If you find yourself struggling to bring in more billable hours, you’re not alone. Many lawyers aren’t able to fill up even half their day with billable work. According to the 2017 Legal Trends Report, unveiled yesterday at the Clio Cloud Conference, attorneys utilize only 2.3 hours a day on billable work, and collect on only 1.6 of those hours. The report, based on aggregated and anonymized data collected from more than 60,000 users of Clio’s cloud-based practice management software, provides one of the best looks at how attorneys use their time.
The take-away is clear: Lawyers, especially at small and boutique firms, need more billable hours. Two changes can help you start bringing them in. By automating time-consuming processes and taking more work in house, rather than vending it out to third parties, attorneys can dramatically increase the billable work available to them.
No one becomes a lawyer to spend their time generating client invoices or organizing client files. Yet, for many lawyers, such tasks take up a significant portion of their day.
According to Clio’s Legal Trends Report, Clio users spend a whopping 48 percent of their non-billable hours on administrative tasks. That’s about three hours a day going to office administration, billing, collections, and other tasks. Eleven percent of that is spent on “configuring technology.”
Keep in mind, these stats are describing 60,000 Clio users. That is, these attorneys have already taken the step of adopting cloud-based legal technology. They’re ahead of the game—sometimes far ahead. Yet even attorneys who are tech savvy in one area can be bogged down by inefficient processes in another.
Manual processes for everything from client intake to billing to eDiscovery are still the norm in many firms. What’s that look like? Well consider this surprisingly common and painfully manual eDiscovery process: A small firm gets a case requiring the review of a few email accounts. They convert those files to PDFs, organize the documents into separate folders, read through each and every one, apply manual redactions and manually add Bates stamping, tracking the whole thing in a massive Excel file. Some still print out their ESI for review and there’s enough of a market out there for actual Bates stamps that you can still find websites devoted to the things—stamps, ink pads, banker’s boxes and all.
At Logikcull, we hear stories like this all the time. Firms stick with slow, inefficient discovery processes simply because that’s the way they’ve done them in the past. When someone gets fed up or a forward-thinking legal professional joins the firm, these attorneys are astonished to learn just how much easier things can be done. It’s an Aladdin-singing-on-a-flying-carpet moment.
That’s because so many time-consuming tasks can now be easily automated, handled instantly by modern, cloud-based technology. Arduous, expensive, and time-intensive processes are reduced to something as simple as upload, search, download. With cloud-based eDiscovery automation like Logikcull, legal professionals can start new discovery projects in seconds, securely conducting searches, tagging documents, and removing nonresponsive material. Integrations with Clio further reduce redundant processes, making sure that practice management and eDiscovery are seamlessly integrated.
It all adds up to reduced time, expense, and uncertainty—and happier clients. And it's not just eDiscovery that can benefit from automation, of course. Everything from billing clients to logging hours to typing in section symbols can be improved by moving from inefficient manual systems to streamlined, automated ones.
Of course, freeing up time doesn’t translate into more billable hours on its own; you’ve got to have matters to fill those hours. After all, business development took up 33 percent of attorneys’ non-billable time, according to Clio’s report, which “suggests earning new clients is a constant concern for most law firms.” Indeed.
Automation helps here as well, as efficiency becomes an important marketing advantage. Mastering processes such as discovery, efficiently and effectively, can be a significant selling point, particularly as the amount of data available in litigation increases dramatically and eDiscovery becomes more common across practice areas.
Nothing breeds success like success. Cloud-based discovery automation can lead to a whole host of advantages, from quicker early case assessment to a faster path to uncovering smoking gun evidence. And when the burdens of eDiscovery are reduced, firms can capture more billable work in house and take on bigger cases and clients that may have been out of reach before hand—all while keeping clients happy and leading to more clients coming through the door.
Law firms can acquire more billable hours by taking on more matters, but they can also increase their billables by handling more aspects of a matter in house, rather than sending them out to a third-party vendor.
Legal technology and cloud-based solutions can allow law firms to cut out the middleman and bring work in-house. In many eDiscovery processes, for example, a client gathers relevant data, sends it to the law firm, who in turns sends that data to vendors who process that data, OCR images, fix exceptions and prepare it for review.
It’s slow and it’s expensive. Something as straight-forward as preparing a single email account for review shouldn’t take two weeks and cost thousands of dollars in vendor services alone—but with many eDiscovery vendors, that’s often the case. And nickle-and-dime charges (a penny per Bates stamp, $75 for five minutes of customer support, $250/GB for processing) coupled with the unpredictable nature of discovery can soon lead to skyrocketing costs.
Given modern technology, those eDiscovery functions performed by vendors can be handled directly by the firm. With the work outsourced to vendors now automated, law firms can take advantage of “self-service” solutions. Those same cloud-based eDiscovery solutions also allow legal professionals to work more productively, with tools that are instantly accessible on the web and simple to use.
More eDiscovery work handled in-house means more billable hours, rather than vendor costs passed on to the client. This is a win-win for both client and firm, as additional hours billed by the firm are offset by the savings gained from excising third-party vendors.
These two relatively simple changes—increased automation, decreased reliance on vendors—work in tandem, reducing unnecessary work and letting you fill your day with more billable tasks.