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We asked… you answered. Law firms are not exactly known for being the epitome of efficiency, but there are still some basic operations and tasks that law firms simply do very poorly. Many of you chimed in with your own personal observations and gave some candid answers on what processes you think law firms need substantial improvement.

Enjoy the responses (or cringe because they hit a little too close to home.) If you didn’t get a chance to submit your own answer from the original question, please add your thoughts in the comments section and share your pain and frustration with your peers. It’ll make you feel better.

We’ll be back next week with a fresh Elephant Post question for you.

(1) Anonymous 
Maintaining Practice Group Forms

One of the things that firms still struggle with is managing forms. It was something that has been discussed for years (decades?), but we still have problems assigning responsibility to maintain standard forms and best practices. The main issue revolves around getting the attorneys to review the forms from time to time. Even when a system is set up, it quickly gets out of date because of the lack of action on behalf of those that benefit the most by having a good forms database. So simple, yet still not happening.

(2) Anonymous
Budgeting Processes

Budgeting. Holy God, budgeting. I came to law firm IT from 20 years of experience in other industries (from manufacturing to software development to finance to medicine) and I have never had so many problems creating and maintaining annual budgets. It’s not just my firm, either – I’ve now worked in two large firms with similar issues, and talked with IT directors and CIOs in other firms who’re running into the same problems. No one talks about next year’s budget until September, and they want it finalized in October. Which means they won’t even talk about it until the depths of the annual summer slump, then when it pulls out in the fall they want to add a dozen projects and have them fully planned and budgeted in six weeks.
Then they wonder why they’re inaccurate…”

(3) Ron Friedmann
Work and Business Processes

The set of processes for legal and business support that a lawyer should do on her own versus delegate to staff. Many firms have cut back on secretarial support. The theory is that lawyers need less support. Few firms, however, have carefully analyzed the set of processes lawyers and firms require to do their work and to ensure that each step of each process is conducted by the right resource.
Daniel Myers “Within our firm, that’s simple – document production and management.
We have electronic storage space for PDF and MS documents that are redundant to ALL physical documents which are printed and stored on- and off-site.
It is a struggle to have all stakeholders (shareholders) to agree on either moving toward any form of document management as it took them 7 years to agree to replace the 20 year old copiers and upgrade server drives.

(4) Anonymous
Effective Employee Interaction

360-degree feedback. Grassroots input / employee initiatives. Really any standard concept of business management predicated on the idea that “non lawyers” add value.

(5) Scottish Big Firm
Remembering What We’ve Done

We struggle to have an effective database to set out all of the transactions we have done. This would enable staff to see if anyone had done something similar to avoid re-inventing the wheel and either over-billing or under-recovering time accordingly. In my department, we now have access to a central deals database (a good thing, but only to be used ofr “big” transactions) but one of the partners also wants to operate a department specific deals database (all deals) and we are to run our own sub-file separately. The three do not join up so to do this properly, lawyers are doing three times as much work as is needed.

(6) Peggy Gruenke
New Matter and Client Intake

I think they struggle with implementing basic forms and processes around client intake – which is the foundation of the engagement. They get written and developed but used inconsistently or incomplete. That bad data in, bad data out phenomenon. Which circles back to maybe the problem centers on understanding how to collect client information, setting up a good database to store it and having a way to easily retrieve the data. Sorry, kind of threw 2 ideas into one steam of consciousness.

(7) Amy
Sharing Work Product

We have about 90 lawyers and it is frustrating to me that everyone lives in their own silo in terms of sharing work product. If I need to write a Daubert brief, for example, I start from my own past work product, from scratch, or I directly contact people who I think recently did one. We have tried “brief banking” both in paper (years ago) and electronically, but compliance with putting research and briefs in the bank is very poor and the organization/file structure is horrible. It seems so wasteful to me.

(8) Anonymous
Controlling Expenses in a Smart Way

There is a disconnect between firm upper management attempts to control expenses and the granular decisions that firm librarians have to make. For example, firm management often does not understand how the negotiation of an online contact impacts what must be kept in print and what can be discarded in favor of the online versions. Does user preference for one of the other matter? How does the shrinking physical library space affect the decision? Does anyone really decide or are the end results just what happens inadvertently.
Like it or not, most firms are pregnant with these contracts, recoveries are or will be soon a distant memory and the librarian is left to hold the pieces in place often without management understanding of long or short term impacts

(9) Anonymous
Obnoxious Distinction Between Lawyers & Non-Lawyers

Law firms usually cannot let support staff at any level participate meaningfully in decision making even when the staff people have a much better understanding of the issues. Full participation is not possible in most cases and this denies firms the benefit of what these staff people know.
What other profession describes others at various levels in an organization as NON something. There are no non doctors, non dentists etc. Why are there NONlawyers? The pejorative nature of this classification shows the failure of law firms to understand their nearsightedness.

(10) Anonymous
Bureaucracy Limits Innovation

In our AmLaw 200 firm, implementing a way for librarians to be part of the C-level decision making process has been really difficult. The hierarchical structure that has been in place for decades discourages innovation in our library. The newish librarians have been told not to bother the attorneys, not to go above one’s supervisor’s head, and not to contact the C-Level people. It ends up with a lot of ideas that never get beyond the head librarian, who just doesn’t understand the value of getting a seat at the table. It leads to our being in a silo while other departments (eg bizdev) are moving forward and are being included in strategic planning.
Our firm is pretty innovation and is working hard to become more so, but the hierarchy does get in the way of getting work done in a collaborative fashion.

(11) Anonymous
Not Calling Out Bad Vendor Practices

CCH is pulling indexes off the print they sell and forcing our hand to electronic.
Lexis is tripling the price of Law360 now that they own it. (We assume to ultimately secure a their place against the single provider-Westlaw option). Perhaps the only affordable or available interface will ultimately be Lexis for Law360– we’ll see.
PLC keeps splintering off subsets of their product and selling at ridiculous prices.
As you know, once in electronic– clearly vendors can charge and sell product ANY WHICH WAY. Pricing for electronic is not publicized and not standardized (unlike print).
For example, even if the firm doesn’t need practice group coverage– they often are required to pay for a ridiculous number of seats. You know the score– the larger law firms are particularly vulnerable.
Is anyone watching? Can we rally the ABA step in– I doubt most lawyers are aware of what is going on in the publishing world — although the librarians are watching it unfold.
Can we do more to expose these trends?
Why aren’t there consumer laws to protect us?

(12) Anonymous
Bad Document Management

Documentation is such a HUGE part of the practice of law yet so many firms still struggle with templates and forms. They start with “Should we even bother to use templates?” when meanwhile hours are being wasted with dupe and revise documents gone corrupt, or the user who *wants* to use styles but builds them piecemeal into each document, individually. Or the firm invests in a really nice template suite but no one uses it. These documents are the bread and butter, the work product, the piece de resistance if you will; yet so many firms (eh hem, decision making attorneys) put next to no effort into knowing how to create, edit and manage them.

(13) Karen Lasnick

Putting a correct matter number in anywhere.

(14) Anonymous
Budget Cuts Without Strategic Reasoning

Random edicts from on high telling librarians to cut. Yes, our stuff is expensive, but look at:
-work flow interruption
-effect on billable hours

(15) Mark
The practice of a law.

Legal advice is largely given differently every time it is requested, even if the request comes from a repeat client. A lawyer may approach a task differently on many different occasions and not necessarily improving efficiency each time. Different lawyers within a same firm will respond to the similar requests for legal advice in different ways.