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Five self-inflicted wounds that hurt law firms’ bottom line

It’s easy for personal injury firms to get in a rut, unknowingly causing their own growing pains.

Five self-inflicted wounds that hurt law firms’ bottom line
[Bits and Splits/AdobeStock]

Every industry has a penchant for the status quo, including the legal industry—and particularly personal injury firms. “This is the way we’ve always done it” is the mantra globally used to avoid applying new approaches to age-old law office inefficiencies.

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But resistance to change can cause real damage to firms that want to rapidly grow their caseload without an equally large growth in staffing and overhead. This resistance commonly results in self-inflicted wounds that hold firms back from the growth they seek.

The good news is that by taking a few simple steps, firms can heal these wounds quickly and painlessly.

Here are the most common injuries that stunt firms’ growth.

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1. MESSY PROCESSES CAUSE MYRIAD ACHES

Law firms measure outcomes, but they often don’t consider the effectiveness and efficiency of steps along the way. What you leave lurking in the background are messy, ill-defined processes that don’t scale well.

Most firms are inclined to hire more people to keep up with the growing caseload, but adding people alone won’t heal the wound. Eventually, the symptoms of inefficient processes, such as mistakes and missed deadlines, will get clients’ attention in a bad way. Client satisfaction and retention may suffer as a result.

2. ERODING REPUTATION DUE TO A LACK OF REPEATABLE PROCESSES

Your firm’s core values and the workflows for interacting with customers make up the “secret recipe” that ultimately defines your brand and reputation. These procedures are often handed down from long-tenured individuals. But like playing the game of telephone, requirements become misinterpreted, miscommunicated, or modified for convenience or opportunity by workers down the line. This leads to inconsistent communications, less predictable outcomes, and poor customer satisfaction. Losing that secret recipe can cost your reputation, too—word gets around.

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3. DISCONTINUITY FROM LACK OF FORMAL TRAINING AND ONBOARDING

Staff turnover can wreak havoc when the highest churn positions (and least tenured staff) do most of the client interaction. That means the customer experience is in the hands of staff with the least understanding of the firm’s processes and inner workings. Without formal training and onboarding processes, new staff and interns receive an incomplete, often conflicting understanding of the firm’s processes, leading to unpredictable results and an inconsistent customer experience.

4. BUSY WORK KILLS YOUR CUSTOMER SERVICE

Far too often, legal firms burden their customer-facing staff with highly repetitive, manual “busy work”—for example, reviewing and assessing form fills from the firm’s website, then entering all the information into your internal systems. But these staff members are also charged with delivering customer service, a function that the busy work prevents them from doing. And if personalized customer service is ultimately all that matters, this will cause clients to go elsewhere.

5. THE FRANTIC CASE OF THE MISSING DOCUMENTS

All casework generates documentation. Without centralized, structured storage, your staff is constantly searching someone’s computer, shared network drive, or even file cabinets and desk drawers to put together an information package for discovery, a client request, or another time-sensitive need. This opens the door to misplace and mishandle information due to—among other things—memory and human error.

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HEALING IS POSSIBLE, BUT IT TAKES MORE THAN ‘DUCT TAPE AND BUBBLE GUM’

If you’re open to change, healing can be quick and painless, assuming you avoid Band-Aid approaches that tend to make things worse.

The common thread throughout these self-inflicted wounds is a lack of standardization and consistency in activities that drive the business. Here are some tips to drive consistency and start the healing process.

Identify and measure success activities: It’s impossible to understate the importance of knowing why your firm is attractive to clients and what your firm does better than any other firm.

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1. First, identify what makes your firm successful and unique.

2. Next, identify the critical tasks or activities that support that success and differentiation.

3. Finally, track the metrics that ensure those tasks are consistently performed.

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Focus on optimizing processes that drive the greatest value, especially those important to the client. They’ll notice the effort, which reinforces their choice to do business with you.

Write the firm playbook: Once you identify the success drivers, create a playbook to ensure staff always approach these drivers consistently. Specify each team members’ responsibilities, deliverables, and expectations at each step of the case workflow. This will ensure a consistent client experience regardless of the individuals performing the work.

Onboard using the playbook: Playbook in hand, you can confidently onboard new hires and promote others to new roles. Proactive process training will improve consistency in understanding across the firm, eliminating the game of telephone.

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Automate repetitive, tedious tasks: The playbook is also your touchpoint for identifying opportunities to automate mundane tasks, reducing staff time spent on tedious, error-prone activities.

Categorize these tasks as high- or low-value and as slow- or fast-to-complete, then find solutions to automate the low value and slow-to-complete tasks. The cost is easily justified by gains in efficiency and improvements in customer service. And your employees can now focus on providing that secret sauce again: creating the ultimate client experience.

Centralize and structure document storage for ease and speed of access: Delays and errors are frustrating to clients, so having the right information at the right time—often right now—is key to building and keeping their trust. Highly available, structured, digital document storage with enforced naming standards and tagging ensures attorneys and clients can easily retrieve exactly the information they need, whenever they need it.

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GROW ON A FOUNDATION OF EFFICIENT, REPEATABLE, AND SCALABLE PROCESSES

It’s easy for personal injury firms to get in a rut, unknowingly causing their own growing pains. By applying these simple tips—and some pieces of smart technology and automation where it makes sense—you can reduce or even eliminate intake and case management inefficiencies that are preventing you from scaling to meet your growing caseload.


CTO of Assembly Legal, Jim Garrett is a technical leader who thrives in high-demand, user-focused, rapidly-changing environments.Jim Garrett

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