Using Individual Productivity Data to Improve Law Firm Operations

As I mentioned in my first post on productivity, tracking performance against KPIs gives me an idea of who my best people are. But I want to go much deeper than that. I want to know why they are the best at what they do. I want to study our data to see what our best people do and use that to build best practices. I also want to look for negative outliers, which shows me who may be struggling and needs attention.

Here are some of the data points I use.

  • How long are lawyers, paralegals, and other support staff spending on calls? I look for outliers.
  • Are some calls too abbreviated? Or do some people appear to be unable to control the conversation by staying on the phone too long? Outliers may indicate we may have to have some coaching conversations.
  • What do call lengths look like for my best people?
  • When entering information in our software for cases, what tasks are people spending their time doing? How long are certain tasks taking? Again, the data is available to me upon demand, so I can study it. Where are my outliers?
  • Who is spending an unusually long time on certain tasks? Why is that?
  • And, more importantly, how do my best people spend their time? How long does it take them to make a note in the system after talking to a client? How do they organize their day? I can review this because I have a complete trail of what everyone has done and when. A record of, not just what work product they produced, but which screens they opened, and for how long. What they were reading. I have powerful information available, on demand, which most law firms can’t produce, even if they can dream it.
  • Having productivity data on demand gives me a competitive advantage, because I can build my best practices across practice areas and job descriptions, based on actual data.

DEEPER DIVES EVALUATE EMPLOYEE PERFORMANCE

Unfortunately, all of us who run law firms have had times when we developed apprehensions about certain employees. Maybe their numbers didn’t look good. Maybe another employee said that they weren’t pulling their weight. Maybe we just had a sense that “something isn’t quite right.”

In these situations, I want to take a discreet deeper dive. I don’t want to alarm anyone, because I am just checking things out. If there is no problem, the data can serve to correct my impression and I can remain fair to the employee. But, if there is something wrong, I want to know about it. And the sooner, the better. Fortunately, I can get key information from my software so that I can proceed confidently and discreetly.

Don’t misunderstand. We don’t want to create a paranoid workplace. Quite the opposite. I simply believe in the “trust, but verify” axiom. And the fact that employees know that I can take a deeper dive and check out their activities makes them much more likely to stay in line with the standards our firm expects. When they do that, everybody wins.

What Do I Look for in a Performance Deep Dive?

One of the first things I look for in evaluating an employee with a deeper dive is integrity violations.  With our software, I have a complete and permanent record of every change that’s been made to a case in our software. If something is erased, I have a record of it. Have they changed any notes after the fact to make themselves look better in retrospect?  That’s a great audit trail. To be fair, there may be good reason why a note was changed. The point is, I can see when notes were altered, and evaluate if they were done for good reason. On the other hand, I can also see if someone is engaging in CYA behavior to try to hide something.

Another integrity violation can be misreporting time. This can be a particular problem when someone works remotely. How do I know that they are putting in the time they report when I can’t observe them, particularly if their numbers are down?

Again, with our software, I can instantly obtain a report of everything they did in the case management software on any day. What cases did they work on? What did they do? For how long? I don’t have to ask them (and get a defensive response). I can simply access the software and see for myself. If I see there is a potential problem, I have factual data to present to that individual. I no longer have to rely on someone’s word. I can verify at any time.

Deep Dives Uncover Issues of Effort and Competence

Sometimes issues are about effort and/or competence. These things can also be unearthed through a deep dive. Are some employees spending less time actively using the software than they should? If so, why? Is it because they are on excessive breaks or maybe talking too much around the office? I can see that at a glance.

If someone is spending too long on various tasks, and not accomplishing what they should, that could signal a lack of competence, which the data supports. I know from the KPIs that someone is not a great performer, but the deeper dive shows me why they are falling short. If it is a training issue, the data allows me to focus on what training this individual needs to bring them up to speed.

A LAW FIRM IS ONLY AS GOOD AS ITS PEOPLE

As law firm managers, we need to know who is doing what. That information can give us peace of mind when things are going well. And being able to spot problems early on gives us a chance to fix them before they spiral out of control.

Sound, objective data is key to driving performance.

By having certain data at our fingertips (quite literally), top performers can be easily identified, and reinforced and rewarded, based on objective KPI criteria. This helps to motivate them and, I believe, compels them to want to stay and become even better at their craft. By studying how they work you can identify proven best practices and apply them to other teams.

Sound, objective data can be an invaluable training aide.

Finally, good data can help you make the right decisions when you have a nagging feeling that someone might be struggling or not a fit. Making those judgments can be difficult. It’s a solemn responsibility. You want to be fair; livelihoods are in your hands. But you also don’t want to be taken advantage of, or to be unaware of performance issues in your midst.

Unearthing factual and objective data from a deep dive helps you make those difficult decisions with confidence. The data can tell you when to back off, when to try to correct a problem with training, or when you have to take more serious steps. Armed with sound, objective data, you have the facts that give you the supporting ammunition you need to make the right calls for the good of your business – and for the good of clients and employees who rely on you.

