Your firm’s main phone line rings and you reach to pick it up. It’s force of habit. But if you’re a partner, it can lead to lower profits for your firm.

The difference between a thriving law firm and a law firm that fails can come down to one thing: efficiency. If you cling to old habits and fail to use more efficient methods of managing your practice, you risk sacrificing profits. Here are five common efficiency killers — and tips to help you become more productive.

Staffing and task assignment errors

Productivity problems arise when people step outside their scope of responsibilities. If a partner is sorting through the daily mail or answering unscreened phone calls, staffing is not being optimized and potential fees are being sacrificed. Many lawyers, particularly those in smaller offices, are accustomed to handling these types of functions. Tasks that don’t produce revenue, however, should be performed by a non-billable staff member. When you delegate properly, you can focus on fee-producing work or client development activities. Likewise, lawyers with specializations or higher billing rates should be brought in only when the client’s needs justify using those resources.

Tip: Periodically review your staffing resources to ensure people are handling tasks best suited to them. If partners are spending too much time on associate-level or administrative tasks, find out why. If adding or replacing staff isn’t an option, consider automating certain functions to reduce the inefficiencies of manual processes, or do additional training to make the most of the technology in place.

Manual billing

Bad timekeeping and billing habits can lead to catastrophe — uncollectible invoices, cash flow problems and unhappy clients. Manual billing processes are error-prone, time-consuming and tedious. They’re expensive, too, since mistakes lead to lost revenue. Today plenty of affordable yet powerful timekeeping and billing tools are designed specifically for law firms. They make it simple to track time electronically instead of manually re-creating hours at the end of the week or case.

Review your timekeeping, invoicing and collection procedures for bottlenecks. Consider upgrading your manual or generic system to one designed to handle legal processes: retainer management, billing against hours, tracking hours, trust accounting and recurring billing. Look for a system that automates the collection of billable time from multiple timekeepers — including adding appropriate billing rates based on the timekeeper, matter or client-specific billing arrangement.

Clinging to paper

Paper is inefficient, takes up physical space, is difficult to share and wastes time. Moving from paper to an all-digital workflow can be a challenge. By transitioning to a paperless practice, however, you will be able to find, share and deliver documents, case files and other data more quickly and efficiently — which means less time spent in a file room, over a photocopier or searching for a file and more time performing billable work. If your firm is supporting both a paper and digital workflow, consider whether it is time to switch to a strictly paperless practice.

Tethering work to the office

Face it, the practice of law can’t be restricted to a law firm’s physical space. Lawyers who ignore the potential benefits of anytime/anywhere access are losing billable hours and throwing money away. You must have access to your firm’s resources on demand or you are restricting your efficiency and productivity. Also, since cloud-based case and document management systems can be tied into the firm’s billing system, you can easily capture time on the go using your smartphone, tablet or laptop. Expenses can be captured via mobile devices, too, ensuring better record-keeping and more accurate billing.

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