At the start of 2021, we were all wondering what would happen next—especially after the chaos of 2020. 2021 revealed some surprises, but other things progressed more or less in line with expectations.
Ultimately, clear patterns have emerged from the past year that can guide law firms planning for the year ahead.
Hybrid and remote working is here to stay
Vaccinations, Delta, Omicron—you name it, law firms and their employees and clients have dealt with it. And by and large, they’ve done that by continuing to embrace hybrid and remote work options—as has much of the professional world.
At this point, it seems clear that the various forms of location-flexible work are here to stay. Not only has the professional world been operating semi or fully remotely for more than a year now, but the flexibility offers advantages that many professionals don’t want to give up. And with the benefits of strong tech to support the shift, they don’t need to.
Modern tech can support a seamless remote office, as well as hybrid models, and those who choose to return to the office but wish to maintain a more mobile and flexible work schedule than before.
So, knowing all this, how should law firms plan for the year ahead?
Get on the (native) cloud
Remote, hybrid, or even flexible in-office schedules mean law firms will continue to benefit from using practice management systems with cloud capabilities, specifically, native cloud.
A native cloud practice management system means you can log on from anywhere, on any device. In addition, system updates happen automatically, so your firm doesn’t need to do maintenance, either.
This level of reliability and flexibility form a backbone for efficient and modern work practices heading into 2022. So free your team from the limits of on-premise software!
Meet client expectations
Along with shifts in expectations about how legal work will be conducted moving forward, client expectations have also changed. For example, far more clients are working from home than ever before, and with that, they expect law firms also to offer convenient, remote options.
Secure client portal
One of the most fundamental aspects of protecting client information is to ensure their documents are secure. Standard emails don’t encrypt attachments and are unable to provide essential protections.
Fortunately, your practice management system should have a secure client portal so that whether your clients are at home or on an extended remote working vacation, you can share documents with them to review and sign without risking an ethics violation.
Client portals also let you message securely with your clients.
Another common client expectation continues to be having options to pay bills online. Online payments tend to be faster and more convenient for clients—and they’re already used to paying for other services online, too.
If you offer online payments, however, just make sure to vet your credit card merchant to ensure your firm avoids any issues with trust accounting.
Get your billing in order
The past couple of years have brought all kinds of financial twists and turns to various markets and sectors of the economy. And while there was no reason to let bills languish before the pandemic hit, there certainly isn’t now.
Sending out bills on a regular timeline and following up with collections are chores lawyers don’t always enjoy, but they’re necessary. Additionally, with the help of your practice management system, these tasks don’t need to be as time-consuming as they were in the past.
Instead, take advantage of features like batch billing, which lets you instantly draft many invoices at once and accomplish what used to take hours in a few clicks. Likewise, automated billing reminders can take some of the stress out of having to brace yourself for following up with collections.
And evergreen retainers, which can automatically notify clients when retainer balances get low, can help prevent client invoices from reaching the point of collections in the first place.
Streamline your admin processes where possible
The past couple of years have taught us to leverage tech that supports our work to the greatest extent possible—and that trend seems to be continuing strong. As a result, there’s no reason to lose time to basic admin tasks like entering the same data into separate billing and accounting systems.
Instead, take advantage of single-platform legal billing and accounting systems. Not only will your team save time, but you’ll also be able to better monitor Works in Progress (WIPs) and take advantage of trust accounting safeguards.
Single-platform legal accounting and billing can also reduce your workload by running regular reconciliation and three-way reconciliation for you. By leveraging tech to complete this mandatory and previously time-consuming step, you can not only be prepared in the event of a random trust accounting audit, but you can also catch errors while they’re fresh and still possible to untangle.
Review and update your business plan
At this point, your firm probably has some sense of how an economy that has been reshaped by the pandemic changes—or doesn’t change—the bottom line for your firm. Either way, the start of a new year is always a great time to review your business plan and consider making adjustments in light of the past year.
Look over metrics
Revisions to your business plan are important—and should always be informed by hard numbers. Use your practice management system to gather key metrics to help ensure you have a solid sense of where your firm stands financially, as well as identifying any relevant patterns.
Planning for the year ahead
For law firms, one of the biggest lessons from 2021 has been the continuation of remote and hybrid work models—and how they affect staff and client expectations.
As we move into 2022, law firms would do well to prepare by harnessing the flexibility offered by native cloud practice management systems. Leveraging good tech will set your team up to better meet client expectations by being able to offer solutions such as a client portal for secure document sharing and online payments for greater client convenience.
Likewise, firms should make the most of their practice management systems to stay on top of timely billing and streamline the admin process, thereby saving the whole team time. Just don’t forget to review and update your business plan, and you’ll be ready for 2022!