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Did you know up to 40% of time in a small law firm is spent on non billable, administrative work? That means you are basically working for free after 2 p.m. According to the 2016 State of U.S. Small Law Firms Study, 69% of small law firms report spending too much time on administrative work. And, what is surprising is that only 19% of firms have done something to address the challenge.
This means the majority of small law attorneys are living the problem! Imagine what making improvements to your administrative processes could do for your competitive advantage or even your work-life balance – how much more time could you spend on billable work, have to manage your client relationships, or focus on business development?
Your firm, like many others, has many obvious and hidden administrative tasks that take up valuable time. Let’s examine a few.
Matter Organization and Retrieval
Are your matter files organized so you can easily find them or do you waste time searching for them? What about your closed matter files – can you easily locate your past work product if you want to modify it for use in a current case? File maintenance and organization is critical. It is a big time waster and malpractice claims are filed every year as a result of lost files or misplaced documents. And, your clients are also evaluating your competence based on your organization skills – if you have a messy desk or frantically search for information your client probably sees that as a red flag.
The most effective way to keep organized files is to maintain electronic client and matter files. To keep the system organized it is important to have a folder system and a set document naming convention. For example, you could create a matter folder with subfolders for pleadings, research, client documents, etc… where all the appropriate documents are stored. Each document would then be saved with the naming convention so each document type is saved the same way within each folder.
An easy way to manage and store client and matter files and all of their associated documents is with a cloud-based legal practice management system, like Firm Central. Look for a practice management system that indexes every word within the saved document and has a global search feature. That way when you search for a document the results that are returned will include your search query in both the title and/or the body of the document. This will eliminate those frustrating moments of wasted time where you dig through folders trying to remember where a document is saved.
Capturing Time and Invoicing
These activities are the most important in your law firm because they determine how much you and when you will get paid, but they are often the most dreaded administrative tasks within the law firm. Attorneys typically don’t have a good method to capture and record their time – either they jot things down on paper or try to keep track of it in their head. This makes it difficult to gather all of the time records to generate invoices because you have to search through your notes and remember what you did and as a result things often get missed.
This entire process can be streamlined and automated with cloud-based legal practice management making this a much more enjoyable task and freeing up more of your time for higher value work. Look for practice management systems that have built in timers to make it easy to record your time, even when you are away from the office. Then within the same system you can easily complete billing work by selecting all unbilled time and compiling it all into a professional invoice for your client. Relying on a practice management system to automate these activities will greatly reduce the amount of time necessary for these tasks and it will help you get more timely invoices sent to clients increasing your likelihood of getting paid.
These are just a few common administrative tasks within your legal workflow that typically take too much time to complete. The key is to examine your matter management process and streamline the time intensive administrative tasks where you can. This matter management checklist can help you get started. It outlines additional areas in your workflow where you can reconstruct – and in some cases eliminate – the pesky administrative tasks that take up your day.