[vc_row type="in_container" full_screen_row_position="middle" column_margin="default" scene_position="center" text_color="dark" text_align="left" overlay_strength="0.3" shape_divider_position="bottom" bg_image_animation="none"][vc_column column_padding="no-extra-padding" column_padding_position="all" background_color_opacity="1" background_hover_color_opacity="1" column_link_target="_self" column_shadow="none" column_border_radius="none" width="1/1" tablet_width_inherit="default" tablet_text_alignment="default" phone_text_alignment="default" overlay_strength="0.3" column_border_width="none" column_border_style="solid" bg_image_animation="none"][vc_column_text]You clean out your paper files, desk, and office refrigerator. So why wouldn’t you do the same with your law firm’s online data?
A robust data classification system is a must for your law firm. You’ve been entrusted by clients to not only zealously represent them but also to do no harm. To accomplish these goals, you must protect their sensitive data through a comprehensive and secure data classification system — one where you review and purge data regularly.
By having a carefully constructed data classification system, your law firm can protect itself against a possible data breach, make sure that it is properly compliant with the ethical rules regarding client record management, and better evaluate your firm’s performance and bottom line.
In this article, we’ll cover all of this and more while sharing a roadmap to help you start cleansing your law firm’s data.
Data cleansing is the process of detecting and then correcting or removing defective, duplicate, or incomplete data.
To determine what data might need purging or correcting, think both big and small: your firm’s client records, filing records, document databases, scheduling books, emails, contact information, and employee information, to name a few data sources. Think about any potential data repository, both in your firm’s servers and computers and other electronic equipment as well as on your staff’s mobile devices.
Basically, this process means recognizing what is missing, incorrect, or unnecessary in your law firm’s data and then rectifying it. It’s a process that requires forethought and one that is best handled with a bit of help.
Cleaning your firm’s data is important to protect your firm. Sound data classification and cleansing practices can transform your law firm by reducing risks and improving profitability. With cleaner, error-free data, your law firm can protect itself against possible data breaches, make sure that it complies with the ethical rules regarding client record management, and better evaluate its own bottom line.
Clients entrust their sensitive, confidential data with your law firm. To fulfill your ethical responsibility to your clients, you must go the extra mile to keep only the data you need. Organizing and cleaning your data regularly helps to protect your clients. Data retention schedules and auto-deletion features can ensure you purge client files, emails, and other data once they are no longer useful to your firm.
This is important because protecting your clients and their information is a fundamental ethical responsibility — and it’s also just a good business practice. Lawyers are required to protect all client information from disclosure, including in a data breach. The American Bar Association has issued ethics opinions on securing communication of protected client information, and numerous states have their own data protection laws (e.g., New York’s SHIELD law). Because your license and practice are at stake, it’s critical to establish data security measures.
Clean data is also good for your bottom line. With cleaner data on your law firm’s performance, you’ll have better analytics, thus allowing your law firm to make more informed business decisions. Clean data (along with the right legal practice management software) makes for more accurate tracking. So, you’ll be able to keep a clear eye on practice area performance, monthly revenue, cash flow, and work-in-progress reports.
With cleaner (read: better) data, your firm can compile more useful reports and respond and adjust intelligently. You’ll also just keep better internal systems and records with clean data. It’ll be easier to run payroll, order supplies, and run your law office.
To maintain clean data, it’s crucial that your firm establish a data classification system. Without one, your law firm will be poorly positioned to both avoid data breaches and respond effectively if one happens. Classifying data is the first step to protecting it, and a well-planned data classification system is essential.
Classifying your law firm’s data is not always an intuitive process. As your law firm grows, this process only becomes harder and more time-consuming. Our advice is to start organizing now and put repeatable processes in place so it’s easy for you to maintain clean data.
Begin by identifying your firm’s data and taking inventory of all the data held by your firm. Be methodical and ruthless in your analysis.
Then consider your collection processes. Do you actually need to collect all of the data that your firm is housing? Consider whether you can cut certain things and, if so, update your client information forms as needed. Minimizing unneeded data collection will benefit your firm in the long run.
We also recommend putting a data retention policy into place and setting automatic deletion features after a set period, particularly for certain sensitive information.
Once you’ve completed the identification stage, you can move on to actual classification. Most law firms (and businesses more generally) use tiered levels of confidentiality: public, sensitive, and classified. By having clear classifications, your law firm can set strong policies based on the different categories. When classifying data, remember to also keep in mind who owns the data, where it might be stored, and what the substance of the data is. With the right software, you’ll be able to organize and create controls to best organize and protect your client’s data (and your law firm’s data too).
This process may sound overwhelming. But it’s worth the trouble and will help your law firm to optimize your systems. When your data is categorized and controlled, your staff can find the information they need faster. As you know, optimization means higher productivity, which means more revenue.
We recommend starting with something easy like subscriber information. It’s okay to cleanse the contact information for folks who haven’t interacted with your law firm in years. Especially if your law firm has an active online presence, these clients will be able to find you anytime in the future. Set your own policy for contact retention, and be sure to follow it.
Also, keep an eye out for bounced emails and update or delete your contact records as needed. The same goes for document recordkeeping. Don’t hesitate to delete non-priority records that have been inactive for years. Chances are that the information you have is outdated. Plus, if your law firm has an active online presence, these clients will be able to find you with ease.
This holds true for the information your law firm has been collecting on itself. The cleaner your performance and financial data, the more accurate your analytical financial reports will be.
Next, figure out which data is worth retaining. For example, if you’re looking to update your current client contact records, you’ll want to put resources into identifying which clients have incomplete records and start reaching out to gather the missing information.
The same goes for ongoing client matters. It’s worth ensuring that you have fully executed documents for recent transactions and complete records for matters that might turn litigious and be subject to a litigation hold.
By recognizing which data is necessary to complete and hold on to, you’ll be able to better use your firm’s resources.
Once your firm has figured out its priorities and established a system of data cleansing, it’ll benefit from putting policies in place and establishing good data entry habits. If your law firm relies on manual data entry, it’s important to have firmwide guidelines. For example, you should specify whether your firm spells out or abbreviates certain terms and what spacing and punctuation should be used. And you should make sure to enter names and addresses following a consistent protocol.
And, unfortunately, you’ll need to cleanse your data again, and again, and again (and again). Your firm should regularly review newly added records for consistency and completeness, which can also help to catch spam or incomplete data. To keep your law firm’s data clean, you’ll need to assess and purge as a matter of course.
Clean data is the foundation for a sound data classification process. The cleaner your data and the more consistently your firm follows your data classification system, the less your firm’s risk of data compromise, the stronger your law firm’s performance will be, and the better you’ll be able to forecast your finances, manage your client matters, and build your client pipeline.
Your law firm’s matter management systems matter. In fact, they’re the lifeblood of your law firm.
It’s taxing to try to maintain multiple manual systems to track all of the details about your law practice. Why subscribe to several platforms to manage different aspects of a matter — from document management to practice management and client intake solutions — when you could just pay for one that can do it all? Why risk noncompliance with a time-consuming, manual approach to tracking all of your case details and documents?
Why not look to tech to help achieve operational efficiency by moving to an all-inclusive legal technology platform?
The future of the legal industry lies squarely in innovative tech solutions that integrate matter data with essential client intake, client service, billing, and legal operations details. Upgrading your firm’s matter management systems will help your firm keep humming along — and we don’t mean that annoying buzz in your head from constant worrying about what work hasn’t been done or what information you don’t have at your fingertips.
So, where should you get started? Fortunately, this guide on matter management systems can walk you through the benefits of matter management and help you start moving forward to improve your practice.
Put simply, matter management is overseeing all of the business processes of a law firm for individual matters. It may sound straightforward, but it’s anything but.
