A few simple rules that you probably didn't learn in law school can take the hassles out of your day-to-day practice management tasks for a better business outcome
Most law schools will teach you how to be an attorney-but not how to build a viable practice. The day-to-day realities of managing a small, specialized law firm-getting paid, meeting deadlines, attracting clients, and avoiding sanctions, to name a few-can be a career killer. Some studies show that 40% of all law school graduates leave the legal profession within three years because they don't want to deal with the administrative headaches. But it doesn't have to be that way. If you follow some commonsense guidelines, you can have your practice and optimize it, too.
Organize your work product
If you're suing people for being negligent, you don't want to be careless yourself. However, the way many attorneys practice law today leaves them open to question-particularly when it comes to document workflow management. As a best practice, you should always know where your documents are and who touched them last. Make it a rule to keep everything related to a case in one place-i.e., one file on a server. A worst practice would be keeping all your emails in Outlook and your other documents in a paper folder so that you have to check two places to find what you're looking for. Paper files are inefficient in any case-loose documents can easily go astray.
You should, however, maintain separate files for evidence and work product. Let's say you wrote a motion that's sitting in the same file as your discovery documents. This might be okay if you could pull that one item out before handing the file to the opposing party. But with today's email overload-you could have as many as one million messages per case-commingling evidence and work product can create a daunting problem. You can easily avoid this problem if you create and maintain separate files from the start.
Goof-proof your calendar
Each court has its own rules about when things need to be submitted and its own way of describing these requirements. State and federal holidays, weekends, and times when your own firm is closed add to the confusion when you're calculating deadlines. But there is no room for error here. Missed deadlines can result in fines, sanctions, or more, depending on the matter and jurisdiction. The best way to avoid trouble is to invest in calendaring software that accurately computes and tracks deadlines based on your specific criteria.
In addition to rules-based calendaring that will keep you on top of court dates, a good calendaring program will help you keep track of who's doing what and when, avoid scheduling conflicts, and streamline the billing process.
Always use the right tool for the job
Many attorneys painstakingly create templates in Word, which forces them to reinvent the wheel with each new document. Or they may build Excel spreadsheets to track billable hours, a process that is not only time-intensive but also can't provide the performance-related insights that you need to let you know how you're doing. Anytime you're not using a tool specifically designed for the task at hand, you will get less than positive results. As the saying goes, "there's an app for that."
Amazingly, 40% of all small law firms do not have practice management software. The main reason given is a concern about cost. But in the long run, the right legal application can save you as much as 40% of the time that you would otherwise waste doing the same tasks manually. And as you know, wasted time is wasted money.
Ask for help when you need it
You can't be an expert on everything. Turn to the experts in legal IT for assistance and ideas that will build out your technical knowledge and skills. You can pick up a wealth of information from user groups and practice groups on the Web. Read related articles and search for vendor reviews at the ABA site.
Get the right partner
At LexisNexis, we are committed to helping you spend more time practicing law and less time worrying about all the headaches of the business of law. Our solutions for small, specialized firms include award-winning software created with input from legal professionals and backed up by a highly experienced and dedicated services and support team. For a competitive advantage, Time Matters® gives you a complete, centralized system for streamlined client, matter, and communications management. Some law firms have reported that Time Matters software lets them take on 30% more work with exactly the same resources. Paperless, integrated matter management saves you time that you would otherwise spend filing and finding documents. Easy-to-use automated forms eliminate the need to retype information and reduces human errors. Easy-to-customize calendaring tools make sure that you hit every deadline right on time.
When you're ready to take your capabilities up a notch, try Juris®. This powerful accounting and billing system can increase your firm's profitability with tools that accurately record time and expenses, increase realization, and reduce average billing cycle times from 183 to 60-90 days.
With hardworking programs like these and basic best practices in place, you can do it all: follow your calling and run a tight ship in the process.
To learn more, visit www.lexisnexis.com/law-firms/practice-management or call us at 1-800-328-2898.