5 Ways Legal Admins Can Support Firm Growth in 2017
With some analysts’ reports predicting sluggish demand for legal services in 2017, helping your firm grow is going to take more than raising the hourly fee. As a law firm administrator, you have an opportunity to improve and refine your firm’s processes and efficiencies to build a solid, and profitable, operational infrastructure that adds to the overall firm growth goals you set at the beginning of the year.
Here are 5 ways you can support firm growth in 2017:
Billable hours are the heart of your firm’s financials, so it is imperative to have a solid and reliable system and processes in place to manage employees’ time. If time isn’t entered consistently or reliably, the firm will lose billable hours, cannot invoice clients in a timely manner, which directly affects revenue and profitability.
Evaluate your time-keeping and tracking capabilities. Lawyers must have the ability to enter and track their time while working on client activities — and they must be able to do this in real time and from anywhere with any device. Your time-keeping should also allow your firm to track missing time and see at a glance a full day of time accounting.
Sally Kane offers these suggestions to increase billing and invoicing efficiencies.
- Craft detailed billing descriptions
- Avoid block billing
- Record time promptly
- Remember your audience
- Familiarize yourself with client billing policies
But in order to increase billing efficiencies, you must start by improving your time-keeping capabilities.
Strategic staffing is used to identify and address staffing gaps, redundancies and surpluses. It’s not enough to simply identify where you may have staffing issues; you must also address the problem by coming up with a solution. Hiring more attorneys, paralegals or administrative personnel than your firm can support in the long run can lead to decreased productivity. However, having too few lawyers on staff is a sure way to stagnate growth. Do you have a 5-team accounting department that could be more efficient with a 2-person team and a robust financial management system? Are your current lawyers and staff in the best roles and positions for their talents?
Hiring decisions need to be made strategically, with an eye toward where you ultimately want to be in the future. Look ahead, to the extent you can. You’ll need to make sure you’re staffing not only to fill gaps for upcoming retirements and attrition, but have a plan for who would be the best candidate to help your firm grow.
Build a Professional Development Culture
Some may say, a law firm is only as good as its attorneys. And we agree. But we also believe strongly that a law firm is only as good as it’s firm administrator! Every person, whether lawyer, managing partner, firm admin, accountant or intern plays a crucial role in firm growth. Make sure your ranks are filled with top talent who are eager to learn how to improve and better their job performance.
In its 2015 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey, the Society of Human Resources Management found that 42 percent of employees surveyed felt their organization’s commitment to professional development was “very important,” however just 23 percent were satisfied with their opportunities for such development. Committing to a culture where continuing education is more than just a requirement to maintain licensing is important in helping propel your firm forward, positioning you for future success.
Creating a culture for development as part of the fabric of the organization starts from an employee’s very first day with the firm as part of the onboarding process. Providing space and opportunities for CLE programs, ALA membership and conferences, cross-training and implementing career paths within your firm are all ways you can improve retention.
Finally, make it clear that learning and development are encouraged at every level of your firm. Doing so helps reinforce your commitment to excellence and to “grooming the next generation of leaders.” This idea was reiterated by the participants in an October 2015 Law Practice Today roundtable, with one panelist stating “Firms must either invest in grooming the next generation or run the risk of losing them to competitors.”
No matter how good your people and value proposition are, if your workflow processes aren’t designed to streamline and automate operational tasks, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle to reach your firm’s growth goals. Implementing paperless workflows is one way in which you can refine your office workflows, but you can also work to refine how you analyze and act on business intelligence. Is your management system aggregating all firm data —present firm, office, practice group, department, client, matter and attorney data — into an easily accessible and relevant reporting system that can show overall firm performance and be adaptable to individual needs?
Another area in which you can refine your workflows are by automating certain tasks within workflows — things like new client intake, conflict checks, expense reporting, client check requests, billing and accounts receivable write off approvals, client relationship management, calendar management and recordkeeping can result in more streamlined business processes.
Workflows that are automated and designed to meet your firm’s needs should also result in meaningful efficiencies, freeing up attorneys’ and law firm admins’ time to focus on bringing in and serving more clients.
Understand How People Find Lawyers
If you’re not tracking where your new clients are coming from, start doing so. For many firms, it can be eye-opening to find out that money and resources spent on a certain type of marketing effort isn’t nearly as effective as they thought it was, or that it’s more effective than previously thought.
Most firms find it’s worthwhile to establish, and foster, a referral network with other professionals, and not necessarily only with other attorneys. Firms that focus on estate planning may find that building relationships with financial advisors and insurance professionals can be mutually rewarding.
The most important factor in choosing a lawyer are qualification/rating and cost. Improving the number of client reviews online could increase your firm growth without a huge initial investment. Maintaining relationships with past clients through periodic communications can be rewarding.
Refine and Build for Firm Growth
Looking at your operational infrastructure with a critical eye may be uncomfortable, but it’s a necessary step when you want to be more efficient and profitable. Even small tweaks can help set you on the path toward achieving your 2017 targets.