Imagine that one evening you wrapped up your client work, filed documents you were drafting on your desktop computer, turned off the light and left your office, ready to get home. This is a pretty typical end to the day for most attorneys at firms of all sizes. Imagine now that by the next morning, your community was in government mandated quarantine and your office building was closed. It is uncertain when the building will be open for tenants to access their offices or when someone might be able to retrieve anything from your office for you. The client files, reference materials, and other office contents that you were so used to having on hand become inaccessible almost in an instant.
This sounds like a bad dream or an apocalyptic movie scene, or least it did before early 2020, but it is something that so many of us experienced. Many had some forewarning and were able to prepare in the day or two before the shutdowns hit states throughout the U.S. But even with this forewarning, many firms were forced to become virtual more or less overnight.
In the wake of the pandemic and the ongoing challenges it poses, laws firms have been forced to innovate in real ways. As the pandemic wears on, data is showing that law firms are adopting technologies at a higher rate and that they plan to continue using these technologies after the pandemic subsides. One recent study found that upwards of 90% of firms plan to use technologies like cloud storage, e-signatures, e-billing, practice management tools, and videoconferencing post-pandemic. Even if the actual number of firms that bring these technologies with them into the post-pandemic world is lower than that, it still represents a seismic shift in how law firms operate.
As an example, take legal billing, one of the most cumbersome and dreaded tasks at any firm. Firms would take diary entries and translate them into a pro forma or a draft invoice. A supervising lawyer must review the bill and edit for any client requirement. At a big firm, edits might be made by a billing assistant. At small firms, bills might be processed by an assistant or by the attorney. The bill is revised, reprinted, and mailed. If the bill is accepted by the client, it may be paid. In the meantime, the law firm must maintain an accounts payable system, likely a ledger or an electronic database that requires manual entry. When the bill is not paid, the law firm must reach out to the client to find out if the bill has been rejected which may result in a negotiation. If the bill is rejected, a revised bill must be processed and sent. Eventually, the bill may be settled.
Pre-pandemic, nearly every law firm had variation of this process going on regularly. That said, the pandemic has driven many firms into the world of e-billing. Tools like Accurate Legal Billing (ALB) are available to make e-billing simple and streamlined for everyone involved. ALB is coded with client billing preferences and can translate your firm’s timekeeping system into a bill that is customized for each client. This saves time and reduces the risk of bill rejection. Adding ALB to your firm’s process can improve your firm’s realization rate and reduce the amount of time it takes to produce the bill.
The feeling of being shut out of the office was difficult and caused a lot of uncertainty. Law firms made quick adjustments in the days and weeks after the pandemic shutdowns were implemented and were able to quickly adjust the operations to keep serving clients and keep the firm functioning. To do this, firms leverage technologies and innovated like never before doing things in new ways – the very definition of innovation. For firms that have not adopted new technologies, there is still time. The pandemic is changing the way we are all working as we work in these unprecedented times. But though there are challenges to practicing law during a pandemic, there are innovative tools available to help firms of all sizes succeed.