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Law Firm Profitability: Top Time Wasters And Ways to Avoid Them

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If you visit most any law firm, or any workplace for that matter, you’re likely to notice activities or processes taking place that waste time. No matter how diligent we are about being productive, there are still interruptions and distractions that pop up throughout the day. Some of these “time wasters” may be sneaky and you may not realize the amount of time you and your team have wasted until it’s too late.

As frustrating as these interruptions can be to your firm’s workflow, they can also potentially damage your law firm profitability. This topic is particularly close to our hearts as we’re dedicated to helping law firms succeed and streamline their daily tasks to be more productive. Here we’ve outlined some of the most common office “time wasters” and a few tips on how to avoid them.

The Influx in Your Inbox

Remember how I said that distractions can be sneaky? Here’s sneaky distraction number one: constantly checking your email. Because email has become the main form of communication between lawyers and their clients, and internally with your team, it is tempting to respond immediately to every request that comes to your inbox. This is a “sneaky” distraction because responding quickly to email seems like the kind of behavior that would make your firm top notch. However, it actually has a negative effect on your law firm profitability and productivity.

Immediately responding to every email the minute it arrives in your inbox decreases your overall productivity and takes your attention away from other tasks that need to be completed. You and your team can manage email more effectively by doing the following -

  • Set specific times during the day to read and respond to email. By designating this time for email only, such as 12:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., you’ll still be responding in a timely enough manner without email taking over your entire work day.
  • Use available tools to turn email into actionable items. Many personal information management tools, such as Microsoft Outlook, offer the ability to help you transform your email into an actionable item on your calendar. Follow this rule - either add the items in your email to your to do list, archive it, or delete it. If you choose one of these actions for every single email, you’ll clean out your inbox quickly and effectively.
  • Organize your email for retrieval. One of the best, and easiest, ways to manage your email is to create specifically named folders for your cases, clients, etc. By naming folders this way, you can easily archive email conversations pertaining to specific firm tasks and know exactly where to retrieve them for reference later. The added bonus? Moving those emails into their designated folders gets them out of your main inbox.

The Meandering Meeting

One of the most damaging workplace tendencies is the famous “meandering meeting.” Meetings, if not managed properly, can be a time waster and negatively affect your team’s productivity and the overall law firm profitability. Meetings need three things in order to be effective:

  1. Clear objectives
  2. Actionable takeaways
  3. A solid end time

It’s easy to be casual about meetings and say, “hey, let’s meet up to chat about this,” but that is a dangerous road to walk. You sit down to your meeting and next thing you know, you’re off topic and discussing the latest in ergonomic desk chairs. Sure, it’s a great discussion, but it’s not the one you wanted to have and therefore you’ve taken more time than you meant to. Here’s how to host an effective (and awesome) meeting that will boost your law firm profitability:

  • Purpose - determine if you truly have a purpose to rally everyone together for a full meeting or if an office-wide memo will do the trick.
  • Agenda - this is often neglected but is a huge component to keeping your meeting on track. By following a prepared agenda, you’ll be able to flow from topic to topic and not leave anything out.
  • Timing and Pacing - I can’t stress this one enough. Your team will be more productive (and will thank you profusely) if you stick to the timeslot they agreed to. A meeting fails to be productive if it runs over time and you are late to a meeting with one of the partners or miss an important phone call.
  • Recording and Following Up - a meeting is only as good as the actionable items that come out of it. Designate someone to take notes of what was discussed and who was assigned what. This will help you to review later and make sure nothing has slipped through the cracks.

De-cluttering Your Workspace

Maintaining a relatively clean and organized workspace can surprisingly work wonders on the overall law firm profitability. A streamlined workspace and appropriate filing rules cuts down on time searching for documents, thus creating more time for billable hours for the attorneys and a focused environment. In the digital age, there are a variety of tools to help you achieve these de-cluttering goals. Here are some of our favorite for law firms:

  1. Implement a document management system - if you haven’t transformed into a paperless office yet, there is no time like the present! Gone are the days where file boxes and storage cabinets were considered the most effective way to run a law firm. With the surge of clients looking for a modern firm with updated technology and instant communication, your law firm profitability will rise if you and your team can implement a document management system, or DMS. A DMS can help you automatically file, search, and securely send documents directly to clients. You’ll effectively streamline your workspace and the law office’s daily tasks.
  2. Implement software solutions for online organization - in conjunction with the amazing DMS you’ll have implemented, you’ll want to add these software tools to use it to its full potential. All the time wasted searching for documents that you need for a particular client or case will be no more. Trumpet offers a solution called Symphony OCR. When used with a DMS, Symphony OCR allows you to text-search all of your documents so you can find what you’re looking for, fast. If you’re able to rapidly find what you need, the attorneys can get back to charging billable hours and increase the law firm profitability.

With these tips we hope to help you continue to enhance your client services and improve your law firm’s profitability. By identifying these potential time wasters in your law office and taking measures to correct them, we think you’ll truly help transform your workplace into a productive and profitable machine.

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Will Stagl

Will Stagl