By Tom Lambotte, GlobalMac IT

computer-imgLawyer and legal tech journalist, Bob Ambrogi, recently wrote an article (http://abovethelaw.com/2016/07/this-week-in-legal-tech-exclusive-results-of-a-new-small-firm-survey/ and http://www.lawsitesblog.com/2016/07/exclusive-survey-results-small-firms-greatest-challenges-theyre-address.html ) based on a survey of solo and small law firm management (30 attorneys or less) conducted by the Thomson Reuters Solo and Small Law Firm group (http://bit.ly/2axmth9).  Its’ specific focus was on the biggest challenges facing solo and small law firms. In this article, we will look at how these challenges can be addressed using the proper leverage of technology.

The top five challenges from the issues ranked both as moderate and significant in the survey, overall are:

  1. Acquiring new client business (78 percent).
  2. Spending too much time on administrative tasks (69 percent).
  3. Increasing complexity of technology (63 percent).
  4. Cost control and expense growth (62 percent)
  5. (Tie with 4) Clients demanding more for less or rate pressure from clients (62 percent).

Properly leveraging technology significantly impact all these issues.

1. Acquiring new client business (78 percent)

One tool that is not being used at an alarming rate is a Customer Relationship Management, or CRM tool. In many cases, the case management software could double as this role. Now, just because you have such a tool does not mean it's being properly used. When a CRM is not regularly used, following up with prospective clients often slips through the cracks. Missed consultations are seldom rebooked and these prospective clients just fade away, and go hire counsel elsewhere. Properly using a CRM tool can significantly impact acquiring new client business. Not using such a tool will lead to an increase in time spent in this area, with lower results. Properly setting up, using and maintaining a CRM solution in your practice will help you capture more of the prospective business coming in. As a result, you will net more case work by maximizing the existing leads coming in, less time spent with more clients acquired.

Most software vendors have a lot of knowledge-based type documentation with training videos and articles that explain how to use this functionality of the software. The key here is that you have to make time to train everyone. Again, having a CRM solution in and of itself does not mean you'll acquire more new client business. You and your staff must be properly trained and use it consistently. Doing so can make a significant impact. And if you can use these tools to increase automation, you’ll also free up time to invest into practicing law (generating revenue).

If you prefer a more hands on approach than just online training videos, a knowledgeable technology consultant can assist in walking you through and training your staff in person as well. I believe this is a very good investment.

2. Spending too much time on administrative tasks (69 percent)

How can your IT solutions provider help you reduce the time spent on administrative tasks?  I have found that a chunk of this time ends up falling under IT related tasks, so if you can confidently delegate this responsibility to an outside IT provider, you have just reduced the amount of time spent on administrative tasks.

When it comes to administrative tasks, I am always thinking how I can streamline the task being done? Does your staff know how to work efficiently on the computer? Have you spent time with them looking at how they do things?

Now here's an example from a client a few years ago. An attorney did not know how to edit PDFs. Each time she needed to add/remove a page, or merge a document, she would save it to a flash drive, and walk across the office to the Office Manager. The Office Manager would connect the flash drive, open the file and do what was asked. This only took her a few minutes, but it interrupted both people and stopped the Office Manager from what she was working on. A popular study from UC-Irvine shows that it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. They said this happened at least once a day.

Once we were made aware of this, we did a short training for the entire staff on basic PDF management, so the attorney could now quickly do this on her own and the rest of the staff increased their skills in this area at the same time. This had happened once daily. It used to take 5 minutes each time, plus 25 minutes to get back to the task previously working on. This works out to be 7,500 minutes per year or 125 hours of recouped time (based on a 40-hour work week). Time that was being lost due to a bad process. This is one of many examples I could provide. What does your intake process look like? Does your staff know how to scan efficiently and effortlessly? Do they have the right tools to complete their work as efficiently as possible? Remember, labor is your biggest expense, so the more you can maximize your efficiency, the more you can maximize your profits and revenue.

To sum it up, technology can be used to reduce the time spent on administrative tasks by first implementing the right solutions and then by making sure you and your staff know how to use these tools.

