How to Increase Your Law Firm’s Chargeable Hours
A question on the mind of all managing partners and practice managers is: How do we increase our fee earner’s/law firms’s chargeable hours?
Setting realistic chargeable hour goals
The first point to make on chargeable hours is that they do have to be a realistic goal that fee earners can meet.
I think we have all seen the recent article in The Guardian which described law firms as “toxic” and “cut throat”*. I believe we would all agree that this not the type of press we want to see in relation to our profession. In that article, it was suggested that in some law firms, if junior fee earners were not meeting high targets, managers piled on more pressure, suggesting staff worked outside of office hours (or on weekends) to meet their targets. So the implications of setting chargeable hours to an unrealistic goal, clearly has a negative impact for staff. But also has a negative impact for us as an industry.
Productivity – taking it back to basics
However, when looking at productivity, it is always best to take it “back to basics”.
The questions that most fee earners forget to ask themselves are:
- First, how much will it cost my firm in chargeable time if I do something?
- Secondly, can someone else do it and will it be more cost effective for my firm, for someone else to do it?
Giving thought to these two questions is fundamental to ensuring that fee earners can be as productive and cost effective as they can be. This is especially true, if the actions result in undertaking tasks that are classed as unchargeable time.
Providing sufficient support
In most cases, productivity comes down to ensuring your law firm has the necessary support in place to do those tasks at less cost, allowing your firm and fee earners to be more productive.
I have seen fee earners do a myriad of tasks that could be done more cost effectively. I think we all have done some photocopying usually out of necessity, as the support was not there to do it. Clearly, this is a task that can be done by your firm’s admin staff cheaper than having a fee earner do it. If you see solicitors stood at photocopiers ask yourself this:
- Do you have sufficient admin staff to do these tasks? or
- Is the admin system in place not working effectively and efficiently?
Generally it comes down to one of the above points. If you have sufficient support staff in place, it may be that systems need to be reviewed to make these more efficient.
Dictation is more cost effective than typing your own documents
The advent of the computer, saw law firms reduce secretarial and typing staff believing that this was more cost effective for their firms.
Why pay for a typist when fee earners could do it themselves! But did you know that dictation is more cost effective than typing?
The simple fact is that we all speak considerably faster than even trained typists can type. Approximately 30 minutes of dictation would take a trained typist at least two hours to type.
So how much chargeable time could I gain by dictating?
If you take the above analogy, two hours of typing equals half an hour of dictation. If you have a solicitor who spends two hours a day typing their own emails and documents, they are losing out on one and a half hours in chargeable time.
So lets say it takes 40 minutes (as they are dictating at a reasonable pace). A Grade A solicitor therefore at £409 per hour would lose 1 hour 20 minutes of chargeable time. If you were to use OutSec’s (standard turnaround service) and deduct that from the lost chargeable time of one hour 20 minutes, your firm has lost £497 in potential chargeable time. Similarly, if we look at a Grade D solicitor at £138 per hour, your firm has therefore lost £136 in potential chargeable time. The facts here, speak for themselves.
In an age where law firms need to be more efficient and cost effective, this is a big deal. Even more so, of course, if this is happening on a daily basis. Over the course of a year, this can represent a huge loss for law firms coming from a single fee earner. The more fee earners you have typing their own documents and emails, the more money your practice is potentially losing out on.
In conclusion, remember to strip everything back to the basics. If you have a fee earner who is not meeting their chargeable hours, look at the potential causes.
- Do you have sufficient support mechanisms in place?
- Remember to ask those two important questions:
- How much will it cost my firm in chargeable time if I do something?
- Can someone else do the task and will it be more cost effective for someone else to do it
If you are wanting your fee earners to achieve those chargeable hour goals, dictation is one area I think all law practices should look at. Firstly, it is one which is more cost effective than a fee earner typing their own documents. Secondly, it may mean your lawyers do not have to stay late (or work at weekends) to meet their chargeable hours targets. Thirdly, it may result in lawyers feeling less stressed and less pressurised at work. Therefore, this simple change, could be an easy win, win scenario for all.
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*The full article from The Guardian “Toxic, cut-throat’: the work culture awaiting junior lawyers” can be found here.