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Addressing the Challenges of Increasing Demands for Efficiency

Law firms have been under greater scrutiny from clients to work more efficiently. Regardless of prior pressures, it was D. Casey Flaherty’s article about law firm efficiency and training back in 2013 that made this conversation impossible to ignore. Whether brought about in working with Alternative Fee Arrangements or other client pressures, there has been an increase in the demand for both personnel trained in project management and in products to improve efficiency.

The demands on attorneys have also evolved to include an increased emphasis on security reinforced by the changes to the American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rules requiring that attorneys stay current in their knowledge of “the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology” to their practice and that they take reasonable measures “to prevent the access or disclosure” of confidential information.

It is challenging when lawyers are expected to be up-to-date on the latest technology and compliance measures, yet they do not see the value in training classes to learn how to use technology more efficiently. This has put more pressure on software developers to create products that are so intuitive and easy to use that very little training is required. It also places pressure on IT Departments to package applications and add-ons in a manner that makes them work together harmoniously and logically. Product user interfaces should be streamlined and include security that is so intertwined with the product that it cannot be inadvertently disabled.

Streamlining processes requires an understanding of in-house functions and needs. While this varies from firm to firm, many IT Departments concentrate more on back-end equipment and processes. My background is in Information Technology, which means my first impulse is often to try to achieve a software solution to problems.

Efficiency and security, however, do not require a software solution alone. More than likely it will require an analysis of existing processes and software in order to improve them and the creation of policies surrounding them to ensure compliance. These new challenges require that IT work together with the other departments within the firm (or project management staff, if the firm has such people) to understand their business requirements before they can collaborate on process improvement. By the same token, security has migrated from being solely an IT concern to becoming a business necessity, coming from the upper echelons of law firm management.

  • Analyze the capabilities of existing products. Since many software products have overlapping capabilities, often law firms own several products that do the same or similar things. Ensure end users are choosing the right product for the right task. Such an analysis can also result in downsizing with respect to software.  A new product cannot resolve a problem without the proper analysis of the nature of the problem first. Many firms may have existing products that can help achieve more efficiency but nobody realizes the product can function in that manner.
  • Keep unaudited document movement to a minimum. Ensure internal links to documents are sent to people within the firm. Use products that allow sharing of documents while maintaining a full audit trail on activity.
  • Most Attorneys do not want to sit in a training room for extended periods of time when they could be billing. Once the processes have been revamped, develop curriculum that provides Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit in order to lure attorneys into the classes.
  • In order to address the trend towards keeping training time to a minimum, many firms are investing in online training systems that can be viewed individually when attorneys have time.
  • Arrange meetings with larger clients for whom repetitive work is done to ensure their part in the process is included in any analysis and their concerns for security are addressed.
  • Ensure all members of the team understand the bigger picture. Someone whose job it is to scan documents may have an insight based on his part in the process that may increase efficiency for the whole project.

Thoughtful analysis of problems, processes and existing products eventually leads many firms to realize that they do not have to reinvent the wheel. When feedback is solicited from all parties—the legal staff, IT developers and clients—most communication hurdles can be overcome. Collaboration among team members across the board results in streamlined and intuitive processes. Even with the pressure to be more expedient, efficiency can only be enhanced by combining the insight of legal team members with the expertise of IT to properly tailor the software and procedures to the firm’s needs.

This article was first published in ILTA’s Fall 2016 issue of Peer to Peer titled “The Business and Practice of Law: Two Sides of One Coin” is reprinted here with permission. For more information about ILTA, visit


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