With law firms being service-based, revenue earned in this profession is still mostly based on hours billed for work on behalf of their clients. Unfortunately, non-billable hours are a fact of life for any law firm and can take up a significant amount of time per day. This includes administrative work that is separate from client work, client intake, billing and collections, and practice management tasks. And this is where law office automation can help.
Non-billable tasks are important to the maintenance and growth of your law firm. But at the same time, they cost money to execute and consume time that could otherwise be used for earning revenue. This is particularly a problem for small and solo practices that have fewer revenue streams available to offset such expenses, compared to large practices.
Non-billables are such a problem that, according to the 2019 Legal Trends Report, the average lawyer in the United States works only 2.5 hours of billable work each day. That means that when compared to a standard 8-hour workday, the typical lawyer only has a 31% utilization rate.
Here’s the good news—with today’s advancements in law office automation and technology, it’s entirely possible to reduce the time your firm spends on non-billable work. It all comes down to having a mix of priority-based planning, advanced technology/cloud-based apps, and ongoing watchful management.
In this guide, we’ll take you through:
- Why it’s worthwhile to automate your law firm processes
- Five areas that benefit the most from law office automation
- How to implement automation into your law office
Why automate law firm processes?
Lawyers can automate a significant portion of their work with current technology. This gives your law firm the advantage of being able to service your clients and attract new business more efficiently.
With law office automation and technology, you’re not taking away the human element of the practice. Rather, you spend less time on time-intensive yet menial tasks and more time in areas that require your skills and expertise.
Here are a few reasons why automation matters and how targeting routine law firm processes will benefit your organization. Automation:
- Removes room for human error related to duplicate data entry.
- Creates a better client experience when processes they interact with directly are automated or self-service (such as filling out forms).
- Increases attorney satisfaction because they can spend more time on billable work and other revenue-producing activities.
- Improves communication and transparency between your law firm’s staff and clients.
- Decreases the overhead costs of staffing and other fees associated with a conventional law office.
- If you’re a solo or small firm, automation levels the playing field by enabling you to stay competitive on a smaller budget.
Nehal Madhani of Alt Legal and Jordan Couch of Palace Law speak more about why automation is important for law firms here:
Will automation replace lawyers?
The short answer is, “no.” With law office automation and technology, you’re not taking away the human element of the practice. Instead, you’ll spend less time on time-intensive, tedious tasks and more time on activities that require your skills and expertise.
How to automate your law firm
Automating your law firm might come across as an easier-said-than-done kind of scenario, but with the right steps in place, the transition can be much easier than you think. Here are seven steps to consider when adding new automation technologies into your day-to-day processes.
1. Choose what to automate
The key is to start with one thing at a time. And in particular, start with one thing that you don’t like. Now, think of all the tasks that if you didn’t have to do them, you’d be a lot happier.
2. Evaluate the value of each task
You’ve created a list of all the things you don’t like doing. The next step is to decide which ones are good candidates for automation. Does it take a lot of time to do? Is it repetitive or tedious? Or, is it a necessary task but non-billable? Perhaps most importantly, is it time-sensitive?
3. Create a plan
If you determine that there are numerous tasks that your law firm could benefit from automating, create a plan of action so that you’re able to tackle changes one by one. You’ll also need to prioritize implementation as part of your day-to-day without jeopardizing the attorney and client experience.
4. Research automation tools
Once you’ve prioritized which processes to automate, conduct research to find the best solution that fits your needs, based on your implementation timeline and budget. The Clio App Directory is a good place to start your research. If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, if-this-then-that tools like Zapier can help you automate actions between specific tools.
5. Develop a change management plan
Technological change can be uncomfortable and intimidating for your staff, so make sure they are aware of the plan and have proper training in place for the easiest transition. It’s always better to communicate change early.
6. Review and iterate
Although part of the advantages of implementing automation is that you can “set-it-and-forget-it”, there will always be an advantage to regularly re-evaluating your processes over time. There is plenty of opportunity for customizations using automation tools, and each vendor will offer its own unique features, so never be complacent with your technology. Also, regularly asking for feedback from staff and clients will help you uncover valuable opportunities for improvement—and further savings on overhead.
For more tips, watch our webinar on easy ways to automate your law firm.
5 ways to implement law office automation
Law firms are full of processes that don’t require the attention and time of attorneys, or even staff. Law office automation is a way of using technology to complete these repetitive processes, from intake to invoice. We’ll be highlighting the top five ways you can implement law office automation.
1. Client intake
The client intake process sets the foundation for how you go about building a relationship with your client. First impressions count. Client intake is the critical step where client and case information is collected, and where clients have their first direct touchpoint with your law firm.