Matter management encompasses the ways that your law firm reviews, tracks, and administers data, documents, emails, meetings, tasks, all-important deadlines, statutes of limitations, filing requirements, client records, billing, financials, and more for each and every matter. It involves managing both internal and external processes and information.
Your firm’s matter management systems track each aspect of the lifecycle of a matter. For example, your firm’s matter management system might track a complex legal case with multiple parties and claims, keeping track of expert witnesses and filing deadlines. If your firm has multiple practice areas, your matter management system might also analyze the productivity of various practice groups and which matters have the most time billed and by whom.
In essence, matter management solutions keep a finger on the pulse of your firm and ensure it remains steady.
Effective legal technology solutions, including legal matter management software, are crucial to every law office. There is no other way to sift through and manage the chaos. The more time you spend integrating and updating your firm’s matter management processes, the less sifting through spreadsheets and stacks of paper you’ll have to do. Your legal operations professionals can leverage matter management software to streamline almost every aspect of the firm and allow your lawyers to get back to lawyering.
A firm may bring in hundreds or even thousands of new cases every year. Your legal operations teams need to have the tools to properly manage those matters, and your lawyers must be able to keep track of the intricacies of them all. It sounds like a lot, and it is. Proper matter management might be the most important function of your law firm: it’s how your firm stays afloat.
Imagine an integrated digital workspace where your legal operations professionals can run the firm’s daily operations, manage matters and projects, and collaborate seamlessly across practice groups and clients. The good news is that this magical digital wonderland exists.
While this guide focuses on matter management systems, it’s important to also consider your firm’s case management systems and how technology might help you optimize them too.
Our recommendation? A comprehensive, one-stop-shop technology solution that can handle it all.
If you’re looking for a way to simplify your team’s workload and handle your firm’s matters more efficiently, we’ve got you covered. Managing the lifecycle of a matter in a single, integrated system is the key to suffering fewer headaches while searching for information as well as less duplicative data entry. We recommend streamlining operations by moving to a technology solution with a range of dynamic capabilities so it will become your firm’s single source of truth.
Your law firm is a team, and legal teams work best when they’re able to collaborate seamlessly. Your matter management system should work to enhance teamwork and eliminate friction in communication.
Features like shared task lists and comprehensive calendaring systems boost organization and make sure your lawyers never miss another deadline. It’s especially helpful when your matter management system seamlessly integrates with your calendar continuously, such as with Microsoft 365, so you’re always on top of your schedule. And the most advanced systems can automatically populate deadlines in your calendar based on court rules. All you have to do is choose your jurisdiction, and your deadlines will appear on the appropriate date.
Additionally, matter management software can make it easier for legal professionals in your firm and corporate legal departments to collaborate on legal documents by providing access to shared documents with the ability to review and compare previous drafts. These features and more, like keeping track of the contact information for all parties, make working with outside counsel and other external partners more effortless and faster.
Some platforms also reduce the tedium of your email inbox with chat features. Real-time conversations help you get work done faster because you can get answers to pressing questions or immediate feedback on the work you’re doing. To make sure your team members are up to date, you can mention them and send an immediate pop-up notification. You can also keep track of your conversations by matter rather than going on an endless hunt for the needle in the haystack of your inbox.
Your matter management tech should do more than just track billable hours and generate invoices. It should also create comprehensive, usable reports to give you critical insights into the functioning of your law firm.
The alternative is sorting through spreadsheets and hundreds of emails from various timekeepers and case files to locate essential data, reconcile gaps and inconsistencies, and then manually create reports, which will cost you both time and money. Reports generated in your matter management system make it easy for your firm to break down spending, gaining visibility into each legal practice area and individual biller. With this information, your business team can analyze budgets, set realistic pricing, and forecast future needs. More reporting through an integrated matter management system means greater access to data and gives you deeper insights into the health of your firm.
Time is money, and at law firms, this saying proves even truer. The minutes that timekeepers spend on time-consuming administrative tasks are minutes they aren’t spending on valuable client matters.
By centralizing your firm’s matter management system, your lawyers can access the documents and information they need more quickly and efficiently, serving both your clients’ purposes and your firm’s bottom line. A better matter management system allows your firm to track filing deadlines and statutes of limitations, helping you meet deadlines as well as avoid malpractice claims and compliance risks. Automated reminders about impending filing deadlines sure beat those sticky notes that are likely to get buried on your desk or fall off your computer.
Tech also allows your law firm to manage all types of costs proactively. When you centralize matter data, you improve your visibility into your workload as well as your costs. And you can wind up optimizing the allocation of your resources, which can help you save your clients — and your firm — money.
Your law firm has a lot of moving parts. Matter management software will help you keep track of those parts by assisting in effectively delegating and keeping track of those delegations, both internal and external.
You can create cross-functional workflows within your matter management system to assign tasks to your team members, including other lawyers, paralegals, service providers, and outside counsel, thus increasing efficiency and reducing the possibility of errors. The right software can help your firm oversee any external stakeholders working on a case, such as local counsel or expert witnesses. And general counsel will really enjoy the real-time visibility they have into matters and their timelines and budgets as well, improving their client experience.
Your law firm has an ethical obligation to protect client data and numerous incentives to protect its own. Firms considering a cloud-based matter management system for the first time may feel some trepidation — it’s a big transition, with lots of moving parts to coordinate.
The long and short of it is that cloud-based matter management systems offer your law firm improved security and compliance practices for both data and document handling because that’s their key focus. However, not all cloud-based legal service providers are created equal.
When choosing a cloud-based solution for matter management, look for a variety of features, including physical security measures, certifications, disaster recovery and business continuity plans, user authentication and authorization, infrastructure security, and data ownership. Although you won’t be able to see all of these security features, they’ll be vigilantly safeguarding your firm against threats every minute of every day.
Sound matter management tech will give your firm the gift of automation so you don’t need to keep reinventing the wheel. This is particularly helpful when it comes to opening and managing matters. Without a standardized template, it’s hard for a law practice to both establish and enforce matter standardization, which is the linchpin of enhanced efficiency.
With an integrated matter management system, your firm’s administrator won’t need to manually move data between systems, reducing the risk of human error. Tech will help to automate matters from open through close and can automatically assign or complete tasks for you while also keeping information up to date using a workflow system (and freeing up your lawyers for billable activities). It’s also easy to keep clients in the loop with automatic updates. Automation in matter management is your friend.
Lacking a reliable matter management solution can have a ripple effect throughout a matter’s lifecycle — and the profitability and productivity of your timekeepers and the entire firm. That’s why it’s important to start putting the proper systems in place to open matters effectively and track them throughout their lifecycle with customized reporting.
Centerbase matter management puts everything you need to know about every matter at the touch of a button. And what’s better is that you’ll be able to stop worrying about details that you’re forgetting or those sticky notes cluttering your desk with tidbits of information. Not only will a comprehensive matter management system like Centerbase serve both your firm’s and your clients’ needs, but it will also help you get out of the office in time for dinner and help you get a better night’s sleep.
In short, Centerbase can help your law firm reach its full potential with better matter management — with just one simple move to a comprehensive, easy-to-use technology solution. Sign up for a free demo on our legal matter management software and learn more about how Centerbase can help you streamline your firm’s operations.
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Process vs. automation vs. workflow
Benefits of workflow in a law firm
Areas workflow can be used in a law firm
Types of workflows found in legal practice management software
Legal practice management software that includes workflow
How to implement workflow software[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row type="in_container" full_screen_row_position="middle" column_margin="default" scene_position="center" text_color="dark" text_align="left" overlay_strength="0.3" shape_divider_position="bottom" bg_image_animation="none"][vc_column column_padding="no-extra-padding" column_padding_position="all" background_color_opacity="1" background_hover_color_opacity="1" column_link_target="_self" column_shadow="none" column_border_radius="none" width="1/1" tablet_width_inherit="default" tablet_text_alignment="default" phone_text_alignment="default" overlay_strength="0.3" column_border_width="none" column_border_style="solid" bg_image_animation="none"][vc_column_text]What if we told you about a technology that would relieve 50% of the administrative burden from your legal operations professionals... would you be interested in hearing what we had to say?