Jim Farrin is CEO of GrowPath.  He is also Founder and President of the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin.  His law firm has recovered more than $750 million for more than 30,000 clients over the last 20 years.

How to Measure Paralegal and Lawyer Productivity in Your Firm

Our law firm has roughly 200 employees. Many of them work directly on behalf of clients. As the head of our firm, I want a way to track who is doing what. Not necessarily to play gotcha. (Although I do want to be able to dive deep and find out if I have a problem with a particular employee – more on that below.) Mainly I want to know that key work is getting done. I also want to know who my most productive people are so I can study what they do right and use it to teach others. And I want to use this data to make sure that these employees are properly rewarded at bonus time.

In this two part series, I will discuss how I use data to track and measure productivity on a firm and individual level.  This first post will show how I make sure the critical work gets done by individuals regardless of their role in the firm.  The second post will cover how I use this data to improve firm productivity as a whole.  Let’s jump into my three steps to tracking individual productivity.

Step 1: Setting KPIs for Your Staff and Attorneys

Start by establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) for each position where someone works on cases. At our firm, we like to focus on file movement measures rather than revenue figures. Why? Overemphasizing revenues instead of file movement is a mistake that I believe many law firms make.

While we all want revenue growth, we have seen firsthand that focusing on the right processes allows the revenues to naturally follow.

Revenue figures can be misleading because a few big hits can cover a multitude of sins and mask some fundamental problems. I want files to flow through our system at roughly the same rate that we bring them in. If this doesn’t happen, logjams can surface down the line creating bloat in the system, and this can lead to extra work, time, and frustration by fellow teammates to try to remedy.

When establishing KPIs, your key measurements may differ, depending on your workflow and who is responsible for what in your firm. For our PI staff, each week we measure:

  • How many files complete treatment
  • How many files are completed and ready for a demand
  • How many files disburse

We keep two key principles in mind when setting a KPI.

  1. It should reflect how the employee is performing – above, at, or below par
  2. It should directly correlate to the firm’s success goals

The KPIs for our PI staff meet these tests. Good staffers will stay on top of their clients’ medical treatment and move files to the next stage of a case as soon as they are ready. They will get the files ready for demand promptly and accurately. And they will schedule disbursals after a case settles. Each of these measures propels file movement for our firm, and the better our paralegals are, the more files they will be able to move.

Similarly, for our PI attorneys, we measure each week:

  • The number of demands they send out
  • The number of cases they resolve

Again, these are factors that our attorneys can influence or control, and they allow us to make sure that the attorneys are keeping pace and not causing a logjam or bloating our system.

Step 2: Track What Work Is Getting Done

Every practice is different, and what you want to measure is up to you. But, once you have arrived at the right measurements, you need to be able to see that the work is getting done. I use our software’s Matter Trackers to display all the KPIs I want to see for any period of time I want to measure. I can quickly and easily see what was completed this week, this month, or whatever period of time I choose. I can then compare the completed work with the number of files in the system. I know what is being completed on pace, and where we may be falling short. If we are falling short, I want to be able to dive in and analyze why, and if there is a problem, fix it as soon as possible.

This sample management-focused Matter Tracker provides real-time reports based on criteria customized to the user. Red text alerts the user that a deadline is approaching or overdue.

I like to review all this information for the firm as a whole. But I want each employee to see how they are doing on their KPIs. And, whether someone manages a few people or a larger group, I want them to be able to see what those people are able to get done, and in what time frame.

This sample paralegal Matter Tracker provides a personal injury paralegal with a big picture overview of all the cases she is currently managing, which stage or status they are in, and follow up items that need to be completed.

Information is power, especially when it is relevant and customized to meet the needs of each individual.

Step 3: Uncover What Needs to Get Done

Besides measuring what has been completed, I also want clear vision of what needs to be accomplished to keep files moving. I want anyone who works on cases to be able to easily see, at a glance, what is due and needs their attention. If they have 100 cases, what tasks are most important? I don’t want them to have to try to guess or to arbitrarily work on whatever happens to come across their desk. We have given them the tools to help them prioritize strategically and take action on issues that need immediate attention to keep files moving.

As with the KPIs, what needs to be done, by whom, and when, depends on your practice and workflow expectations. Yet, once you have decided on them, it is easy to have the information available in real time, at all times, to whomever you want to see it.

At our firm, for example, everyone sees their own list of action items. Lawyers see theirs and those of their paralegals. Department heads see their entire department’s lists. I see everyone’s. If someone’s list is out of control or needs attention, we can jump on it preemptively, get them help, and assess whether they need more training, fewer files, or whether some other solution is called for.

As you well know, there are many moving parts to workflow in a busy law firm. When everyone can see for themselves what key things they have addressed, and what they still need to do, our experience has been that they tend to focus on prioritizing those key things. And having the ability to check, at a glance, what is being done and what needs to be done allows me to solve problems before they spiral out of control. That leads to better results and peace of mind for me.

Jim Farrin is CEO of GrowPath.  He is also Founder and President of the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin.  His law firm has recovered more than $750 million for more than 30,000 clients over the last 20 years.