Work Better, Worry Less: Building Success for Small Law Firms

Work better, worry less - building success for small law firms


If you’re in a small or mid-sized legal firm today, you can bemoan the changes taking place across the industry that challenge your work. Changes like shifting pricing paradigms. Uneven resource allocation. The threat of big firms and virtual legal services. You could wring your hands about it, or you could scale these phenomena to your advantage and adapt in order to produce the highest quality work in the industry. How? By embracing efficiency.

Only So Many Hours in a Day

Chances are, you’ve heard the news: “Billable Hour World” is shrinking. Alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) are taking hold, and with them, a new model for efficiency: “the right AFA structure motivates firms to maximize productivity,” Ron Friedmann says.

Driving this shift is industry-wide pressure from clients to lower prices. For big law, that means absorbing change. For your smaller firm, though, this shift can be costly. You’re adopting a new pricing structure and are forced to compete not just with bigger rivals, but also with web-based services. So, how can your small firm scale the success of large ones to stay competitive?

First, Do Some Research

Adapting to AFA legal services means working more efficiently and, most importantly, using technology to your advantage. There are so many tools out there that the options can be overwhelming.

First, find the right ones to fit your needs.

Second, train your team to use them effectively.

Third, use those tools to drill down into useful analytics and meaningful metrics to measure productivity.

By making a few smart decisions, small shops can use technology, and the same services that threaten business, to create success.

Next, Know Your Competition

You know this already: small shops will never be able to compete with the resources that big firms have always had. Office space is likely to be one of your most costly expenses. Maybe LexisNexis isn’t in your budget. Maybe minute-long television commercials aren’t either. Or you can’t afford an assistant (That’s ok).

Altman Weil’s 2014 Law Firms in Transition survey shows that you’re not alone. Whether you’re still billing hourly or you’re in the 95% of firms offering AFAs, these non-billable tasks are preventing you from getting your work done.

Then, Take a Step Back

Infusing your firm with a few efficient practices can make all the difference here, freeing you up to do your job. You can use technology, the very thing that’s driving your competition, to your distinct advantage. So-called “efficiency killers” are dangerous, so embracing technology in your workflow is key.

Loretta Rupert has some great suggestions for legal-specific technology that’s in your budget. These scalable tools can measure your output and integrate billing and accounting, adding value to your work. Reducing paper-driven processes is an efficient move, both for you and your clients.

There are also other ways to run an office: how about remotely or as part of a shared working space? And leveraging technology will open an entirely new advertising sector on the web and through social media, which are more popular than ever.

The Stakes Are Higher Than Ever

Each of the clients that a firm serves is important. But your small shop means that you can only accommodate so many clients at a time. Being more efficient will serve not only you but also your clients. “Clients today are in the driver’s seat – asking law firms to provide more value at reduced cost,” says Frederick J. Esposito, Jr.

Where small- and medium-sized law firms can soar is in their position to simultaneously leverage technology and provide personal, exceptional service. A client-centric model means adopting (and using) AFAs, measuring progress, handling billing and accounting procedures with ease, and embracing technology without allowing it to overpower your skills as an innovative and insightful lawyer. What’s good for the client is good for the firm, and your success is theirs.

How to Save Without Saving

Here at PacerMonitor, our team is comprised of multiple former restructuring professionals and we all remember (not quite so fondly) the considerable time we spent finding, downloading, re-naming, and, finally, saving each document from PACER one at a time. Not much has changed about this process on PACER since those days and we haven’t been able to shake the frustration we felt, so we decided to create a better way to do this.

We’ve recently rolled out a new feature that allows our Professional and Enterprise subscribers to connect their PacerMonitor account to their Dropbox account.   All newly purchased documents will automatically get saved in a dedicated folder within Dropbox.  PacerMonitor applies a useful file naming convention, which includes the case name and docket number, to ensure that everything stays in order and is easy to find.

Dropbox Sync

Your documents are still available on our website and in our app as well, but now you can skip the step of saving each filing and let Dropbox take care of creating your local copy.

We’ve cut down the steps in a tedious process so that you – our hard working customers – can focus your attention on more important things. Let us know in the comments how this new feature impacts your daily workflow.

Memento: Inspired by PACER?

A big frustration with the court’s PACER system is that in 2014 it still does not remember any of its customers’ previous activity (well, except on their quarterly bill).  This unfortunately leads to significant additional costs as users must repeatedly purchase dockets and documents.  Fixing this has always been a core feature of PacerMonitor.  We save all docket and document purchases so they are always available on any device without incurring additional charges.

To take this to the next level, we’ve pushed a new feature in the last few days to help our users easily identify which documents they have not yet viewed. Anytime a user views a case page, they will now see purple tags with the word “new” beside each document that has been filed since their last visit.

New Feature Screenshot
This feature allows our customers to skim through dockets quickly without missing important documents and saving valuable time by reminding them which items they have already viewed. Let us know in the comments if you find this new feature helpful!

Update: Now Covering ALL Chapter 11 Cases

We’ve been away from our blog for awhile because we’ve been busy adding lots of new features to PacerMonitor, but we’re back and excited to announce that we are now updating every active Chapter 11 case in the country — every day!  All of our users can view these dockets for free!  Our professional subscribers also have free access to all corporate Chapter 11 petitions.

This is also a big step forward for conducting comprehensive bankruptcy research, competitive analyses, and for identifying investment opportunities.  Our professional subscribers can do full-text keyword searches on thousands of case dockets at once, and apply filters to quickly home in on the relevant results.

We hope this feature helps make your job a whole lot easier and we promise to come back soon to tell you about the other changes we’ve been making at PacerMonitor!



Bankruptcy & District Court Android App

We are pleased to announce the release of the PacerMonitor Android app.  With this free app you can now keep track of your cases, check dockets, download/email filings, and see new case filing reports from your Android smartphone or tablet.  For those of you with iPhones and iPads, our ios app is also available in the itunes store for free.

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Involuntary Bankruptcy Against the Court

I don’t recommend filing a hand written bankruptcy petition, nor do I recommend trying to file an involuntary petition against the the court itself.

Chief Judge David Kennedy writes:

The intent and purpose of these documents are unclear, as the documents are filed “* * *Against The Court,” without specifically identifying the “court.” Regardless, since 11 U.S.C. § 303(a) provides that an involuntary bankruptcy case under the Bankruptcy Code may be commenced only under chapter 7 or 11 and only against a “person” under § 303(a), as statutorily defined in section 101(41), this case should be summarily dismissed.

So there you have it.  In case you were wondering, the United States of America also cannot have an involuntary bankruptcy filed against it.  This lady even paid the $1,039  filing fee and attended the show cause hearing, which I would have loved to attend.