Of course you would!
That’s why many in the legal tech community have become fascinated by workflow technology. For many attorneys, finding tools to free up more time to bill is essential to growing their practice. Based on a recent report, law offices responded that they spent 40% of their time on administrative or manual tasks.
In this blog, we’ll introduce you to workflow, explain what workflow is, some of its benefits, and the different workflow tools available in legal practice management software to help you streamline your law firm.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row type="in_container" full_screen_row_position="middle" column_margin="default" scene_position="center" text_color="dark" text_align="left" id="whatis" overlay_strength="0.3" shape_divider_position="bottom" bg_image_animation="none" shape_type=""][vc_column column_padding="no-extra-padding" column_padding_position="all" background_color_opacity="1" background_hover_color_opacity="1" column_link_target="_self" column_shadow="none" column_border_radius="none" width="1/1" tablet_width_inherit="default" tablet_text_alignment="default" phone_text_alignment="default" overlay_strength="0.3" column_border_width="none" column_border_style="solid" bg_image_animation="none"][vc_column_text]
If we go back to the basics, workflow itself is defined as the sequence of industrial, administrative, or other processes through which a piece of work passes from initiation to completion.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row type="in_container" full_screen_row_position="middle" column_margin="default" scene_position="center" text_color="dark" text_align="left" id="process" overlay_strength="0.3" shape_divider_position="bottom" bg_image_animation="none" shape_type=""][vc_column column_padding="no-extra-padding" column_padding_position="all" background_color_opacity="1" background_hover_color_opacity="1" column_link_target="_self" column_shadow="none" column_border_radius="none" width="1/1" tablet_width_inherit="default" tablet_text_alignment="default" phone_text_alignment="default" overlay_strength="0.3" column_border_width="none" column_border_style="solid" bg_image_animation="none"][vc_column_text]
Process, automation, and workflow are terms you’ll hear people refer to as synonyms or married together such as “workflow automation” or “process automation”.
Though they sound similar, the three terms refer to different things:
For example, if you’re trying to improve your client intake, here’s how each term would be defined:
A prospective client contacts the website > someone from the firm contacts the prospective client > an initial consultation is scheduled > an attorney meets with the prospective client
A webform populates a database, a personalized email is created and sent from information stored in the database and a document is automatically generated based on information stored in the database.
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For many law firms, workflow can be a game-changer by creating structure and efficiencies within their practice.
Although the list is long, here are some of the most important benefits workflow processes can bring to a law firm:
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Workflow can be used in any area of your practice that requires administrative work but the majority of the legal practice management programs will focus on automating one of three areas:
74% of all legal consumers visit a law firm’s website to first take action. This means if your firm has a high volume of website form submissions you need a process for managing your pipeline.
Today, many firms receive an automated email from their website’s form tool with the prospective client’s information, but that doesn’t get the information into your case management software to begin managing the intake process.
These days, most legal technology offers workflow tools to help you manage your intake.
This includes sending personalized response emails out once someone contacts the firm, scheduling follow-up tasks, merging new client agreement documents, or keeping the status of the potential client updated.
If your firm deals with a high volume of matters, such as an insurance defense or personal injury firm, workflow within matter management software can be used to help you juggle all the balls in the air.
On a matter, you can use workflow to do things such as schedule follow-up tasks if a member of your staff hasn’t touched a matter within a certain number of days, automatically email updates to clients or generate/email medical records requests for you with the click of a button.
Using workflow to manage the pre-bill process and collections can help dramatically improve cash flow.
For pre-bills, workflow can flow the pre-bill through an electronic approval process. If your firm requires the associate then responsible attorney to review a pre-bill before posting it, the workflow can move the bill from one person’s approval list to the next, before finally updating the status once all the approvals are completed. Your billing team can then receive a notification that the bill is ready to post and send out.
Collections are another pain point for a lot of law firms. It requires the staff to constantly manually send out reminders to your clients. With workflow, you can have reminders automatically sent out to your client once a bill is overdue and continue sending the emails until the balance is paid off.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row type="in_container" full_screen_row_position="middle" column_margin="default" scene_position="center" text_color="dark" text_align="left" id="types" overlay_strength="0.3" shape_divider_position="bottom" bg_image_animation="none" shape_type=""][vc_column column_padding="no-extra-padding" column_padding_position="all" background_color_opacity="1" background_hover_color_opacity="1" column_link_target="_self" column_shadow="none" column_border_radius="none" width="1/1" tablet_width_inherit="default" tablet_text_alignment="default" phone_text_alignment="default" overlay_strength="0.3" column_border_width="none" column_border_style="solid" bg_image_animation="none"][vc_column_text]
If you work with a team, there is a good chance that you assign tasks to different staff members at different stages of a case.
Think about when you open a new case. If you don’t have activity workflow, you either:
This can be automated using a calendaring workflow within practice management software.
Some legal practice management programs will let you create prebuilt lists of tasks and then quickly assign them out.
Other programs will automatically assign tasks to different staff members you’ve designed once a matter is open.
Or finally, programs will give you a list of tasks and let you fill in the staff you want to complete the task.
This is helpful to any firm, but especially to firms that have a high volume of cases, new potential clients contacting the firm, or if you have a high staff to attorney ratio on your team.
Similar to tasks, many firms have a set of internal deadlines or meetings they want to schedule once a new case is opened or reaches a certain stage.
For many firms, this requires a paralegal or assistant to manually calculate relative dates based on a certain deadline. It’s time-consuming and error-prone.
Many legal practice management software programs have a feature built in to solve this problem.
The technical term for this feature is chain calendar events. These are all appointments with relative dates based on a trigger date such as “date of trial.”
This isn’t to be confused with a scheduling order designed by the courts but rather, a list of internal deadlines.
Automated workflow expands beyond activities and allows you to flowchart your processes into software automation. This type of workflow will keep your case status up to date and offer your staff different options based on the process you’ve defined for that stage of a case.
Your process for opening a new matter might look like this:
Throughout this process, your system could use workflow to take the burden off your staff by automatically merging the engagement letter, sending out an emailed retainer bill to the client, and even opening the matter file in your system.
With workflow, the software will bring you down the path you set up and automate certain tasks, but your staff will still be required to prompt the software to move to the next stage by marking tasks as complete or clicking on the next step.
Advanced automated workflow is like having a robot assistant.
The difference between automated workflow and advanced automated workflow is in an advanced automated workflow, your staff doesn’t have to click a button to make something happen.
Advanced automated workflow can be triggered by the creation of a record, updates to a record, or queries.
Your possibilities become endless with advanced automated workflow, but it does require the most setup.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row type="in_container" full_screen_row_position="middle" column_margin="default" scene_position="center" text_color="dark" text_align="left" id="practicemanagement" overlay_strength="0.3" shape_divider_position="bottom" bg_image_animation="none" shape_type=""][vc_column column_padding="no-extra-padding" column_padding_position="all" background_color_opacity="1" background_hover_color_opacity="1" column_link_target="_self" column_shadow="none" column_border_radius="none" width="1/1" tablet_width_inherit="default" tablet_text_alignment="default" phone_text_alignment="default" overlay_strength="0.3" column_border_width="none" column_border_style="solid" bg_image_animation="none"][vc_column_text]
ActionStep is a cloud-based, legal practice management and billing and accounting software. Within ActionStep, you’re able to build a matter-centric automated workflow.
Their tool lets you create different workflows based on the type of matter. The individual workflows are broken into linear stages of a case. Once a matter is moved into a certain phase of the case by a staff member, the workflow can perform tasks such as generating appointments/tasks, creating merged documents, or sending emails.
