There are infinite mistakes that can be made when adopting a practice management system, but the most common and consequential is when the task of setting up the system is delegated to the wrong person.
Usually, the partners spend hours agonising over the decision to purchase a practice management software. Weighing up the cost and benefits of the system. Asking the salespeople about features: “What can it do?” “What can’t it do?” “What integrations does it have?” They take an hour out of their busy schedule to be taken through a demo. It looks great!
Then they buy it. They spend thousands on licences so all their staff can use this new system. They call a staff meeting to discuss implementing the new system. It is usually here that the person who will be responsible for setting up and maintaining the system within the firm is determined.
Who is this person? I can tell you who it is usually not: a partner.
Instead, the job usually goes to the office manager or another administrator. Now, it is very important that the office manager and support staff are familiar with the software as their role in running the system is key. However, they are not the ones ultimately responsible for it, nor are they likely to possess the depth of knowledge of risk that will need to be managed by the firm. Ultimately it is the responsibility of a senior lawyer to ensure any practice management system is set up correctly, and how matters should ideally be run. Admin staff must certainly be involved to understand how to manage billing and trust accounting through the system, but the buck doesn’t stop with them.
What happens if the trust accounting system isn’t set up correctly? Who is responsible if a deadline is missed because the matter management template had the wrong settings? It will always come back to a partner.
Partners and principals are the cerebral cortex of the firm. They have the experience and knowledge of how matters should be run, and are responsible for directing the culture and productivity of the firm. At the heart of their powers to delegate and run an effective law firm are the systems their staff spend most of their time interacting with. So, it makes no sense they generally abdicate responsibility for this crucial aspect of their firm’s success to basically anyone else.
A partner’s time is the most valuable commodity in the firm, so it’s only natural to see any time spent not charging clients as wasteful. This is wrong-headed. The hours spent ensuring the system works as intended prevents an exponential amount of time wasted by all other users in the future. Not taking the time up-front might lead to users figuring out work-arounds, or (more likely) abandoning the system in order to do things their own way. Important data may not be captured, and opportunities to refine the system and exploit that data are lost.
It also ignores the efficiency a good system can offer a partner to bill more of their own time. We tend to think our time is maximised by default. That if we are busy, we must be spending our time most profitably. That’s not necessarily the case. We might be busy working on tasks we simply shouldn’t be. I won’t go into detail here, but I do recommend downloading Libris’ eBook ‘To Automate or Delegate’ for more on this topic.
Suffice to say, a well-calibrated system gives you back more of your time – in particular more billable time. If you want your firm to bill more, you need to invest your time in optimizing your systems to do so. The question then becomes: “At what point does the amount of time I spend on my firm’s systems begin yielding diminishing returns?” And to give a lawyerly answer: it depends. Each partner will have their own optimal balance of time working in the business versus on the business. I would suggest applying the 80/20 rule to time spent on this task as well. However, by the time this question becomes relevant, you should already have invested enough time to produce an operational and robust practice management system.
If you want to discuss how the issues covered in this blog might apply to you, or how you might be able to delegate these tasks to someone who has the experience of being a principal of a law firm, book a consultation with me.