Valuing Your Time
For family law lawyers who want to maximise their law firm profits, time is the golden goose that must be nurtured. Unlike businesses that have a physical product they can reproduce, family law firms are depending on their time to turn a profit. Time is a family law firm’s one and only valuable commodity. That’s why tracking time, managing time, and maximising and optimising how lawyers use their time is central to every successful family law firm’s business plan. In this guide, we will explore the importance of valuing your time as you ethically grow your law firm business.
Service vs. Product Business
The first thing we need to look at is how service-based businesses are different from product-based businesses. For the most part, family law firms are service-based businesses. And there are some other key differences between a service-based business (law firms) and a product-based business (e.g. a cereal company).
It’s a lot easier to scale a business that sells products than one that sells an employee’s time. That is why it’s so important the service business, such as a law firm, invests in the best law firm software that makes it easy to track how employees spend their time. Good time tracking helps family law firms get a good idea of where time is being wasted and where time can be optimised.
Tunnel Vision Danger
When you’re selling a service, it’s easy to get bogged down in the “doing” of the service and miss out on the bigger vision of the business. This is especially the case with solo practitioners who haven’t given their business much thought in terms of how they will grow beyond the one or two person shop. That is why it’s important to incorporate legal case management tools with easy legal billing software such as Smokeball into your business infrastructure in the early days of your law firm. Various tools such as automated lawyer time tracking software make it easy to see where time is being spent and which area could use additional support. For example, Smokeball time-tracking tools can tell you how much time your lawyers spend on non-billable tasks; this information may be a sign that you would benefit from investing in administrative staff or otherwise adjusting expectations.
When you’re running a service business such as a family law firm, it can be difficult to get a handle on quality control. Because the quality of the service is dependent on the individual attorneys working for your firm, there are many variables that determine if a customer is having a positive experience. Personality, years of lawyer experience, and skill set are all variables that can impact the quality of the service customers receive. One way to improve the experience of your customers is by leveraging automated time tracking, legal document automation and assembly, and automated billing to reduce the number of errors and increase client trust and satisfaction. But the most important area that family law firms should give attention to is time. Valuing the time associates invest in client matters and accurately tracking that time is a core influence in how profitable a family firm will be and how likely it is to get client referrals and repeat business.
Time Tracking: Let’s Count the Ways
Lawyers have been tracking their time since the first day a lawyer sent a client an invoice. But time-tracking systems for law firms continue to evolve to serve the ever-changing needs of the legal industry, attorneys, and the expectations of clients. Let’s take a look at a few ways that lawyers track their time.
Even now that we have computers with powerful time tracking software, many lawyers depend on paper time logs to track their time spent on a matter. Some lawyers may have a single notebook where they log time or they may have several sheets of paper floating about their desks with time log information. In any case, tracking time on paper can be cumbersome and some of those sheets of paper may get lost in the daily shuffle. Another problem with paper logs is that many lawyers simply don’t have the time to log minutes after each task so they end up utilising a little of that “memory reconstruction” method to log time at the end of the day or at the end of the week. Sometimes lawyers may forget to note certain tasks on the time log if they don’t do so right away, causing a drip loss of revenue over time. Think about it, if you forget to log 15 minutes a day, that’s over an hour a week, 4 hours a month and over 48 hours a year. And if you multiply that by several associates, a law firm could be missing out on hundreds of hours of billable time using the paper log time tracking method.
Word Processing Document
Many adherents of the paper log system get tired of losing money because they can’t locate all of their scraps of paper so they wise up and embrace the computer. They often first turn to a word processing document in a program like Google Docs or Word where they create a simple text file where they can log their time. This is a huge improvement over a paper log, as all time logs are located in a one place so that risk of losing information is minimised. However, most of these text files aren’t organised in a way that will automatically track the total amount of time spent on specific clients and there’s no way to quickly add up the total amount of time spent on specific tasks such as emails, phone calls, and document creation. Of course the lawyer can manually note what they did, but notes are often incomplete and may not include important information that will make billing easy.
After family lawyers become frustrated enough with word processing documents, they may adopt the spreadsheet method. Spreadsheets offer more flexibility and customisation than text documents used for time tracking. If set up correctly, a spreadsheet can allow the lawyer to log all kinds of specific information about how they spent their time such as what type of task they did, how much time was spent on it, and to which matter or client the task belongs. But this type of system still requires that the lawyer remembers and is willing to spend the time inputting this information into the spreadsheet. Also, because the system is manual there is always the risk of errors. Many lawyers prefer one or more of the above mentioned time-tracking methods, but there are limitations. These limitations become especially pronounced once a firm discovers that each of their associates or support staff members uses their own time-tracking system. And when there is more than one associate working on a matter, using multiple time-tracking systems can cause chaos, confusion, and even lost revenue. This is why automated time-tracking systems, such as the one pioneered by Smokeball, are becoming increasingly preferred by family law firms who are serious about valuing time and maximising profits.
