Recently, I wrote that there are three essential building blocks for operational efficiency:
- Solid Systems: i.e., mapping out ideal workflows and use of well-crafted checklists
- Streamlined Workflows: i.e., paperless lawyering, automation, cloud-based storage & virtual collaboration
- Effective Delegation: i.e., you, as the lawyer, focus on only legal work, and outsource everything else as much as possible
Now, let’s talk about…
Once you’ve committed to using the right systems, you can begin the work of streamlining your workflows to make things run smoother, faster, and at a lower cost to your bottom line.
First, you need to work on making your key workflows as free of paper as possible.
Digital workflows are much easier to automate, plus you can access digital documents from anywhere at any time.
You’re probably working with a lot of digital documents already so making the shift to a near-paperless practice should not be that difficult.
However, if you were starting from scratch, here’s what you’d have to learn to do.
Scan incoming paper into a digital file management system, storing the files in a PDF format. Improve your skills in working with PDFs, and make sure everyone else in your firm improves their PDF-handling skills as well.
PDFs take less file space and are more secure than other formats.
Embrace the cloud
Enable cloud-based access to your documents so that you and your team can work on them from anywhere and at any time.
The next step is to make sure your digital documents are secure from disaster by setting up a proper backup system and data security protocols.
This will also help protect your documents and data from hackers and other security breaches.
At this point, you have the foundation in place to start leveraging the power of automated workflows.
When you can use a computer to do work that is normally done by humans, you’ll discover that computers are generally much faster and less prone to error.
Increasingly, computers can do things that we used to believe were impossible through artificial intelligence and machine learning.
The promise of automation is great, and the results can be astonishing. But you have maintain perspective.
The key is to use automation (as you use any kind of technology) sensibly and strategically. And when you do, the payoff can be exponential.
Humans are expensive to hire, train, and manage. And it’s just a fact of life that humans are prone to make silly mistakes–especially when doing repetitive, tedious, or uninteresting tasks.
Computers do things exactly the same way every time and work at near light-speed. Plus modern computers cost very little to operate and maintain (i.e., the cost of electricity vs. expensive salaries with benefits for humans).
You should first harness automation in the areas that are most central to a law practice, which is anything that involves the creation or modification of text (i.e., documents such as contracts, pleadings, email, word-processing documents, etc.).
You can also turbo-charge content creation by switching from typing to dictating what you want to say.
Today’s dictation software is more powerful, inexpensive, and reliable than the platforms of years past. Plus, it offers a simple user experience so you can get started right away.
Even using keyboard shortcuts or spell-check is a powerful source for automation.
And yet, many lawyers aren’t fully shifting to taking advantage of either one.
Again, you must cultivate the proper mindset for yourself and your team; one where you develop an enhanced awareness of the many tasks (both important and mundane) that are repetitive and take up valuable time that you could use to do higher level tasks.
Every repetitive task that happens inside any aspect of your workflow needs to be digitized and automated as quickly as possible.
In some cases, you’ll have to hire a consultant to help you implement the right workflow automation.
But whatever it costs (in terms of time and money), it will more than pay for itself over time, in the form of operational efficiency and lowered costs.