06:00 AM

Maximize your slow spells and downtimes

By Jeffrey Schoenberger, Affinity Consulting 

For lawyers, particularly solo practitioners and those responsible for making payroll each month, it seems there are only two states of the business. Either you are too busy to breathe, or you are scrounging around for billable work. One of my colleagues refers to slow spells as time to “shake the trees.” The obvious work is complete or absent, so it’s time to look into client files for those small things that need to be done but you’ve forgotten about or were always less pressing than other matters. 

We should become more comfortable with law’s cyclical nature. The previous 20 years demonstrate that economists have not mastered the business cycle with the dot-com bubble, the Great Recession, and now COVID-19 lockdowns. Law is no different. Only billable work and paying clients will keep your business solvent and staff gainfully employed, but there are useful things you can do during slow periods that will eventually turn your “molasses time” into money: 

  • Invest in Training: You and your employees use core tools every day. I guarantee the computer programs you already own have features that would help you work faster and more accurately. If you draft documents, do you have templates with key language in one place that’s consistently editable with ease? Have you customized your email application with rules to filter incoming mail, separating client correspondence from newsletters and advertisements? How about setting up reusable task templates in your case management system? Or developing a documented procedure for redacting PDFs for filing? Use your downtime to learn how to use your tools better. If this interests you, Missouri Bar members receive a 20% discount on Affinity’s legal-specific software manuals. Click here to view the manuals and use coupon code MOBARMEMBER. 
  • Catch Up on CLE: Irrespective of business conditions, you will need CLE at the end of your reporting period, which is June 30. Many states, including Missouri, allow a portion of “excess CLE” earned in one reporting period to roll over to the next. Get it out of the way while business is slow. MoBarCLE is one option for Missouri-law specific CLE programming.  

  • Take Inventory: Take inventory of your technology. Ask the following questions: 

  1. Who has what? Make a list of each staffer and what they have as far as computers, monitors, scanners, printers, phones, and headsets. Also record what software each staffer has, the version of that software, and any associated licensing key. The software list states who have access to special software, like a child support calculator, and whose software should be upgraded. For example, Microsoft ended support for Word 2010 in October of 2020, meaning no more patches or security updates. Anyone running Word 2010 should update immediately. 

  2. Where is it? After making the list, identify where that equipment is. Some is likely at the office but given the global pandemic, a fair portion might be in the homes of remote employees. 

  3. How old is it? Record the purchase date and warranty status of each piece. 

This inventory list will serve you well for two purposes: insurance claims, if necessary, and planning for replacement of equipment as it ages out of warranty. 

  • Everything has a Process: Whether you think of them as processes, what you do in the firm has an “order of execution” or checklist of events/actions you take for everything, including drafting a letter to a client, scheduling a meeting, creating and executing documents, and paying rent or restocking the coffee beans. Document how you do both administrative and substantive processes. Documenting processes helps you discover and eliminate bottlenecks. It also creates a “cookbook” so, should the person “in the know” be on vacation, the work still gets done. Use the workflow spreadsheet to start your documentation process. Start with the “Everything has a Process” whitepapers as your guides: Part 1 – How to Identify Yours and Part 2 – How to Improve Yours 

  • Centralize Your Knowledge base: If you currently create client documents -- whether it be a letter, estate plan, or operating agreement -- by finding the most recent one you did for a client and modifying it, there are other tools you could use to help you save time. Take time to gather a representative set of recent wills, for example, and assemble a single template, a starting document that contains the best versions of your provisions. Put those provisions into a single word processing document to use as your future starting point. See this document automation checklist as a guide on the subject. 

Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Slow times in your business are stressful but remember there are useful things you can do during those times that will pay dividends down the road. Plus, focusing your mind on something immediate and useful has benefits of its own. 

Missouri Bar members have two easy ways to get their legal technology and law practice management questions answered by an expert from Affinity Consulting Group. At no cost, members can email their question to an expert or schedule a one-on-one, remote consultation. Visit the Law Practice Management Resource Center for more information.