By monitoring certain key factors, you could bring increased efficiency to the management of your firm.
Five critical factors to watch.
They say it’s lonely at the top. That means that if you are managing a law firm, there is really no one to share the confusion and uncertainty that goes along with the job. Even when operations are running smoothly, you may wonder if you need to do more to keep the momentum going. And when problems rear their ugly heads, it can be challenging to determine whether drastic steps are necessary.
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to prevent all problems in law firm management, there are a few time-tested principles that can lead to greater efficiency in law firm operations, regardless of size. Just as every firm has its strengths, each one also has room for improvement in certain areas. Review the list below and see if there are steps you can take to foster more success in your law firm’s operations.
1. Effective Planning is Essential
Unless you have a leprechaun on staff, money is not going to fall into your bank account without serious effort. But the effort can be wasted if it’s channeled in the wrong direction. Effective planning is the critical first step in every phase of law firm operations.
Nowhere is this more important than with marketing. Clients need to know what you do and how well you do it. For that to happen, you need a marketing plan designed to increase visibility and reputation, even if your goal is only to maintain current profitability rather than improve it. Web marketing and social media presence are receiving the lion’s share of marketing attention at the moment. Still, a thorough marketing strategy should include traditional outlets as well, such as radio, television, and print advertisements and articles. Many law firms, even solo practitioners, find it helpful to work with a legal marketing firm that can help produce and disseminate content, analyze the results, and refine the marketing plan to increase the return on your investment of both time and money.
Your planning efforts need to extend beyond marketing to include everything from workspace optimization to hardware/software needs and personnel requirements. The work-from-home independent nature of employment that exploded in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic can make it easier to find specialized assistants to fill roles at your firm on a part-time basis.
2. Customer Service is Crucial
From the very first impression you make on a potential client to follow-up questions long after a case has been resolved, the quality of the service you provide to clients needs to be top-notch. Law firms are in the people business for the most part, and while it is not always possible to keep people happy, you should strive to keep them feeling connected. Set up systems to respond promptly and personally to all forms of communication. Keep clients informed on the progress of their case. Show that you are listening to their concerns and not treating them as a generic case.
Even if you’re working hard on a client’s case, they won’t know it unless you tell them, and they may feel neglected. When clients sense that you care about them, they are more likely to provide great reviews and refer others to you. On the opposite side of the coin, clients who believe you failed to pay adequate attention to their concerns may also be more likely to file a complaint if things don’t go their way.
3. Administrative Importance is Absolute
Law firms do not live on law alone. In fact, most matters handled by law firms involve far more administrative tasks than actual legal work. Make sure you hire staff with the right experience or train existing staff to make the most of their opportunities. Client communication, document organization, case tracking, marketing, and many other critical functions should be handled by administrative staff who take pride in their work. Treat your staff as professionals, just as you would other attorneys. Try not to allow a class culture to develop where legal professionals are allowed some privileges while administrative staff are treated differently. The culture of mutual respect will be visible to clients and empower your staff to take charge of their roles and use their talents to grow the firm.
4. Reviews Should Be a Routine Procedure
Annual staff reviews can be a helpful tool, but the review process does not always need to be formal, and it should be far more regular than once a year. It is an excellent practice to habitually review factors such as:
- Marketing metrics
- Client satisfaction surveys and reviews
- Billable hours
- Regular overhead expenses
- Income and profitability
- Account balances and transactions
Also, you can review intangible factors such as employee satisfaction by keeping your eyes and ears open and engaging in casual conversation either in the office or during video meetings.
5. Leadership Is Last as Well as First
Efficient law firm management starts with effective leadership. So why did we list this factor last? Because a leader pays as much attention to what’s at the end as what’s at the beginning. You can only move as fast as the slowest member of your team. So, one effective leadership tool involves looking to see where slow-downs occur, then slowing yourself down and really taking the time to understand the causes. Is one person burdened with too many tasks? Would more training or more efficient software speed up the process? Analyzing a problem to create an effective solution takes time, but you can bring about an actual cure instead of a cover-up or temporary fix by putting in that time.
Leadership is about more than just procedural efficiency, however. An effective leader inspires those around to dig deeper, reach higher, and accomplish their best. Effective leaders trust their employees to do their jobs without micromanagement and make themselves available to answer questions. In an environment with poor leadership, employees often feel that their abilities and opinions do not matter, whatever they do is likely to be criticized, and their employer sees them as a tool rather than a team member. Low morale can lead to high staff turnover rates and can damage client relationships.
So now it’s time to evaluate your firm’s leadership, review processes, administrative staffing, customer service, and planning procedures to see if there’s room for improvement. A law firm can often improve efficiency by outsourcing specific tasks such as marketing, fund management, and other processes to firms that specialize in these areas. Efficient law firm management is an ongoing process, so always be on the lookout for tools that can make the job easier.
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