For each practice area and type of case, you need to collect a standard set of information. For example, for a divorce case, a firm might need the following from a client:
- Client’s name
- Spouses name
- Date of marriage
- Date of separation
- Number of children
- Children’s names
- Billing information
On the law firm’s end, internal information is required for each case, including:
- Practice area
- Responsible attorney
- Other staff working on the case
- Billing method
Your firm can automate portions of this process by allowing clients to provide their intake information online, and then syncing this seamlessly to your client intake and/or case management software.
Benefits to client intake automation
There are multiple benefits to automating the client intake process. Implementing automation allows you to customize forms to suit the particulars of the client case, adding the fields you need and eliminating any irrelevant entry fields. This will ultimately save your client time, and reduce the occurrence of manual errors on the part of the law firm.
Enabling public intake forms also helps clients fill out applications directly on your firm’s website, streamlining the process for clients, potential prospects, and your firm. No paper forms required.
Tools for client intake automation
From customizable intake forms to software that gives clients the option to sign virtual documents with an e-signature, there are plenty of tools that will enable you to automate the client intake process. Look for a tool that works directly with your practice management software, allowing you to create a new contact or case as soon as a new client fills out an intake form.
An example of a legal customer relationship management and client intake platform built specifically for law firms is Clio Grow. The Matter Pipeline dashboard allows you to see the status of every prospective client in real-time. It also helps you track new leads and gives smarter insights on how to simplify your marketing efforts while growing your client base.
Another feature of Clio Grow is Clio Scheduler (available in Clio Suite), which lets clients book their own appointments directly. The software also works seamlessly with Clio Manage, a case management software program.
2. Document automation
Document automation is exactly what it sounds like—faster and easier document creation. Not unlike tax preparation software programs, robotic document drafting tools work by presenting users with a questionnaire that they can easily fill out with their information. Responses are then automatically collected and recorded within a case. This information can then be inserted into a document template and returned for approval.
The best way to take advantage of this tool is to allow lawyers themselves to handle the automation directly in Microsoft Word. As they are most knowledgeable about the subject matter, and will quickly become familiar with the templates and program, lawyers who automate their documents will be able to best maintain their document templates for the long run, without having to call on intervention from IT specialists.
Benefits to document automation
Beyond being able to streamline the process of writing up complex legal documents, document automation also enables firms to reduce their reliance on billable hours. You can pass on these savings to your clients, all while boosting firm profitability. Rather than taking days, documents can be drafted up in a matter of minutes with fewer errors, costs and inefficiencies that plague the traditional drafting process.
Another key benefit of document automation is being able to share and retain knowledge across your firm. When a lawyer leaves to join another firm, their expertise can, in part, stay with the firm in the form of these automated document templates, thereby helping to bridge the knowledge gaps that can occur after their exit.
Tools for document automation
You’ve heard of using merge fields in Word to automate documents, but some tools make this even easier. With Clio Manage, you’re able to pull items from different matter fields into merge fields that will enable you to automatically create documents from your matters.
Clio’s Document Automation allows you to create PDF or Word documents using data from your Clio Manage account. This allows you to quickly and easily build forms and standard documents, such as Engagement Letters and Retainer agreements, all in one place.
There are many other more law firm document automation tools that integrate with Clio Manage and provide templated documents to make set-up quicker. Some examples include WealthCounsel, Lawyaw, and LawCloud.
3. Client communications
Automation can help cut down the time required for processes such as individual client intake, document drafting, and billing. However, it shouldn’t prevent high quality and personal client communication.
Before the advent of modern communication technology such as email, texting, and virtual meetings, lawyers often had to spend large chunks of their day talking on the phone or travelling to clients for personal consultations, often at great expense. Many law firms continue to operate this way. However, with these newer modes of telecommunications, lawyers can still maintain that personal touch without having to spend as much time or money.
Automation can help here as well. It will help you cut down on tedious processes and simple routine communications, leaving more space and time for higher quality personal interactions.
For example, a new, anxious client looking for an update on their case won’t be put to rest with an automated response. However, for a client simply looking to be notified when the check for their personal injury settlement has arrived, automated communication does the trick. Automation shouldn’t replace the empathetic and timely personal service that’s expected as a client. But in some cases, the quick response enabled by automation is the empathetic one, because it’s what the client wants.
Benefits to client communications
One form of automated technology is an AI-based chatbot. These can be used to answer client inquiries and for simple cases, can even be programmed to provide legal advice. For businesses, the ability to automate simple interactions translates into a lot of savings.
With automation tools, you can also send automated client emails to keep in contact with clients and maintain an ongoing relationship. It’s also possible to use tools that provide automatic updates to clients on their case status, thereby reducing the volume of inquiries coming into the law firm, as well as giving your clients a better experience.
Tools for client communications
Clio Grow is Clio’s cloud-based legal client relationship management software that helps create a much more efficient process when it comes to attracting and retaining clients for your law firm. In one place, you’re able to automate tasks, emails, and workflows that may be redundant for your law firm, but of the utmost importance in developing strong relationships with your clients.
