Using Data to Improve Law Firm Operations
As I mentioned in my first post on productivity, tracking individual productivity 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.
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