Automatic Time and Activity Tracking
One of the biggest benefits of automatic time tracking is that it doesn’t depend on behaviour to track time. Every time someone does something in Smokeball, Outlook, Word, and more, that time is automatically recorded. Lawyers don’t have to remember to track their time, and they don’t have to pull out a paper log or open up a separate spreadsheet. All they have to do is the task at hand and every second is tracked, recorded, and associated with the appropriate matter. No more “memory reconstruction” and no more time wasted trying to figure out exactly how much time was spent doing a task; the software does all the hard work for family law firms. But the benefits don’t end there: software like Smokeball make it easy to see who in your law firm worked on a matter, what they did, and exactly how much time they spent doing it. Want to see how productive your team is? Smokeball provides firm insights in a comprehensive view of productivity by matter, practice area, and staff member. Automatic time tracking helps you understand just how productive your firm is, but it also provides accurate and detailed information to clients. Letting clients know specifically what a staff matter did on a case will help them understand their bill, and it has been proven to decrease billing disputes. Choosing a time-tracking system that is automated, accurate and comprehensive helps your firm get the most out of every second spent working on a matter. Again, that’s a family firm’s only valuable saleable commodity.
Why Lawyers Fail to Capture Time
But if accurate time tracking is so important, why do so many lawyers still have terrible time-tracking habits?
Time-tracking tools have advanced by miles; so why do so many family lawyers fail to fully capture the time they’ve spent on a matter? After all, family lawyers spend the entire day with clients or on client work. There are four major reasons why lawyers have such poor time-tracking habits.
Many lawyers hate tracking time because it feels like a waste of time. Some lawyers figure, ‘Why spend time filling out a time log when I can spend my time on something productive?’ These lawyers often assume that they are better served by working on a matter and leaving their time tracking to some other date when they have “extra time.” The problem with that is two-fold: 1) there is no extra time in the work life of a lawyer and 2) time tracking is a valuable investment of time because it ensures that the lawyer will bill the right amount of time to a client. But many lawyers don’t see it this way so they fail to capture all of their time because they inevitably forget at least some of the things they’ve done on a matter or they severely underestimate how much time they’ve spent on a task.
In some cases, the associate really does have more important work to do, so they don’t take the time out to log their time. This is especially the case if the lawyer is depending on paper logs, spreadsheets, or text files to log their time. They really don’t have time to pull out their log and manually input several fields of information when they need to work on an important task for a client in the middle of a divorce or custody battle. Fortunately, for lawyers who are using legal practice management software with automatic time tracking, their time is automatically tracked and logged for them.
Some lawyers simply don’t want to do the tedious and mind-numbing work of manual time tracking, so they put it off. This inevitably means that they will fail to capture all of their time and cost their law firm a lot of money. Fortunately, automatic time tracking removes this obstacle so that no matter how tired or resistant an lawyer is to tracking time, their time is automatically tracked and recorded for them.
Humans are creatures of habit, and lawyers are especially so. They get into a routine of doing the same thing the same way and they don’t want to change. So even if lawyers have access to automated time tracking tools like those found in Smokeball, they may resist making the switch. One way to overcome this is to give all staff members the training they need to use the time-tracking tool properly, and then give them an opportunity to adjust to the change. Sometimes change needs to happen gradually but eventually the change needs to happen so that your law firm doesn’t get left behind in an industry that is increasingly leveraging automated time-tracking tools.
Properly capturing lawyer time spent on matters isn’t just about profits, it’s also about increasing productivity so that your law firm can help associates get more done in less time. For family law firms, that difference is huge, and clients will know their lawyers have their undivided attention.
How Time Tracking Improves Productivity
When it comes to lawyer productivity in family law firms it’s important to discern that productivity isn’t just about getting more things done; it’s about getting more of the RIGHT things done in less time. Let’s take a look at how automatic time tracking improves lawyer productivity in a family law firm.
When time tracking is automated, that means that each lawyer is spending less time recording their time. Part of the resistance many lawyers have to manual time tracking is that they feel their time is better spent calling a client, creating a document, or strategizing about a case. In a sense they are correct. Time spent time tracking manually can add up to hundreds of hours a year to a lawyers workload. But when that time is automatically tracked, those hours are freed up to invest in other areas—those hours can become billable hours.
When a lawyer is keeping dozens of sheets of paper filled with time logs, there is no easy way to analyse how they’ve spent their time. Short of manually entering those paper logs into a spreadsheet or database, you can’t sort and filter paper time logs. You won’t be able to easily see just how much time Associate ‘A’ spent on a matter versus Associate ‘B.’ But when law firms use practice management software like Smokeball, the automated time-tracking system makes it easy to analyse each lawyer's time so that you know where they’ve spent their time. Armed with this information, law firms can give constructive feedback to associates to let them know where they can “cut the fat” out of their day and put more energy into profitable activities.
