Smaller law firms don’t have the luxury of robust support staff to manage the administrative details of the practice. Nonetheless, they face the same tasks and pressures as much larger firms. As a result, managing the firm can feel chaotic or overwhelming. Moving to a legal practice management software can make all the difference.
In a 2022 Thomson Reuters report on the State of Small Firms, nearly 80% of small firms — firms with fewer than 30 attorneys — reported spending too much time on administrative tasks rather than billable work. Time spent practicing law dipped to 56% of each day.
Time management and efficiency were bigger overall concerns than getting paid.
Despite recognizing the problem, only 17% of small firms had taken steps to address being overburdened by administrative tasks, and more than 50% stated they had not even begun to consider solutions.
So how does the small firm overcome these productivity hurdles without breaking the bank? Modernizing the firm by embracing integrated legal practice management solutions allows a small firm to focus its energy on its cases and clients, streamline its workflows and improve productivity and profitability. Although legal software involves some initial setup costs and ongoing maintenance fees, the long-term ROI is invaluable.
How Do Legal Practice Management Tools Improve Small Firm Productivity?
Legal practice management tools offer a number of features that help an attorney shift their daily time toward billable work.
Improved Calendar Management
For many firms, both large and small, Microsoft Outlook® remains the standard for daily calendaring. Unfortunately, Outlook is not designed with the specialized needs of an attorney in mind.
Modern legal practice management solutions include rules-based calendaring that automates date entry and scheduling, rather than having to go review the local rules every time you start a case in a new jurisdiction. Moreover, if one date changes, you can elect to have the software update all subsequent dates accordingly.
Outlook’s group scheduling and group calendaring features are also cumbersome. Law firm-specific case management software with calendar tools allow attorneys to more efficiently control their schedules, whether court dates, internal team meetings, or client meetings. Attorneys are also better able to see schedules and events on a matter-by-matter basis, rather than having to sift through an aggregated calendar to identify specific events.
Improved Document Creation
Document creation is cumbersome and one of the most significant opportunities for small firm attorneys to regain billable time in their day. Document automation tools facilitate the creation of a wide variety of document templates tailored to your practice. Using smart templates provides for better standardization across the practice, greater efficiency of document creation and greater ease in updating documents to reflect changes in laws or regulations.
But before you even get to the actual step of creating a document, legal practice management software helps optimize the research underlying your document. How often have you or one of your colleagues or staff had to search through filing cabinets to find the information you need for a document? Digitization and cloud file storage allow you to search for information far more efficiently, reducing the time it takes you to get to document creation. Cloud storage is also likely more secure than filing procedures at most small firms.
Improved Client Collaboration
Consider your typical workflow. Do you separate systems for document storage (filing cabinets), client communication (email), document creation, time tracking and billing? Without integration, you and your staff are likely wasting time on duplicative data entry and inefficient searches that you could better spend on billable hours.
Small firms still tend to rely on email-based client collaboration, but email collaboration is inefficient and risky. Anyone who has spent any time involved in email chains is familiar with the issue of having multiple threads with multiple branches all on the same issue. It can be time-consuming and frustrating digging through the chains to find the one nugget you need. Worse yet, multiple chains exchanging document edits from a variety of participants make it exceedingly difficult to aggregate changes into a consolidated document.
Client portals are an effective way to streamline client communication and collaboration. With client portals, it is simple for both the attorney and the client to see consolidated information matter-by-matter, including documents and invoices.
Client portals don’t simply improve your practice by improving productivity. They also enhance your relationship with your client by wasting less of the client’s time and providing a better overall client experience.
Improved Recovery of Time
Many legal practice management solutions include tools to help you better recover billable time. Billing timers, automatic collection of time spent on various tasks, time entry templating – these are just a few of the solutions that ensure you’re able to bill as much time as possible without wasting effort on the tedious process of entering time.
Improved Understanding of Opportunities for Your Practice
Because you are collecting information on all of your law firm’s matters in a single location, with practice-specific legal solutions you are building a tremendous dataset for later analysis. You can use this data to help build alternative data fee structures, analyze where your firm is having efficiency issues, or determine the types of matters that are most profitable for the firm. Rather than sitting idle, your data now serves as a useful basis for strategic planning.
Small firms have a lot to gain with legal technology. Our SaaS solutions offer more budget-conscious firms the ability to pay-as-you-go and access practice-specific legal software solutions from anywhere with an Internet connection.
CARET Legal helps firms make affordable and safe digital transformations, streamline productivity, and save time and money.