ActionStep also allows you to purchase prebuilt practice packs that have already been set up for you if you want to plug in and go.
Centerbase is a cloud-based, legal accounting, billing, and practice management software. Within Centerbase, you’re able to build advanced automated workflows on any record type.
Each step of a workflow can automatically or manually trigger different events to occur such as creating a record, updating a field, merging a document, sending an email, or creating a calendar appointment/task. Workflows in Centerbase are not linear, they instead let you move throughout the workflow based on your needs.
Clio is a cloud-based, legal practice management and billing software. Within Clio, you’re able to create intake workflows.
Clio’s intake workflow allows you to create forms for clients to fill out. Once the form is submitted, internal tasks can be assigned and personalized emails can be sent to the prospective client.
Rocket Matter is a cloud-based, legal practice management and billing software. Within Rocket Matter, you’re able to create calendaring workflows on matters, based on status updates. These workflows can create tasks assigned to different members of your staff or the workflow can create calendar appointments based on relative dates.
As Zapier put it, they’re “the glue that connects thousands of apps.” Their software is used to connect different applications in your technology stack, based on certain events occurring. If you’re using different siloed programs within your firm, this is a great option to integrate your processes and curb duplicate entry.
For instance, if you enter a new potential client in your practice management software, Zapier can create a task in your task management software for someone to follow up and add that contact to a specific marketing bucket within your email marketing software.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row type="in_container" full_screen_row_position="middle" column_margin="default" scene_position="center" text_color="dark" text_align="left" id="implement" overlay_strength="0.3" shape_divider_position="bottom" bg_image_animation="none" shape_type=""][vc_column column_padding="no-extra-padding" column_padding_position="all" background_color_opacity="1" background_hover_color_opacity="1" column_link_target="_self" column_shadow="none" column_border_radius="none" width="1/1" tablet_width_inherit="default" tablet_text_alignment="default" phone_text_alignment="default" overlay_strength="0.3" column_border_width="none" column_border_style="solid" bg_image_animation="none"][vc_column_text]
As soon as you pick a workflow tool, it's natural to want to get started right away.
However, it may be beneficial to take a slower approach to implement your new process automation tool. If you’re implementing a new practice management software that includes workflow tools, get into the software first before you start designing workflows.
By delaying your workflow implementation, you’re able to better understand how the new software works. Many firms jump right into implementing workflow by designing their workflow process around how their previous software worked, which in turn makes the workflow effective.
Another common recommendation is to build your workflow out in pieces. Start small, use what you’ve built for a few weeks and continue to build from there. It’s common for a flow to sound good during implementation but isn’t practical once you begin using it. If you build your workflow out in pieces, it’s easier to tweak these changes as they come up.
Finally, if you’re new to workflow, work with a legal consultant. There are many in the industry that have spent their careers helping law firms implement workflows and can guide you through designing the right workflow for your firm’s processes.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Benjamin Franklin famously said that “nothing is certain except death and taxes.” If he had been talking about law firms, he would have also added: “and time entry.”
We all know how tedious and frustrating time entry is, but it’s, unfortunately, a necessary evil for nearly all lawyers at firms. Your law firm must bill to be paid.
The key to minimizing the frustration and allowing the lawyers at your firm to cut back on nonbillable time so they can get to higher-value work is to implement legal tracking software that actually works. Your firm administrators and bank account will also thank you for the heightened efficiency and accuracy.
As always, we have you covered on how to start making changes for the better.
Change is hard! Many attorneys, particularly more senior attorneys, are reluctant to modify their time-tracking ways. “Why fix what isn’t broken?” they might ask as they keep handwritten time-entry diaries.
There are a number of reasons why lawyers stick with tried-and-true ways of manual time recording: simplicity, efficiency, and accuracy. We understand that convincing holdouts to stop tracking time offline isn’t an easy task, but we promise you that it’s easier than deciphering your legal professionals’ handwritten scribbles and going through call logs and calendars to manually enter their time at the end of each billing period.
Simplifying the time-tracking process and offering your attorneys a streamlined, integrated time-tracking tool may help to convert even your most adamant holdouts. At a minimum, it will make the process easier and less painful for administrators and staff who assist with time entry in your billing system.
For lawyers, time is always of the essence. But when you have court in the morning, a filing for another client in the afternoon, and a conference call for yet another client in the evening, simultaneously tracking, keeping, and entering time understandably slips.
The real issue is the culmination of those slips and delays that results, usually, in the attorney and their admin playing detective at the end of the week (or worse, month) and trying to piece together the story of their billable time from fragments in your legal billing software. This method almost always results in underbilling and loss of productivity (not to mention stress, frustration, and other headaches too).
Other offenses include simply not tracking time accurately or efficiently, which is a problem that tends to plague junior attorneys. They might lose track of the time spent on phone calls, forget to start their timer, forget to bill for time emailing or texting with clients, or underbill for a meeting that went long. These attorneys are trying their best but need a little help on the back end with better tech.
Luckily, all of these mistakes are easily remedied with time-tracking software and integrations.
We’re so glad that you asked! Legal technology can transform the way the lawyers at your firm track their time, and a comprehensive, integrated legal tracking system is the best way to do so.
With so much on their plates, it can be difficult for lawyers to remember every time they perform billable work. In the middle of deadlines, they may lose track of the time they spent on research, emails, text messages, or phone calls. Travel time may slip through the cracks. An organized system helps prevent this chaos from occurring.
Additionally, productivity tools take the tedium out of billing, so lawyers feel more engaged. When your professionals feel better about their work, they do better work — which, in turn, affects your profitability and client satisfaction.
Not only can these tools help lawyers capture more of their billable time, but they can also help lawyers understand where they’re spending most of the time. If that time happens to be nonbillable, they may need to rethink their workflow or approach to matters.
Consider the following tools and features courtesy of tech:
With the right tech, your legal practice will be off to greener pastures, both literally and figuratively. We know the process of getting the lawyers at your firm to bill in a timely and accurate manner can be a struggle.
By getting the right legal practice management software in place, you’ll minimize friction in workflows, help lawyers enter time more regularly, and save the administrative staff at your firm time and headaches. Plus you’ll increase your firm’s profitability. It’s a win-win-win-win.
Legal technology is great, but it can feel overwhelming for lawyers who aren’t sure how to maximize the benefit of the features of the software — especially those who are more comfortable storing their information in Excel spreadsheets or in Microsoft Outlook.
If you’re new to legal practice management software, you may have noticed that you can manage almost everything under the sun. With features to oversee everything from employee productivity to client satisfaction, you can also manage individual cases and matters as they relate to certain employees or the law office as a whole.
With all the ways to collect metrics and analyze case information, you may be left wondering what’s the difference between them all? One of the most common questions is the difference between case management and matter management solutions and the benefits your law firm can derive from them.
Matter management and case management are not the same thing, but they’re related. Many people are confused by these two terms because they’re used interchangeably. After all, sometimes lawyers refer to cases as matters and vice versa.
It’s easiest to think of these two concepts as an umbrella. A law practice’s business is made up of individual clients who have cases that form the bulk of the work. Lawyers and staff manage these clients and cases on a micro level, keeping track of the discovery, communications, and billables per case and client. But the cases exist under the security of the larger umbrella.
Matter management is the larger umbrella. It governs the practices and processes that makeup case management and the business of the law firm relating to a particular case or client (or set of cases and clients). It is more complex and higher-level than case management because it involves more moving parts.
Matter management is overseeing the business processes of the law firm for individual cases. It involves managing both external and internal processes. Law firms can also use matter management to manage complex litigation with multiple clients and related cases progressing simultaneously.
