Running a law firm is tough work. Whether you’re a solo lawyer, a partner at a small firm, or an associate at a slightly larger firm, you’ll run into plenty of challenges—and they won’t necessarily have much to do with the practice of law.
From cumbersome billing processes, to difficulties with hiring, there’s plenty you need to tackle in order to run a successful law firm. How do you know where to start? And what solutions are available?
Below, we go over 14 common challenges that lawyers face, along with potential solutions for those issues. Some of these law firm problems are specific to certain practice areas, but others are issues that all lawyers can relate to.
1. Duplicating work
Problem: According to a survey from Factbox, litigators in the U.S. spend an average of 10 hours every week repeating work they’ve already billed for (and can’t bill for again). At the current average billing rate, that’s about $50,000 in billing wasted annually. Not to mention the stress and frustration of unproductive time.
Solution: Factbox provides an easy fix. Similarly to Evernote, it lets you save notes and organize information using a flexible structure, so that you can quickly reorganize your research at any stage of a case. Bonus: You can also create a timeline of facts. Never duplicate work again.
Factbox also integrates with Clio, so you can access all of your notes directly within your favorite practice management software.
2. Missing IP filing deadlines
Problem: If you’re an intellectual property or business lawyer, IP filing deadlines can be a big headache. IP deadlines are frequent. They are also numerous, and the consequences of missing one can be severe. In the worst case scenario, missing a deadline means that your client loses rights to their patent or trademark indefinitely.
Solution: Technology can help you keep track of deadlines. Alt Legal’s software analyzes thousands of intellectual property filings daily to automatically identify an attorney’s IP filings, update their statuses, and calculate all statutory deadlines without any manual data entry.
3. Getting strained by small claims
Problem: Small claims court can be a big problem in terms of access to justice. It can take two to three months to get a hearing, and once clients get a hearing, they might spend half a day (or even a full one) waiting to spend five to ten minutes in front of a Commissioner or Judge Pro Temp.
Without a lawyer, small claims court may be intimidating—but it also doesn’t make sense for many people to pay a lawyer $1,500 or more to resolve a small dispute.
For lawyers, not being able to help these people can be frustrating.
Solution: Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) represents a simple but powerful technological solution to this problem. FairClaims, for example, makes it possible for people to privately arbitrate, mediate, and settle small disputes from wherever they are via webcam and with other online tools.
Using an ODR platform, small claims can be resolved without involving lawyers, since the cost of hiring representation often outweighs the claim amount.
4. Finding project attorneys
Problem: When Jennifer Downs of Aggregate Law started a small law firm with her partner, she started outsourcing work to be more efficient. Finding bookkeepers and paralegals for short term work wasn’t a problem, but connecting with experienced project attorneys was much more difficult. The only way to find one was to ask around at networking events and courthouses—not ideal if you need someone in a pinch.
Solution: Luckily, there are now online services that help small firms connect with project attorneys. Aggregate Law connects firms who want to grow with freelance attorneys looking for work by collecting plenty of information about both parties in order to make the best match quickly. With tools like Aggregate Law, small firms can say goodbye to multiple phone calls and fruitless searches, because they’ll find the right attorney in just a few clicks.
5. Combing through lengthy contracts for a single answer
Problem: Have you ever gotten a request to review a group of company agreements, only find yourself slowly scrolling through each agreement one by one to find answers? Before you know it, the day is gone and all you’ve been doing is manually reading contracts. If you’re a business lawyer, you can likely relate.
Solution: There are tools available that can do this task for you. LinkSquares uses natural language processing (NLP) technology to index the text within a large group of contracts and allow for search of a single word or a full phrase. The tools will return results for that word or phrase and any other lexicon of similar words. It’s like having a Google for contracts rather than manually reading through each one.
6. Educating clients on the importance of IP
Problem: When it comes to IP, many business owners make serious errors in the early stages of their companies. When Mary Juetten of Traklight tried to find out why, she found that some business owners feared high attorney costs, but others simply didn’t understand the importance of laying the proper foundation for intellectual property (IP) ownership and protection—or the legal and business risks of failing to lay that foundation.
For lawyers, this lack of up-front education can lead to disputes down the line.
Solution: A streamlined client intake process can help close this education gap. Traklight lets clients do the pre-work to help attorneys understand their need for help with their business and legal risks. Clients complete a questionnaire, and are then provided with a dashboard that includes a risk chart, IP diagnostic graph, and strategy report. The report includes non-legal business advice and directs the client to seek professional help for all legal matters.
