Law firm automation opens the door to making day-to-day chores a thing of the past in your practice. It also helps you make your firm more profitable and productive while improving your clients’ experiences.
Finding the areas of your firm that are ripe for automating isn’t hard. And there are a variety of tools out there to make your life easier.
Use this guide to get started on making your firm run like clockwork with prompt and consistent automation.
What is Law Firm Automation?
Law firm automation is all about using tools to create systems. These systems help make the day-to-day work at law firms more efficient.
Legal automation tools and software speed up and simplify tasks in a law firm. It includes the day-to-day tasks that lawyers, paralegals, and other staff must do. And these tools work across the entire law firm—from marketing to the end of a client case.
Some law firm automation tools will work for any firm out of the box. Others need custom setup and installation to work for you.
You may also hear these tools referred to as legal workflow automation.
Some people think of this as different from law firm automation, but the two terms are interchangeable. They both refer to software that makes your work (and your staff’s work) easier.
Why Every Law Firm Needs Legal Workflow Automation
Law firm automation saves time for lawyers and their staff while transforming the client experience at the same time.
You pave the way for greater law firm profitability and improved client satisfaction when you automate tedious work and focus on things with greater impact.
Automation offers several benefits for the modern law firm. Improved productivity for legal professionals is the first big one.
Automation enhances productivity and efficiency by helping:
- Streamline repetitive tasks
- Reduce workload and make things easier for lawyers and staff
- Give you more time to work, increasing billable hours and bandwidth
Efficiency gains alone are a shot in the arm for your firm’s profitability due to expanded workload capacity.
The right automation tools also power better consistency and quality.
Automation ensures that every client receives the same high standard of legal service. It also reduces human errors in processes (such as document automation).
The next big benefit is all about the client experience. You’ll see greater client satisfaction through things like:
- Faster response times
- More efficient case handling
- Enhanced communication and transparency
That adds up in a big way for your clients. The better you serve them, the more likely you are to get those all-important reviews, testimonials, and referrals from them.
The biggest hesitation many lawyers have about automation is the fear that it will replace them.
The truth is that automation and AI will help you work faster. You'll spend less time on tedious tasks and more time serving your clients. It all adds up to more clients served in a way that satisfies them and a staff that’s free to focus on impactful work instead of tedium.
Key Areas to Implement Legal Workflow Automation
Automation streamlines workflows throughout your law firm. It even helps out before a client gets in touch with you.
Think of this as impacting your law firm in five main areas, spanning pre-client contact to the conclusion of a case.
Legal Marketing Automation
There are tons of tools on the market that will help you automate your law firm’s marketing activities. Just a few things that take your efforts to the next level include:
Law firms who automate these activities have an easier time getting their message out to potential customers. It’s a force multiplier for any other law firm marketing campaigns you have underway.
Client Intake and Onboarding
Client intake software streamlines and systematizes the intake process. These tools make it easier for your staff to get the initial details from potential clients. They won’t need to worry as much about inputting repetitive data, freeing everyone up to provide more personal touches.
And it helps you keep on track to show up to consultations with all the right info in hand.
Even better, some marketing automation tools pull double duty here. Some CRMs feed data into your client intake system, and some specialized legal CRMs also act as intake managers.
Document Management and Generation
Document tools are game changers for lawyers.
Creating new legal documents is a hassle. And the average firm employee spends a few hours a week looking for missing documents.
But legal document automation software allows you to:
- Auto-create standard legal documents and templates
- Offer digital signatures and tracking
- Reduce errors in documentation
- Track the location of every document you create
There's plenty of customization with most document automation tools, too. You can set up specialized document templates, store them for later, and use them forever.
And AI-assisted document managers become more accessible every day. These tools offer benefits like:
- Better file organization and search functionality
- Smarter contextual search within documents that surface facts and insights
- Optical character recognition that allows you to convert paper documents into digital files
Case Management and Client Communication
Putting in the work to manage cases and communicate with clients holds inherent value for attorneys. The better a client’s experience is, the more likely they are to tell others about how you helped them. But not every aspect of case management should eat up a lawyer's time.
Case management tools allow you to automate the worst parts of managing a case so you can focus on the details.
For example, your case management tool can automate task assignments based on case type or attorney specialty so each client gets the right lawyer.
They can also help you set up reminders and follow-ups. This ensures you never miss a filing deadline and keep your client in the loop at each phase of their case.
Billing and Invoicing
Gathering all the information you need to bill a client isn’t fun. Tracking your time, logging the work you’ve completed, and sending it off to the client is a hassle.
Add to that the fact that the average lawyer only bills 2.5 hours of each workday, and there’s bound to be missing time when it comes to sending the bill.
Legal billing software makes things easier in this area of the business.