For law firms with multiple practice areas, matter management may include analyzing the productivity of multiple lawyers working in particular practice areas or the billable hours spent on certain types of cases. It can also involve tracking budgetary and financial metrics by practice area or by cases with a similar feature. Matter management gives partners the opportunity to review spending and productivity-related to a matter as a whole and the impact that it has on law firm resources.
Legal matter management isn’t just about tracking internal processes but also managing external processes as well. It often involves overseeing any external providers working on a case, like expert witnesses or local counsel. This can mean assigning internal and external lawyers and administrative staff to cases and specific tasks and examining the overall operational efficiency of the case management process.
When a matter management system is used to manage complex litigation, multiple attorneys can upload their legal documents, work products, and data into the cloud-based system so that they can review and download documents from anywhere. Plus, the system serves a useful project management function because each contributor can see the work that their colleagues have completed in real-time through task lists and collaborative features, like a comprehensive calendaring system.
Case management is managing everything that relates to the lifecycle of a particular legal case or client. It is internally focused and is more about the processes of managing a case than the implications that the case has for the larger business of the law firm.
Think of a case management system as a single source of truth for a digital case file. Legal case management software usually includes managing appointments and court dates for a particular case, storing and organizing documents and discovery, managing client and witness communications in a client portal, time tracking, and billing and invoices for a particular case or client.
Case management is a great way for lawyers to manage cases that involve other attorneys, administrators, and clients but that don’t quite rise to the level of complex litigation. Unlike matter management, case management collaboration is more limited to the case at hand rather than a larger matter. It is less of a tool for law firm management because it isn't designed to provide the same high-level insights into workflows related to case management.
Legal operations professionals can leverage practice management software to streamline almost every business process, like billing and payments, metrics reporting, and client intake. Certain key features can also be used to organize workflows related to matter management and case management in several ways.
Increased automation is the number one way that legal technology streamlines legal processes, including those related to matter and case management.
The benefit of automation is that you don’t need to recreate the wheel every time you do something. Instead, you can rely on legal technology to do the legwork for you. You also don’t need to hire a dedicated employee to perform tasks that can be automated and can rely on the legal operations team to oversee the use of the technology.
Automation is handy for case and matter management. Instead of having an administrator draft, print, and send out a bill, the software can automatically create an invoice for a case or a matter. Then the technology automatically sends it to the lawyer for editing and then to the client for payment. This process reduces the time that administrative staff spends collecting payments and following up on delinquent accounts.
Legal matter management software and case management solutions are also highly intelligent. They can automate the timekeeping process by detecting billable hours from appointments on a calendar and correspondence sent to a client through the system. This eliminates the time that a lawyer needs to spend tracking billables and inputting data.
For matter management specifically, the software can automatically pull data and generate helpful reports that allow law firm management to keep an eye on the firm’s profitability and overall health. This means that stakeholders and timekeepers can spend less time digging around for the right data and metrics and more time being productive.
Legal technology can also help legal professionals standardize administrative tasks, like invoicing, calendaring, and organizing discovery. Standardizing routine tasks gives your legal team members more time to direct their efforts elsewhere and minimizes human errors made in manual tasks.
While lawyers still need to understand, research, and apply the law, they can lighten their workloads from administrative tasks that are time-consuming when they are standardized by technology.
For example, instead of conducting an in-person client intake, case management software can automate the client intake process and send out standard templates without needing a lawyer or paralegal to set up an appointment. This cuts down on the need to have an intake appointment for every new client, which saves time. It also reduces the need for administrators to print out intake documents, schedule intake appointments, and correspond with the client.
Legal technology has revolutionized the processes related to document management, especially for case and matter management.
With legal software, lawyers can upload and organize discovery and documents as part of a case or matter management system. This feature streamlines the discovery process by giving users (including clients) 24/7 access to the documents and incorporates useful features like the ability to search for frequently accessed documents. That means no more sifting through a cluttered desktop or irrelevant discovery when you’re only looking for one particular document. It also helps facilitate a remote work system where employees need to access documents from home.
Case and matter management software also make it easier for teams to collaborate on documents. Lawyers and administrators can review changes and past versions of work products and opt into notifications when documents are accessed by certain parties. This makes follow-up more immediate and keeps the discovery process moving. It also gives clients the ability to upload emails directly into the case management or matter management system, so that they can be easily produced in the future.
Intuitive document management can increase the overall productivity of the law firm by cutting down on time spent managing documents.
Case management and matter management undeniably play a role in financial management since the revenue stream starts and ends with cases. Legal technology makes it easy for legal operations professionals to streamline financial management practices and implement a comprehensive financial management system.
With the right technology, lawyers can easily track their billables and nonbillables on certain cases and invoicing for a case. Management can then track billables and nonbillable hours on a larger scale as part of their matter management and employee productivity analysis. This provides insights into larger financial trends that may affect the law firm as a whole.
Technology does more than just track hours and generate invoices. It also generates financial reports and can inform management about how a particular case or set of cases is affecting the law firm’s bottom line. It helps management track financial trends, allocate resources, and get a picture of the firm’s overall financial state. This makes it easier for the firm to stay on top of key performance indicators and achieve long-term financial goals.
If you’re looking for new ways to simplify your workload and manage all of your cases, you need a better system than Excel spreadsheets and a desk full of clutter. If you’re ready to look for a technological solution, look for a matter management and case management system that helps you keep every important detail in one place.
Check out a free demo so you can see for yourself how Centerbase is the one system to rule all of your case and matter details.
Describing a criminal defense legal practice as busy is a serious understatement. On a daily basis, these firms handle countless criminal matters, many with some pretty high stakes. When dealing with something as serious as a person’s freedom, criminal law firms need systems in place that help them provide stellar legal representation. That includes maintaining client files in an organized manner, staying ahead of critical deadlines, and invoicing with the highest level of efficiency.
This blog will take a dive into the features criminal defense practices need and why they're important.
It is not uncommon for a busy criminal defense practice to simultaneously handle hundreds of criminal matters, all in varying stages of completion. This equates to a calendar full of preliminary hearings, discovery due dates, court appearances, and filing deadlines. Keeping up with a calendar this full can be virtually impossible without the right tools in place. Further complicating matters, even a single missed deadline can have detrimental consequences for the client, as well as the law firm.
Legal practice management software can ease the burden of managing multiple criminal law attorney calendars through the integration of intuitive calendaring tools. Individual attorneys can easily keep track of their own deadlines and appearances, while the criminal law firm administrator can keep an eye on the entire team’s upcoming schedule. Here are some calendaring features that particularly benefit criminal law practices:
The urgency of a criminal law matter often requires a speedy commencement of representation. New clients typically come in feeling as though they have the weight of the world on their shoulders, and they expect immediate assistance. They may need a speedy bail motion filed or they may already have a court appearance scheduled for the following day.
These constant and urgent demands mean that criminal defense law firms need the ability to onboard new clients quickly without the delays that can come from inefficient processes. When it comes to criminal matters, clients don’t have a moment to lose and neither do their attorneys.
With legal practice management software that streamlines the intake process, law firms can quickly get clients onboarded so that the important work of representation can begin. For instance, automated conflict checks can be extremely useful within a busy criminal defense practice. This tool help firms efficiently scan all of their matters for potential conflicts of interest so attorneys quickly know whether they are able to take on a case.
Website intake integration is another useful tool for expediting the intake process. With this resource, firms can collect necessary client data directly from an intake form that was completed through the website. This saves firm members the time of recollecting information that the client has already provided.
Once the intake process is complete, representation can begin. Criminal attorneys can get their clients up to speed on the game plan by providing them with access to everything they need to know. By using a legal practice management system that includes client portal features, firms can quickly make new clients aware of upcoming court dates, discovery needs, and billing details.
