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A More Efficient You: A Guide to Becoming a More Efficient Law Firm In 2014

As Webster's dictionary defines it, efficiency is the extent to which time, effort, or cost is well used for the intended task or purpose. Something we perhaps all strive for, but something of which we also can easily lose sight. We are deluged with the daily necessities of work: the email, phone calls, meetings, and other distractions that make our days fly by. So, when do we have a chance to pause and reflect on whether we are personally operating efficiently, or the time to review if our businesses are operating efficiently?

Making yourself and your business more efficient and, ultimately, more profitable, is a worthy resolution for 2014.

Taming the Email Beast
Steven Covey, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, presented a time management matrix, noting that most of us spend most of our time in the quadrant of the urgent and not important. In our current world of instant communication, some days we never get to the "important" projects, tasks, or even just reaching out to network in our industry. How can we tame the email beast for greater efficiency? Here are some tips:

  • Create quick steps in Outlook to assist in sorting through email and categorizing it each day. You can set up folders and even actions for emails in quick steps, including task with attachment to immediately create a task based on an email.
  • Don’t use email to have a conversation—a quick phone call can be so much faster. Consider looking into Microsoft Lync or other corporate IM programs. You can even send a quick text. Not everything has to be memorialized for the ages. i.e. "I'll be in the break room in 10 minutes" clogs up your email and is just one more to delete.
  • Require email procedures and etiquette in your workplace. Just knowing what a company wants an employee to do with email saves them the time.
  • Turn off all email reminders. It is fine to check email periodically throughout the day, but if email is driving your work then you are losing productive time.

Meetings: All we do is MEET!
Nothing beats face-to-face communication, but often, meetings are unproductive. There is a way to conduct short productive meetings. First, you must know why you are setting a meeting: Information gathering, project status, or regularly scheduled team meeting. Then you have to question the efficiency of the meeting and weigh it against the loss of productivity that occurs when you gather everyone for a meeting. Aim for fewer meetings by creating establish meeting schedules with a singular specific purpose and then sticking to strict time frames and agendas.

Technology is important, so use it wisely.  Some tips in this area include:

  • Losing passwords and logins–always use a password keeper to save these that is secured by a master password
  • Everyone in the office should be on the same calendaring system. Having everyone's calendar published and available for setting meetings cuts down on the "When are you available?" emails.
  • Case Management Systems—Systems that run the process and keep workflow moving help the firm stay in compliance with national, state, county and local rules and regulations. The efficiency of technology over manually moving files around an office results in huge cost savings for firms.

Slaying the Time-Wasting Dragon
Multi-tasking - There are great times to do two things at once, and there are many times when it seems like the right thing to do, but multi-tasking can actually be less efficient. If you can give your undivided attention to your work, you will find that you remember things more clearly and that you spend less time searching for emails, tasks, and pieces of paper.

Spur of the moment meetings are not productive because, generally, you are not prepared with the materials needed to make them productive.  If you really want to get a grip on this time waster, try to communicate that you are available periodically throughout the day for your staff and co-workers. Stress to them the importance and efficiency of scheduling meetings on your calendar. Your co-workers will appreciate knowing they will have your undivided attention and that you will be prepared. Better management of your meeting time will help you feel in control.

Discipline in time management can be difficult.  The key is in taking advantage of the tools that can provide you with information on your schedule and that of the people you are meeting with throughout your day. Using those tools will save you time and make you more efficient.

Expenses can be trimmed for Efficiency
Cost can best be controlled by conducting an examination of the firm's expense structure. Every firm has expense items that although they may be expensive and unnecessary, are "sacred cows" that simply are an unquestioned and accepted part of the firm's operations. Take a hard look at all expenses in the firm and question whether each and every one of them is necessary for the efficient and professional delivery of legal services. If an expense item does not enhance the quality of your legal product then you should question whether it really must be incurred month after month. This does not mean that you remove every vending machine in the office, because quality of life at work leads to happier workers and, therefore, a better work product. But, if you really take the time to examine the cost of delivering excellent legal services, you will likely find and eliminate some of those sacred cows.

Time Well Spent
Although it might seem like you never have time to get a grip on efficiency in your day, taking time to review these and other practical ways to get a handle on your productivity and efficiency will enhance your work and, in turn, your quality of life.

About Author: Liz Potter

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For a review of your firm and how to enhance efficiencies please contact Affinity Consulting Group, [email protected]

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