As a service-based profession, law firms are most profitable when they’re billing hours worked for clients. But as any legal professional knows, non-billable hours are necessary for all law firms and can take up a large part of the working day. Non-billable tasks are administrative activities separate from client work, such as billing and practice management duties. Here, law firm automation can help streamline these tasks and ultimately add more billable hours to your day.
Non-billable tasks are necessary to operate and grow your law firm, but they don’t directly produce revenue and may cost money to complete — both in actual dollars spent and the payroll cost of an employee completing these duties. Smaller firms and solo practitioners feel the impact of non-billable tasks more than larger firms, as they have fewer employees to cover these duties.
In fact, the 2019 Legal Trend Report estimates that the average attorney in the U.S. only works about 2.5 billable hours each day out of a standard eight-hour workday. In other words, the average lawyer has only a 31% utilization rate.
Symptoms That Indicate You Need Law Firm Automation
Your Non-Billable Work Hours Dominate Billable Hours
Unless you're an extreme outlier, there’s a good chance your daily billable hours are close to the average of about 2.5. This indicates that you're likely challenged with inefficiencies in your practice. From appointment scheduling to returning phone calls and emails about client case status or documents needed, these repetitive tasks eat away at your time, are non-billable, and may hamper your ability to perform actual casework.
Manual processes can be harder on your legal team and frustrate clients who are waiting for a response from their attorney. If you find yourself unable to respond to new leads in favor of tending to booked and paying clients (or vice versa), it’s a clear sign that you can benefit from law firm task automation, a superior system that will free up your time to do both.
Your Team Is Overworked and Is Still Short on Time
Between a heavy caseload, a packed trial schedule, and providing your clients with high-quality representation and prompt communication, it’s little wonder that many lawyers work more than 60 hours a week. While the COVID-19 restrictions and subsequent remote work boom may have freed up some hours for lawyers who no longer commute, the downside is that often, working at home spills into personal time, creating an unequal and unsustainable work-life balance.
Overworking leads to burnout and mental fatigue. This means that not only are you exhausted and mentally drained, but you also cannot provide the level of service to clients that they expect from their attorneys. Nearly 30% of lawyers suffer from depression, which can be caused by stress and overwork. Here’s where legal automation can help lighten your load. The more you can incorporate automated legal services into your practice, the more non-billable tasks you can eliminate, giving you more hours to rest, recharge, and give your clients better service.
Potential Clients vs. Paying Clients
When potential clients need a lawyer, they often need one right away. If your firm’s response is slow, the potential client will simply move on to the next law firm in the search rankings. A slow initial response can be a roadblock for clients who need immediate legal advice.
But your paying clients shouldn’t have to wait while you follow up on leads. You’ve committed to representing their legal needs, and they deserve the quality, timely legal service you promised.
When your clients have to wait and wait for a response from you, they begin to lose trust in you and doubt your abilities.
Splitting your time between working for your existing clients and pushing new ones down the pipeline can exhaust a busy lawyer. The smaller your practice, the more challenging it is to allocate your time and resources appropriately. You shouldn't have to choose between new and current clients. With law firm process automation, you may not have to. Automated responses and self-serve modules on your law firm’s website can ensure that prospective and current clients get the attention they need when they need it.
You Do Not Control Your Client Intake
If you've put your legal marketing on the back burner because you have a good stream of steady clients, it’s easy to get comfortable. Many legal firms never identify their top lead generators until the stream of new clients dries up. At this point, you won't know how or where to start your sales pipeline flowing again.
Identifying new leads and starting the prospecting process from scratch is time-consuming and expensive. But if you have reliable client management software (CMS) that allows you to track your leads and pinpoint what is and is not working in your marketing efforts, then you know where to focus your efforts most. For example, if you’re using multiple referral services, you should be able to identify which ones are generating qualified leads through CMS.
Lawyer automation marketing analytics allow you to view impressions and click-through rates to determine the most popular marketing initiatives. You can follow your leads from the initial encounter through the qualification process that pushes them down the sales funnel. Once you know where your clients come from, you can make smarter marketing decisions that produce greater ROI.
You Lack Client Reviews
Most of your new clients likely find you through referrals from former, satisfied clients. If your previous clients aren’t recommending your services to their family and friends, there’s likely a good reason. Being unable to get in touch with their lawyer is frustrating to many clients, as are responses that take days to arrive.
If you aren’t providing recommendable service to your clients, or if your efforts at gathering referrals stagnate, there could be an opportunity to improve your law practice. One of the primary reasons law firms experience low referral rates is that their former clients simply don’t think about them.
Engaging past clients provide business opportunities in several ways:
- Your name is on their mind if someone they know needs a lawyer
- Their legal needs could change, and they'll need your services again
- Your own practice could change — perhaps you merge with another firm or go solo and wish to take your client base with you
Personalized messages strengthen the bond between your firm and former clients, which in turn increases your referral rate and revenue for your practice.