As previously stated, criminal clients are often in the midst of extremely stressful situations and they need the assurance of knowing that their attorneys are diligently working on their behalf. The best way to accomplish that goal is through consistent client communications. Criminal defense law firms need tools that help them achieve a client-centered experience.
Client portals are useful tools for providing clients with the information they need. Firm members can quickly upload regular information and clients can independently access their account any time of day or night. This not only promotes client communications, but it also maximizes efficiency. Instead of calling into the firm with their questions, clients can simply log in to get most of the information they commonly need.
Other practice management software features that help with client communications include mobile texting tools and conversation tracking resources that track communications directly into a matter for easy reference when needed. With an automated time capture feature, criminal defense law firms can also easily track time spent on communications to promote accurate billing.
When handling complex criminal matters, law firms often distribute individual tasks among several members of the firm. This type of divide and conquer strategy needs legal practice management software that lends itself to team collaborations with such innovative tools as:
A criminal defense attorney who shows up to court with a disorganized and messy case file is an attorney who loses the confidence of their client. Disheveled case files make it difficult to locate necessary information, especially under the pressure of a crowded courtroom. This is why it is imperative that criminal defense law firms maintain their files in an organized manner and document management tools help get that done.
Document management systems save criminal defense law firms countless hours by streamlining the competitive tasks of document creation and filing, along with searching for relevant information. They also allow firms to share documents with clients and collect documents from clients through a secure platform. Firms that already utilize a document management system like NetDocuments can benefit from a law practice management system that offers complete NetDocuments integration.
Preparing the best criminal defense for clients requires appropriate management and organization of matter files. Document management features help criminal defense law firms digitize volumes upon volumes of documentation for improved workflow, organization, and legal industry compliance.
Law practice management software gives criminal defense firms the tools they need to navigate a case from intake to payment using a centralized hub. Comprehensive case management, combined with integrated billing and accounting tools, keeps law firms on top of their numerous responsibilities. By automating many of the repetitive tasks that come with running a criminal defense practice, law firms can maximize productivity and remove the roadblocks that can hinder them from delivering on their promises of top-notch representation.
Any human resource (HR), firm administrator, or back-office professional working within a law firm environment can affirm that firm culture creates its own set of distinct challenges. Regulatory guidelines and industry standards require considerations not often seen within other business industries. While most big law firms maintain an HR department to address these complexities, HR issues often wind up on a law firm administrator’s long list of duties.
This blog will take a look at eight unique HR challenges commonly experienced by law firm administrators.
Law firms constantly compete with one another to attract new talent. With such a high level of competition, firms need financial incentives, like aggressive compensation packages and new hire bonuses, to stand out from the crowd. While administrators typically don’t make compensation decisions, they do have significant influence to craft a workplace culture that attracts new talent. Legal professionals want to work in an environment where they feel heard and appreciated. By implementing policies that address this desire, law firm administrators can help their firms attract quality new hires.
In recent years, younger law school graduates have also voiced a preference to work with firms that have taken public stances on social issues and actively support initiatives that they find important. These candidates want to feel good about where they choose to work, and some of them are even willing to forgo larger salaries to meet this philosophical need.
Recognizing this growing trend, administrators can take steps to highlight their firm’s philanthropic efforts during the recruitment stage. Whether it's pro bono representation or direct financial contributions, charitable information should be highlighted when recruiting.
Over the past year, the lack of diversity within law offices has garnered a lot of attention, with increasing criticism about the industry’s lack of racial, ethnic, and gender inclusion. Traditional recruitment efforts to find and secure new associates often create applicant pools that are far from diverse, so this is where firm administrators should start when seeking to address the issue.
For instance, administrators can suggest that firms expand their recruitment efforts to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and job fairs that focus on promoting diversity. By casting a wider net, firms can better position themselves for the consideration of a more diverse candidate pool.
Administrators can also take steps to revamp their firm’s recruiting processes and minimize bias. Tools like blind recruiting and diverse hiring committees promote diversity and help law firms meet their goals.
In addition to finding the best diverse talent, law firms also need strategies to keep them. Sustained law firm diversity requires an environment where all attorneys feel welcomed and valued. Firm administrators can promote this culture with policies such as:
Getting talent into the firm only represents half of the challenge. Competition among law firms not only exists at the first-year associate level, but also drives lateral hires. Traditionally, law firms have been seen as long-term commitments, with associates working for years to reach the partner track. But increasing numbers of law firm attorneys are choosing lateral movement to a different law firm over tradition.
For law firm administrators, this means crafting strategies to keep firm attorneys happy and satisfied in their current positions. Here are some suggestions:
Legal tech innovations are constantly improving law office management and the practice of law. From legal practice management and document production to legal research and court document filing, advancements in technology have swept through the legal industry.
Unfortunately, many law firm administrators find it difficult to implement these new technologies due to resistance from firm members. Some senior attorneys may not want to change their current methods of getting tasks done. They may fail to recognize any value in implementing new technologies.
Addressing this resistance can be done through HR policies that require a certain number of tech training hours each month. Administrators can also consider peer training programs between more advanced and less advanced firm members. Law firms have a duty to stay abreast of standard legal industry technologies and firm administrators must stress this duty as an HR responsibility.
The practice of law is notoriously stressful. On a daily basis, attorneys work under tight deadlines to produce results that are free from error, beneficial to their clients and sometimes even life-changing. While attorneys stress about their outcomes, staff members stress over hovering attorneys and their long list of tasks.
Together, all of this creates an extremely stressful environment, where late hours and poor work-life balance become the norm. This leads to depression and anxiety, which are widespread problems among attorneys. Mental health issues cost law firms substantial amounts of money, so it is in the firm’s interest to address these concerns.
While administrators cannot do much about court timelines and demanding clients, they can implement policies that seek to address the amount of stress experienced by law firm members. Administrators should consider policies such as:
Praising attorneys for working early and staying late only exacerbates an already stressful situation. An unhealthy work environment can diminish productivity and leave attorneys feeling burnt out.
Attorneys have a requirement to earn a certain number of continuing legal education credits each year. In most business environments, HR takes on the responsibility of tracking employee education efforts. However, within a law firm, CLE also comes along with reporting requirements. Particularly within a large firm, this can quickly become an all-consuming task. For this reason, many firms choose to have a dedicated staff member to track and report CLE efforts. This individual may fall under the supervision of HR or the firm administrator.
In addition to CLE requirements, continuous education may also include such things as professional development training for improved client contact, marketing techniques for improved rainmaking, and courtroom demeanor presentation skills. Law firm administrators may also implement training for legal support staff in the form of court filing rule updates and technology training.
The reporting structure of a law firm can be extremely convoluted and tricky to maneuver. The lines of supervision often overlap, creating an environment ripe for potential conflicts. For example, attorneys supervise the work of their support staff. However, those staff members report to HR for personnel needs. With this dynamic in place, a simple vacation request can become a big problem. While HR may approve the request, the supervising attorney may reject it due to a pressing case deadline.
Another unique characteristic of law firm hierarchy is the status system that commonly exists. Founding partners, shareholders, and top rainmakers often make up the leadership level of the firm. Non-equity partners fall a little below them, followed by attorneys, then legal support staff, and administrative support staff – in that respective order.
Under circumstances like these, it can be hard to identify where the HR department fits in and what power they have to effectively carry out their duties free from interruption. This creates a situation where law firm administrators routinely walk a fine line between HR and firm management.
Outsourcing has become a common practice within the legal community as law firms look for ways to offer a high quality of service while cutting costs. For instance, when a big case walks through the door, law firm leaders and administrators may find it more efficient to bring on contract attorneys and paralegals rather than pulling their existing staff from other client matters.
While outsourcing can promote profitability for the firm, it can present some challenges on the HR side. Firm administrators must ensure that contract workers remain in compliance with confidentiality and qualification. Even as temporary staff, these legal professionals must meet all professional requirements.
