Guide

Top 3 Ways Legal Tech Can Reduce Non-Billable Work

Manage your data.
Automate your document drafting.
Create a communication policy.
Guide

Top 3 Ways Legal Tech Can Reduce Non-Billable Work

Some tools have a greater impact on efficiency than others. I saw this firsthand when running my own firm, and these are the top three areas where legal tech can reduce wasted time.

By: Molly M. Anderson  

According to the Clio 2021 Legal Trends Report, the average lawyer is only billing 31% of the hours in a normal workday.  Low utilization rates like this mean that most attorneys are spending an enormous amount of time on repetitive non-billable tasks.  

"The average lawyer is only billing 31% of the hours in a normal workday."

While legal professionals can easily identify this as a problem, it is much more difficult to find an effective solution.  For example, a quick Google search of the term “legal tech productivity tools” provides over 100 million results.  When I started my own firm a few years ago, I tried multiple strategies to limit my administrative work.  Out of all the options I tried, there were a few that made a much bigger and quicker impact than others.  Here are three of the most effective methods of  using legal tech to increase attorney efficiency and reduce non-billable work. 

Cloud storage box data management

1. Choose how you want to organize your client data and systematize it.

Legal professionals need to store client data in a way that is organized, accessible, and secure.  Attorneys need to adopt two things: 

  • digital tool(s) to store, organize, and manage data, and 
  • an office procedure to input all types of client data into the digital tool promptly.  

Most legal offices have had some method of digital file storage for quite some time, but the pandemic emphasized the need for cloud storage options that were both secure and accessible from anywhere.  However, data storage is not the same as data management.  Data storage is the equivalent of putting all of your papers into a pile in your office (I’ve been there and I do not recommend).  Are the papers securely locked in your office? Yes, but they are at risk of getting lost, and it will take you forever to find what you need.  Data management is more like putting each paper in an appropriately labeled folder and then in a file cabinet with detailed labels.  In short, your client data should be easily accessible, consistently updated, and searchable.

The most popular tools for legal data management are practice management platforms.  The benefit of using a practice management platform is that they come with built-in organizational structure tailored for legal offices (and sometimes even for specific practice areas).  Some attorneys want a more customized solution, so they are turning to more general project management platforms.  Platforms like monday.com or Trello can be tailored to your needs without coding, and they often have a more robust set of tools and integrations.  They are often less expensive than practice management, but you have to be willing to spend a little time up front setting up your storage system.  Still not sure which is best for you?  We will be publishing a more detailed comparison between these tools soon.   

Whichever you choose, the goal is to organize your legal data.  Firms that commit to learning the features of their data management solutions and consistently storing their data will greatly reduce the amount of non-billable work.

2. Stop drafting documents the old way. Automate your document drafting.

Most people take their word processing platforms for granted: just open a new file and start typing.  Until just a few years ago, the only ways to improve on this process were to either purchase an expensive enterprise-level document automation system with complex coding requirements or to use the template and mail merge functions of a word processor (or  just copying and pasting from an old document—yet another strategy that I have tried and do not recommend).  Each of these options provides only marginal improvements in efficiency.  If your firm still relies on copy and paste to create new documents, you are also increasing the potential for errors and typos. 

However, today’s document automation tools can drastically increase efficiency and accuracy in document drafting.  Our survey of practicing lawyers indicated that using a platform like Documate for legal document automation saves a shocking 90% of drafting time (and yes, this increased efficiency benefits all attorneys, even those who bill by the hour).  We have previously discussed the benefits of document automation, but the results are clear: document automation creates a significant reduction in non-billable work.  This, in turn, can also increase billing realization.  When clients know that you are drafting their documents efficiently and with increased accuracy, they are less likely to request write-offs on their bills.    

Document automation can also reduce non-billable time by eliminating data entry.  With Documate,* you can create a detailed questionnaire and send it directly to clients.  Once they have completed their questions, you receive the finished documents, and you can also store the raw data with Documate’s Data Manager tool.  If you need that client’s data again, you can open the data file and use it for another document questionnaire, or you can export that data as needed.  

By reducing both drafting time and data entry, document automation is one of the quickest and most effective ways for law offices to increase their efficiency.

*Am I biased? Yes. But prior to my affiliation with Documate, I tried several document automation platforms for my legal work and Documate was the clear winner, by far.  

3. Limit and organize communications.

Emails, phone calls, meeting requests, text messages—the constant communication demands on an attorney can greatly reduce efficiency (and sanity).  When we answer communications immediately and in multiple formats, we end up losing billable time due to context-switching, unnecessary communications, and lost data.  However, there are multiple tools to address these problems.  

First, implement a client communication policy and an internal communication policy to limit the number of emails and unplanned calls you receive, both from clients and members of your office.  It is possible—I and many other attorneys have done this successfully, while continuing to receive excellent reviews from happy clients.  When I made this change at my own firm, my stress level dropped almost immediately.  Check with your state bar association to make sure they allow attorneys to define the channels of client communication, but many do.  An example client policy might require clients to communicate by email or scheduled calls only (no unplanned calls except in clearly defined emergencies) or to communicate solely via a secure client portal.  As long as you are providing your clients with clear expectations and you are updating clients regularly, most clients will be satisfied.  For internal communications, you can require employees to use instant messaging for quick questions or to save all questions for a certain time of day.

Once armed with your communication policies, you can then use technology tools to help these policies work.  These tools are easy to use and effective:

  • Automatic calendaring: Tools like Calendly and Acuity allow clients to schedule a quick call directly on your calendar (within the time boundaries that you set, of course).  
  • VOIP phone services:  Forward your calls, record your conversations (if legal in your state), and work remotely without giving clients your cell number.  
  • Secure client portal:  Portals allow clients to sign in to a secure website (from a third party or on your own page) to access their files and communicate with you or your team.  They not only help you clearly define your communication preferences, but they also create a record of the communication and allow clients to review their case files remotely.  Many practice management platforms also offer client portals or integrations with popular portal tools.  This can be a huge benefit for data organization as well because it allows you to store all client communications in the same place as their digital files.

With a strong communication policy and the tools to implement it, attorneys will reduce the constant interruptions and unnecessary communications, allowing more time for client work.  This strategy can take longer to implement, but the impact is significant.  

For attorneys that find themselves consistently underwater with non-billable work, focusing on these three areas will be the quickest path to reclaiming their time.  

Want to implement step 2 today and reduce your non-billable time? Try Documate for free.

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