Author: Amy Larson, Thomson Reuters

We rely on technology integrations for more efficiency in our home lives every day.  Why are we slower to implement integrated technology into our law firms and our business workflows?

Think about it.  As a lawyer, you sell your advice and expertise. But, as a small business, you also have to manage the firm. If you’re not practicing law, you’re not making money. But managing the increasingly complicated operational side of your firm takes you away from the practice of law. It can seem like a never-ending spiral.  With clients demanding more – and by more I mean more transparency, more collaboration, better responsiveness, and more data security – attorneys are saddled with more administrative tasks. In the 2016 State of U.S. Small Law Firms study completed by Thomson Reuters, the top challenges identified by small law firm leaders revolved around challenges in running the business – not in practicing law.  Among those challenges were key issues including:  spending too much time on administrative tasks, challenges acquiring new clients, clients demanding more for less, and lack of internal efficiency.  And while these tasks are essential to the success of your business, it’s the practice of law that creates revenue.  So, how do you do both – and do them well?

Integrated Solutions – It’s Time.

Studies show that leveraging integrated technology to manage your law firm can address challenges and lead to greater law firm success.  This was proven in a Blue Hill Research study, “Impact of Integrated Technology Suite in General Practice Firms” (also available for Business and Litigation firms).  The study showed that smaller general practice firms that use Thomson Reuters integrated solutions experienced 17% more annual billings and a 71% increase in new clients referred by existing clients, among other benefits.

That said, there are still many firms that manually perform practice management and administrative tasks, using email, multiple calendars, spreadsheets, and physical paper and storage systems.  Even at firms where some technology solutions have been deployed, there’s often inefficiency. Meaning that, often, firms might purchase and implement technology solutions separately from one another such as standalone time-tracking tools, or document management systems that don’t integrate with other tools such as legal research. These systems and tools are rarely connected, so users have to rely on inefficient processes such as transferring information from one to the other, dealing with multiple sign-ons and passwords, and learning new interfaces for each.   Does any of that sound familiar?  So, although some firms think that investing in any technology is a good idea, using these cobbled-together, or Frankenstein systems, ends up requiring additional time, more manual effort and introduces the risk of costly errors.

Doing it Right

Darla Jackson, the Practice Management Advisor of the Oklahoma Bar Association, shared her thoughts and recommendations when it comes to the importance of utilizing integrated technology legal practice management solutions.

“One of the considerations I discuss with bar members when they are selecting a legal practice management solution (LPMS) is the availability of integrations. One of the key recommendations I make is to explore the LPMS’s ability to integrate with other products the attorney would use in their workflow, such as a legal research tool.  Because of my background in law librarianship, I understand attorneys can improve their efficiency through the integration of their legal research and practice management solution.  As an attorney and practice management advisor, l also feel it is essential to emphasize the importance of digital client files, automated document assembly, and secure communications channels. Integration with an automated form assembly solution allows lawyers to reduce errors and improve drafting efficiency.  Integration with a tool, such as Microsoft Outlook, facilitates the building of a complete digital file that includes email communications; and for confidential communications, the availability of a secure client portal (whether through integration or as a native tool) is becoming a necessity.”

Often, small law firms don’t know where to start in their journey to an integrated set of solutions.  The problem looms and becomes bigger.  But, the challenges don’t go away.  Take the first step in learning about how integrated solutions can help your firm and how much efficiency you can actually realize.  Systems that talk to each other, pull in the right data at the right time, and help you to better serve your clients with better answers, faster make it easier for you to implement from one, trusted source.  Don’t be lured by one-off systems that don’t offer true integrations which, in the long run, will cause more pain than gain.