Law firm HR duties often spill over into management and administration. As such, law firm administrators need to consider HR challenges and be prepared to address them as needed.
As law firms prepare to turn the corner and head back to normalcy, flexibility is playing a major role in the execution of their plans. Return-to-office announcements from the nation’s largest law firms range from a 100% workforce return to continued remote working arrangements, but they all include a higher level of flexibility than traditionally seen within the legal community.
Over the last decade, remote working arrangements became quite commonplace within corporate America. A growing number of companies began offering their workers the opportunity to work from home, recognizing the financial savings and employee satisfaction that resulted from these arrangements. Even federal and state government agencies made significant strides towards remote work in recent years. Yet, even as these changes took hold, many members of the legal community routinely resisted the widespread move to remote work preferring a more traditional view of the legal practice.
While recent changes are partially driven by the pandemic, they also stem from evolving attitudes about what law firm offices should look like. An increasing number of law firm leaders and administrators have recognized the value in accommodating at least some level of flexibility within the workplace. They found that productivity actually increased instead of the decline that they anticipated. For years, law firm leaders centered their objections to remote work on declined productivity assumptions, but for some, seeing it in practice debunked that theory.
In addition, a growing number of law firm employees feel more comfortable voicing their preferences for flexible working conditions. With negative views that clouded remote working arrangements, many firm members felt it best not to make these requests, even though they wanted these options. Now that real-world experiences have changed leadership attitudes, attorneys and support staff feel empowered to request and advocate for greater flexibility.
Lastly, many law firms have enjoyed the overhead savings that resulted from reduced in-office use. Leaders are increasingly questioning whether, and to what extent, physical office space will be necessary for their firms to sustain going forward.
In a recently published email sent to employees by one of the Am Law 100 ranking law firms, a co-managing partner stated, “A key takeaway from the survey we conducted last year is that you want flexibility in where you work. We are working on the parameters and protocols for our return, including developing a flexible work policy that will address the expected number of days in the office per week and many other details. We are planning for our attorneys to be able to work some days in the office and some days remotely on average each week. Where roles and responsibilities permit for our staff, we are also developing flexibility arrangements.”
This sentiment echoes across the legal industry, indicating a major shift from traditional law firm standards. The following are direct quotes from return-to-office policies being put forth by some of the largest law firms in the country:
From the minimization of in-person interaction to the continuation of 100% remote work, these variations exemplify the different perspectives and interests of law firm leaders. The traditional law office environment will continue to look very different over the coming months.
Law firm administrators will most certainly bear the lion’s share of responsibility as firms implement these flexible work arrangements. To do this in an effective manner, they need technologies that support firm members, promote consistency in the face of transformation, and ensure the uninterrupted continuance of client services.
Practice management software offers law firms the resources and capabilities they need to continue operating at a high level in spite of various phases of office returns. As many firms moved to remote work arrangements in 2020, cloud computing and storage were integral tools for the continuation of business through these transitions. These same technologies will also drive firms into their new normal in the months and years to come.
Here are some ways that legal practice management will help law firm administrators meet the needs of a flexible work environment:
Many of these cloud-based technologies include document storage, which minimizes the need to transport physical files back and forth between work locations. It also makes remote collaboration seamless, which is especially useful with firm members working staggered in-office schedules.
With custom, real-time dashboards, firm administrators and members can quickly view a variety of case details. From matter ledgers with complete billing histories to matter budgets with customizable budget alerts, these tools help law firms stay on top of client matter details even in the midst of transitioning back to the office.
With court rule and deadline management tools, firm members no longer have to rely on the manual calculation of court rules and deadlines. Court date calendaring systems calculate litigation, transaction, or administrative deadlines and automatically add them to the firm calendar. This promotes greater organization, planning, and accountability throughout the entire firm.
As law firms announce their respective return-to-office strategies, flexibility appears to be a common theme. To best handle these transitions, law firm administrators and members need a comprehensive practice management system that promotes consistency while minimizing potential roadblocks.
We’ve all heard it before – “fail to plan, and you plan to fail.” And we have all heard it because it is true. Without a plan for where you are headed, you will never arrive at the desired destination.
It is important to make time to plan. With the many demands of your practice, it can be very difficult to tear yourself away from your firm to work on your business in addition to working in your business. It is important to recognize that despite the fact that those hours spent on working the business are not billable, they will pay big dividends in the long run. Firm leadership should set aside at least one day per year to work on your business plan and define how you plan to get there. These meetings should be held off-site, away from the demands and distractions of the office.
Goals should be broken down into timelines: you should identify ten-year, five-year, three-year, and one-year goals. Goals should be quantifiable and SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based. Examples of goals can be team size, gross revenue, profit, number of new clients, addition of new practice areas, etc.
Start at your end goals – those that are farthest out. By working backward from your ten-year point, you can break your goals down into chunks so that you can identify how you will get there. Breaking those larger goals down in this way makes them seem more attainable and will keep you from just giving up.
Your one-year goals are considered short-term goals. Reaching these goals should help you to attain your three-year goals. For example, if you want to increase your attorney size from 5 attorneys to 10 attorneys within three years, you know you need to add 1-2 attorneys per year over the next three years in order to get there. This feels manageable, and by working toward that goal gradually over three years, it won’t feel unachievable. Your three-year goals should lead you to your five-year goals, etc. By setting shorter-term goals as mile markers along the way, you will have a road map to guide you to your final destination.
To go one step further, one-year goals should be broken down into 90-day chunks. Otherwise, you will find yourself at the end of a year wondering how the time passed so quickly and nothing accomplished as you had hoped. By setting 90-day timelines for specific tasks to be completed that lead to your one-year goals, you will stay on task. Your leadership team should meet at least quarterly to review the progress of these goals. Without this accountability measure, the goals will likely fall prey to the other demands your team has to meet.
Leadership may want to consider involving multiple levels of team members in your process as you work on your plan. While they do not have the final say in your decisions, by providing them the opportunity to have input, you will increase the chances of buy-in and success. Different teams in your firm may have different goals created for them that lead to the bigger picture goals, and it will be important that they meet regularly to review progress just as your leadership team will.
You will also want to identify your firm’s particular strengths and potential obstacles and how you plan to overcome them. This is referred to as a SWOT analysis – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. By bringing these areas to light and focusing on playing to your strengths and addressing how you will overcome your weaknesses, you will be better for it.
Business planning does not come naturally to all attorneys. If this planning and follow-up feels foreign to you and you are not confident you have the bandwidth to navigate the process among all your other responsibilities, there are many consultants available who specialize in law firms. These specialists are familiar with your challenges and can help guide you through the maze and help you stay on task. By taking the time to plan for your future in a very intentional way, you will be surprised to find that what once felt like unattainable pipe dreams can truly be a reality.
There is a common aphorism that often gets applied to life that goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. And it’s true in many cases. In good times, many businesses can see great returns, and the economy and emotional spirit of both large and small groups or populations of people can be elevated. But these past few years have been different. We are coming out of a really trying time, but something we have heard reiterated time and time again is that through challenging times, a firm's branding and marketing efforts become critical.
More importantly, when the going gets tough, the need to heavily rely on data to gain insights and direction becomes even more important as well. To be able to gauge trends and monitor consumer patterns is how firms will thrive through the chaos. For example, law firms that were marketing in 2020 saw a big drop in revenue in Q2, similar to firms who did not market, but, their leads and overall numbers were higher than they were in 2019 prior to the pandemic. And then into Q3 and Q4, they remained ahead of their previous years' numbers. The idea here is that although there were fewer people searching for legal services during the height of the pandemic, the jobs won went to firms that were consistently marketing.