How to Start Your Legal Department Automation
Identify Repetitive Low-Value (or Non-Billable) Tasks
The best place to start your law firm workflow automation is with non-billable administrative tasks. Manually organizing law documents, storing them, and scanning them into the cloud can be time-consuming, eating away at those valuable billable hours in your day. Common tasks like organizing and assembling documents, composing court pleadings and engagement letters, or drafting contracts and other legal agreements can largely be automated with the right legal document automation software.
Legal firm automation software allows you to store and organize documents and create compliant, legally sound documents in a fraction of the time it would take manually. With a dashboard that allows you to view all aspects of a client’s case, from correspondence to a virtual interview, you can more efficiently manage client care or even set up a self-serve portal for clients.
Perform Research on Legal Automation Tools
Once you’ve decided which duties to automate, you can research how to make legal department automation best suit your needs. Look at your budget and evaluate whether purchasing a software as a subscription (SaaS) plan would work better. If you aren’t sure what you need, a comparison tool like the Clio App Directory can help. Or if you like the features of multiple automation tools, use an application like Zapier to help you automate actions within separate programs.
Develop a Plan of Changes
Change is uncomfortable, and you may discover many of your staff members are fairly set in their ways. Set aside time for comprehensive staff training and communicate the transition timeline clearly. Many lawyer automation software companies offer training for clients.
Law Firm Automation: 8 Key Areas
Many of your law firm’s processes require minimal oversight, and these are the repetitive tasks for which automation in legal practice is best suited. Using technology to complete client tasks from initial intake through invoicing streamlines your workflow. Take a closer look at how law office automation works in eight key areas.
Legal Automation for Your Paperwork
Contracts can be sent to clients automatically via secure email. Your clients can then e-sign the documents and return them. Ensure that the document automation law firm program offers end-to-end encryption to protect your clients.
Straightforward legal agreements and contracts are also prime for legal document automation. Your team can choose from curated templates and simply add the appropriate client information.
Finally, using artificial intelligence for contract review can remove the tedious and mundane tasks from your support staff. If you have thousands of contracts saved as Word files or PDFs, an AI contract review can help you find out what’s in your contracts and organize them.
Automation in Legal Lead Generation
Client intake software automatically tracks each stage of the client journey, from the initial qualification of a lead through follow-up and first consultation. Eliminate the need to juggle multiple spreadsheets or manual lead tracking by using legal automation software that provides a client management dashboard displaying the status of each lead and client.
Many legal automation tools allow customization for your firm’s unique needs so you can track and evaluate data in a way that makes sense for you. Managing partners or solo practitioners can note who has been followed up with and who may need personal attention.
Lead generation for lawyers is a critical part of your overall law firm marketing plan, and much of it can be automated. The right software tracks leads who click through to your website from different platforms. You can use this data to choose which marketing tactics have a good ROI and drop the ones that don’t.
Client Intake Legal Automation
The client intake process sets the tone for a client's comfort level and trust in your firm’s representation. Intake is also where you collect the information you need to determine a case's strength and plan your strategy.
Each practice area and case type typically requires a standard set of information. For example, the information for a divorce case differs from that for a personal injury claim. You'll also need to add general information, including the lawyer assigned to each case, the billing method, and other in-house designations. Legal document automation allows clients to input their information online and submit it to you. Once your office receives it, it’s immediately uploaded into your client management program.
Some of the benefits of automating the client intake process include:
- Quickly create customized forms by adding and removing separate fields
- Reduce the chances of manual errors in transcribing intake forms
- Streamline the information gathering process
Look for user-intuitive tools so that clients can easily understand how to fill out the forms and what information they need to provide.
Law Firm Automation: Automated Billing Process
Did you know that about 14% of invoiced hours never get paid to law firms? These unpaid invoices can create a significant revenue shortfall for your firm.
While most firms want to speed up the payment process, you might not have the administrative support for consistent billing, payments, and collections. Ensuring that a clean, correct invoice is sent out the first time and incorporating easy ways to pay, like a secure online portal, can reduce the number of outstanding invoices and missed payments.
The chief benefit of legal practice management software for billing is clear: You get paid faster. There are other benefits too, like:
- Creating a trail for accountability purposes
- Protecting your firm from disputes
- Tracking changes to invoices
The right legal billing software streamlines your firm's payment processes and leaves the client with a good final impression. Offering credit card payments or the option to set up an evergreen retainer online makes it easier for clients to pay you and reduces billing confusion.
For a deeper dive, check out our article on lawyer billable hours calculators.
Legal Department Automation: Scheduling Your Meetings
Finding an appointment time that works for both you and your client can be challenging. Many legal clients have little time during the nine-to-five business day, which means that law firms often offer after-hours appointments, extending their legal team's working hours. Delaying casework to find a time that works for both parties creates a bottleneck that automated appointment scheduling can alleviate.
Many legal software programs offer an availability calendar for client appointments, and clients simply choose the slot that works best.
The client receives an immediate booking confirmation, then a reminder closer to the appointment to ensure that booked appointments are kept.
Automation in Legal Marketing
Automating your marketing efforts leaves you more time for client communications with paying clients and qualified leads. You can easily set up automatic email campaigns to send a personalized message on schedule and deliver different marketing materials to clients you’ve sorted into groups according to their legal needs.
