- How can I eliminate mundane, administrative tasks?
- Should I shell out for practice management software?
No matter how your law firm charges for its services—whether the traditional billable hours model or through alternate fee arrangements—measuring productivity nearly always comes down to the same basic rule: time is money.
Assuming some level of profit exists on your list of priorities, think about how you can spend less time on the administrative minutiae of law and more on the practicing of it. This article provides the keys to unlocking productivity, increasing billable hours, and making better use of your time simply by increasing efficiency with a personal productivity audit.
Key 1: “Is This Really What I Went to Law School to Do?”
You might be surprised by the number of mundane things you do. It’s hard to quantify until you take it seriously enough to track all your time. A quick way to gauge this is to compare the amount of actual time you are in the office vs. how much you actually bill. It’s not the stuff on your calendar that eats up your time; it’s the little things that you probably don’t think twice about. Your time is better spent elsewhere, keeping in mind your new productivity mantra: less time on the administrative minutiae of law and more time practicing it. It may seem like no big deal to walk over to the file cabinet or take time to delegate a task to one of your staff when a client calls and needs you to reference a document, but in the interest of your productivity audit, you’ll need to think about in terms of what they can cost your firm over longer periods.
For example, let’s assume your time is billed at $300 an hour, or $30 for six minutes:
Six file cabinet trips a day = 30 minutes = $150/day in lost billable time
$150/day x 240 workdays/year = $36,000/year in lost billable time
No lawyer would consider it worthwhile to lose $36,000 just for the sake of continuing inefficient habits even if it’s always the way it’s been done. As you begin self-assessing habits like these, it’s worth asking yourself, “Is this what I went to law school to do?”
Key 2: Use Lemons to Make Lemonade
As the old saying goes, when given lemons, make lemonade. The same message might be applied to technology. Use technology for technology tasks and people for the personal touch. Having real human beings on hand to do things like answer your phones can pay big dividends with clients who resent getting lost in phone trees.
But it pays to leave other tasks to specialized software and tools to achieve increased efficiency. Often, the most technologically challenged legal professional can:
- Capture billable time on the go from mobile devices
- Evaluate whether to integrate matter management with other programs, such as accounting tools, or have an all-in-one solution. Both have pros and cons.
- Accessing client and matter information is important when communicating with your clients, but also for complying with the ABA Model Rules of client activity recording. Technology, like a practice management solution provides a consolidated view to add, edit, and report on case information to include related contacts and parties, documents, email, and phone call records.
Key 3: Stop Reinventing the Document
If you’re creating documents manually, document management software should be added to your technology arsenal. In fact, if you have a good practice management program, you may already have it without realizing its potential value.
Not only does document management software create templates to save you from formatting and reformatting the same types of documents over again and over again, it can create an unlimited number of documents from information that is entered just once— often from a simple client questionnaire—so it’s an important legal tool for reducing errors from manual typing. Additionally, the right automation software can create first drafts of long, highly complex documents such as legal trusts in a small fraction of the time it would take you to produce them manually.
Key 4: Choose Practice Management That Takes Full Advantage of Your Mobility Options
It probably goes without saying that you’re using a smartphone and at least one other mobile device such as a tablet. But as these devices are now just part of our personal and professional lives, and the options for boosting your productivity keep increasing at surprising rates. The most advanced practice management programs now allow you to remotely access practically anything on your office server, or in the cloud (e.g., matter information, documents, calendars, notes, tasks, etc.) without having to get in touch with someone back at the office to send them to you. And if you’re worried about security, don’t be. Nothing is stored on your smartphone or tablet, so nothing is accessible without a secure password unique to you.
Key 5: Consider the Idea of a Paperless Office
It’s scary, admittedly. But when you consider that everything you do on paper can be better, faster, and more efficiently managed electronically, it’s the old-style way that’s really frightening.
We know the objections: Computers go out, power goes off, and all those hackers . . . however, the solutions (back-up power, off-site data storage, firewalls, etc.) far outweigh the objections.
Key 6: Don’t Let Short-Term Costs Get in the Way of Long-Term Productivity and Profits
It’s estimated that up to 40 percent of small law firms don’t use practice management software.
Why? Most often cited is a concern about cost, which is entirely understandable until you consider that the right practice management program can save you as much as 40 percent of the time you presently waste doing manual menial tasks. That’s 40 percent of your time that could be used taking on more cases and clients, or even getting home in time to tuck the kids into bed every once in a while.
Key 7: Choose Practice Management That Works the Way You Do, and Test It Before You Invest
They may all be designed to do the same thing—they may all even sound pretty much the same—but there can be enormous differences between programs designed to perform the exact same function. Don’t give up. There’s at least one practice management program that will feel comfortable for the way you work.
Key 8: Join the Productivity Track
Look around your firm. Everywhere are people handling tedious, technical tasks—another opportunity for bringing technology to the rescue.
Accounting, for instance. There are probably dozens of financial management programs out there created specifically for law firms. And whatever your demands, chances are, you’re going to find at least one that meets those demands. Still creating financial reports manually? Definitely a job handled faster, more efficiently, and more accurately with the right tool.
It’s time to put productivity on the top of your docket. The fact is the possibilities for improving productivity in your firm are everywhere you look. It really doesn’t matter whether you’re a solo practice or have dozens of lawyers and support personnel on staff. Your time is valuable, and the best way to prove it is by conducting your own productivity audit.