Most law firms are small law firms. According to a 2021 study from Thomson Reuters, small law firms face challenges, such as increasing administrative burdens and trouble acquiring new clients, but they maintain a positive outlook for the future. Successfully operating a small firm in today’s hyper-competitive economy requires well-developed systems and processes.
At Rize Technologies, we provide managed IT services for law firms, including small firms. Our IT support team has a unique understanding of the challenges that come with owning and operating a small law firm. In this article, you will find a guide to managing a small law firm.
The Starting Point: Developing Comprehensive Systems and Processes
What is a Process?
One of the fundamental keys to managing a small law firm is developing a process. For obvious reasons, small law firms often have “less formalized” systems and processes. That being said, it is a major mistake for small law firms to have no process at all. A process can be broadly thought of as a systematic approach for completing tasks. A process should be something that can be repeated over and over again—with necessary adjustments—to get work done. A process should be developed and implemented for all important matters related to firm management, including:
- Getting relevant information from prospective clients through intake;
- Tracking the time of associate attorneys, paralegals, and legal support staff;
- Assigning legal work and getting things done;
- Communicating with clients and following up on important matters; and
- Billing clients and tracking revenue and expenses.
How Processes Help Your Firm Grow
A well-crafted process will help your law firm grow. Indeed, strong processes can be the difference between a small law firm that is disorganized and seemingly always falling behind and an effective, profitable, and highly sought-out law firm that is in a position to add new attorneys. Some of the specific ways in which systems and processes can help your firm grow include:
- Save time and money by automating repetitive tasks and/or making them more efficient;
- Reduce the risk of costly and frustrating errors by keeping things well-organized; and
- Facilitating easy, smooth communication between you, associate attorneys, and legal staff.
How Do Small Law Firms Use Legal Technology?
Technology has changed the way that the law is practiced in the United States. When implemented and used properly, legal tech can make your firm far more efficient. It can save you a lot of time, money, and headaches.
When legal tech is not used properly, it can actually slow things down—creating huge headaches and a lot of frustration for everyone involved. Inefficient and ineffective use of technology is a major problem in the industries, for law firms of all sizes. A recent survey of attorneys found that half of them do not feel that their firm is using legal tech well.
For small law firms, legal technology can be intimidating. It may feel like the latest legal tech is too complex or too cost prohibitive for a small firm. The reality is far different. Small firms can, should, and must develop and implement legal technology. Here are four steps to put legal tech in place:
- Know Your Legal Technology Needs: As a starting point, it is important to take a comprehensive inventory of your law firm’s legal tech needs. While small law firms share a number of important similarities, the reality is that every firm has different technology needs. The number of employees you have, the types of clients you have, and your specific practice areas will all have an impact on the technology needs of your law firm.
- Consider How Your Current Systems are Working (or Falling Short): Most likely, your firm already has some form of legal tech in place. It is useful to consider how the existing system is working well or falling short. For example, if you are considering adding new attorneys, you should review your firm’s ability to operate in a telework environment. The American Bar Association (ABA) recently reported that the majority of attorneys expect at least part-time telework going forward. The good news is that your small firm does not have to start from scratch. No matter the tech tools that you are currently using, there are options to migrate and integrate to ensure a smooth transition for any legal tech upgrades.
- Look for Tech Solutions that Increase Efficiency: The core purpose of legal technology is to make legal practice more efficient. As the owner and operator of a small law firm, your technology should make it easier for you to do what you do best—practice the law. Legal tech should not be a huge frustration or headache. Look for tech tools and tech solutions that you are comfortable with and that actually increase efficiency. Some common examples include: time tracking systems, document sharing platforms, secure cloud storage, automated scheduling and task management systems.
- Do Not Let Cybersecurity or Data Protection Lapse: Small law firms should always pay careful attention to cybersecurity. Cyberattacks are growing. The Washington Post reports that worldwide cybercrime losses hit $1 trillion for the first time in 2020. The cost of cybercrime is expected to grow by the year. Law firms have always been targets for domestic and international cybercriminals. Small law firms face some additional threats as they are often presumed to be especially vulnerable. Always work with legal tech providers and IT support that makes cybersecurity a top priority.
Law Firm Recruitment and Hiring
Recruitment, talent evaluation, and hiring can be a time-consuming, resource-intensive endeavor. With a small law firm, it is especially important that you get your personnel decision right. Whether your law firm is replacing an associate attorney or legal support professional or expanding, you can make the hiring process more efficient and effective. Here are four considerations to keep in mind:
- Focus on talent. With fewer associates and legal support staff, the quality of your team matters.
- Look for attorneys at other small and mid-sized law firms. They are often more prepared and familiar with the expectations of a small firm.
- Build your brand. A small law firm that is known for treating its staff right will better be able to retain talented employees and attract top talent.