You’re able to turn complicated client communication into organized and efficient tasks. For example, you can streamline day-to-day tasks like email follow-up and data entry after meeting with a client. With everything set up automatically, you don’t have to worry about remembering to follow up.
Clio Grow and Clio Manage also integrate with several chatbots to help provide more client communication support. Examples include Smith.ai and LawDroid. And, tools like Case Status, which integrates with Clio Manage, automate the process of providing clients with key status updates.
4. Law firm collection automation
According to the 2019 Legal Trend Report, 14% of all hours invoiced to clients are never paid. The reasons for these unpaid hours vary, ranging from a client’s inability to afford their legal bills, or law firms neglecting to follow up on their invoices. Either way, these unpaid hours add up over time, leaving firms to deal with these significant shortfalls in revenue.
In addition, most firms want to speed up the collection process, but they can’t afford to sacrifice accuracy or compliance. Invoices can sometimes come back from the client for multiple rounds of adjustments, potentially adding weeks to the collections cycle.
A tried and true method of simplifying fee payments for firms and clients alike is to offer electronic payment methods. The 2018 Legal Trends Report found that 50% of clients are more inclined to hire a lawyer who accepts electronic payments, and that 47% of clients are more likely to hire a lawyer who accepts payment in the form of fund transfers and automatic payments. Moreover, a whopping 40% of survey respondents said they would never hire a lawyer who didn’t accept credit or debit cards.
Benefits to collection automation
The most obvious benefit to billing automation is that with electronic payments, bills get paid faster. This makes collections easier and saves time on follow-ups when bills are past their due dates.
However, there are a number of other benefits that go beyond actually getting paid. Modern billing technology creates an audit trail for accountability. A client may dispute a charge several weeks or months later. In this case, Law firms are at a disadvantage if they use manual or paper-based billing systems. With collection automation tools, you have the capacity to audit and trace changes as a pre-bill transitions into an invoice.
Tools for collection automation
When it comes to automating invoicing and collections, Clio Manage is a versatile, easy-to-use platform. This legal billing software works both ways in making it a smoother experience for both law firms and clients. You’re able to create and approve bills on the go, automatically apply interest charges to overdue payments, and send bills electronically via Clio Connect, our secure client portal.
You’re also able to offer flexible payment options to clients with Clio Payments. Powered by LawPay, Clio Payments syncs transactions to Clio and third-party accounting systems. Collection automation software also allows clients to pay the balance for all their legal bills in one transaction via credit card online versus one by one. Clients can also pay via payment plan or can continue to top up an evergreen retainer.
There are many other more law firm collection automation tools that integrate with Clio Manage and allow automated follow-ups to streamline collections. Some examples include InvoiceSherpa, InvoiceTracker, and Faster Invoicing.
5. Client reviews
Providing a client-centered experience and running an efficient, profitable law firm have many overlaps. Both goals drive each other and create stronger relationships between law firms and clients, according to legal technology expert Jack Newton’s bestselling book, The Client-Centered Law Firm.
Provide a positive, engaging experience to clients, and they will be more inclined to give a positive review of your law firm. Word-of-mouth is a powerful and persuasive marketing channel for you to garner new clients and build brand awareness. It can also increase your firm’s credibility and reputation for delivering top-notch service. This drives more reviews, referrals, and business for your firm.
So, how do you get more reviews? You can start by reaching out to your most satisfied clients after their matter has concluded. If they had a good experience with your law firm, chances are they will respond positively if you send a request for feedback. And the easiest way to do this is to add an automated step to the overall case management workflow.
Benefits to client review automation
Asking for a client review is not top of mind for most attorneys and law firms. But client reviews hold immense power in being able to drive new business and law firm credibility. It’s an essential step.
Use software that automates that step, and you’ll never forget it. You’ll have templated emails already in place. These can be programmed to be sent out automatically to the client after a case closes. You can also able to go beyond email and get customer reviews on sites that matter the most.
Tools for client review automation
Automation tools for gathering client reviews have grown more popular over the years. This is because clients are looking to online reviews as they evaluate law firms.
With a tool like Birdeye that easily integrates with law practice management technologies like Clio Manage, it’s easy to get new reviews via automated texts and emails. You can also manage communications and promote reviews online. Popular sites for reviews include Google business reviews, Facebook, Avvo, and Lawyers.com.
Conclusion: Law office automation = big benefits for your firm
Law office automation technology provides limitless opportunities when it comes to helping you save time on key law firm processes. This includes client intake, documentation, client communications, payment collections, client reviews, and more. By optimizing these areas, you’ll be able to spend less time doing non-billable tasks. And, you’ll spend more time creating revenue for your law firm.
Make a solid plan in place and take a step-by-step approach to integrating new automation technologies. Then, you’ll be set up for success.
So take advantage of those automation tools. You’ll achieve efficiencies that will help you deliver better experiences for both clients and a better work environment for attorneys.
Note: The information in this article applies only to US practices. This post is provided for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal, business, or accounting advice.