The billable hour has always been the lifeblood of any law firm, and many lawyers (especially early on in their careers) are tasked with hitting billable hour targets that can exceed 2,300 hours per year. Achieving this volume of hours means that the typical lawyer needs to bill more than 40 hours per week—this does not account for the administrative workload with which lawyers are increasingly burdened.
The Legal Executive Institute Law Firm 2019 Business Leaders Report noted that almost a third of law firm executives believe that inadequate recruitment and retention are a “high risk” to profitability. This means that for law firms, it is critical to find ways to attract good talent, keep employees happy, and increase overall productivity. One of the best ways a law firm can help lawyers work more efficiently is by making sure that their legal tech stack is up to date, so their employees can spend less time on non-essential tasks and thus increase overall billable hours.
As the number of hours that lawyers spend working from their smartphones and tablets, in particular, is on the rise, law firms must enable their lawyers to do more with mobile so they can work from everywhere. The coronavirus pandemic has made this reality all the more salient, with millions of lawyers and staffers globally working from home in light of mass office closures. However, most legal technologies have been built with mobile as an afterthought—meaning that your lawyers are likely wasting countless hours during the day doing administrative tasks that could easily be automated, making them less productive and creating a situation where it is difficult for your firm to increase profitability without raising rates.
The Importance of Mobile Technology for Law Firms
Law firms, like many other businesses, need to adopt new technology or risk falling behind. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the extent to which many law firms were unprepared for their employees to work remotely for extended periods of time. In the days prior to nationwide office closures in the U.S., IT leaders scrambled to acquire the software that would enable everyone at their firm to work from home. But beyond equipping all employees with laptops and remote desktop access, working from home necessitates behavioral change for many users. For example, those who are working with children in the house are probably not able to remain tethered to a desk when managing their family obligations. The ability to communicate with clients and colleagues without compromising their other commitments is critical to their ability to maintain their practice. Mobile devices provide precisely this functionality, but most law firms do not provide their lawyers with specialized software dedicated to lawyers that helps them optimize for productivity and minimize the administrative burden of managing activities between multiple devices.
Beyond the spread of the novel coronavirus, law firms must also invest in mobile technology to ensure that they are able to continue to recruit and retain talent. This crisis has made the gap between firms that have made investments in remote working technology and those that haven’t more and more clear. For law firms, it is necessary to consider that failing to meet the needs of lawyers in times of crisis will result in reputational damage, which can make it difficult to attract employees down the line.
The Reality of Why Most Law Firms Have Inadequate Mobile Technology
Few vendors build mobile-first technology for law firms—and those that do typically do it as an afterthought. The ways in which a lack of mobile functionality often affects lawyers in the day-to-day are laid out below:
- While many legal tech vendors offer mobile applications, they are often mere shadows of their desktop counterparts. Because they have been built as an afterthought, they are clunky and difficult to use.
- Many legal tech apps do not meet the rigorous security standards required by law firms, meaning that even if they theoretically possessed the capabilities needed by lawyers, there would be no way to actually implement them.
- Most applications that lawyers use have been built for consumers and cannot handle specialized legal tasks. For example, according to the 2019 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report, 79% of lawyers in the U.S. use iPhones, meaning that their default email client is Apple Mail. Apple Mail provides the basic functionality of reading and responding to email but cannot help lawyers file emails into document management systems (per compliance requirements) or capture the time they spend interacting with clients through their inboxes.
The Math Behind the Relationship Between Mobile Functionality, Productivity, and Profitability
Per the last point above, a lack of mobile functionality leads to meaningful revenue and productivity loss at law firms. Let’s take Valerie, a hypothetical partner at a mid-sized law firm, as an example. Valerie’s billable rate is $350/hour. Valerie probably spends around 20 minutes per day on filing emails from her desktop, since her mobile device doesn’t give her the capabilities to file them as she’s in the zone of reviewing and responding. 20 minutes per day, for Valerie, equals $117 in billable time. Compounded over weeks and months, Valerie alone loses more than $25,000 per year because of inefficient filing processes.
The time capture metrics are just as bleak. As a busy lawyer, Valerie is constantly on the move, often responding to emails while she’s in transit or when she’s sitting at home before or after work. Conservatively, she probably spends at least 20 minutes interacting with client-related email from her phone per day. Given that she’s probably busy focusing on actually practicing law, there is a good chance that she isn’t remembering to capture all of that time that she spends communicating with her clients from her mobile device—and this loss of potential revenue amounts to more than $28,000 per year.
Now, remember that Valerie works at a mid-sized law firm. There could be more than 100 “Valeries,” bringing firmwide losses skyrocketing into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even worse, most lawyers dislike activities like email filing and time entry, and the need to spend time on these monotonous tasks leads to reduced morale. As law firms globally contend with increasing burnout rates and a growing mental health crisis, enabling lawyers to work more efficiently is paramount.
While the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on law firm profitability remains to be seen, we can expect that law firms that have not incorporated flexible productivity into their tech stack will see a concurrent decline in billable activity, which will ultimately hit profitability. While COVID-19 may be a black swan event, it is a stark reminder that crisis planning can never be an afterthought—and technology plays an increasingly large role.
How ZERØ Can Help Law Firms Increase Productivity and Profitability in the Process
Removing friction is key to boosting productivity and efficiency—leading to long-term operational excellence. This is why we built ZERØ: the only mobile-first email management tool designed and engineered with lawyers in mind. ZERØ uses AI to eliminate the need to perform tedious administrative tasks, like email filing and manual time entry. ZERØ’s capabilities also allow lawyers to stay on top of their email during times when it is impossible to meet face-to-face. Users can sort their inboxes by importance for a period of time of their choosing, which allows them to prioritize messages in situations where their inboxes are flooded. As a result, lawyers can spend more time on the substance of their jobs—practicing law. Over time, this will raise morale and lower burnout risk, while also increasing productivity and profitability both in times of calm and crisis.