February 22, 2019

One Step to Improving Efficiency, Work Product, and Your Bottom Line

This is a guest post by Krista Coggins, founder and senior legal consultant at Remedy Outside Counsel.

A lot of infomercials and ads make wild promises to accomplish nearly impossible feats simply (and with three easy, low monthly payments). I know these offers rarely live up to expectations, but hear me out. This one business practice will likely make you richer, happier, and… okay, not thinner (though I can promise you more time to exercise and meal prep, so maybe).

Outsourcing

Outsourcing is a simple, effective way to build a better law practice.

Practice efficiency is probably a topic you ponder often, whether you phrase it that way or not. Let’s do a quick exercise to put it into workable terms:

  • Where is the ceiling for your law practice?
  • Have you reached the point at which you can no longer continue to grow?
  • What are your plans to break that ceiling and increase production volume – and profits?

To sum it up another way, have you ever wondered what you can do to get more work done, faster – without sacrificing quality – while simultaneously growing and nurturing your client base?

I can’t tell you with absolute certainty what your business challenges are, but I can wage some pretty educated guesses. Does this sound like you?

  • I struggle to fight distractions and maintain focus
  • I don’t have enough hours in the day
  • I sacrifice sleep, family, hobbies, and time with friends to keep up with my business

Why are we distracted?

Research suggests that the average person is only capable of being productive for significantly fewer than eight hours per day. According to experts in the psychology of work, the brain has a finite amount of cognitive resources available to devote to substantive, creative thought.

In order to succeed, you actually need periods of unfocused energy. Down time allows the mind to create solutions and predict future outcomes, which leads to better decision-making, a crucial skill in the legal profession. While spending more time at the office may seem like the route to increased productivity and profits, less can be more in many situations. Let your brain shut down for a while (you may even need ninety (!) minutes or more to recharge).

Findings show that leaders in their fields don't spend endless hours honing their practices; they spend a few purposeful hours on truly productive work.

Where are our hours going?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works 8.8 hours a day, and Clio’s 2018 Legal Trends Report confirms that lawyers put in about 50 hours a week. Yet, the average lawyer bills just under three hours per day. That’s all! Now, I’m pretty sure you spend more than three hours a day at the office, but you are not realizing any return (read: you’re not making money) on those additional hours.

Although 84% of lawyers say increasing firm revenue is their highest priority, only a fraction of those prioritize growing their client base and billing more hours. Clio’s Legal Trends Report report suggests that lawyers don’t have more time in the day for billable work. And a whopping 77% of firms want to hire more staff even though 58% indicate that they also seek to reduce spending.

Your gut reaction to these figures is probably a determination to unearth these lost hours and then bill for them, effectively doubling or maybe tripling your revenue, right? But the work you do that’s unbillable is still very important to maintaining your business!

There is only one of you and only 24 hours in a day. Lawyers can't be in two places at the same time; it’s just science.

What are we sacrificing?

What suffers as a result of inefficiency and limited time? Profit, obviously. But less obvious is the negative effects on your quality of life. A glaring majority of lawyers are working outside business hours and 39% report that it is having a negative impact on their lives. But they keep overworking to get ahead and succeed in their careers.

To recap, you (and your paid staff) are spending a lot of non-productive hours at work, you have hit your firm’s revenue ceiling, and you can’t bend the space-time continuum or force your brain to do things beyond its abilities. And it’s affecting your bottom line and your quality of life.

Outsourcing Improves Productivity

Outsourcing is a shortcut to getting more productivity out of the finite hours in the day, with additional staff, while reducing overall spending (lower overhead, anyone?!). By outsourcing work that doesn’t require your expertise, you can actually increase overall output quantity and quality. Paying an outside contractor is more cost-effective than hiring your own staff and you can offload all those unbillable hours that are taking up your time. As a result, you can bill far more than the average 2.4 hours a day lawyers report and increase your profit margins. Talk about improving efficiency.

Not only does outsourcing provide you with cost-effective manpower, it opens the possibilities far beyond what hiring just one or two staff members brings you. There are companies that provide networks of qualified professionals with a full range of expertise, so you can be sure you’re getting exactly what you need when you need it. Your new associate may be great at immigration issues, but is she as useful when one of your best clients asks you to take care of a tax lien? How about when a dispositive motion you don’t have time to focus on threatens to destroy your case? Outsourcing is a way to keep your clients in-house and satisfied without sacrificing the quality of legal services you provide. You get to choose the best person for every job.

This is where I swoop in, as the senior litigation consultant and managing attorney for Remedy Outside Counsel. I often describe Remedy as “on-demand gap-filling.” We are there when and where you need people, and totally free when you don’t. No paying for sick days, annual vacations, benefits, or for your associates and employees to eat, browse social media, and look for new jobs for five hours of the day.

According to a report by Major, Lindsey & Africa, “Legal departments will continue to introduce more efficiencies by relying on… new staffing models [which] disaggregate legal work and often rely on contract lawyers—who come with much lower billable rates—to handle the work that was previously assigned to associates at law firms… The strategic use of alternative legal services will lower costs, improve quality and refine how legal departments utilize their own lawyers.” The report notes that major firms and corporations adopt technology to amplify their capabilities and increase efficiencies, such as outsourcing to contract and freelance legal providers, which “will further optimize their profitability while driving down their costs.” From 2014 to 2017, the use of contract professionals grew by 8.1% (contrast that with a 2.5% growth in the overall employment market); that’s significant growth in a market that isn’t going away because it just makes sense. So what are you waiting for?

Work Smarter, not Harder

We’ve discussed the realities of your attention span, and I suspect we are nearing the bottom of your reserves, so you can read more about the benefits of using outsourced services here when you’re ready to know more. Just remember: work smarter, not harder – for your health, your clients, your personal life, and your bank account.

About Krista Coggins

Krista is a graduate of Auburn University (2002) and the University of Alabama School of Law (2006). After law school, she spent several years in the public sector, including as an Assistant Public Defender, prior to settling into private practice as a civil litigator. After years of practicing and observing the underserved and ignored areas in the legal industry, she founded Remedy Outside Counsel in 2017, to address areas where both practitioners and consumers of legal services needed additional resources, with the overall goal of improving access to the legal system.

You can reach Krista at Krista@RemedyOutsideCounsel.com or find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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