Small Firms Reveal Top Challenges And They’ve Got Nothing To Do With Law

  • Is it getting more difficult to attract new business?
  • Do you feel like some days you’re doing everything but practice law?
  • Are costs and expenses poised to outpace revenue?
  • Do clients expect more results but don’t want to pay for it?
  • Does it feel like you just can’t get anything done fast enough?

It may give you a modicum of relief to know it’s not just you. Consider the findings of the just-released Thomson Reuters 2017 State of U.S. Small Law Firms Report which compiled the response of more than 300 lawyers from solo practitioners to firm up to 29 employees. They revealed five moderate-to-significant challenges:

  • Acquiring new business
  • Spending time on administrative tasks
  • Cost control and expense growth
  • Lack of internal efficiency
  • Clients demanding more for less

Notice something?

All of these challenges have to do with running a business, not practicing law. Who knew that you’d have to get an MBA with your JD to run a small law firm?  Because, when you run a small law firm you’re running a small business, too.  That in itself is far more than a full-time job. So it should be no surprise that respondents said they spend 40% of their time on activities other than practicing law.  That means they’re working at 60% of their billable capacity, consequently:

  • They’re not getting paid for any work done after 2 p.m. if they work 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • In the course of a year, they’re working for free after mid-July.

Apparently, too many small law firms just chalk this up as the cost of having a practice, because the vast majority of them are not doing anything about this or any of the challenges that contribute to it. Specifically, only:

  • 29% are addressing how to acquire new business
  • 19% are looking for ways to reduce time spent on administrative tasks
  • 26% are identifying how to control costs and expense growth
  • 28% are seeking to improve internal efficiency
  • 20% are determining how to deal with demanding clients

Of course, this is great news for firms that are taking action because it means they’re going to outperform most of their marketplace.  

Here’s what you need to know: It’s far easier than you may think to join their ranks. The business side of small law firms can practically run on autopilot thanks to advancements in law practice management technology that make it easier than ever to:

  • Acquire new business and provide clients better value through tools that make it easier, faster and more secure to communicate and collaborate.
  • Control costs and expenses by making it simple as a click to create financial reports on everything from time by matter to expense by matter to accounts receivable.
  • Accomplish far more in less time by streamlining workflow, avoiding duplication of effort, and automating everything from recording billable hours to calendaring to document creation to research.

Still, you may be thinking that acquiring new systems to help you work more efficiently and effectively will just cost too much time and money. Then think of it this way – let’s say you ask one of your assistants to look up a case. So they walk out the door, climb in their car, go to the law library, look up the case on microfiche, make copies and return to the office three hours later.

You’d think they were expert at wasting time, right?

But that’s how it was done in the past, and would continue to be done without technology we now take for granted.

Yet, when it comes to running the business side of their practice, many small firms are operating in the past. As a result, they’re seeing the same challenges get progressively worse year after year because, while the marketplace is changing, they’re not. With the technology that’s available today, it’s easier than ever to address these challenges and make a change for the better.  Your business depends on it.


Amy Larson is a Director in Small Law Firm Customer Marketing and Firm Central at Thomson Reuters. She has over 17 years of experience in technology marketing with extensive focus on learning how technology can meet the needs of attorneys. Amy has been involved in numerous product launches throughout her tenure, public relations efforts, interviewing customers and telling their stories, and often writes and distributes information on legal practice management.

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