Traklight integrates with Clio, so Clio users can add Traklight reports to their clients’ existing matters.
7. Tracking updates to terms-of-use agreements
Solution: To avoid this problem, your clients need to need to track each version of your online user agreements, as well as which version was live when a particular visitor agreed to it. Tools like PactSafe make this tracking simple, also allowing for your clients to easily update their online legal terms. That means much less of a headache for lawyers should an issue ever arise.
8. Connecting with the clients you want to work with
Problem: Clients are demanding more from their lawyers, and are increasingly looking online for their legal needs. In fact, 3 out of 4 U.S. internet users seeking an attorney use online resources at some point in their research process. However, getting your website to show up at the top of search results for “divorce attorney in San Francisco” is no simple feat. How can attorneys connect with clients online?
Solution: Much like Aggregate Law connects small firms with project attorneys, networks like Kenji connect attorneys to clients with immediate legal needs. Users post their projects in plenty of detail, so you can see exactly what you’re signing up for.
9. Efficiently managing M&A deals
Problem: Despite significant advances in technology, tools to help lawyers through the M&A process haven’t changed much. Attorneys spend hours searching through hundreds of emails to find the necessary and appropriate version of a document or client request, reviewing closing and diligence checklists to see if they are up to date, manually sorting and organizing signature packets and searching for the last signature page—the list goes on. The process is complicated and tedious.
Solution: Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to handle all aspects of a large transaction in one place? Doxly provides a single, secure portal to manage transactions. It includes centralized checklists and reporting, tracking of documents, tasks and versions as well as an entire automated signature management process and the ability to create interactive client minute books.
10. Time consuming document creation
Problem: You didn’t go to law school to spend your days completing rote tasks that could easily be automated. But without the right tools, that’s what a lot of document creation can amount to.
Worse, clients may underestimate the value of your legal services if they perceive that the services they require do not need the full power of your legal expertise.
Solution: Artificial Intelligence can help. 1Law’s Docubot draws on form databases of thousands of legal documents to assist individuals with legal queries via chat. It can also generate documents for clients. As a lawyer, you’ll be able to effectively and efficiently assist more clients, improving access to justice.
11. Protecting client brands online
Problem: When looking at options for protecting their brands online, businesses often look for what’s most effective within their budget—and they look to their attorneys to help them make their choice. But for many companies and their lawyers, online brand protection can feel like a game of whack-a-mole with new phishing scams and cybersquatters popping up every day.
Solution: Using a monitoring service will position you to handle online infringements as soon as they happen. With a tool like DomainSkate, you can protect your clients by quickly identifying and classifying potential threats before bad actors divert web traffic, steal revenue, and damage brand reputations.
12. Meeting with clients on the go
Problem: Getting out of the office to meet clients can be time consuming—or impossible, if they’re far enough away from you. Skype and other video conferencing apps are an option, but what if your client doesn’t have the app, and needs to go through the hassle of downloading it just for your meeting?
Solution: Legaler lets attorneys securely meet with their clients in just a few clicks without the need to download a video conferencing app. It provides a complete online meeting solution, bringing all the tools lawyers need to schedule, host and archive meetings in one place. No more email tag, calendar invites, or downloads.
Legaler integrates with Clio—you can import all your Clio contacts details directly into Legaler, making it easy to send meeting invitations to any of your clients.
13. Finding time to market your firm online
Problem: You may have heard about how content marketing is all the rage, but as a busy lawyer, it can be hard to find time to tweet your ideas and publish blog posts. Still, experts say lawyers need to be on social media, so what can you do?
Solution: If you’re strapped for time, you may want to use an automated tool to cover some of your marketing tasks. For example, Scroll (designed specifically for law firms) curates content for your blog and social media profiles using machine learning.
14. Making your firm stand out from the crowd
Problem: You may have time to cover basic marketing tasks for your law firm, but how do you implement ideas to help your firm stay ahead of the competition? When you’re writing up documents and contracts and meeting with clients all day, it might seem impossible.
Solution: If you truly want to get ahead of your competition, but you’re strapped for time, working with a marketing agency might be your best bet. ONE400, for example, is a legal-specific marketing agency that helps law firms take innovative approaches with their marketing. In the past, it has used a software as marketing concept, creating a DUI alert service to help a Southern California DUI law firm attract potential clients.
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