Attorneys at small- to mid-sized law firms know there is usually more work than time in most days. That’s just how it is when you are staffed to provide legal services, but not necessarily marketing, office administration, accounting, or any of the other responsibilities that larger law firms can delegate to dedicated personnel. This is more than just an inconvenient fact of life. It’s a potentially fatal flaw, because administrative duties pull attorneys away from profitable work, thus dragging down a firm’s efficiency and putting its overall viability at risk.
“Efficiency” can be defined as the time it takes to complete a given task. In a law firm context, it pertains to the time and effort needed to carry a matter from intake to paid invoice. Obviously, the more efficient this process, the better a firm’s bottom line. And yet, an overwhelming majority of firms have ignored streamlining this area of their operations.
In a report from the Thomson Reuters Institute, 74% of the 400 law firm respondents said spending too much time on administrative tasks was at least a “moderate” challenge. That’s up 2% from the previous year. While it’s a small uptick, it shows that firms failed to make headway on this challenge. Not only that, it is becoming more of a problem.
That point is underscored by how law firms define “success.” 85% say it’s based on overall profits. By clogging a lawyer’s day with non-billable work, inefficiency corrodes profits and dilutes the most important measure of success for many firms.
If any further proof is needed, consider these 3 areas where a lack of efficiency creates serious structural problems:
Client dissatisfaction: In the era of on-demand entertainment and restaurant-to-door delivery service, is it any wonder clients want results immediately? That may not be possible, of course, but it’s still true that a lawyer who is not able to operate efficiently cannot attend to client matters quickly. The less time a lawyer has to spend on non-client work, the more quickly any given billable task can be handled.
Lower-quality work product: Quality legal work demands focus, and that’s hard to do when you’re dealing with issues other than practicing law. Attorneys who focus primarily on their clients’ matters produce a much higher-quality finished product that leads to happier, more loyal customers.
Attorney burnout: Burnout is a tremendous issue for the legal profession. For lawyers at small- to mid-sized firms, a major cause is trying to do everything alone. When “everything” includes too much non-billable work, lawyers become exhausted performing tasks that don’t bring in any money. That is inefficiency at its worst.
In the end, no attorney needs another thing on his or her plate. Efficiency is worthy of special consideration, however. Because, in its absence, the prospect of ultimate failure increases.