Lawyers today have way too much to do, and juggling all those balls in the air at once could be blocking you from higher profitability.
Whether you’re managing client intake, handling admin, updating client files, processing invoices, scheduling social media, or trying to crank out blog posts for better SEO Performance, you’re probably spreading yourself too thin. One Clio Legal Trends Report found that lawyers only spend 29% of their days on billable hours.
The good news is that some of the processes you’re handling now can be outsourced, and others can benefit from workflow management.
Workflow management refers to a repeatable series of steps that define how to handle a particular task. Your law firm workflow management is about planning, structuring, and executing the steps needed to complete a particular task. The order of events in workflow management is very important since the process is linear. The best things to plug into workflow management systems and software in your law firm are routine tasks and recurring processes from end to end.
Exploring all options for workflow management in your practice can cut down on some of your own administrative work but also ensure that staff members and clients follow the same process every time.
Workflow Management vs. Business Process Management vs. Project Management
Many terms related to optimizing your business are often used interchangeably, but they actually mean different things.
Knowing what you’re looking for will help you identify the right tools and programs to help you accomplish your goals. Three key terms lawyers often use to reference streamlining are:
- Workflow management
- Business process management
- Project management
Workflow management involves:
- A series of tasks to accomplish something from the first step to the last
- Multiple tasks that are managed by multiple people or systems
- A focus on getting one single task done in the most efficient manner
For legal professionals, there are multiple things you do that fit under the umbrella of workflow management. Automation tools can help with those repetitive tasks.
Business process management, however, occurs at a higher level. It involves numerous workflows, datasets, notifications, and reports. BPM manages multiple workflows with the goal of optimizing all of those processes together rather than a single task.
While workflow management works best for those tasks that occur linearly and frequently, project management may require more specialized planning before each project starts.
Most projects include multiple tasks, and many or all of them can be unique to the project’s objective. This means they may not be repeated precisely within the project or future projects.
Likewise, workflow management differs from case management since case management requires unique touchpoints and considerations based on the specifics of the legal matter.
Use Cases for Workflow Management in Law Firms
Since most law firms have similar phases to their work with clients, workflow management has multiple applications in your law firm.
Some of the easiest areas to incorporate workflow management into a law practice include client intake, billing, client communication, and document automation. Legal workflow software may excel in one or more of these areas.
Client intake is a process that requires some level of personalization but also involves the same steps taken repeatedly by your staff. To speed this process up without sacrificing any of the personal touches, workflow automation software can optimize this for your law firm.
For example, once a client places a call, fills out a form, or requests information over email, your workflow management software could trigger a follow-up check-in call with information about next steps. Continuing to nurture prospective clients through good communication is a hallmark of a solid client intake workflow.
There’s no reason lawyers should ever spend substantial time sending out invoices, monitoring whether they’ve been paid, or checking in with a client with an overdue bill.
Since you probably use the same step-by-step process and timelines for each client, it’s easy to use workflow management software for law firms to automate this for you.
Whether you practice personal injury or family law, every case probably kicks off with a similar request for information. As the claim proceeds, you can use templates and automations to notify your clients about what’s going on with their case.
Workflow management software could enable you to build in as much customization as you want to save time as you go.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when drafting documents. Creating plug-and-play documents is powerful for ensuring you don’t miss any details, either.
The average worker wastes over four hours per week just looking for paper. With document templates, you can go paperless in your law office and make searching, editing, and writing much faster.
How Law Firms May Benefit from Workflow Management Software
Automating as much as possible is a goal for any busy personal injury lawyer. That usually means adding software to your tech stack. Workflow management software has many benefits for law firms of all sizes, including:
- Reducing the chances of mistakes or missed deadlines
- Making it easier to train staff on your processes
- Producing more consistent work and outcomes
- Staying more focused on the tasks that matter
Workflow Management Software Options
Attorneys have plenty of options when it comes to workflow management tools, but each one can come with unique pros and cons.
