Today’s law firms are more focused on efficiency – doing more with less – than ever before. Due to greater pressure on the bottom line, new regulations, and unpredictable workloads, firms are increasingly looking to keep costs under control while continuing to provide value to their clients.
In this challenging environment, paralegals and other legal staff members are often asked by their managers to increase efficiency without sacrificing quality. So how do you meet these expectations? Here are some ways that paralegals can do more with less at their law firms:
Despite an already full plate, many legal support professionals get asked to take on additional duties, and often feel they can’t (or shouldn’t) refuse. If you find yourself working under an expanded job description, ask two questions of your supervising attorney: how long the heavier workload will last, and what will be expected of you. Putting a timeline on the new approach can help you plan ahead, and also establishes that you are willing do take on additional duties—provided the lengthy task list isn’t permanent.
Create a V.I.T.
Prioritization becomes critical when you’re low on resources and high on tasks. Create a very important task (VIT) list that identifies what needs to be done on a daily basis versus what can wait. Each week, organize each day accordingly.
Think outside the box
The pressure to become more efficient has forced many law firm employees to work longer and harder, putting their personal lives on the back burner at times. But being open to doing things differently can ease the strain. New workplace policies like flextime, telecommuting, working part-time, compressed schedules, and other alternative arrangements can transform the law firm environment from fixed to flexible.
Optimize, not maximize
Trying to do too many things at once often ends up accomplishing little or nothing. Instead, try to optimize your efforts and work in chunks of time by establishing a “sacred hour.” This is a period of time each day that you will work uninterrupted on a dedicated project or case that requires your undivided attention. Block out your calendar, put on your headphones, work from the closet, or whatever you need to do to keep from being distracted, at least for that one hour.
Clerical v. legal work
Doing more with less means an increased reliance on the skills of each team member. Paralegals are trained to perform a wide variety of substantive legal duties, which can free attorneys up to perform the tasks for which they are best suited. Be strategic about who does which tasks and you can maximize the skills of your team. Feel that your supervising attorney is underutilizing your talents? Talk to them about what you can do to improve the productivity of the firm in terms of maximizing your client service, technical, and organizational skills.
Greater efficiency cannot be accomplished without effective communication. The American Bar Association (ABA) defines poor communication as “the failure of leaders to keep employees informed, a lack of opportunity to speak to supervisors, or a paucity of recognition or praise – or all three.” But when legal departments are struggling to do more with less, how can everyone find the time to communicate? Keeping the legal team apprised of law firm plans does not necessarily mean more time (or longer meetings), but rather, better use of existing time. This might include better use of email, frequent but shorter meetings, and consistent office communication that provides clear and complete direction.
Despite a learning curve, technology is often an important way to do more with less—and is in fact often designed expressly for that purpose.
Practice management technology, scheduling tools, and intuitive software (like One Legal’s eFiling platform, for example, can help you streamline your day to day work and keep on top of everything that needs to get done. Utilizing legal technology allows a law firm to be run in a more innovative and cost-effective way.
How do you and your team do more with less in your law firm? Tell us about your strategies in the comments!