We simply have to improve our efficiency

 In Practice Management

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Why does efficiency matter?

Competition in the legal sector continues to increase. This competition has led to a constant downward pressure on the fees that lawyers can charge. While this is painful as it can quickly erode profit margins, it is real, and firms need to respond positively. The answer in many firms is that there needs to be a fundamental rethink around working practices and efficiency.

Some lawyers believe that efficiency might lead to a fall in client service. Any changes that are to be implemented should look to improve efficiency while also maintaining, or preferably improving, the quality of service for the client.

It’s time to try something different

Every firm has a culture and a way of working. Lawyers are often comfortable with this way of working and resist suggested changes without even trying them. It is important to be better than other firms and this means that lawyers will need to behave differently and begin to prioritise what they do in a different way.

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Practical steps to increase the focus on efficiency

There are so many things that can be done to improve efficiency and productivity but here are a few ideas to get you thinking……

  1. Be positive about time wasters

We are all guilty of complaining how time spent on emails, phone calls, meetings and other people can waste a large chunk of our working day. While we must interact with other people to do our job, there are alternative ways of dealing with these issues that mean we can achieve the same outcome but in less time.

We need to sit down with colleagues and brainstorm positive things that we could all do to improve these interactions. For example, instead of allowing emails and phone calls to interrupt us all day, we could just review email and phone messages periodically. Making better use of “out of office” and telling people who send you emails when you will get back to them will allow more time to focus on proactive work.

  1. Encourage proactivity through greater use of routines

Most lawyers are guilty of spending about two thirds of their day reacting to other people and only spend about one third of the day proactively working on matters. A characteristic of productive lawyers is that this time split is probably reversed. The easiest way to become more proactive is to schedule more routines into your diary. If there is a daily routine first thing in the morning to do some business development and routines are established for supervision, billing and client updating, debtor chasing, technical reading and even social events then performance, client service and even your social life are likely to be improved because the things that you need to be doing are done.

  1. Require all matters to be planned

If matters are not planned and work is done inefficiently, then the clock cannot be wound back and time has been wasted. It is therefore vital that we establish a routine when files are opened to think about the most efficient way of running each file.

Checklists can be developed to make us reflect on issues such as are we using the right fee earners to do the work, whether all existing knowhow has been properly shared, whether the client or some third party could actually do some of the work perfectly well to keep our cost down and whether the file is being run to a sensible timescale. The fastest way of achieving significant reductions in the cost of running a file is to compare the way you currently do something with the way in which other people currently do the same thing. None of us are perfect and we can always learn from each other.

  1. Consider the need to invest to boost efficiency

Many of the most profitable and productive firms spend more than other firms on things which boost productivity. Such expenditure is seen more as an investment rather than an expense. The investments that can clearly boost productivity include improving case management systems to improve processes and the ability to recycle know how together with additional training so that everyone can use the available systems in the best possible way. This will hopefully deliver excellent client service and efficiency improves.

So, don’t waste any time, commit to improving efficiency today.

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