Legal workflow and improving productivity
Workflow is described as “an orchestrated and repeatable pattern of business activity enabled by the systematic organization of resources into processes that transform materials, provide services, or process information".
Or in plain English, it’s the way you do things.
The problem for many law firms is that these processes have been in place for decades and many senior (and less tech-friendly) partners are happy to employ a ‘fit for purpose’ ethos. They’ll stick with what they know rather than suffering the short-term pain of making the wholesale changes required to keep step with not only what’s available but also with what their clients demand.
In the corporate world it is estimated document mismanagement alone wastes anything between 40 and 60% of workers’ time or, in financial terms, 12-15% of their revenue. While there are currently no figures available, we’d suggest the time and cost impact on a law firm is almost certainly just as serious.
If this is a trend that concerns you and you feel it’s time to broach the subject of improving workflow at your next partners’ meeting, you will need a compelling argument to table. In order to help you make that argument here are the 4 key lessons we’ve learned while helping law firms improve their processes and increase their productivity:
1. Greater efficiencies increase profitability
This is the overriding benefit for any firm.
Regardless of your size or practice area, if your fee earners and support staff can summon up the records, documents and drafts they need more quickly and more easily, they can do more billable work and greater productivity can only lead to greater profitability.
Also, if time is being saved on mundane admin tasks your lawyers should also be able to find more time for business development which, if managed properly, will generate more new opportunities.
2. Happier clients are loyal clients
Once your fee earners are more efficient, they will no longer have to pass the cost of the unnecessary admin time that used to be involved in their work to the client. This will provide an invaluable saving to the client at a time when clients are becoming more cost conscious and more demanding (and more likely to look for alternative advisers) than ever before.
And don’t forget the happier a client is, the more likely they are to refer you to their contacts which again will generate more new work with no cost of sale.
3. More effective communications, internally and externally
Having documents, contact details and client histories organised and available for everyone involved in a matter (whether they’re in your firm or on the client side) will cut down the time involved in preparing a response or tracking down the relevant documents. Again, as admin time is reduced, fee earning time can be increased.
4. Improved cashflow
Not only will you be able to produce more accurate and more timely invoices more quickly, the fact you can easily double check hourly rates are being upheld and the correct disbursements are being covered will reduce the time it takes to produce management reports and even prepare your tax return at the end of your financial year.
However, these 4 lessons only to the more physical aspects of performance, there is a fifth but equally vital area you also need to consider - compliance.
Recent studies have shown almost half of the malpractice claims filed against law firms involve some form of administrative error or communications breakdown between the clients and their lawyer. These issues will almost certainly have arisen because cumbersome and convoluted processes have led to the wrong information being inputted somewhere along the way.
By integrating electronic document management systems into your case management system you’ll not only remove the repetitive, time-consuming tasks that invite errors but you’ll also provide a platform that will organise and track all of the information linked to a matter or a client so nothing is missed.
As all that information will be collated using original documents, you will reduce the time impact on your staff (not to mention make their working lives a little less tedious). This in turn will free up vital support time and reduce the potential for inputting mistakes. And, as all of the information will be available at the click of a button, you’ll be able to answer your clients’ questions immediately which will further reduce the likelihood of communications breaking down while clients are forced to hang on longer than they’d like for the answers they need.