When law firms use automatic time tracking, all lawyers working on a matter can see at-a-glance what is being done on a case. No more duplicate work or time wasted sending emails requesting an update. Each staff member can see that a document was already created or that another lawyer already sent an email to a client. And because a calendaring system is connected to each matter, each lawyer can see if that court date has already been scheduled right there in the system. This can shave hours off the non-billable time spent on a matter by simply offering more information to each person working on a matter.
This improvement in productivity is something that happens automatically, in the background while your staff get work done on a family law matter. Productivity improvements will show up not only in the bottom line of your law firm but in the morale of your team. Everyone is happier when their time is being valued and when they are getting more of the right things done on a matter. But valuing your lawyers’ time and growing your law firm business ethically is also about being transparent with your employees and your clients. Automatic time tracking makes transparency a core value.
Time Tracking: The Road to Transparency
Realistic Goal Setting
When there is transparency in how time is spent, your law firm and individual lawyers have the information they need to set realistic goals. For example, if your lawyers are spending 3 hours each day on administrative tasks, this data lets you know that at least a few hours of tasks can be offloaded to administrative staff so that lawyers have more time to
work on billable matters. You could realistically set a goal for associates to add more hours of billable time a day.
When you have several lawyers working on a matter, it can be difficult to identify who is doing the heavy lifting if you’re using a manual time log. The transparency of automatic time tracking gives you the information you need to see the real rainmakers in your law firm and reward them with promotions and bonuses. And having the data to back up your promotion and bonus decisions prevents conflicts about your choices down the line.
Law Firm Stabilisation
Building a successful family law firm is difficult. It’s difficult to find quality staff and it’s even more difficult to keep them. As time passes, it can be a challenge to reduce turnover when there isn’t much transparency about the state of the firm. By being transparent about the financial state and future of the firm, you can stabilise your organisation. Smokeball
provides easy-to-use reports that let you know where the law firm is thriving and which practice areas are proving
profitable. Sharing some of this information with your employees can help them better understand how well the firm is doing and whether it is in their best interests to continue in their jobs.
In the age of information, clients want more data on how their cases are being handled. When law firms are transparent about how their lawyers spent their time on a matter, clients feel secure in knowing that their most important issues are in good hands. When family law firms send invoices with an emphasis on transparency clients are less likely to dispute their bills and they’re more likely to pay faster. They also see all that is done for them and for their best interest.
FamilyProperty: Powerful Integrations to Maximise Your Time
Automatic time tracking is just one of the many features within Smokeball that helps Family Lawyers better value and understand their time.
To further help our clients run their family law matters and mediations efficiently from start to finish, Smokeball software now integrates seamlessly with FamilyProperty.
FamilyProperty is a unified platform that automates and streamlines the tedious, manual and error-prone aspects of family law matters, empowering you to focus on practising law. With FamilyProperty embedded directly in Smokeball you will save time on tasks that you cannot bill and remove tasks that are cumbersome and contribute to staff stress.
FamilyProperty helps you focus on outcomes by automating the admin in the following areas:
- Collection and disclosure of documents
- Balance sheet to model, compare and save proposals
- Document automation
FamilyProperty spent over a year developing their automated client intake so that it is ready for you to use without sinking further time into it. The minutiae of collecting your clients personal and financial information and the frustrating task of getting all of the documents required for financial disclosure are not matters that can be properly charged for. But, more importantly, the process is frustrating for both the lawyer and the client. With FamilyProperty’s user-friendly client intake your clients can provide the information in their own time via their mobile phone or laptop. This makes the client onboarding process more gentle, helping you with client retention as well as helping your staff by removing a stressful piece of the process.
Financial disclosure is a tedious and frustrating process; from getting files from your client, constantly naming and categorising files, sending files to the other side, organising the files you get back, drafting letters and document indexes. Get back your time and sanity by using FamilyProperty’s two-way disclosure solution, built exclusively for family law.
Once the automated client intake has been completed, you can then move the matter to the dashboard. This is where the information is automatically plugged into the balance sheet. The balance sheet is user-friendly and simple to understand. This means that you spend less time re-explaining the basics of the asset pool to your client and more time providing real value-added legal advice.
The Balance Sheet itemises all assets, liabilities and superannuation and automatically calculates all figures and percentages. You can also model different scenarios, apply cash adjustments, upload attachments and view all the agreement points in real-time. This reduces the frustrating and non-billable work, like typing up spreadsheets and sending emails to obtain financial documents. By eliminating tedious and unseen work FamilyProperty frees up time to complete the real legal work, work that can be charged for!
FamilyProperty enables you to automatically generate documents in seconds that would normally take hours to draft. A full suite of documents from balance sheets, proposals and Court documents are at your fingertips. Once generated, all documents are automatically saved back into Smokeball.
Transform Your Family Law Practice with Less Stress and More Success!
For family law firms that want to value their time and grow their businesses ethically, implementing the right practice management software is the best way to maximise profits, improve productivity, and provide billing transparency to clients.
When you start valuing and understanding your time as a family law lawyer, your clients will see all that you do and how much you value them.
Discover Smokeball’s commitment to user-friendly and feature-rich legal software by booking your online demonstration today.