• strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/lawdocs/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 906.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter::options_validate() should be compatible with views_handler::options_validate($form, &$form_state) in /home/lawdocs/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 607.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter::options_submit() should be compatible with views_handler::options_submit($form, &$form_state) in /home/lawdocs/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 607.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter_boolean_operator::value_validate() should be compatible with views_handler_filter::value_validate($form, &$form_state) in /home/lawdocs/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter_boolean_operator.inc on line 159.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_row::options_validate() should be compatible with views_plugin::options_validate(&$form, &$form_state) in /home/lawdocs/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_row.inc on line 134.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_row::options_submit() should be compatible with views_plugin::options_submit(&$form, &$form_state) in /home/lawdocs/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_row.inc on line 134.

How Productive is Your Law Firm

how productive is your law firm?

Is your law firm staffed properly?

The answer may surprise you. Most firms use the wrong indicators to assess their staffing needs, resulting in over-staffing, inflated labor and facility costs, and record lows in employee morale. The main culprit? Confusing utilization rates and productivity rates. Utilization is the percent of an individual’s actual work output time compared to the potential time available to perform the work. Productivity is the measure of an individual’s ability to complete a specific task relative to a standard or benchmark. A high utilization rate does not indicate the productivity level of that individual. It merely says that a person’s time is “occupied” performing work. Ideally, firms should be measuring both productivity and utilization.

Here’s a classic example: an AmLaw 100 firm evaluated its word processing activities and concluded that its personnel was productive during nearly 80% of their time, and therefore, properly staffed to meet its word processing needs. However, a more in-depth analysis of the data revealed that the supposedly strongest performers actually had the lowest productivity rates (and were taking as much as four times longer to complete the same jobs than those who were viewed as less productive). So what happened? The productivity measure the firm was using was actually a utilization rate. The firm quickly reassessed its overall needs based on productivity, not utilization, uncovering both an overly staffed team and a shocking practice among word processors: Some employees in the group were intentionally extending the time to complete work in order to use the evaluation system to their advantage. This had been a source of frustration to the conscientious and productive employees but it pressured them to consider that perhaps they too should not work as efficiently.

Here’s another example: an AmLaw 200 firm with a word processing group that included evening coverage was considering eliminating that shift as a cost savings measure. According to their data, the evening word processors were operating at 50% productivity. Yet a further review of the data revealed that between the hours of 7:00-9:00 PM the word processors were demonstrating 75-80% utilization, while the balance of their shift they were at 35% utilization.

An analysis of their productivity further indicated that the evening employees were far more efficient than those individuals working regular day shifts, particularly toward the end of their day shift. Following this exercise, the firm was able to select the most productive individuals, stagger the shifts to cover the most critical hours and eliminate two regular positions. Had the firm relied strictly on utilization rates, not only would it have reduced the level of support for attorneys who work late, it also would have resulted in the loss of several highly productive and competent word processors.

So how do you measure utilization for word processing personnel? First, determine a work period (typically a month). Then take the total amount of time reported by each individual for projects on which they worked during that period and divide by the total number of hours for which they were on calendar during that same period. As a general rule, utilization rates in the 80-85% range are considered ideal. Over 85% shows the potential to overwork or burn out staff with a concomitant reduction in both efficiency and quality. The same method of calculating word processing utilization can be applied to secretaries. What is critical when comparing utilization rates for secretarial staff is to compare “like” data. A firm could compare rates within practice groups, among similar positions across practice groups (e.g. all lead secretaries), or for those jobs with like reporting responsibilities (e.g. supporting four associates). Doing this willgive the firm a truer measure of utilization and facilitate workload balancing.

Utilization measures are an important first step to tell you when and where you need coverage. But to understand staffing needs, accurate productivity measures are critical.

Measure productivity with these 5 steps:

  • Identify tasks being performed.
  • Conduct a time study to determine appropriate benchmarks.
  • Compare individual performance against the benchmarks.
  • Analyze reasons for performance variations and modify or add benchmarks.
  • Establish a procedure for documenting exceptions.

LawDocsXpress has created a databank of benchmarks based on our extensive experience in the legal industry. We help our clients analyze current productivity levels and make well-informed decisions on the most effective and cost efficient staffs. As conditions in the industry change (technology, attorney/secretary ratios, etc) productivity benchmarks are adjusted.

For additional information or an in-depth discussion on your firm’s utilization and productivity challenges, contact Catherine Massey, CEO of LawDocsXpress, at 866.842.3185.

Download a copy of this article