Business bottlenecks refer to areas of your business that run slowly, resulting in a workload backup or slow movement of other operations. They are essentially inefficiencies in your process that cause your workflow to become backed up. It’s important to identify bottlenecks within your law firm because they lead to inadequacies and may result in decreased profitability. This post will discuss how to identify bottlenecks, and even more importantly, how to effectively eliminate them.
Bottlenecks within a law firm setting
When you hear business analysts talk about bottlenecks, they are usually referring to manufacturing industries that use production lines. You rarely hear this terminology used to describe law firms, but it is a very real problem that many lawyers fail to recognize. Let me give you an example:
You recently updated your entire marketing campaign, to include a new website, a greater social media presence, and some high-profile speaking engagements. The response has exceeded your expectations, resulting in a large influx of new clients within a short period of time. However, instead of moving forward on these cases, you have intake forms sitting on the desk waiting to be inputted into your case management system.
This is a bottleneck. The marketing process did exactly what it was supposed to do, but you did not have the processes in place to handle the result, so work is piling up. Pretty soon, you could be experiencing missed deadlines, disgruntled clients, and bar complaints.
Hopefully, this example demonstrates the importance of identifying and addressing bottlenecks before they turn into serious problems. Now let’s talk about how you know you have a problem.
First, you need to ask yourself whether there is any area of your practice where work is not getting done. It’s pretty easy to find these issues because left unaddressed too long, they can turn into a very squeaky wheel. Here is a list of questions you should ask yourself:
- Have you missed important filing deadlines?
- Did you miss a court appearance?
- Have you had complaints about unreturned calls or emails?
- Are there particular clients who seem to be calling a lot lately?
- Are invoices going unpaid?
- Are invoices not being sent out?
- Are staff members not tracking their time accurately?
- Does the money coming in not match the amount of work being completed?
- Do you have a large staff turnover?
- Are you having trouble retaining clients?
A “yes” to any of these questions indicates that you may have a bottleneck problem within your law practice. If you’re missing court appearances and deadlines, then there is likely a problem with your calendaring system. Communications complaints could mean that you aren’t planning your time efficiently or perhaps your support staff is not performing in the way that they should. Time recording issues could be the result of an ineffective time tracking system. Take these issues seriously and invest some time to investigate the root of the problem, so you can identify the bottleneck.
Now that you know where your law firm processes are breaking down, it’s time to fix them.
First, look for ways to systematize the process that’s causing trouble. Simply put, you need to put logical steps in place that streamline your workflow. Your staff members should not be reinventing the wheel every time an issue or task arises. Instead, they should be following an already established set of instructions to move the task quickly and easily, without undue delays. Also referred to as standardization, there are numerous studies out there proving that systemization is key to increased productivity and improved profits.
The legal industry is filled with innovative technologies to make the practice of law more efficient. With the right practice management software, you can keep up with contacts, filing deadlines and court appearances. It can also store client case files and assist with compliance requirements.
The right accounting software can prove invaluable when it comes to tracking firm expenses and administrative costs. It is also extremely useful at tax time and when you are setting annual profit goals.
With an effective legal time tracking and an invoicing system like TimeSolv, you can promote accurate time keeping throughout your practice. Their mobile time tracking system allows your attorneys to track time from virtually anywhere in the world, which can solve numerous bottleneck issues. When attorneys are forced to remember or write down task time, they may forget or lose pieces of paper. TimeSolv addresses that problem by making their time tracking app highly available through a convenient smartphone application.
TimeSolv also helps with billing backups, by enabling your staff members to quickly import tracked time into customizable bills that can be systematically scheduled to go out on predetermined days.
Don’t forget about all of the applications that are specifically designed to help you take on your day in a more efficient manner. Apps like 1Password, which helps you manage those passwords you use on a regular basis and Evernote, which allows you to organize and manage all of your random notes, can be of tremendous benefit when addressing bottlenecks within your practice.
Make staffing decisions
Sometimes, you can have of the most up-to-date law firm technology in place and still experience bottlenecks within your practice. If that’s the case, you may need to take a long look at your current staffing situation. Do you need more administrative help to handle a recent influx of clients? If so, it’s time to do some hiring. Perhaps, you have enough staff, but they are not handling their tasks efficiently. In that case, it may be time to do some firing and hiring.
Repeat the process for each bottleneck
After you successfully address one bottleneck, move on to any others by following the same blueprint. Pretty soon, you will find that your legal practice is running smoothly and meeting all of its goals.
About Erika Winston:
Erika Winston is a freelance writer with a passion for law. Through her business, The Legal Writing Studio, she helps legal professionals deliver effective written messages. Erika is a regular contributor to TimeSolv and a variety of other publications.