The legal services industry is changing as the landscape shifts. Externally, there are fluctuating economies, more demanding clients, higher standards for legal technological competence, and alternative service providers. Internally, overhead costs need to be decreased, rates are lowered, and there are cutbacks on new hires.
In a highly competitive environment, law firms need to face these issues before it gets to the crossroads of disintegration or merger.
However, there are routes firms can take to help prevent making such difficult decisions. Here are three examples of ways firms can address legal industry trends and challenges in 2018.
1. Balancing Ratios
When it comes to the ratio of lawyers to legal assistants, it’s a bit of a circular argument. Can law firms reduce their support staff because lawyers are becoming more technologically advanced? Or have lawyers become used to doing more work themselves due to a lack of assistants?
The perception that legal assistants are needed less because lawyers are doing more on their own doesn’t necessarily mean the workflow has become less complex. Electronic-based administrative tasks can actually be more complicated than paper-based ones – instead of making one paper document look good, there are several different kinds of e-filings now that require different formats. As a result, it isn’t hard to make the argument that in a digital world, more support staff are required.
Regardless of which direction your firm is moving in on support staff to lawyer ratios, it’s important to analyze the way everyone in your firm is working: are there tasks lawyers can delegate to legal assistants so that they can focus on work that’s billable, or can lawyers take on more tasks with the right tools?
For example, Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP has been using Infoware’s products for years. Their current ratio is five lawyers for every one assistant. This sounds like the assistant would be taking on too much work, but because everyone in the firm has the right tools, workflow has improved immensely.
Case Study – See how Infoware increased the efficiency at the law offices of Olthius Kleer Townshend LLP in our case study.
2. Collaborating with Clients
It used to be simpler: a client would find a lawyer and the lawyer would work on the case until it was resolved. Nowadays, clients are becoming more involved in their own cases due to more access to legal information, wanting the most value for their money, and looking for a lawyer who is there for them beyond just the billable hours. And since just about everyone has a smartphone, connecting through emails and texts is more common (and distracting).
There are several options firms can look at when figuring out how to approach this challenge, but one of the more popular choices is implementing client portals due to their simplicity. These client-facing websites allow lawyers to securely share information with their clients – not only does this enhance communication, but it does so without being too invasive (it’s easier to delay a response on the portal than consecutive emails to your phone). They can also be used to accept online payments and collaborate with other lawyers. All of these factors maximize a lawyer’s time, while building a strong connection to a client.
Related article – Is your email inbox overcrowded with client emails? Sometimes managing your email inbox can start to feel like a full-time job in and of itself. We’ve compiled some helpful tips so you can cut down on email time. Read “How Lawyers Can Better Manage Their Inbox.”
3. Investing in Technology
Whether a small firm is looking to grow or a large firm is acquiring another large firm, the need for new technology to help manage and improve workflows is on the rise.
If a firm is cutting back on lawyers or support staff, the same amount of work will need to be done by fewer people, while remaining at a high standard. If two firms are merging together, there’s potential for error when several people are working on one case. Implementing technology to assist in practice management or template automation becomes imperative when staying organized and consistent.
Investing in new technology also helps firms stay competitive. Clients are looking for firms that can do the best job without costing a fortune. So if a firm has video conferencing abilities, client portals, or software that can help maximize a lawyer’s time, it’s reassuring to the client that they’re getting the most value for what they’re paying.
Related Article – Your firm is growing. Is your current technology ready to grow with it? Read our article highlighting “6 Essential Investments in Software Technology for Lawyers”.
None of these challenges are new, but companies like Infoware can help law firms maximize efficiency through Microsoft Word – a platform firms use anyway. The software is designed to help standardize, automate and simplify legal document creation for a more consistent and efficient workflow. This allows for less time formatting a document, and more time for working with clients.
For more information on how law firms can optimize their workflow to match evolving trends in the legal industry stay up-to-date with the Infoware blog. We also encourage you to learn more about our suite of legal document software products.