Process improvements can significantly impact a law firm’s productivity, making the difference between an average firm and a highly successful one. Technical innovations are at the top of the list for these success-producing innovations. Legal technology can transform firm operations through increased productivity, which is a powerful strategy for increasing profitability and firm business.
A recent survey lists the adoption of new technology as one of the top three challenges for law companies, right behind pricing and operational efficiency. To effectively address this challenge, the following sections outline five key methods by which law firms can derive significant productivity advantages by improving their technological infrastructure.
1. Look for Internal Development Opportunities
To enhance internal operations for increased productivity, solicit the opinions of your firm’s legal professionals and administrative staff members. Ask them questions about their daily operations and observations: What are the challenges and constraints in your operational processes? In what areas might one enhance their performance?
This will allow you to determine actual operational issues and possible solutions, and employees tend to exhibit higher levels of engagement and commitment in work environments where their contributions are valued. Experiencing a sense of appreciation serves as a powerful method in fostering commitment toward the firm's overall success.
Attorneys in the majority of states have an ethical duty to employ technology in a manner that serves the best interests of their clients. However, this does not mean that not all law firms are required to allocate substantial resources toward researching and implementing technological innovations.
When seeking ways to improve the operational efficiencies of a legal firm, consider existing tech resources inside the firm while also searching for innovative solutions.
2. Maintain Awareness of Legal Tech Solutions
After identifying operational issues, law firms need to be aware of the solutions available including those involving technology.
To address the challenge of adopting new technology, approximately 30% of law firms have at least one employee or partner specifically assigned to proactively follow legal technology and associated innovations. This small percentage is not surprising given that the majority of law firms tend to be smaller in size, with limited human resources available to dedicate a partner or employee specifically to technology.
According to the same survey, approximately 56% of law firms with 500 or more attorneys reported having a designated staff member responsible for technology advancements. In contrast, just around 21% of law firms with less than 100 attorneys expressed similar operational dedication.
These survey findings do suggest that a considerable number of smaller firms are devoting specific resources toward the pursuit of new technological advancements. Yet, the study does not show firms that distribute this function informally among multiple individuals.
Regardless of whether a firm designates a single individual for legal tech developments or distributes this responsibility among multiple employees, staying informed about progress in the legal tech space can provide a competitive advantage for the firm. Recent tech developments have been launched that help firms streamline operations and even more efficiently attract more clients. Knowing about and implementing these solutions can make a positive difference in law firm productivity and profitability.
3. Automate Repetitive Administrative Tasks
Practicing law includes a range of routine yet indispensable administrative duties. While episodes of Law and Order and Perry Mason rarely if ever show a character gathering new client intake information or managing case files, they are nevertheless critical tasks that must be completed for the law firm to succeed.
Automation can assist in completing these necessary yet mundane administrative tasks. Based on research conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute, automation can streamline and assist in approximately 23 percent of the tasks performed by lawyers. Given that a substantial proportion of these administrative tasks are not billable and revenue-generating, this effectively clears a significant amount of time for engaging in actual billable work.
Progressive law firms acknowledge the potential automation, even in talent acquisition. As per a recent poll conducted by New York Law School, a significant proportion of law firms (58 percent) emphasized the importance of having expertise in legal technology as a crucial determinant in the recruitment of new associates.
Automating work that would otherwise require a significant amount of time allows attorneys to spend time expanding or enhancing their practice. This may involve activities such as obtaining new clients or dedicating more time to billable tasks. Furthermore, automation results in lowering operational costs by reducing the amount of time required to complete tasks.
4. Implement Automated Billing Solutions
Billing is one such administrative task that significantly influences the overall success of a law firm. Accurate and effective billing processes are essential for maximizing a law firm’s financial returns. Billing is widely recognized as a significant aspect of administrative duties for lawyers, and it is often regarded as one of the most challenging and demanding responsibilities of these tasks. According to a recent survey, a significant portion of respondents (48%) identified a longer pre-bill editing and review cycle as a major challenge faced by their law practice.
Yet billing review is a central component in receiving client payments. According to a recent survey, most law firms have expressed that the billing review and cleanup procedures can significantly extend the billing process, often spanning a duration of two weeks.
However, it is important to note that while some billing systems enhance the efficiency of time-entry procedures in billing, they often fail to encompass the bill review function. This function involves the meticulous examination and rectification of time and expenditure inputs before the submission of invoices to clients. Nevertheless, this issue can be addressed by using computer-assisted billing tools such as BillerAssist, which employ automated techniques for reviewing bills.
Furthermore, computer-assisted billing applications can utilize a law firm's internal billing data to provide timekeepers with immediate alerts, thereby ensuring the propriety and conformity of time inputs. Moreover, these systems also identify atypical charges that are unlikely to be paid, along with billing entries that do not adhere to the client's billing guidelines. This alerts lawyers about potential issues in real-time while performing their tasks. This significantly reduces the time and effort required for the billing procedure.
5. Embrace and Use Your Data
Data holds key importance in analysis and planning for all businesses and industries including legal. Optimal firm strategic planning becomes challenging, if not unattainable, without a precise assessment of a company's activities and expenditures.
However, according to Thomson Reuters, only a minority of attorneys, specifically less than 15 percent, believe that the data generated by their law firms is being effectively used.
Data is an essential resource that plays a critical role in improving a law firm’s financial performance. Gaining knowledge from previous errors and achievements can aid in the prevention of negative outcomes and the repeat of positive ones. Whether it is the management of litigation, the restructuring of billing structure, or other areas, there is no reason why this data sits unused.
Hunches, gut feelings, and intuition have long been standard operating procedures in the legal profession. However, like the portrayal in the baseball film "Moneyball", empirical evidence frequently proves more dependable than fleeting perceptions or divination. A recent study revealed that law firms that adopted data-based practices had a noteworthy 66% surge in revenue.
Several legal tech apps are currently being used by forward-thinking law practices. In the foreseeable future, apps like these and other technological advancements will probably be the key to competitive advantages.
The adoption of automation offers advantages in terms of time efficiency and reducing the monotony of manual work. The advantages of billing automation applications are indisputably significant in terms of reducing billing review and increasing the likelihood of client payment. Utilizing historical data is the optimal approach to derive insights from previous experiences that allow firms to effectively strategize for the future.
Incorporating these five factors into one's law practice does not provide an absolute assurance of success. Nevertheless, they will assist in positioning your firm or legal department optimally for the pursuit and continuance of success.