3. Increasing complexity of technology (63 percent)

Attorneys said their third biggest challenge in running their small firm is the increasing complexity of technology. So how can they address that? The best approach is to first realize that first, they are an attorney and not a technical expert. At best, if they attempt to the be tech person while also being an attorney, they will rarely pass the skill level of a hobbyist. Becoming an expert at anything takes a tremendous investment of time. I have found is that even at their best, what gets overlooked are all the things they don't know they don't know. Setting up a Mac is easy, but knowing all the steps that should be taken to have adequate security protection is another thing. Adding an email account to an iPhone is easy, but implementing a security solution to ensure that all firm data on mobile devices is recoverable if needed, is much more complex and lacking in almost 100% of clients when we first bring them onboard.

Think about people who choose to self-represent in legal matters. Can they cover the basics? Maybe. They could also royally screw up by overlooking a minor detail, something that would never occur if you were representing them. This example is obvious to attorneys, yet, I find they often think they can do everything themselves when it comes to IT.

The best approach in addressing this challenge is to find a legal technology expert, who you can call on for counsel and advice. One that can provide you with leadership and direction on how to navigate the technology jungle out there. It won't get easier anytime soon, so find someone you can trust and who knows a LOT more than you do in this regard. It will pay for itself many times over.

4. Cost control and expense growth (62 percent)

A mindset change is often needed here. Does your firm regard technology as a necessary evil? A line item to minimize as much as possible? If yes, you'll never to turn technology into a solution that can help tackle the issue of cost control and expense growth. This mindset leads to buying new computers when they are four or five years old. When you have no choice because these old machines are starting to die left and right. This leads to reactive spending, which fuels the negative mindset of spending on technology.

You need to change your mindset. Technology, when properly applied, can assist you in controlling your costs and growing expenses. When used proactively, you can budget your IT costs, set them up so that your support and hardware costs are budgeted and never a surprise. You can keep your staff working on modern devices that are fast and won't add frustration and increase stress to your staff.

With this mindset, you will look for tools to streamline your operations and improve your processes. When you realize the multiplier effect that technology can have on productivity, you’ll start searching for new solutions. You may find an intake tool that ties in with your case management system at a cost of $200 per month that saves your staff 10 hours of manual labor. Now your staff can reinvest that time to acquire new clients or do marketing. Activities that have a much higher ROI than intake processing.

The right IT partner can guide you in creating a budget for hardware, bring new solutions and help find ways to use technology to address your biggest problems. If you have ten people on staff and you've increased their productivity by 10% across the board, you essentially are creating the output of 11 people, with the cost of 10. That is a massive effect on cost control.

We are extremely process oriented here at GlobalMac IT and I am confident my employees produce 2X what the 'average' employee produces in the companies of some of my colleagues. One of the primary factors that affects this is having the right tools in place and spending a lot of time training my staff on how to use them.

5. (Tie with 4) Clients demanding more for less or rate pressure from clients (62 percent)

Last but not least, the old 'client wants more for less.' This ties hand in hand with what I just discussed. How can you compete when profit margins are eroding and clients want you to lower your rates? I believe strongly that until the value of a service exceeds the price, you do not have a legitimate prospect. So my recommendation to address this is to provide more value to your clients. If your clients are demanding more for less, I challenge you to find ways to provide more value. How do you do this without increasing your cost? Once again, by leveraging technology. The better systems you have in place, the more efficient you can be. If you can complete the work needed in two-thirds the time, you have now have the room to lower your rates, since it now takes you less time to do the work.

You can educate your clients and let them know your firm leverages technology to complete the work in less time, equating to lower fees. Let them know you chose to acknowledge that most law firms are not tech savvy and address this head on. Not converting technology into a tool that your firm wields is actually a disservice to your clients. By having an IT expert as a strategic partner with your firm, you can promote your use of technology as a differentiating factor between your competition.

Yours truly,
Tom Lambotte

TomLambotteAbout the Author: GlobalMac IT was founded by Tom Lambotte – renowned nationwide as an author, speaker, trusted IT advisor, and cutting edge, successful provider of the #1 complete end-to-end IT solution for Mac-Based Law Firms in the world. Private firms from throughout North America – and as far reaching as American Samoa - running with a staff of 5-50 - have relied on his expertise to help them put their IT headaches behind once and for all. Using his real world experience, where results rule and dollars can't be wasted on negligent computer consultants, he wanted to help managing partners and office managers of Mac-based law firms to put an end to wasting their time and money on IT support that does not work and rescue them from the frustration. Our unique “TotalCare” approach integrates classic IT support with proven proactive support that truly converts IT from something to be dealt with, into a tool that truly increases law firm profits, increases staff productivity, and provides piece of mind that firm and client data is secure and that their security is never at risk.