Law firms face gigantic challenges of business development, efficiency and burnout.
Thankfully, there’s a solution.
We need to do it all.
That’s the message thrumming deep in your mind, day in and day out. As a lawyer, paralegal or supervisor in the field, you know the responsibilities pressing in on all sides.
We need to do it all.
Recent studies outline the three main forces. On one hand, you need to grow the business. You need new clients and new opportunities. According to Thomson Reuters, 33% of attorneys surveyed said that their firms’ top goal was business development.
On the other hand, you want to ensure that your business runs efficiently. Are you maximizing the number of billable hours? Are you cutting through waste and downtime to run a lean and mean legal machine? According to that same Thomson Reuters survey, 25% of those responding said their firms’ top goal was maximizing their efficiency.
Finally, you have to avoid burnout among staff. Thomson Reuters reports that losing only one person – a single associate – could cost you $200,000 to $500,000 in lost business.
Get the picture? We need to do it all.
Each one of these priorities seems to conflict with the other two. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can take concrete steps today to ensure they actually complement one another. And when you need outside expertise, Array stands ready to take tasks off your plate. Let’s dig into them one piece at a time.
It’s easy to understand the interest in growing legal businesses. We’ve just made it through two uncertain years of a pandemic, and companies across the board are ready to get back to doing what they do best.
“The most satisfying thing you can have as a lawyer is a solid relationship with a client where they trust what you’re telling them,” said John Reed, founder of Rain BDM and a business development consultant for law firms, according to Thomson Reuters.
For many, a state of small firms report outlined, that translated into a newfound focus on marketing and networking. It could also include more work on websites and social media, as well as creating articles and blog posts just like this one.
It can also mean analyzing your current and past clients, seeing who might have dropped off the list and asking why. It can mean showcasing your expertise and willingness to serve clients by responding right away to requests with the most up-to-date information possible.
In essence, the best business development encompasses doing your best as a firm for everyone who has already hired you while making sure those who haven’t done so yet can see the results.
“If you can build trusted relationship status with clients, they’re going to be your best source of referrals,” Reed said. “And if you’re so entrenched with your client that you don’t have to worry about them leaving your firm, you’re going to enjoy your practice more.”
You also can’t separate business development from efficiency. Remember, 33% of firms want to build their business while 25% want to increase their efficiency. In reality, however, you can’t effectively develop that business without making sure that you’re all as efficient as possible.
“It is not wrong to want to focus on business development; far from it,” Reuters notes. “… Far too many firms are not, and that does not portend well for their bottom lines. Rather, law firms should make sure they have made an earnest effort to improve their efficiency before addressing the secondary challenge of trying to bring in new business.”
So what does that mean for making your law firm run more smoothly?
First off, lawyers need to spend their time lawyering. That means making sure they’re performing tasks for your clients, and billing those clients for their time. Tasks that take a great deal of time and effort but don’t contribute much to the bottom line – document drafting and formatting, reviewing contracts and the like – can be ideal targets for streamlining.
“It’s important to note, however, that increasing potentially billable time only improves profits when that time is actually billed,” Thomson Reuters adds in an exhaustive white paper on the subject. “Working efficiently ensures that lawyers submit quality hours that clients accept and more freely pay. While clients continue to demand more for less, firms shouldn’t feel compelled to write down legitimately logged hours.”
The report reveals that 83% of the law firms surveyed thought they were doing too much busy work. That is, they spent excess time on back-office tasks and saw that inefficiency as a moderate challenge for the business.
On the other hand, of all those firms, some 81% hadn’t addressed the problem.
If your firm knows it has a problem with efficiency but isn’t doing anything about it, how on earth will you be able to sell your services to new clients? How can they trust you to solve their legal problems if you can’t figure out how to spend less time fiddling with margins in Microsoft Word?
Bringing on a trusted partner like Array, which has extensive experience in a variety of legal support services, would serve you well. From eDiscovery to managed review, from court reporting to legal staffing solutions, Array can make your daily grind less onerous.
That same white paper lays out the consequences that legal firms face if they don’t look at these problems clearly.
“Research has repeatedly shown that people are more likely to share a bad customer experience with friends and colleagues than they are a good one,” it reads. “In addition to the risk of losing dissatisfied current clients, word of their dissatisfaction tends to travel quickly.”
You don’t have time to waste.
We need to do it all.
Or do we? That incantation, repeated over and over again in your mind as it is, might be one of the biggest obstacles faced by legal staff. The more pressure attorneys, paralegals and their supervisors take on, the more likely those very same people will burn out or leave their jobs altogether. Your business and clients will suffer.
We saw a version of this play out during the “Great Resignation” that overlapped with the pandemic. According to the Pew Research Center, a record number of employees quit in November 2021. They cited lack of pay, few opportunities for advancement and feeling disrespected as their top three reasons for heading out.
Folks running law firms can address all of these issues – and they should. But everyone on the team should also keep watch for burnout and take care of themselves. Because, of course, taking care of themselves takes care of everyone and everything else.
“The threat of burnout is real in the legal profession,” writes Thomson Reuters in a recent piece on the subject. It offers these three suggestions.
- Please, please, please take some time off. Figure out the best time to schedule a vacation or personal day, make the plan and then stick to it. If you’re a supervisor, watch your employees for signs of fatigue or unhappiness and make sure to talk to them about it. “It’s common to feel overwhelmed with the thought of work piling up while you’re away,” Reuters notes, “so plan well in advance so you can clear your calendar and notify clients of your absence.” And then ensure that folks know the basics to answer questions when you’re gone.You don’t want to spend your vacation time responding to emails or answering emergency phone calls.
- Turn to technology to smooth your workday. How much time do you think attorneys say they spend actually practicing law? Believe it or not, only 60%. That means a full 40% of each day goes toward administrative or other background tasks that don’t add to those all-important billable hours. “The good news is that the legal industry is seeing major improvements in technology, helping attorneys make the most of their workday.” Reuters notes. New tools “utilize artificial intelligence to deliver faster, more accurate answers, all in the name of saving time – and hopefully alleviating some stress along the way.”
- Take care of yourself. Get some exercise. Remember to go to lunch every day. If you have the opportunity to work remotely now and then or use a flexible schedule, take it. “It sounds simple, but health and exercise are often the first to go when attorneys are feeling the pressure at work,” the article reminds us.
Finally, and most importantly, remember that you’re not in this alone.
A legal solutions partner like Array can step in to make sure that employees spend their time doing the tasks they’re best at. Lawyers can focus on being lawyers and on taking care of themselves and their loved ones when not at work.
Likewise, Array can improve your efficiency and give you the time and space to build your business to impressive new heights.
We need to do it all.
But the only way to do that is working together.