Get in front of a larger audience by creating regular updates to your Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts with automated social media for lawyers. And don’t neglect Google Business Profile — better known as Google My Business (GMB) — a free tool from Google with plenty of features that provides more passive marketing support.
You can also check our guide "Google My Business for Lawyers".
Law Firm Automation: Client Reviews
It's hard to understate the importance of client reviews and referrals for law firms. An efficient and profitable law firm and a client-centered experience go hand in hand, and the link between the two is often legal firm automation. Offering a positive and engaging experience to your clients and being readily available for their questions and concerns provides them a natural incentive to leave a positive review of your firm.
Word of mouth is a powerful persuasion tool for law firms, as there is such a strong element of trust and vulnerability for clients. Building your firm’s credibility and reputation for professional and thorough legal representation is a marketing tool you shouldn’t overlook.
How can you garner more reviews? First, reach out to your clients soon after their legal business concludes, while their positive experience is fresh in their minds. Simply add another step to your automated client management program. Draft an email template that can be personalized and automatically sent out about a week after their case ends, and include links for customers to leave a review on your site or your GMB profile.
Legal Department Automation: Data Reports
Client data and analytics aren't used as often in the legal profession as in other industries, but employing them with your automated client programs can give you insight into your business using quantifiable metrics. You can pinpoint the most lucrative clients, find out how leads discover your firm, and even determine which staff members are the most productive.
Good automation software programs will collect data in the background and produce reports according to the different parameters you select. This information will help you make more informed business decisions.
Legal Automation Tools to Consider
If you're searching for law office organization ideas, start by exploring how automation software for the legal industry can help streamline your mundane tasks, keep you on top of client needs, and invest your marketing dollars intelligently to grow your firm. These are some of the best tools for legal automation, each of which addresses a critical task.
Litify makes managing law document automation a breeze. Its features include client communication tools, a marketing module, and task and document management.
It also offers features to push leads along the conversion path, such as customizable questionnaires. You can automate your workflow, including setting marketing triggers and follow-up prompts. In fact, most marketing processes can be automated and run in the background unless interrupted by human intervention. The ability for high-volume in-house legal teams to sort through thousands of leads is one of the most popular features of Litify.
The easier it is for clients to pay you, the faster they pay. InvoiceSherpa offers one-click integration with your accounting software, offering payment solutions to keep track of outstanding invoices and allowing clients the flexibility to pay and retain ongoing services. The system sends out an automatic invoice with a secure payment link, collects payments from clients, and deposits the monies in your firm's account.
InvoiceSherpa reconciles all transactions with your accounting software and offers a dashboard with a snapshot of your delinquent invoices and current accounts receivable status. Automated invoicing and collections from InvoiceSherpa can improve your cash flow and reduce the number of delinquent invoices.
Automate social media posts with Hootsuite, an established social media management platform. It releases scheduled posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn and allows you to promote one of your social media profiles from another, such as tweeting a teaser about a blog post on your law firm’s Facebook or attorney LinkedIn page.
Hootsuite offers a tutorial for business social media posting and provides reports so you can see which posts are the most popular. It also keeps you up-to-date with social media trends so you can stay relevant and visible with each post.
GetResponse is a one-stop shop for online marketing and email campaigns. You can load different email templates and set personalization parameters so that they’re sent to the clients most likely to respond. It also offers a website builder, which is ideal for a new firm or a solo practitioner just starting out. An online chat program allows back-and-forth interactions with potential clients, and customizable reports provide insight into responses to different email campaigns and initiatives. It also offers auto-response emails for site visitors or those who completed a certain action for your marketing campaign.
Like the flexible, ubiquitous device it was named after, AbacusLaw offers comprehensive legal firm automation, including:
- Case management, with a client dashboard containing files, chronology, and case status at a glance
- Accounting, with easy integration with your A/R software and report-generating modules
- Legal calendaring, with your schedule visible to anyone, including a limited view for clients
- Time and billing activities, allowing you to automatically generate billed time reports for each client
- PCI-compliant secure payment processing
AbacusLaw allows you to centralize your daily and weekly activities to improve productivity and automate many routine tasks to increase your billing time. You can modify and tailor the software to your firm’s specialization and size.
What Are the Benefits of Legal Automation?
Legal automation allows busy lawyers to increase productivity, save time, and grow their firms purposefully. When you free yourself and your support staff from manually drafting documents and reviewing them, processing client intake, and following up on invoices, you’ll be able to focus on the aspects of your firm that truly need your personal attention.
Legal firm automation can benefit you by:
- Opening up time for more valuable tasks
- Reducing duplicate work and increasing efficiency
- Improving the client experience with self-serve portals and prompt communication
- Offering access to data and analytics for your marketing and lead generation efforts
- Allowing you to do more with less, making small firms and solo practitioners more competitive
If you’ve always wanted more hours in your day, legal automation is the solution. It frees up your time so you can invest it in paying clients and partnering with a professional law firm digital marketing agency to source new clients. To learn more about best practices for growing your law firm, reach out to Grow Law Firm today.