How to identify and reduce inefficiencies in your law practice

April 17, 2015

Independent Thinking 2As a busy attorney, you’re likely very aware of the inefficiencies in your day-to-day practice that make you spend more time on things than you really should.

But are you actually aware of them?  That is, have you identified the specific activities that are taking time away from the things that you should be doing?  If you ever hope to correct these inefficiencies, you need to be able to point to exactly where your valuable time is lost.

While every firm operates different, there are some more common problem areas that afflict a large number of law firms, which are listed below.  As you’re reviewing them, make sure that you ask yourself if you are spending more time on these activities than you’d like, and how you can change that.

Gathering and organizing boxes of material

Paperwork – lots of paperwork – is a part of any practice of law.  Whether your cases are transactional or litigatory in nature, you can rest assured that there will be a lot of paperwork associated with them.

Organizing and sorting through these documents is certainly time-consuming.  But leaving these files unorganized consumes even more time – not to mention additional headaches.

The inefficiency here is rooted in the nature of the documents themselves: they are in paper form.  Were they in electronic form, it would be possible to add file labels and descriptions that could enable an organizational system that allows for quick and easy location and access.

Consider what steps you can take to transition your documents to electronic form.

Document editing and form-building

Once again, we have a time-saving task that nonetheless adds unnecessary time to your day.  After all, having the right forms available for the case you’re working on saves you the time and trouble of having to draft the document from scratch.

On the other hand, forms don’t update themselves on your hard drive to account for changes in the law.  Furthermore, you may find that a new case requires a kind of filing for which you don’t yet have the form – often necessitating your drafting of it from scratch.

To ameliorate this inefficiency, consider your options for accessing a database of premade forms that offer regular updates to ensure their accuracy.

Putting your hands on the right document at just the moment the judge wants to see it

This inefficiency isn’t so much about saving time in the strictest sense as it is about ensuring that you appear professional to the judge, the opposing party, and, perhaps most importantly, to your client.  After all, the last thing that you want to happen when the judge asks for a specific document is to spend an inordinate amount of time rifling through your papers as the rest of the courtroom sits and watches, accompanied only by the uncomfortable sound of the papers being flipped through.

Unfortunately, it may be unavoidable at times to have to rummage though papers in the middle of court, simple because of the raw volume of documents that are a part of the case.  It is possible to minimize the amount of time searching for the exact document with properly organized and label files, but that, of course, requires a significant investment of time beforehand (as discussed above).

Instead, once again consider the benefits of having an electronic document storage and organization system, such that you’d be able to instantly locate the document you are looking for, and be able to show it to the judge on your electronic device (or email it to the clerk).

Billing

Billing is an activity that lawyers don’t get paid for doing, but need to do it in order to get paid.

The problem is that it can be quite time-consuming, especially if you aren’t always on top of doing it and a backlog forms as a result.  But even if you are diligent in this task, it can be very tedious and protracted process of entering numbers and hourly breakdowns.

Fortunately, there are products specifically designed to help attorneys streamline their billing process, making it faster and easier.  Check out the ones that are out there.

Finding attorneys to cover the workload

This isn’t an inefficiency per se, but the presence of other inefficiencies in your practice could lead you into believing that there is a need for more employees to handle your firm’s workload, when, in fact, a reduction in these inefficiencies could free up enough time that additional manpower isn’t necessary.

Before you go through with hiring additional help, first look to see if you can save any time by streamlining other areas of your practice so that there’s more time to handle the actual legal work.

(Editor’s Note: For more on this topic, download the free whitepaper: Strategies for Business Law Firms to Provide What Clients Value Most.)