How to Increase Your Law Firm’s Chargeable Hours

RBS’ recent Legal Benchmarking Report for 2019 states that on average, a full time solicitor attains 1,000 chargeable hours per annum. Whilst the average numbers of chargeable hours attained by lawyers have not increased from last year’s stats, unsurprisingly more lawyers state they are working more and more hours (increasingly outside of office hours).

So, the question on the mind of all managing partners and practice managers is: how can we increase those elusive chargeable hours?

Setting Realistic Chargeable Hour Goals

The first point to make is that chargeable hour goals do have to be a realistic target that fee earners can meet. You may have seen an article earlier in 2019 from The Guardian entitled: “'Toxic, cut-throat': the work culture awaiting junior lawyers”. In that article, it was suggested that in some law firms, if junior solicitors were not meeting high targets, managers piled on increased pressure, suggesting staff worked outside of office hours to meet those goals. The implications of setting unrealistic chargeable hours clearly has a negative impact for your practice, but also on the legal profession as a whole.

Productivity: Taking It Back To Basics

The questions that most fee earners forget to ask themselves are:

  1. How much will it cost my firm in chargeable time if I do a certain task?
  2. Will it be more cost effective for someone at a lower grade to do the task (be it a lower graded solicitor or support colleague).

Giving thought to these two questions is fundamental to ensuring that fee earners can be as productive and cost effective as they can be within office time. This is especially true, if the said action results in tasks being undertaken that the firm cannot charge for, or that a court may reduce on assessment.

Providing Sufficient Support

In most cases, productivity comes down to ensuring your firm has the necessary support in place to do tasks at less cost, thereby allowing fee earners to be more productive.

We think there is not a fee earner practising today who has not spent time at a photocopier at some stage of their career. If you have solicitors stood at photocopiers is this a good use of their time? Taking government rates for Solicitors in London, how much does it cost your law firm in chargeable time, if a solicitor stands at a photocopier for ten minutes?

SolicitorsRate per hour as per government guidelinesCost for 10 minutes photocopying
Grade A Solicitor (London)£409£68.16
Grade B Solicitor (London)£296£49.33
Grade C Solicitor (London)£226£37.66
Grade D Solicitor (London)£138£23.00

It is simple tasks like these that appear on the surface to be an insignificant use of time, but time does means money.

If you were to compare the cost of having a member of your admin staff doing the same task, it would cost your firm £1.50, meaning your firm has lost anything from £66.66 to £21.55 in just 10 minutes.

These small amounts soon mount up in lost chargeable time over the course of a year. As the old saying goes: “If you look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves”.

So the questions to ask yourself are:

  • Do you have sufficient administrative support to do these tasks?
  • If so, is the administration system in place at present, working effectively and efficiently?

Generally, it comes down to one of the above points. If you have sufficient support in place, perhaps you need to review your procedures to make these more efficient to meet your firm’s needs.

Dictation Is More Cost Effective Than Typing Your Own Documents

With the advent of the computer, law firms sought to reduce secretarial and typing staff believing that this was more cost effective for their firms. But did you know that dictation is more cost effective than typing?

The simple fact is that we can all speak considerably faster than anyone can physically type. The following stats speak for themselves:

“The average person types between 38 and 40 words per minute”.

A “good rate of speech ranges between 140 -160 words per minute.”

This means that dictation is four times faster than typing your own documents, meaning that two hours of typing could be dictated in only 30 minutes.

Furthermore, a recent report from The Lawyer: “Microsoft Word in Law Firms” suggested that “42% of solicitors said ‘their lack of Microsoft Word skills delayed responses to clients’.” Clearly, this has further ramifications for productivity here. In the report, David Lee, IT Director at Bond Dickinson states:

“If you have a lawyer typing their own documents, taking longer than necessary, due to an insufficient understanding of the Word environment, it will naturally take longer to produce and therefore delay the time it takes to respond to the client. This can be unhelpful and isn’t the best use of the lawyer’s time.”

This is beside the fact that typing their own documents in the first place, is not an efficient use of a fee earner’s time.

So How Much Could I Save By Dictating?

If you have a fee earner who spends two hours a day typing their own emails/documents, they are losing out effectively on one and a half hours in chargeable time. This time could be put to be better use elsewhere: either to increase efficiency (and increase those chargeable hours) or allow fee earners to release valuable WIP and lock up.

So let’s take an example of a grade A solicitor (using London rates). We would work this out as:

  1. Grade A solicitor’s lost time: £409 per hour x 1.5 hours = £613.50
  2. Less OutSec’s cost for transcribing 30 minutes of dictation: £1.20 x 30 = £36 plus VAT (£7.20) = £43.20

If you take (1) from (2) this gives you the cost of the lost chargeable time.

Therefore, the amount of money lost by a grade A solicitor in London by typing his own documents is £570.30.

Using the same calculations for grades B, C and D solicitors in London:

  • A grade B solicitor would lose £400.80;
  • A grade C solicitor would lose £295.80; and
  • A grade D solicitor would lose £163.80.

In an age where law firms need to be more efficient and cost effective, this is a big deal. Even more so, if this is occurring on a daily basis. Over the course of a year, this can represent a huge loss for law firms coming from a single fee earner.

The more fee earners you have typing their own documents and emails, the more money your practice is losing.

Whilst case management systems allow you to do some automated tasks, there will always be scenarios when using a typing resource to do some of these tasks will be more cost effective than a fee earner doing these. There will be tasks which, at the moment, automated systems cannot do such as: recording file notes/attendance notes, bespoke letters and emails during the life of a case to name but a few. Having fee earners doing this task is therefore losing your practice money.

OutSec - The UK’s Leading Online Transcription Company

Outsec have been providing legal transcription services since 2002. With OutSec there are:

  • No contracts;
  • No monthly fees;
  • No minimum spends or hidden charges.

You are just charged per minute of dictation (rounded up to the nearest minute).

We are both ISO 27001 and Cyber Essentials certified.

Our Legal Division have specialist qualified transcriptionists (with over 10 years’ experience) to meet all your law firm’s needs.

So What Are The Benefits For Your Practice?

Sole Practitioners/Barristers/Small Law Practices

OutSec is the perfect solution for sole practitioners, small law firms or barristers who need typing assistance on a pay-as-you-go basis, as it provides a cheaper alternative to employment.

Medium to Large Law Practices

Medium to large law firms use OutSec to:

  • Reduce secretarial staff (completely or partially). This reduces the need for expensive office space (or enables space to be utilised for more productive use/fee generation);
  • Allow fee earners to concentrate on chargeable hour targets, rather than typing emails or amending documents;
  • Provide an effective solution to enable your fee earning staff to work remotely, thus providing further opportunities to reduce expensive office space or increase your fee earner headcount with less space. It enables flexible working and makes law firms more agile;
  • Provide a business continuity solution to enable law firms access secretarial staff in times of absences, provide rapid response or for upscaling support as the firm grows or adapt at times of high workloads, without the need for employing additional staff.

If you wish to open an account, why put off what you can do today!

For more details or to discuss your firm’s needs you can contact Mark Hope on 0208 123 3422 (direct dial) or via our Head Office on 01366 348088.



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