These tools offer options like:
- Automated time tracking
- Ways to sort through billable and non-billable hours
- Invoice generation
- Tax filing
- Reporting modules to track productivity
The other big benefit is that some of these tools integrate with payment gateways to reduce legal billing issues. You'll spend less time tracking down clients with unpaid invoices by adding seamless transaction options.
Steps to Successfully Implement Legal Workflow Automation
Automating your firm requires a methodical approach. Follow these steps to choose which areas of your firm you want to optimize, find the right tool, and measure success.
1. Assess Your Automation Needs
Start by looking for the biggest pain points in your firm across the five business areas automation helps with.
- Where are you losing the most time?
- Where is your staff spending too much time?
- Where are balls getting dropped?
The assessment step is a good chance to engage with your staff to better understand their pain points. Then combine your list and their main concerns to see where you need to focus first.
Consider what matters to you in terms of features, too. For example, cloud-based tech is a must if you need access on the go or you’re considering working from home.
2. Prioritize Your Needs
Your assessment will uncover multiple areas within your firm that could benefit from automation.
But trying to shore up everything at once is a mistake. Adding too much too fast makes it harder to get started with the things that need automation the most. You’ll be so caught up trying to fix it all that you’ll get nothing done.
Prioritizing lets you adopt and master automation tools in a measured order.
Look for the areas that consume the most of your time or your staff’s time to start with. And keep an eye out for any inefficiency that negatively impacts the client experience. That's a sure sign of something to place at the top of your list of automation priorities.
For example, intake is a great starting point if you don't have any automation in place. It saves staff time and systematizes a consistent client experience.
And there’s one more thing to consider before you jump to pay for a big tool.
Look to see if you can address any of the issues on your combined list with simple automation solutions, such as through Zapier. You can do basic things like get a text when a document is waiting for your signature or automatically track your time on calls.
3. Set Your Budget for Automation
Some automation tools for lawyers are expensive. Pay close attention to your budget, even if you intend to follow the recommendation to automate one area at a time.
There are two aspects to consider when paying for automation tools:
- The upfront investment
- The long-term ROI.
Any tool will require upfront costs in terms of expense, setup, and training for the team.
Selecting tools that make work faster and easier will pay off over time, though. Some tools cost more upfront, but weighing whether or not they will improve profitability will help you decide if it’s worth the price.
Many budget-oriented options and solutions come with downsides. Is it worth it if there are bugs or limited functions in a cheaper tool? Or if it introduces new problems for your team to deal with?
There are some areas where budget options just don't cut it.
But efficiency isn’t out of reach for small firms with limited budgets. Look for tools that automate more than one area of your business, like a case management tool with integrated billing. Finding tool overlap will help you get the most bang for your buck.
4. Research the Right Tools for The Job
You have a shortlist of things you want to automate. Now it's time to explore your options before picking one.
Here's how to tackle that, no matter what area of the firm you’re trying to automate:
- Determine the features you need for each job to be done
- Create a list of tools that solve your problem (sites like G2 or Capterra will help you find tools by category and industry)
- Compare different tool features and benefits
- Read reviews from real customers on review sites
- Go beyond review sites and check out actual support forums to see what existing customers have to say
- Find other lawyers who use the tools and ask them what they use and why they do or don't like it
- Verify that the tool works with any systems you already use
Following these steps will help you shortlist tools and then filter down to the one that works best for you.
5. Set Up and Onboarding Your Team
Companies that incorporate more technology platforms into ongoing operations are more likely to see growth in their sales, profits, and employment. But switching to new systems always comes with growing pains. Don’t expect a perfectly automated workplace overnight.
Your staff needs training and time to get into the swing of things.
Set aside training time to get your staff comfortable with the automation tools you choose.
Some tools offer personalized training and onboarding, but the less expensive tools can’t offer that. But a good tool will have extensive training material for you and your team.
Keep an eye out for product updates after you’ve onboarded, too. Things like learning sessions, webinars, or personalized training offered by the software company keep you and your team on the cutting edge of legal automation.
6. Review Your Toolset On a Regular Basis
Things change a lot in technology, which means you must keep up with whether the automation options you picked are still the best ones for you.
Some tools’ usefulness wanes over time. Some developers don’t keep up with the times, leading to broken tools or missing integrations. Other times, one of your tools adds a feature that makes another’s features obsolete.
Keep an eye on what’s working for you to trim the fat from time to time.
Tracking KPIs in your law firm will help you see whether automated workflows function the way you want them to. Use feedback from the legal team, other staff, and clients, as well as actual results, to adjust and optimize as needed.
Save Time and Grow Your Firm
Better profitability, improved client service, and no more weekend hours? Sounds like a dream.
It can be yours with the right law firm automation tools. Legal workflow automation isn't just a best practice for lawyers. It's a must-do.
Selecting the right tools comes down to finding the right area of the business to optimize. Administrative tasks like intake or monotonous document creation processes will become a thing of the past for you with the right legal technology.