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Eliminate productivity blockers to boost profitability: Part 1

Catherine Moffitt, an associate with legal practice management specialists Cosgrove Associates, is on a mission to eliminate law firms’ productivity blockers.

That’s the name that she gives to the issues, both big and small, that stand in the way of a firm's profitability and efficiency.

“Getting rid of productivity blockers makes for a happier, more productive and profitable workplace,” Moffitt says.

She frequently steps in to act as an interim office manager for clients, taking on a wide variety of responsibilities including, human resources, law office administration, facilities management, marketing co-ordination and financial management.

In those roles, Moffitt has identified some recurring problems and says they typically fall into one of four broad categories: systems, time management, technology and support staff, or marketing.

In this, the first of a two-part series, she explains to AdvocateDaily.com how systems and time management issues can stop law firms from reaching their profitability and efficiency potential.     

Systems

Moffitt says she often sees firms trying to get by with accounting systems that are simply not adequate for their complicated finances.

But even if an organization has the best accounting software available on the market, it’s not much good if nobody knows how to get the most out of it, she adds.

“It’s important to have some sort of instruction manual explaining to staff how to do cost recovery, how you deal with cheques and other forms of payment,” Moffitt says. “You want to avoid a situation where everyone is doing their own thing.

“There also needs to be checks and balances in place, which means clear tiers of authority that show who needs to sign off on amounts above a certain level."

When it comes to the practice of law, Moffitt says a comprehensive set of templates and precedents can save lawyers and their staff a great deal of time.

“You shouldn’t be reinventing the wheel every time you send out a retainer letter or draft a particular type of document,” she says. “Each practice area has particular documents and forms that get used over and over again, so having a template that you can fill in and adjust according to the client in front of you is very useful.”

Moffitt says much of her time with new clients is spent drawing up policies and procedures for various law firm departments that can be used for training new hires.

“That way you can make sure that everyone is up to speed, compliant and following protocols,” she says.

Time management

“This includes areas such as desk space organization, email management to encourage critical matters being taken care of first, and better scheduling to limit the number of drop-ins,” Moffitt says, noting that lawyers are often surprised by the cumulative effect of multiple apparently minor adjustments to their overall efficiency.

She says it can be tough for many law firms to strike a balance that results in effective workplace communication.

“It’s important to develop good work relationships with your staff, and communicate regularly, in order to avoid errors of missed deadlines. If you’re not connecting with one another, that’s when things get missed,” Moffitt says.

To prevent wasting time, she teaches clients to hold better meetings by encouraging them to put together an agenda and impose strict time limits on discussions.

In Moffitt’s experience, one issue lawyers struggle with the most is delegation. But when done effectively, she says it can reap some of the biggest rewards.  

“You need to know your staff's capabilities so that you’re aware of what they can handle, rather than taking it all on yourself,” she says. “Evaluate the time spent on certain tasks by yourself or your staff so that as the work comes in, you can properly measure how much you can fit in or pass on. It’s also going to help with docketing and billing.”

Stay tuned for part 2 in the series, when Moffitt discusses productivity blockers in the areas of law firm technology and support staff, and marketing efforts.

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