- Offer the right mix of compensation and quality of life. A small firm does not necessarily mean a below-market salary. However, small law firms that cannot compete directly with the salary package of larger firms can still bring a lot to the table with their offer.
How Do I Train Staff for a Small Law Firm?
As noted previously, small law firms often have less-formalized systems and processes. This can make things more challenging when it comes to training of staff. One of the primary benefits of well-structured processes is that they are easier for a new person to learn. When training new associate attorneys, paralegals, or legal support staff at a small law firm, you should:
- Explain how things work and why things work the way that they do;
- Give the new employee enough time to absorb information and learn the system; and
- Follow up and make sure that a new staff member can ask questions and get help.
Make Sure You Have the Right Pricing/Payment Model in Place
Revenue is key to the success of any business or organization—a small law firm is no exception. It is crucial that small law firm owners regularly review and evaluate their pricing and payment models. Among other things, this includes:
- Develop the right model—whether that is hourly billing, contingency fee representation, alternative fee arrangements, or some combination; .
- Make sure that you have the right billing tech and billing system to send clients their bills and payment reminders in a timely manner; and
- Develop a system to work with clients to collect on any delinquent accounts in the most efficient and effective manner.
How Can Small Law Firms Improve the Client Experience?
At their best, small law firms offer clients the best experience. They are able to provide fully personalized legal representation, with careful attention to small details. At their least effective, small law firms can be disorganized and frustrating to deal with for clients. Client experience matters. It will affect your firm’s reputation. Here are three ways that small law firms can improve client satisfaction:
- Communicate: Clients should never be left in the dark on their own case. Proactive communication is crucial. Make sure that your clients know where to go for answers to questions.
- Be Transparent and Realistic: Never overstate what you can do for a client. By being transparent and realistic about the status of their legal matter, you can improve the client experience.
- Implement Client-Friendly Legal Tech: Client friendly legal tech can make a major difference. Seemingly simple things like an easy intake process, electronic docusign, and easy file sharing dramatically improve the client experience.
Learn to Manage Your Firm’s Financials
A small law firm’s financial matters. At the end of the day, revenue and expenses will tell the story of how your small law firm is doing. Owners of small firms should take their time to learn the financials. Among other things, this includes:
- Developing a “work in progress” accounting system so you can make future projections;
- Getting a handling on accounts receivable and trusts; and
- Having a clear and comprehensive review of the bottom line numbers.
Should I Start Using Legal Practice Management Software for My Small Law Firm?
If you are not already using a practice management software for your small law firm, it is a great time to start. Legal practice management software can make it faster, easier, and more cost effective to run and manage a small law firm. Many attorneys who own and operate their own firm—whether as a solo practitioner, with other partners, or with associate lawyers—report that practice management is a huge time commitment. The right legal practice management software can make a major difference.
Small Firms Must Develop their Brand
Brand matters. While law firms—especially small firms—are often not thought of as brands, the reality is that they do have a brand value. In fact, a lot of small businesses, smaller organizations, and individuals prefer to work with highly qualified attorneys at small firms. Even if you are not putting a lot of direct resources into marketing, you can still develop a brand for your small law firm with consumer reviews, social media, and your professional profile.
Why Should a Law Firm Hire Rize Technologies for Managing Their Firm?
With more than 20 years working with law firms, Rize Technologies helps clients modernize, grow, and stay out of trouble. We provide top-end, comprehensive IT support services to law firms. Possessing deep technical expertise, our team takes a value-driven approach. We have deep experience working with small law firms, and we understand the unique challenges that they face in the modern legal industry. With Rize Technologies, small law firms get access to:
- A Full Range of IT and Legal Tech Services: We provide a wide array of information technology services to small law firms. Our managed IT services for small firms include network monitoring, data security, device management, migration services, cloud management, an IT helpdesk, and much more.
- Digital Transformation that Can Increase Your Efficiency: A small law firm can be a hyper-efficient law firm. We provide the digital transformation that small firms need to take their efficiency to the next level. With Rize Technologies, you will be able to access your data any time and from anywhere.
- A Team that Puts a Strong Emphasis on Cybersecurity: Unfortunately, small law firms are often targets of cyber criminals. We know the data security challenges that small firms face, and we put a focused emphasis on cybersecurity. Our team offers a full range of cybersecurity services to small firms, from proactive vulnerability assessments to cyberattack protection.
- Cost Effective IT and Legal Tech Solutions: Cost matters for small law firms. We understand that small firms have resource constraints—but that does not mean that top quality IT services are out of reach. Rize Technologies provides cost effective IT support and legal tech solutions to small law firms.
Rize Technologies Helps Small Law Firms Manage their Practice
At Rize Technologies, we have extensive experience working with small law firms. Our team can provide the IT and legal technology resources that your law firm needs to thrive. If you have any specific questions or concerns about IT and technology options for small law firms, we are here to help. Contact our team today to learn more about our IT services.