Small firms are fighting an uphill battle in the modern law environment. While a solo practice provides the possibility of more freedom and autonomy, it also comes with downsides. The small firm simply doesn’t have the resources of a large firm, which puts more work on the attorney.
Studies estimate that over 40% of a lawyer’s time at a small firm is spent on administrative tasks. Add to that the changing expectations and awareness of modern clients making them more difficult than ever to please. Clients want more for less and are increasingly suspicious of what they are paying their lawyers for. Referrals are the lifeblood of law work, so it has never been more critical to wow clients.
In order to compete with larger firms, solo practices and small firms must streamline their billable hours. They must be aware and take advantage of critical programs and applications that can take on rabbit-hole busy work your client needs but doesn’t want to pay for. At the same time, you need to be assured that such tools return high-quality work that you can trust.
Challenges of Small Firms and the Billable Hour
Small firms and solo practices are fighting against tough, established competition. The needed administration work to gain new business, billing, and other tasks can be spread across a team in a larger law firm. Studies estimate that modern lawyers spend between 29–55% of their time practicing law, with other studies estimating that less than 3 hours of an 8 hour workday are billable hours. These trends are more extreme the fewer lawyers you have on staff.
Beyond the time spent keeping a firm running, finding and retaining clients is getting more and more difficult. Bob Ambrogi broke down The 2017 State of US Small Law firms report into a few significant statistics:
- 75% of lawyers report being concerned about getting new clients.
- 69% of lawyers report that clients are demanding more work for less money.
- 63% of lawyers report competitors as a high concern, with free consultations and other rising expectations taking additional time out of your workday without payment just to keep up with the competition.
- Interestingly, an increasing number of solo/small firms report DIY law websites as competition, which allow clients to represent themselves
Add to these statistics that 62% of surveyed consumers reported that they would hire an attorney after a family referral, with only 6% reporting they would try out an attorney based on their billboard (Clio’s second Annual Legal Trends Report).
The odds are stacked against the success of small firms and solo practices. However, there are ways of leveling the playing field. Attorneys who are practicing law without a significant support staff can compete against large firms through efficient use of their billable hours. Lawyers with a reputation for fast, reliable work build a brand that can shine through the big firm competition and convince clients why they need a licensed professional, not a few hours of research on a DIY website.
Time Management in Billable Hours
There are new programs out all of the time that aim to help lawyers automate their responsibilities. Some focus on the administrative end with time tracking and billing solutions and you should definitely take advantage of those. Others focus on optimizing billable hours.
One of the first steps in researching a case is pulling up as much information as possible on involved parties, including family members, associates, aliases, contact information and more. In larger firms, senior lawyers attract clients with their expertise, but junior associates handle much of this kind of legwork.
Solo practices and small firms don’t have that luxury. These lawyers have to do all the research, phone calls, and interviews themselves. The internet is a minefield of information, with little to no guarantee of accuracy. Social media has gained new status in cases as well, although sifting through profiles for the right persona and information is its own tangled mess.
Companies like Tracers are clearing the brush for small firms. Tracers is a leading provider of quality public record data. Their intuitive new website integrates with Clio, allowing data searches to be initiated seamlessly from cases maintained in Clio. The database covers a wide variety of practices, from collections and family law, to real estate and personal injury through business and public records.
Tracers has several features that uniquely qualify it to assist attorneys, social media reports, basic and comprehensive reports, and proactive customer service. Demos are provided to ensure consumers understand how to use the robust search capabilities. Tracers also makes it easy for staff to pull up reports on use and billing for their firm.
Correct, fast data partnered with excellent customer support has allowed many small firms to level the playing field of big firm staff. If you are interested in learning more about Tracers, request a demo today.