How to Run the Business Side of Personal Injury Practice

Twelfth in a Series of Quarterly Columns
 *****
 
Got Time?
Need More?
 
by
William L. Speizman
America's #1 Business Consultant to the Plaintiffs' Bar
 
These days, to paraphrase the Bible, time is more precious than gold, yea, than much fine gold. But how can you get more and how can you keep getting more? In this column, I'll discuss two ways.

Systems and Technology
Good systems and good technology are the two primary ways to get more time. Each saves time and, once implemented, continues to save it. To Illustrate:

Systems. Recall for a moment the many things you did when you set up your law office. I'm certain that setting up systems was one of them. For example, I'm certain you created a system for keeping track of statute dates. If you opened your law firm in pre-digital times, you might have gotten a ledger pad in which you entered cases and their statute dates. You may have coupled your ledger pad with two rules to ensure you didn’t blow a statute: (1) the ledger pad would always be kept in the middle drawer of your desk and (2) every morning you would check it when you got to your office.

Let’s say you used that system for 15 years before switching to software which automatically alerts you when statute dates are approaching. During those 15 years, how many hours would you have wasted coming in each morning, pulling out your open files one-at-a-time and checking their statute dates rather than checking your ledger pad?

Technology. How much time would you currently be wasting if word processing technology had not replaced typewriting?

Good systems and good technology save time and thereby provide you with more of it. Saved time is just like saved money. Saved money is money you can use for other things--in your law firm, your personal life or both.

“It Takes Time to Save Time”
Systems and technology can save time by allowing you to accomplish things you need to do more rapidly. However, while you are setting up those systems or implementing that technology, you can’t also be doing the things those innovations will allow you to do more quickly. So where do you find time to set up those systems or implement that technology?

There are only two places: first, you can divert time from what you are doing to keep everything running smoothly in your law firm, which could have disastrous consequences; second, you can temporarily spend more time at work setting up those systems or participating in the selection and implementation of that new technology.

The best way to think about the time you must invest, temporarily, to make those changes is the way you think about money you contemplate investing.

If you were contemplating a $30,000 investment, two of your key considerations would be: what will my rate of return be and how quickly can I retrieve my $30,000. For example, if you were to make a $30,000 investment which began earning $4,500 per annum in the first year (15 percent), your $30,000 would be paid back by the end of the 3rd quarter of the seventh year. In subsequent years, you would continue to reap your return of 15 percent per annum.

Similarly, assume that you decide to bite the bullet and invest an extra 10 hours per month for 3 months to design and implement a new system in your law firm. Let’s say that after appropriate contemplation and deliberation, you estimate your new system will save you 5 hours per week. If your estimate is correct, your new system will pay back your 30 hour investment in a month and a half. Subsequently, you will continue to reap your return of 5 hours saved per week.
If there is a difference between the two kinds of investments, dollars and hours, it is that your risk of losing on a $30,000 investment is much greater than your risk of losing on a 30 hour investment. (Unless, of course, you gradually stop using your new system and sink back into your old way of doing things).

To summarize, the two primary ways to get more time is to save it by implementing better systems and adopting improved technology in your law firm.

Typically, the stumbling block to doing either is the realization that implementation or adoption will require you to spend more time at work. The key to avoiding or overcoming that stumbling block is understanding that it envisions only one side of a coin, the cost side (i.e., the amount of additional time you must put in at the office). It is essential that you look at the other side of the coin as well, the benefit side (i.e., the amount of time you stand to save by temporarily putting in more time at work). What I recommend is that you consider simultaneously both the cost and benefit of that investment of additional time just as you would weigh the cost and benefit of a monetary investment you are contemplating.

Failing to take to heart the adage that “It takes time to save time” can preclude you from taking advantage of opportunities to provide yourself with more time in both the near- and long-terms.

Your Best Investment
What is your best investment of time to save time? Although it entails a considerable amount of time (not to mention a substantial investment of funds in some cases), your best bet is upgrading to state-of-the-art office automation technology. For personal injury law firms, that means a fully networked computer system and case management software specifically designed, or customized, for personal injury practices.

I want to give you an example from my own consulting business of how great a time-saving asset such a system can be and why acquiring it is worth your while.

For the first seven years of my consultancy with the plaintiffs bar, I did everything manually. My business grew and by the early 1990s, it took me a full week each quarter to do the costing and billing for the attorneys who were clients in my word-of-mouth marketing program.

Once Windows 3.0 came along, I decided it was time to automate. Because no stock software was available, it took many, many months for me to customize the applications that were available. I had already delegated most of the operations in my business to my full-time production manager whom I paid $25,000 a year. My trade-off was that during the nine months I devoted to customizing the applications and acquiring the hardware, I reduced my marketing efforts by more than 90 percent.

I derived two great benefits from the months and months I spent automating my business. First, when I hired a new production manager, I only needed her for ten hours a week because she was able to use the production software I had customized. Second, the week I had needed each quarter to prepare my cost and billing financials fell to an hour or so. I had been able to link my customized production software to an Excel spreadsheet I created. Each time my production manager entered order data in my customized production software the link reported it to the Excel spreadsheet. Using the cell formulas I had written, the Excel spreadsheet automatically updated all of my financials. All that was left for me to do was an hour or so of tweaking each quarter.

You won’t need to spend anywhere near as much time as I did because there is so much off-the-shelf software available for personal injury attorneys today. What you do need to do is work with an honest, competent computer consultant who can answer your questions, help you decide what’s best for your law firm and assist you in adopting it. 
 
Copyright 2010 William L. Speizman
All Rights Reserved