As the saying goes, “Time is money,” and lately, small firms seem to have less of both time and money.

A recent survey showed that attorneys at small firms are spending more than 40 percent of their time on administrative tasks. Among these time-sucking tasks, more than half of small firms report “big problems collecting bills” due to clients’ financial issues, as well as inefficient collection systems. Small firms also note significant challenges acquiring new clients.

Today’s Small Firms Have to Do More, Better, Faster, Cheaper

With a wide variety of available sources of legal services, clients expect better service for less money, according to the survey. There are now more lawyers than ever before – the ratio of attorneys to the general population more than doubled from 1975 to 2016.

Changes to the legal marketplace have placed increased pressure on small firms in particular. The rise of Do-It-Yourself or “DIY” tools and services are taking business away from lawyers across the board.

A recent statistic shows that only one in five people hire an attorney when presented with a legal need. And while 60 percent of U.S. small businesses run into significant legal issues, only 46 percent hire an attorney.

Our on-demand economy extends to legal services too.These days, as many as 41 percent of consumers expect an email response within 6 hours. For all this immediate service, small firms also report intense price competition for their services.

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Source: Thomson Reuters

What’s a Small Firm to Do? Try Tech

Properly used, technology can help small firms improve efficiency to save money. The right technology can bring certain processes up to speed so firms don’t have to waste their most valuable resource – attorney time.

In 2012, the ABA amended the Model Rules to include an Ethical Duty of Technological Competence. Since then, 23 states (and counting!) have adopted the duty. The specific language from Comment 8 to the Rule states:

To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.

Technology can automate processes to save time and improve accuracy while minimizing risk.

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Small firms especially stand to reap significant rewards from technology dedicated to making the practice of law more efficient and profitable, but solos and small firms have been slow to adopt cloud-based tools.

Software Can Help Small Firms Save Big

Whatever your primary pain point, be it drafting documents, managing client information or tracking time and billing, software exists to lessen your pain. Technology can automate processes and tasks to save time and improve accuracy while minimizing risk and optimizing client relations.

The numbers don’t lie: Firms that use integrated legal technology report 9 percent higher annual billings, 12 percent more matters with “very high” client satisfaction and a 71 percent increase in referrals from prior clients. Small firms with practice management software need 40 percent fewer support staff. Further, small firms with practice management systems reduced nonbillable attorney time by 4 to 8 hours per month.

In addition to streamlining operations, technology can significantly improve data security. With more than 80 percent of lawyers conducting business from their smartphones, keeping client information confidential is even more crucial, not to mention another duty imposed by the Model Rules. Software exists to protect you and your clients from accidental disclosures of private information as well as intentional data breaches.

Get the Right Tools and Reclaim Your Time

More so than any other type of practice, small firms stand to benefit greatly from advances in legal technology. The right tools can bring your practice up to speed, saving you time while giving clients the service they want.

About the author

Anna Furniss

Anna Furniss

Anna Furniss is a business and startup attorney with substantial litigation and transactional experience. Anna has practiced law for more than 10 years, most recently serving as General Counsel at a prominent San Francisco digital marketing agency. After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, Anna attended the University of San Diego School of Law.

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