a portion of the applications where borrowers could input their social security number (for US persons) or another identification number (for non-US persons). This was the one part of the application that we could not require to be completed because it was an either/or choice. While we expected a few borrowers to overlook this section, we did not anticipate that so many applicants would neglect to fill out either option even though the instructions clearly called for it. Thankfully, we had created tagging in Relativity for missing SSNs/IDs, so we were able to segregate these applications, create a new exported form, and quickly send out a second supplemental round of documentation via DocuSign.

Innovation with technology is key to success today—if our team had not been able to think creatively and utilize technology we had on hand to solve a seemingly impossible problem, we may not have been able to capture the work for this client and they would have looked elsewhere. We are fortunate that our firm and our team management understand the importance of innovation and have put people in positions where they can devote the time and effort needed to focus on creating customized solutions to unique issues.

On our team, we have a dedicated e-discovery technology innovation manager and a dedicated QC leader, along with other innovative thinkers in the project management, technical analyst, paralegal, and attorney ranks, who spend countless hours developing creative solutions that combine the best attributes of both human resources and technology. We are given the space and funding to brainstorm, collaborate, and indeed drive our practice and the legal industry forward.

Starling Underwood is a senior e-discovery attorney at Kilpatrick Townsend.

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