What Law Firms Can Learn from The Fortune 500

Law firm first, business second. At least that’s how it can feel when your heavy caseload makes it nearly impossible to focus on back-office operations. With limited time to work on the business side of things, the systems, processes, and people you put in place can mean the continued success of your practice or, in the worst case scenario, contribute to its downfall.

If you’re like many attorneys, you may only have an hour or two each week to spend on your business, so where should you begin? What should you prioritize? A few clues may be found on the Fortune 500 list. These widely respected and highly profitable companies continually invest in the following resources and tools to promote growth:

They Invest in Online Marketing

Now, we won’t sit here and tell you that you need a website. You already know that, but a new study released last month helps to shed some light on just how important it is to keep your website dynamic. The study found that 81% of those surveyed think less of a brand if its website is not updated. Also, 39% of respondents stated that they would think twice about using a product or service if the website isn’t kept current. It’s no surprise that some of the fastest growing teams in successful companies have been in the digital space (think content marketing, user experience, social media, etc).

The Takeaway: Each week commit to spending at least half an hour on your website. You might spend the time writing a new blog post or even checking Google Webmaster Tools for any sudden drops in traffic or crawl errors. Not comfortable doing either? Don’t ignore your website. Look for the right professionals to help—experience in legal marketing, impressive portfolios, and proven results are all must-have credentials.

They Use CRMs

A great website can help to bring in new leads, but it can’t close deals. That takes regular follow-up, relationship-nurturing, and excellent organizational skills which is why many companies rely on the help of a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. At the most basic level, a CRM is designed to help organizations manage interactions with prospects and clients. These platforms can help you track referral sources, efficiently manage your pipeline and even forecast your quarterly revenue. Over the past few years, a number of CRMs have been developed for busy law firms so there is no shortage of options when it comes to finding a tool to help you stay organized and boost your bottom-line.

The Takeaway: The CRM is a perfect example of a tool that most attorneys don’t learn about in law school, but really should. If you don’t yet have one in place to manage your pipeline, explore your options and make implementation an H1 goal.

They Worship Data and Rely On Reporting

During a recent strategy meeting I attended at the offices of a leading fintech provider, there was some disagreement about the best way to proceed. As the team looked to the leader of the group, he calmly replied, “show me the data and then we’ll decide.” In today’s world where data is abundant and accessible, business decisions should never be made without it. Yet this isn’t always the case in law firms, where productivity and business data can be buried in disjointed applications or legacy systems.  making quick retrieval difficult. Sometimes, the help of a third party is required.

Can you quickly pull together billable hours and realization rate by timekeeper? Are you able to see realized and unrealized revenues from matters introduced by specific referral resources? Can you pull reports like an Accounts Receivable Aging Summary, filtered by practice area or responsible attorney, in 30 seconds flat?

If you answered no to any of the above, it’s time to rethink your reporting options and seek a new solution that helps you get to your data faster so you can make better decisions. To ensure you can see productivity reports in addition to the standard accounting data, look for an end-to-end practice management solution with a built-in CRM, timekeeping and comprehensive accounting tools.

The Takeaway: What isn’t measured can’t be improved. Take some time to identify gaps in your firm’s data. Which numbers can’t you access on your own? What data would have been helpful to you in the past year? Once you have your list of non-negotiables, set out to find a practice management solution that makes data accessible to all of your firm’s stakeholders with the touch of a button.

They Prioritize Accessibility and Flexibility

With a workforce that is demanding more flexibility, a long list of Fortune 500 companies have invested in making their systems and software accessible from anywhere in the world. Law firms have been slower to embrace remote access, and the solutions that have been adopted (remoting into your office desktop, for example) aren’t ideal. To ensure that you have access to all of your cases and business data, you need to embrace the cloud.

The Takeaway: The cloud isn’t something to fear. Look for a cloud-based practice management solution that allows you to access all of your matters, contacts, emails, and documents from your cell phone or another office.

They Are Proactive About Cyber Security

Last year alone, we saw a long list of industry giants, including Starwood, Facebook and Under Armour, fall victim to massive data breaches. These incidents not only harm a brand’s reputation, but they can also seriously affect its bottom line, which is why companies are doubling down on their teams and systems dedicated to protecting data. Law firms are also at risk and far too many have been slow to rise to the challenge.

Now I realize that few attorneys can be expected to become cybersecurity experts; all, however, should understand the threats and have a basic understanding of where their data is stored and what their vendors (IT consultants and/or third-party software providers) are doing to keep their data safe.

The Takeaway: When it comes to cybersecurity, your firm can’t afford to be reactive, it must be proactive. With so much information stored in your practice management software, be sure to start there. If you have on-premise servers, how often are they updated and monitored for threats? What happens if there is a flood in your office that damages the server? With so many threats and constantly evolving technologies to contend with, you might consider hiring an expert to perform regular security audits

Cloud-based solutions also present unique challenges and you’ll want to ask any vendor about their disaster recovery plan and where their servers are located. Also, inquire about redundancy, brute force attack countermeasures and make sure all of your documents, and critical data, are encrypted. Complete audits, by cybersecurity experts, should be performed on a regular basis to ensure ongoing best-practices are in place for all of your systems.

Fred J. Cohen, JD is a former practicing attorney and founder and product architect of Zola Suite, a leading cloud-based practice management application.

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