In today’s mature legal market, law firms need to do everything they can to be more competitive. Firms need urgently to examine the status quo and see what to do to gain an edge.
To attract and keep clients, provide excellent customer service, and work more efficiently, especially with remote work scenarios, attorneys need to be more technologically competent. Many firms are offering, or being asked to provide, alternative fee arrangements, where productivity will impact the profitability of an engagement directly. Therefore, there is every incentive for firms to drive user adoption of technology as it will increase the percentage of time billed by attorneys and increase profitability.
More skills, more benefits
While most firms recognize the general need to increase productivity, few firms demonstrate how increasing user skill levels improve the firm’s bottom line and help the firm be more competitive. Yet, this is relatively easy to do.
By setting business and user goals for each technology adoption project — defining what will be measured, how it will be quantified, and where the data will be found — firms can produce a return on investment/return on expectations management dashboard, which becomes the demonstrable proof of improvements and savings made. In the case of an upskilling project, the business goals and measurable criteria could include:
- Improve the secretary-to-attorney ratio. Increasingly, attorneys are doing their own work, relying less on support staff. This means attorneys need to be more skilled, and their secretaries need to have a broader range of skills to support more attorneys. Measurement: The reduction in secretarial salaries and benefits.
- Reduce the time attorneys spend searching for and profiling documents. Attorneys spend non-productive time searching for documents due to not understanding the full features of their DMS search engine or by misfiling documents, so they are not easily retrievable. Improving their knowledge could save them minutes each day. Measurement: Time saved per billing attorney. For example, the average attorney billing rate is $475 an hour. A 250-attorney firm could see annualized savings of $200,000 if each attorney saved one minute per day.
- Increase the number of email messages filed to the DMS. This would have the dual benefit of reducing the size of inboxes and increasing compliance and accuracy in matter management. Measurement: Data storage costs and litigation hold costs.
- Reduce training-related calls to the help desk. Attorneys lose valuable time trying to get answers to questions that could have been mitigated through training. Measurement: Number of help desk calls and time saved per help desk call. For example, the average help desk call is seven minutes long. That can translate to $55 in lost billable time per call. If a firm receives 40 calls a day, of which 40 percent could be reduced by better training or available coaching tools, that equates to an annual savings of $211,000.
Other metrics could be:
- Performing tasks in less time (documents, pleading motions, briefs, indices, summaries)
- Reducing overtime due to document revisions
- Shortening the time for associates to be productively billing
- Reducing the costs of floaters
- Reducing time lost over corrupt documents
Aspire to master core competencies
We know that attorneys and users need to improve their skills, but which ones would help them be more productive? With this in mind, a group of like-minded law firms has been working to establish a set of legal technology core competencies for both attorneys and staff. These firms have pooled their collective expertise to define the competencies based on typical workflows in law firms.
The group, called LTC4™ for Legal Technologies Core Competencies Certification Coalition, has produced an industry-standard skill set based on document production, document management, collaboration, time and billing, security, mobile working, etc. Firms can now take these standard core competencies and use them in-house, providing LTC4 certification when mastered.
Ease the journey
Even when you know which training is critical, firms still face the perennial challenge of getting the attorneys to upskill. How can you make that happen?
With an industry-standard of legal IT core competencies for attorneys, there is now a benchmark for them to achieve — a benchmark formulated by the industry, not just the attorney’s firm or IT training department. There is a global impetus (not just the prospect of the audit) behind them needing to gain these skills.
Firms can make it easier for attorneys to upskill in various ways:
- Provide training programs tailored to how attorneys work, so it is easier for them to relate the technology to what they do daily. The more IT training is tailored to how lawyers work, the more likely they can get CLE credit for this training.
- Count time spent in training as billable hours.
- Make IT training part of an associate’s regular professional development program.
All this helps change a firm’s culture to one in which good IT skills are required as a matter of course.
Training no longer needs to take hours in the classroom, covering lists of functions and features. Targeted and blended learning delivery methods such as webinars; coaching; online and mobile learning; context-sensitive, just-in-time support; personal training streamlining tools; and learning management systems all facilitate absorption of skills more quickly and flexibly.
Showing that your firm invests in technological proficiency proves to potential clients that your firm has their interests at heart. Therefore, strive to reduce the cost of delivering legal services, minimize low-value effort, commit to providing the best value per dollar, and provide excellent customer service.