Three Ways to Streamline Your Practice
Article originally published in the March 2019 issue of Trial magazine.
As lawyers, We Spend most of our time on our clients and their cases and little time on managing our firm’s workflow and processes. If you are not reflecting on how the work gets done, you’re missing opportunities to enhance productivity and efficiency. The time and attention you spend on firm management will pay dividends in employees, performance, proficiency, and work quality.
Begin with a forward-thinking and proactive approach-look for ways to improve how your practice runs, and identify wastefulness and redundancy. It is key to ask whether your firm is making the best use of your time and
your staff’s time. Is your firm optimizing strategic resources, such as technology, which are central to streamlining your practice?
To get started, ask yourself:
- Is your intake team wasting valuable hours duplicating tasks?
- Are there bottlenecks in case work that limit your staff’s ability to handle their caseloads?
- Are there tasks that can be automated to free up your staff’s time?
- Does your staffinput data or information more than once into different applications?
- Are your paralegals working overtime to complete tasks?
1. Check Your Tech
Use cutting-edge technology, and review it yearly. Don’t cling to old technologies or methodologies because they are within your comfort zone. Outdated tech perpetuate deficient workflow models, create backlogs, and hinder growth. Evaluate everything from your case management platform to how your firm tracks postage, processes mass client communications, or accounts for time and expenses. For example, using an application to track attorney travel expenses, such as Expensify, automates the process, leaving more time for attorneys or paralegals to focus on their cases.
One big ticket item is a case management platform, Which provides the tools to complete tasks faster, better, and more easily. The decision to implement or modify a case management platform should not be made in haste. Every lawyer and sales representative has an opinion on which platform is best, but there is no one-size-fits-all option.
To evaluate the various platforms, you must define your firm’s needs. Lawyers Will have different requirements from paralegals or case managers. As the managing partner, you might want a 30,000-foot view of your firm, seeing analytics on marketing, case acquisition, and case resolution. Your paralegal needs a 10,OOO-foot view to manage her team and litigation tasks, while your case manager needs a granular, day-to-day functionality that walks through the steps to be taken on each case. Therefore, a committee of stakeholders should participate in the selection process and assist with the design and implementation of the platform.
Once your committee defines the system’s critical functionality, invest in learning about different platforms. The systems on the market usually combine an off-the-shelf component with some customization. It is a firm’s preference, but I recommend systems that allow for easy customization. One demonstration probably won’t be enough to assess whether the platform meets your firm’s needs and wants. Don’t be afraid to ask for a demo site that you can test before buying.
Next, how will it be designed and implemented? You should
- write protocols for using the platform for all aspects of the firm’s work and case types.
- create and customize training materials.
- train and require everyone in the firm to use血e platform.
- hold everyone accountable for using the platform and following protocols.
2. Develop Standards, Workflows, and Procedures
To scale your firm to the next level, optimize and standardize how your firm practices. Regardless of practice areas, developing set procedures ensures consistency, Which will enhance efficiency. Work with key staff members to develop policies and procedures, and ensure best practices are codified.
For example, procedures on how to handle case intake for each practice area ensure each case is handled and evaluated properly. And a simple “frequently asked questions” memorandum equips employees with consistent responses to clients’ questions. This may seem tedious, but once everything is written down, every stop of your practice will be easier to carry out, and it will ultimately improve your firm’s work quality.
Draft policies and procedures in tandem with your case management platfom. Identify tasks and workflows that can be automated, which will free up staff time and reduce errors. Essentially, the data in the platform should work for you. When your case management platform can perform functions based on specific data points, it creates seamless workflows.
Imagine your platform automatically sending a status update to a client when a specific data point is populated (such as the date the authority to represent is received); compiling a report informing your paralegal that a set of cases needs a specific follow-up request; populating a discovery request; Or flagging all cases with a deadline within 30 days.
Remember, automation requires consistency and accountability. A firm must be willing to require everyone to use the case management platform and follow all procedures.
3. Train and Empower Employees
Training new and established staff is easily overlooked but crucial for your firm to be successful. Invest in training everyone on your firm’s workflows and procedures, including re-training when necessary. Be sure they know how to make the most of the technologies in place. This will significantly impact employee motivation and performance.
- Schedule short and concise training sessions.
- Create video content to train on uniform and specific tasks (such as noting client communications within your case management platform).
- Create an online library of documented procedures and protocols.
- Incorporate short re-trainings into regular staff meetings.
Effective Training Methods
Begin by assessing how staff are functioning. Identify specific areas- such as case intake- in which training will help increase productivity and reduce inefficiency. Do not take for granted that staff understand their duties or your expectations. When developing training programs or materials, communicate the scope of their responsibilities and your expectations. Take time to regularly assess your employees. Productivity problems can arise when staff do not understand their scope of responsibilities or take on responsibilities outside their roles.
Your firm’s documented policies and protocols will also guide employee performance and will make it easier for you to conduct performance reviews and onboard new employees. Your case management platform should contain reports and analytics- such as audit reports that detail what tasks your staff have completed, or data-centered reports about where staff are on any given case or task set.
Balancing management functions with client matters is difficult, but it can and should be done. You can save time and money by prioritizing management and embracing efficiency to improve your firm’s infrastructure.