The way people are finding law firms, especially via their websites, is significantly more fragmented than it has been. This fragmentation is primarily the result of the omnichannel environment we live in today. On any given day, you have people surfing Facebook, Google, local newspaper listings, online newsletters, podcasts, radio, the list goes on and on. The bottom line here is your potential clients are finding your firm in a lot of different ways.
Traffic from social media almost doubled in that second quarter during the pinnacle of quarantine, and surprisingly enough, it stayed almost 4% higher throughout the rest of the year than it did in 2019. We are seeing more traffic come from people on social media than ever before. And not only are these people spending more time on social media, but they are also actually taking the next step and going to law firm websites. The strategy here indicates that you need to be in more places online and the easiest way to achieve this is by producing content. Some of you may have read that and felt a wave of panic but don’t worry! When you begin thinking about this content, think about the content your firm would be best at producing; the areas of expertise your attorneys, firm administrators, paralegals and the like possess and capitalize on that! And utilize your ability to repurpose that same content in other areas as well. For example, if you have a blog, consider using that material and making it a video.
Another thing to think about in terms of your content is highlighting and marketing all the technological advancements you have at your firm. If you utilize practice management software, publicize your ability to take online payments, publicize your client portal, automation capabilities, easy intake process, etc. All of those things are advancements that potential clients will look at and cross-compare against other firms, so use it to your advantage! Being able to highlight your customer experience improvements will only serve to benefit you.
Search engine optimization is not going anywhere, in fact, it is driving more and more traffic to law firms. If you think about all the effort you put into gaining referral partners, whether it’s getting on the phone with potential businesses, sending thank you gifts, those couple rounds of golf, all the things you do to establish those relationships. Now think about how much time you're putting in the largest referral partner you have, which is Google? The benefit of Google is that most users are searching for something already. They are looking for an answer or help so not only will they be more reliable, but they will be more willing to work with you to get their problem solved.
Let’s walk through a hypothetical example. Take an estate planning firm, typically, they do a lot of in-person events to drive potential new clients and they really emphasize the need and highly encourage clients to come in for consultations. Well, in almost the blink of an eye, the world shifted to operating online. And now, the first consultation is a Zoom meeting, and those in-person events have transformed or disappeared entirely. So what happens now? In this case, the firm would need to change their website to support online intake and then direct the potential new client to a calendar scheduling tool to seamlessly book the meeting. With this shift, you can now market the efficiencies of this new online process and emphasize the benefits of putting time back in your client's day by reducing commutes and streamlining the intake process.
Ultimately, all the things you are doing to help your law firm be more efficient and effective are also the way your clients want to work. So remind them of the pain of doing things the “old” way and market your services as ones that meet their new needs.
Now that we have gone through some marketing strategies, let’s think about the ways that you can connect and hopefully get those new clients to contact and hire you. The next challenge that many firms face is how to manage the intake process. How do you manage the volume of calls and digital messages coming in? The issue that arises here is that there is a finite number of hours in the day, but clients don’t care about that, they want a response as soon as possible. And the sad reality is, people are impatient, if they don’t hear back on their time frame, they will find another firm who will.
The pandemic has obviously caused a lot of disruptions. But what has that meant for attorneys and firms? What solutions have been implemented to improve the client intake experience and ensure that responses are efficient and uniform?
Overall, the best way to maintain an elevated client experience is to be system-dependent and not owner or operator-dependent. Think about the lack of availability you may have on a day-to-day basis, between your personal and professional life, handling operations, HR, administrative tasks, everything that you have on your to-do list leaves very little time to handle those inbound inquiries that come to you. You still want to be responsive to both your existing and current clients, but also to your potential new clients and referrals. It is really critical that you set up systems that can be responsive for you, and bring in the technology and the talent that is on your front line. What we saw last year was a lot of people quickly added new technologies that acted like a bandaid or patch. And now what we’re seeing today is as people begin to recover, they notice the holes that they patched and they want to make it look better. They want to make it look great because after all, it is the reputation of their firm that is at stake.
Making it easy for PNCs to select an available time for a consult without disrupting your day-to-day is the easiest first step to enhance your client experience with minimal effort. Not only will this calendaring automation speed up that first initial contact with the client, but it frees up your staff and it is easy to manage with minimal training in the case that you do need your receptionist or team to step in and intervene. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that everyone faced disruption this past year. So while you’re working hard throughout the day, your clients are too. Sometimes, it isn’t until 10 PM at night when a PNC will come home and have the brain space to think about those divorce papers, mergers, settlements, etc. So giving people the silent comfort of choosing availability on their time is priceless. And we are not saying that you have to answer your cell phone and email at all times of the day, but you do have to be responsive.
The next piece of this intake process revolves around legal workflow automation. The reason why legal workflow automation exists is that law firms needed to find a way to reduce the administrative tasks their attorneys take on and give them more time to focus on creating billable hours. Let's walk through some examples... when a PNC gets created, you can use a workflow to automatically alert your team that work needs to be done. You can automatically schedule a conflict check, confirm that the PNC's data is entered correctly, and verify that your attorneys can take on the workload. Not only is this eliminating inefficiencies, but it is increasing team communication, and enhancing your client services. You can also eliminate the monotonous task of creating letters of engagement or other documents with document merge. This allows you to automatically generate a document based on fields within Centerbase instead of manually typing each document and filling in the respective detail. You can create the initial template and set which information fields you want to be pulled to populate the document.
Legal workflow automation is meant to help create efficiencies and reduce human error. If you're not adopting these technologies or working with software that enables your firm, you're doing yourself and your clients a disservice. If you’re curious to learn more about this, check out this video.
The ways we are consuming and interacting with each other as consumers and businesses have changed a lot in response to the disruption of the pandemic.
A lot of what has changed in the last two years has been expectations. Today, clients are fully expecting that you guide and steer the process. So you must ask yourself, how do you make sure that you’re delivering on what the client needs? How are you producing content and answers on all the channels that you operate and are publicly available online? Every platform your brand is listed on needs to uphold the same level of responsiveness. And it’s not just about the speed, it’s about the quality of content. One of the main reasons clients won’t move forward with a firm is because they don’t get the answers they’re expecting. Easily combat this by proactively anticipating the commonly asked questions. Time is thin right now, and if you think about the importance of lead screening and qualification, not everyone is going to be a good fit for your firm. So it is one thing to get out in front and be responsive but you also don’t want to be taking consultations with just anyone on the internet who finds your firm and books your time.
So after all of this, what are some of the most successful law firms doing when it comes to their intake process? Well, two things come to mind… the first is when you’re system dependent, you have to be constantly checking and monitoring those systems. That is simply a good habit that is just a matter of professional responsibility. It may not say it very specifically in the bar rules, but triple-check that when someone calls your firm the phone is answered and to your liking. Make sure that when someone sends an email and you have generated automated responses that the email is being triggered how you want it to, that it is being received, and that it also reflects the brand and voice of your firm. There are a lot of systems that are only being set up once and then forgotten and never checked again. Because of this, a lot of business is lost because no one has been assigned to that voice mailbox or that email account. If you don’t check them, that is a blindspot that is aiding a loss on investment for all your marketing efforts and all the other energy you’re putting into promoting and advertising your firm.
The second thing that successful firms are doing is following up with those individuals who reach out. This step can often distinguish the haves and have nots. What happens is the more you follow up (to a certain limit), the higher the payoff. Six points of contact are about the threshold here. Statistically, if you’re following up only once, we know that about 50% or slightly less of your inbound calls are being answered. There is so much distraction and noise these days that if you’re not following up multiple times, your message won’t be heard. It’s as simple as that. Depending on the practice area that you operate in, that will also really set the cadence. So when you ask, “How often should I follow up?” You have to take note of who your clientele is. If you are in personal injury, high-end estate, or intellectual property, you should be following up a lot sooner. Don’t give up and throw in the towel until the person has told you they have made the decision one way or another. That type of chase is incredibly beneficial to the bottom line.