I spoke about voice dictation, you can dictate emails, you can dictate documents, voice is the way forward so start getting used to it. Start seeing how you can start talking to your applications.
Work from home is another way that you can improve your efficiency. As a small practitioner you don’t really need offices, you can work from home and in some cases firms allow their staff to work from home when they can be measured. Less time wasted stuck in traffic and more productive time each day.
One of our offices is in Cape Town, which is on the M5 freeway, it is kind of central but we have a number of people who come in from Stellenbosch, The Strand, Somerset West, it takes them an hour to an hour and a half to drive into work in the morning and about the same time to drive home. Now let’s round that to two hours. Those two hours are lost, to the staff and to the business. The employee doesn’t get the benefit of the two hours because they are sitting in traffic getting stressed. We don’t get any benefit from that as employers because they are sitting in traffic doing nothing, it’s a waste of time. The client doesn’t get any benefit from them sitting in traffic for two hours. So with many of our staff we say to them come to the office once a week for a weekly meeting. The rest of the time we can be online remotely working with things like Skype, Gotomeeting and all the other cheap video conferencing solutions that are available.
There are many products where you can do video conferencing for free. Skype is one of them. You can hold a meeting in Skype where you can all see each other. Zoom is another one where you can have small personal meetings.
So more and more people are working from home. It’s also a lot less stressful and you could actually get longer hours as people who have families want to work and spend time with their family. So they don’t have to do that from the office anymore. They can sit down to dinner with their family and go back and do a bit of work afterward, if they feel so inclined.
Aim for a paperless office. You’re never going to have a completely paperless office and we always joke and say it’s a bit like saying there’s going to be a paperless toilet, very unlikely. But you can strive to have more of a paperless office. You don’t have to print every single email that you get from a client. Emails that are unimportant you can simply attach to your accounting system document management. Most of the accounting systems have a document management system built in where you can attach emails, letters, documents, faxes or whatever it is. Video clippings if you want, attach that to the matter for an accurate fee. It’s there if you need it. But you don’t have to stick everything into the paper file and those records can be kept for as long as you want to online and they don’t destroy the forests.
Another way of becoming more efficient oddly enough is great service, because if your service is good you might actually get repeat business from a client. I have to say that most of the firms that I’ve had dealings with from a legal perspective, one way or another, I wouldn’t want to go back to, because I’ve never found them particularly courteous, helpful or fast and I always feel that I’ve been overcharged because the service hasn’t been that good and therefore I must be overpaying. So good service justifies the cost of legal service, it also decreases the chances that you are going to be asked for a discount and as I said will bring repeat business.
It’s been said that if someone’s unhappy with your service they will tell eighteen people. If someone’s really happy with your service they will tell four. So it stands to reason that this bad news about your firm spreads a lot quicker than good news does. That’s why you’ve got to be careful that you don’t offer bad service.
Bill for your time. Record all of your time. Every one of the accounting systems available in South Africa allows you to record the hours that you spend working on a matter. You can then decide how you bill for that, but you should be keeping record of your time with “work in progress” so that you know how much time you’ve actually put in. So you can justify your fee if you need to and so you can understand what a matter cost you at the end of the day and you know whether you made a profit or not.
Avoid discounting. I always take a bit of heat for saying that because people say to me: “I discount to get more business and the banks won’t give me any business if I don’t actually offer a discount.” Yeah sure that’s true, it happens, but not in all business. And the thing that always amazes me, if someone comes to a lawyer and says they want a discount they go for the top end straightaway. “Yes I’ll give you X”, might be 20, it might be 30, it might be 50 percent but they go right for the top amount, when actually all the client wants to hear was ,“Yes I will give you a discount.” My advice to you is every time they ask you for a discount and you get a figure in your head just halve it. They’ll probably be happy with that because they were able to strong arm their lawyer into a discount.
What you’ve also got to remember is if you decide to give away that twenty percent that comes off your bottom line profit. it’s got no cost associated with it. You might as well stick your hand in your pocket and take out the hard cash notes and hand them over because that’s in effect what you’re doing. It is pure net profit that you’re giving away.
So try not to give away discounts if you can. Also you have probably come across this thing called triple discount where the client comes along and sees you and he says: “Okay what discount are you going to give me?”, and of course you think of a figure instantly and say twenty percent and so he says: “Okay cool I’ll take your twenty percent you’re going to give me”. You then work on the matter for two months and you look at the bill at the end and you say there is no way this client is going to pay this amount, so you discount it a second time and you knock off another R10 000 off the bill. The client then comes in to settle up, takes one look at your invoice and says: You’ve got to be insane, I’m not paying you that much and there’s the triple discount. So those are the three discounts.
Now the way you get around that is to bill through the life of the matter, even if you at least bill for disbursements because that’s a hard cost you incurred. But bill during the life of a matter to avoid that bill shock at the end, then at least you are only arguing about that last portion of the bill. You’re not arguing about this whole entire massive amount. So if you want to avoid being asked for a big discount, make sure you bill while the gratitude curve is high. Bill for your time and get paid for your time while the client still likes you. Once the case is decided the client might turn round and say, “I could have done it as well myself” or “I lost, what kind of lawyer are you, why am I paying you to do my work?” So bill during the life of the matter, where you can.
An extract from Chris Pearson’s presentation at the Bootcamp for Small and Medium Law Firms of South Africa 2019.
Chris Pearson is the Sales and Marketing Director at XpressDox.