To help you decide which tool—if any would be best for you—we’ve assembled this list of popular options along with the features that real attorneys like about them.
Before selecting a tool, you might want to compare its features with your existing tech stack and overall goals to ensure it will work for your firm.
Clio is an industry leader for a reason. Clio Grow, in particular, has a lot of features that you may or may not use. They include:
- Workflow and email automation
- Data reporting on client intake
- Client relationship management (CRM)
- Document automation/e-sign
Clio’s software has a ton of bells and whistles (in addition to expenses), so smaller firm owners might want to calculate how much time they think they’ll save and perhaps opt for something simpler unless your firm is growing at a rapid rate.
Daneilis R., however, loves the workflow options inside Clio, noting, “I like that Clio is very user-friendly. You can create many different matters on the intake, hired, and did not hire pipeline to create an efficient flow for the intake process.”
What’s unique about CFlow is that it wasn’t built specifically for law firms, but can work well for lawyers.
Since it was built to integrate with many other tools, there’s probably already a connection or a Zap you can use to customize CFlow to your law firm. It comes with features like:
- Customized workflow builds
- Automatic data backups
- No coding required
- Accessible via the web, tablet, or app
One user shared, “It is an excellent tool for project management where you can automate the processes and customize the processes however you need.”
Others users noted that it can be hard to get the hang of things for new employees who don’t understand the how or why behind a particular process built into Cflow.
MyCase comes complete with document management and process automation, making it easy to incorporate into your practice. Within MyCase, you can also:
- Automate recurring tasks
- Assign deadlines
- Create custom workflows to assign deadlines/tasks to you or others
MyCase has many users who talk about how easy it is to use, which can be great for your own purposes or training your staff.
Some users remark that MyCase could have better features for automated follow-up on overdue invoices, but overall, many of them are happy with what’s included.
Lawyer Scott Y. says, “MyCase offers a cohesive platform to handle my billing and accounts receivable. I really appreciate the ease of interacting with clients through the platform and the ability to monitor when and if a client has viewed an invoice. Also, the ease of receiving electronic payment and delivering invoices electronically is tremendously helpful.”
Smokeball promises that you’ll be able to manage all of the firm’s tasks, document workflows, and deadlines from one place. It is a legal practice management software with generally positive reviews.
Some of Smokeball’s features include:
- Simple trust accounting
- Easy reporting
- Time tracking
- Client communication portal
- Mobile app
- Document automation
Smokeball may be best when working with staff who are not as tech-savvy or familiar with legal issues as you are.
Legal assistant Christopher G. notes, “Smokeball has not only made it significantly easier to keep track of all of our law firm’s clients and cases, but it has also allowed me a smooth transition into the legal world as an entry-level Legal Assistant. The Forms & Templates are very helpful for learning how to draft motions, notices, and other legal documents.”
A few users have noted that while Smokeball rolls out new features, it’s not always the smoothest process. If you’re an early adopter of new features, expect some bugs and lag time until they are fixed.
Considerations Before Choosing New Workflow Management Software
Before signing up for a free trial or getting the whole team to train on new software, think carefully about how it suits your practice and your individual goals.
Here are some things to remember as you research workflow management tools for lawyers:
- How well does the new software integrate with your existing software, such as document management or client intake?
- How will this software support the lifecycle of each client case?
- What is the learning curve for staff members with the new software?
- What kind of technical support will you receive for onboarding and beyond?
- Do you have enough repetitive or recurring processes that your investment makes sense?
Not all law firms need workflow management software. If you have a small law firm and a limited caseload, you might not need to invest in workflow tools until you find yourself doing the same tasks repeatedly. When purchasing software for your law firm, start with what saves you the most time and boosts your client experience. You may add workflow management software once you hit a pressure point with manual processes or existing lawyer tools.
Workflow management is just one aspect of how to manage a law firm, but it’s an important one.