Practice Management: To Automate or Not to Automate?

Research reveals many small to medium-sized law firms could be losing money due to inefficient practice management processes. But do the cost-saving benefits of automation justify the investment in the long run?

As time demands intensify and client expectations continue to grow, firms are increasingly looking for ways to optimise workflow efficiency to remain profitable. Since we can’t put more hours into the day, liberating time that is ordinarily consumed by inefficient business processes is a great place to start.

The problem with optimising manual processes is that their potential is capped at a low threshold. On the other hand, automation offers almost limitless potential to alleviate the administrative burden on employees, allowing them to spend more time on fee-producing activities.

The question for firms is: do we invest in automation technology or save the money and risk falling behind?

The benefits of automation

Consider this ‘blacklist’ of expensive inefficiencies that cost manual firms thousands every month:

  • Unnecessary labour costs: Manual processes take twice as long to perform workflow management, legal research and document production tasks, and 25 per cent longer for time tracking, cost ledgering and document management tasks.
  • Lost billable time: 56 per cent of fee earners who rely on manual processes to record time significantly underestimate the time each job takes.
  • Miscalculated disbursements: 50 per cent of fee earners underestimate pass-on client costs.

A comprehensive legal practice management system coupled with compatible automated document production software can address all these issues by reducing time and risk while improving work accuracy, quality and consistency.

Choosing the right software

The right package should be relevant to all your fee earners and powerful enough that you won’t outgrow it in the near future. Choose a software package from a reputable brand that provides regular updates and ongoing training and support. Finally, ensure the product will be compatible with your existing systems and won’t be obsolete in a few years.

If your systems are already a little dated, this may require a complete review of your IT needs. New software doesn’t often get along well with older technology, and error messages and server crashes are productivity killers. While getting it right at the start may blow out the initial outlay, your ‘blacklist’ savings will make it worthwhile in the long run.

Tips for successful automation

  • Plan well. Introducing new technology is a major operation and must be carefully planned to minimise disruption. Take your time and do your homework.
  • Time the changeover wisely. While there will rarely be an ideal time to introduce new processes, it’s wise to choose an appropriate time when workload capacity isn’t maxed out. You will also need to factor in time for upgrades and training processes.
  • Prepare and involve staff. One of the biggest challenges of implementing new protocols is getting your staff to embrace the change. It’s hard to get excited about having your billable work interrupted to relearn how to do your job.
  • Communication and involvement are key. Engage staff in identifying the needs of the firm, guide them through the implementation process so they know what to expect and graciously acknowledge any mistakes.

Train and retrain

Don’t devalue your investment by failing to properly train staff. If employees aren’t confident with a particular tool, they will revert to their old ways, making the new software redundant. Schedule comprehensive pre-deployment training as well as regular refresher sessions to ensure the new technology is utilised to its full potential.

Keeping up to date with technology will become increasingly important for firms wanting to stay ahead of their competitors and retain valuable employees. So why not harness the benefits of automation now?

Stacey Leeke is a litigation lawyer and freelance writer with a background in professional indemnity and insolvency law practice. She has over nine years experience in the legal industry in both Australia and Canada.

Stacey currently writes for a number of online and print based publications, specialising in analytical critiques on new developments in the law as well as commentaries on current industry trends and best practice.

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